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Guidance: More About The Word 'Manifesto'

The man accused of the mass shooting in El Paso is reported to have written what he referred to as a "meh manifesto." We have been referring to it as a "manifesto." This note is just a reminder that as we report about such statements we should continue to carefully consider how we use the word in order to be as precise as possible, but not diminish its meaning with overuse. Many thanks to those who contributed to the discussion about this.

One argument for using it is that those who have written such statements claim to be part of a movement. They adopt language used by white supremacists to explain their actions. They quote others' writings. We want the audience to understand that context and the dangers of such statements. The word "manifesto" can help do those things.

But, as we've said before, it's a word that can leave people thinking that such a statement is "something more than it might really have been." The murderers responsible for mass shootings appear to have wanted the world to think their messages are coherent political statements. But is it always clear whether it's a manifesto, a killer's rant, both, or something else? Ask those questions.

Meanwhile, a reading of the statement in this case makes clear that other words also apply. They include:

- "Racist."
- "Hate-filled."
- "Anti-immigrant."
- "A diatribe."
- "A screed."

Yes, he is said to have written a "manifesto." We could also say it's a "self-proclaimed manifesto." A "racist manifesto." A "hate-filled diatribe." An "anti-immigrant screed."

Along with "manifesto," we should continue to add context with those and other applicable words to make as clear we can what it is — while not relying on one word to do it all.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.