Participants declared themselves the part of the “99 Percent,” to highlight their claim that that 1 percent of Americans control much of the country’s wealth.
This seemingly innocuous sentence appears as a bit of background at ww.nytimes.com this morning in a story about Occupy Wall Street. The story says that the city won’t force protesters to leave Zuccotti Park just yet so that it can be cleaned. It appeared after a night in which protesters mopped and cleaned the park themselves while preparing for a face-off with New York police today.
The story was news. The sentence in italics above a bit of context near the bottom. Context, that is, except for the word “claim.” Claim is defined as “an assertion of fact” as in “he claimed he was telling the truth,” reports dictionary.com. As I teach my students, the word claim, as noun or verb, implies that what’s claimed may not actually be true. As a mere assertion of truth, a claim, then, is shrouded in some suspicion. The verb, “said,” is certainly more neutral. So The Times reports that the city “says” the protesters won’t have to leave. It doesn’t report the city “claims” that.
But in the case of the statement that the richest 1 percent of Americans control “much of the country’s wealth,” it’s questionable whether any attribution at all is needed. This is verifiable fact, grounded in mounds of governmental and private data.
It’s certainly not a claim. If it were, I highly doubt, for example, that a well-regarded public policy magazine such as the Atlantic would have printed a cover story in September noting (not claiming) that a Citigroup report in 2005 found that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans control wealth equal to the lower 90 percent of Americans.
Does the equivalent of 90 percent of Americans’ wealth in the hands of 1 percent equate to that wealthiest 1 percent controlling “much wealth?” It certainly seems indisputable to me.
The Times and other media need in these turbulent times to be more vigilant about the words they use to characterize.