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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Please throw this cliche under the bus

The defining journalistic cliche of 2008 has to be the ubiquitous and annoying phrase "thrown under the bus", meaning to repudiate, reject or make a scapegoat of someone with whom one was previously closely associated. It was used so often during the US election - for example to describe Barack Obama's treatment of Reverend Wright, Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers, his white grandmother - that no self-respecting journalist or blogger could avoid using it and maintain his "street cred". Now that the year is winding to a close & a new era of hope and change is dawning south of the border, here's a lonely plea: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE banish this irritating trite phrase to the ash-heap of history.

It's hard to pin down the origins of this metaphor. Urban Dictionary says:
A Boston radio station manager coined the term circa 1987-88 when canceling a radio network's services on his music-oriented FM station, stating that he was going to put the network "under the bus." The term was picked up by staff members to describe conduct in which one person would try to gain an advantage in company politics by speaking ill of, or doing something to reflect disfavorably on, another. In this context, it generally meant something that was a combination of sneaky, subtle and vicious. The phrase crept into on-air talk. In time, the radio station's owner acquired a sports-oriented station whose employees picked up the phrase and eventually began using it on highly-rated programs.
Newsweek reports a different origin:
William Safire, the author of "Safire's Political Dictionary," traced the popularization of the phrase back to Cyndi Lauper, who jauntily tossed her critics "under the bus" after the release of her debut album "She's So Unusual" in 1983, says Safire. But he suspects that the phrase has deeper roots in minor-league baseball, where players are almost always bused to away games. In fact, its original meaning could be have been quite literal: be on time for the bus, or you will be thrown underneath it, into the storage bays. He says the metaphor has also been used as a way to say "get with it, or get lost," as in "you're either on the bus, or you're under it." He isn't quite sure when the meaning of the phrase crystallized into the act of "summarily and decisively rejecting someone."
This cliche is stubborn - the election is long over but journalists keep dragging it out of storage like a comfortable sweater. Here's CNN's John Roberts in an interview on Tuesday with Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher:
ROBERTS: Joe Wurzelbacher, you probably know him better as Joe the plumber. He became a blue-collar talking point during the final leg of the presidential campaign. Well now, Joe is out with a new book with his take on American values. Joe Wurzelbacher, author of "Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream" joins me now from Toledo, Ohio.

Joe, good to see you. I guess the book is available on your Web site which is It's coming out in stores I believe, first in the new year. In the book you say that the McCain campaign was, "fragmented and disorganized." And you go on to say, "I did not want him for the Republican ticket. I do not agree with a great many of his policies, nor do I care for aspects of his voting record." Now, he stood by you after you had said during an interview that a vote for Barack Obama was a vote for the death of Israel. He was there backing you up, but you're throwing him under the bus now. Why?

JOE WURZELBACHER, AUTHOR: I'm not throwing him under the bus, the things I spoke about, his voting records, I mean that's factual. You know, we talked about -- he wanted to make other senators famous for having pork ,you know, in a bill, and yet he goes back to Washington, you know, suspends his campaign and goes back to Washington and votes for a $700 billion bailout, when Americans are in a time of need. You know we're taken advantage of and money is you know, ‘you wash my back, I'll wash yours.’ Money was thrown, you know, Michigan International Speedway got what, $250,000? So many other different organizations received pork.

So it's not that I'm throwing John McCain on the bus. I have said it in my book, I respect John McCain for the service he provided our country, and, but as far as his voting record, I mean, you know, he proposed the amnesty bill for the illegal aliens. And I mean, that got a lot of negative publicity, a lot of, you know, opinion polls you know, proved the American people don't want it, yet they don't listen to us. So I'm not throwing McCain under the bus. That's just factual and that’s what happened.

ROBERTS: But I guess the throwing him under the bus aspect of this Joe, comes in from the idea that you were out there on the campaign trail, you were stumping for John McCain, you didn't say anything about it then. He loses the election. Now you’re writing a book for profit, saying all of these things about him. Many people take that as throwing him under the bus. If you felt so strongly about it during the campaign, why didn't you say something then?

WURZELBACHER: Well no, it's not so much that people are saying I'm throwing him under the bus, the media is saying I'm throwing him under the bus. So you know, let's correct that. You know, let them make the decision when they read the book. You know, so far I have heard that and it's been written about in the last couple of weeks since the interview with Glenn Beck, that I’ve thrown him under the bus. But that's just what I heard from the media. It's not what I heard from the general populace of America. Like I said, so they read the book, they can decide if I have thrown them under the bus, I just stated facts. I just stated facts about other politicians as well. So it's not, you know, I'm not singling John McCain out, he just happens to be the one I got to meet and you know, work with for six hours. So he's a good example that I can use.

Wow - that's TEN TIMES in a minute or two of interview. Is that some kind of record? It's enough to make the little vein on my forehead throb in annoyance. For heaven's sake, have mercy - I'll take the waterboarding.


Anonymous said...

I agree. It's a silly and annoying cliche.

I keep waiting for 'between a rock and a hard place' to die out. I hate it. So many other comparisons would make more sense.

I keep wondering, what the heck is a 'hard place' and how big is this rock? Maybe it's small enough to step over. It sounds as if a 6-year-old coined it.

Anonymous said...

Keep the cliche and throw a journalist under a bus and you would do more to serve the common good.