Ask the Editor: Why use the term “progressive?” | WORLD
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Ask the Editor: Why use the term “progressive?”


WORLD Radio - Ask the Editor: Why use the term “progressive?”

What accurate and discerning journalism calls for in the face of moral transformation

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MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, May 5th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. A quick comment about yesterday’s interview with Erin Hawley—senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom and WORLD Opinions contributor.

During our interview she referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the spirit of full disclosure, we missed an opportunity to let the listener know that Hawley’s husband—Senator Josh Hawley—serves on that committee. We should have mentioned that. We didn’t. So we are now.

BROWN: All right, time now for Ask the Editor. Today, we answer a recent listener question about how we occasionally identify a particular political ideology—and those who hold it. Here’s WORLD Radio Executive Producer Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER: Before I get to today’s question, I want to start by playing a soundbite of Al Sharpton from April 13th. It provides some necessary context to today’s question. Sharpton was speaking at the National Action Network conference:

SHARPTON: We gotta stop using progressive as a noun and use it as an adjective. Your label is progressive but your action is regressive.

I hadn’t heard this clip until a couple weeks ago, when I read this note from listener Michael Mosley:

“Even Al Sharpton has figured out that so-called ‘progressives’ are not progressive. So when is WORLD … going to stop calling them progressive? They're more like regressive.”

I’ll admit I was a little defensive when I first read the note…you see, our WORLD Radio style guide includes this encouragement for us as reporters and editors:

The term “progressive” should be “avoided, except when it’s part of the proper name of an organization. The term suggests that one faction supports progress and its opponents are against progress.”

So I was ready to fire off that response when I thought: “perhaps I should do a quick search of our recent transcripts first.” I didn’t expect to get many returns, but was surprised to find out that the term’s been used quite a few times recently. Here are four examples:

STEVE WEST: But the larger issue is whether Disney knows its audience well enough, it needs to hear from shareholders concerned about its foray into progressive gender ideology and its films …

JULIANNA ERICKSON: And so Somerville is a fairly progressive liberal city…

CAL THOMAS: …with the goal being a good education, not fulfilling some secular progression, objective of diversity…

KATIE MCCOY: The UK, Sweden, and Finland are all countries that have been very progressive about transgender therapies for minors. They are reversing course in our own cultural psyche. We tend to believe that all change is progress and all progress is good…

I think it’s clear in all four clips that we’re not using the term positively—in fact, I like what Katie McCoy said—not all change is actually progress. So I think most of you understand exactly what we’re saying when we use the term: “progressive.”

But that doesn’t change the fact that our style guide discourages us from using the term. So I decided to bring the topic up during this week’s Editorial Council meeting.

Here’s a few highlights of that conversation:

MICKEY: It's kind of a euphemism to me. To me it's just kind of a namby-pamby way of calling a liberal a liberal.

TIM: But they’re not liberal.

MICKEY: Not in the classic sense, no.

NICK: And that’s the problem.

TIM: I prefer progressive to liberal because they're not liberal. And I do think that progress is how they think of their ideology. Just as a conservative belief in conserving something that, that sort of seems like the opposite of conserving is, is moving forward...

NICK: It's sort of the bad politics version of being reformed, you know, always reforming, they're always progressing, but progressivism, there's no limit to it.

LYNDE: I’ve told my writers instead of saying progressive, let’s reference what belief is relevant to the story…

Proverbs 11:14 and 24:6 both teach that in a multitude of counselors there is safety. That’s really the the purpose of our weekly meetings: to discern together what is best when it comes to questions like this one.

Albert Mohler doesn’t sit on our editorial council, but as the executive editor of WORLD Opinions, I thought it would be helpful to hear what he had to say:

ALBERT MOHLER: Writing is about communication and communication requires accurate but reductive language. For the WORLD Opinions side I simply have to say that if we avoid using the language currently employed in the larger culture, we would make no sense to ourselves or to others.

I will say that there is no way to write editorial content without using words like “conservative,” “liberal,” “progressive/progressivist,” and, occasionally, “reactionary.” The same holds for “left,” “right,” and “center.” Again, each contains a thousand arguments.

The listener makes a moral point but, if adopted, his proposal would mean that no reader will be able to understand our eccentric vocabulary.

Now you should know that we are in the process of updating our WORLD Policy Handbook and style guide for the first time since 2019, so this is an ongoing discussion that we’re addressing for the upcoming edition. But the growing consensus within our current editorial leadership is that we must avoid using the term “progressive” if it’s merely covering for sloppy reporting…that’s true of any label.

But as Albert Mohler rightly points out there are times when the term “progressive” is appropriate—shorthand for identifying those who desire—as Tim Lamer said—to “move beyond” Biblical truth and traditional values. Or as Nick Eicher pointed out, for those who only wish to progress to the next restraint in order to cast it off. And that brings us back to what Mickey Mclean suggested, that sometimes we need the courage to use more accurate terms—calling a spade a spade…

Finally we acknowledge that the term “progressive” is abstract. So, as Lynde Langdon said, if we can identify the specific belief in question instead … it will make our stories more concrete … more clear … and frankly better.

So Michael, thanks for the question…it’s provided a great opportunity for our editors to discuss it, and bear with us as we make progress toward a unified answer.

I’m Paul Butler.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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