This article originally appeared on The Daily Pitchfork.
Terminology matters. The descriptions that reporters use to characterize various perspectives on an issue can carry connotations that reiterate stereotypes and reinforce misconceptions. This axiom is especially true when it comes to animal issues and the media.
A glaring example of such terminological confusion recently came in a brief article on the USDA's reaction to Michael Moss's powerful piece on its Meat Animal Research Center.
Writing in the International Business Times, Maria Gallucci, who essentially showcases the center's promise to clean up its act, drops a notable gaffe a few paragraphs into the piece. She writes, "The Times investigation sparked outrage among animal rights advocates and average Americans."
This sentence might seem innocuous. But it quietly perpetuates at least two popular misunderstandings, both of which are harmful for animals and those who aim to help them.
The first is that animal rights advocates hold a set of beliefs that are fundamentally distinct from mainstream thought. While the behaviors of animal advocates - vegetarianism, veganism, or overt protests again animal exploitation - often visibly separate them from "average Americans," the main idea they espouse - that sentient animals deserve to be treated with basic moral consideration based on their ability to suffer - happens to be perfectly consistent with the beliefs of the vast majority of Americans. Average American care deeply about animals and hate to see them suffer.