A while back we noted that top Clinton advisor Harold Ickes had admonished the press not to use the phrase “super delegates” but instead to employ what he claims is the more accurate “automatic delegates.” The Clinton campaign has pushed for this change of phrase on the thinking that calling them “super delegates” carries a negative connotation that somehow they’re more powerful or privileges than other delegates. And that’s important because their path to the nomination will almost certainly have to rely on super delegates going overwhelmingly for Clinton despite Obama’s having the majority of pledged delegates.
Anyway, has the AP gotten the message? In tonight’s AP report about Obama’s new delegates in Iowa reporter Mike Glover has adopted the Clinton campaign “automatic delegate” formulation.
Now, sometimes spinning campaigns come up with phrases that are so heavy-handedness and tendentious that it’s just ridiculous — the “death tax”, “personal accounts” for Social Security privatization, etc. In this case, I think you’ve probably got to have your head pretty deep in the delegat-ology weeds to have any sense of whether it matters to use one term over another.
But I think it’s a good journalistic principle not to switch terminology in the midst of an election campaign or public policy debate at the bidding of one party or another, unless someone makes an extremely good case that the existing word choices are patently misleading. And doing it at the behest of one party to the dispute is almost always bad practice. Otherwise the journalists whose job it is to sift through the spin become its messengers, wittingly or not.