Here you have a term that could have a broader or a narrower meaning, and there was an interesting opportunity for non-righties to do some damage.
When The Washington Post published a profile last week of Richard B. Spencer, a prominent leader of the so-called alt-right, readers were quick to respond. By Monday, the article had drawn more than 2,600 comments. Many of them had a similar message.Commenters like that were not seeing what I think was WaPo's real motivation — to besmirch the larger group of righties by taking a label they might have liked and causing the general public to associate it with out-and-proud racists. That move turned out to be difficult, because if people learn the term only in association with the small, ugly subsection of the larger set, they think it looks like the press is propagating a euphemism. That reaction from people who were hearing the term for the first time has now caused the liberal press to "rethink" their scheme.
“Please, please stop referring to a white Christian supremacist movement as the ‘alt-right’ — a phrase that sounds like a subgenre of rock music,” one reader wrote.
The NYT article proceeds to talk about Steve Bannon, formerly of Breitbart, who has called Breitbart "the platform for the alt-right," but it doesn't admit the sleight of hand that was attempted. If "alt-right" could have been tied tightly to Spencer and overt racists, then it would seem as though Bannon is an admitted racist and Breitbart.com is toxic. That plan seems to have failed because the intermediate step — equating "alt-right" with racist — outraged readers. Making racists seem okay and kind of cool was an unintended consequence.
So now we're seeing the media back off. For example:
The standards editor at NPR published a memo in mid-November titled “Guidance on References to the ‘Alt-Right,’” that encouraged an explanation of the term, and the progressive news site ThinkProgress said in a post last week that it would “no longer treat ‘alt-right’ as an accurate descriptor of either a movement or its members” because the term is used as a self-descriptor and obscures the group’s overt racism....I'm all for precision, but I think this recalibration is only happening because Plan A failed.
The New York Times has had many conversations about the term but has not banned it, said Phil Corbett, The Times’s standards editor. Reporters are encouraged to explain what the term means rather than use it as a label, he said.