Back in journalism school in Athens, professors and news-writing instructors drilled into us the value of the word “said.” It was a neutral statement of utterance that conveyed no judgment, pro or con.
The victorious quarterback said this. The bereaved wife said that.
The word we were always advised to avoid was “claim.” As in, “The mayor claims that he has fixed the deficit.” The word suggests doubt as to the truth of the matter.
But we now have a president of the United States who tells us that one need not believe everything his press secretary says. Who says that he sees no need to stand by past utterances. Who sees hundreds of thousands of people and assures us they are millions upon millions.
This morning, I found myself writing the words “Trump claims.” It made me uncomfortable, and I wondered if I was alone in this.
So I did a little Google work on certain phrases:
— “George Bush claims/claimed” turned up 224,000 hits.
— “Barack Obama claims/claimed” brought up 169,000 hits. “Obama claims/claimed” raised the number to 298,000.
— “Donald Trump claims/claimed” resulted in 1.566 million hits. Just “Trump claims” raises it to 1.678 million hits.
Donald Trump isn’t just changing the rules of politics. He’s changing the rules of language.