My proposed additions to the New York Times style guide to improve its political coverage

New York Times building
By Ajay Suresh from New York, NY, USA - CC BY 2.0

The New York Times repeatedly abuses the English language in its political reporting.

I decided it needs some additions to its style guide.

Here are my initial suggestions.

I have also published this as a Google Doc, where you can make your own suggestions for additions and edits. I’ll update this document as needed.

Baseless — “Baseless” means lacking foundation in fact. Like “lack of evidence,” “no clear evidence,” or “unproven,” it does not carry with it any implication of deception. Do not use these terms to contextualize a claim that is false, specious, spurious, and/or intentionally deceptive. It is insufficient.

Improper usage:

  • “baseless claims of voter fraud.” (Jan. 5, 2024)
  • “baseless theories that Mr. Trump had been the actual winner of the election.” (Aug. 15, 2023)

Bold – Bold is a generally positive word. It means confident and courageous. Do not use it as a euphemism for outrageous, illegal, immoral, fascist, etc.

Proper usage:

  • “A Package of Bold Laws Puts Michigan on a Fast Track to Renewable Energy” (Nov.8, 2023)

Improper usage:

  • “Trump’s Boldest Argument Yet: Immunity From Prosecution for Assassinations” (Jan. 10, 2024)

Congress — Only refer to Congress – or “the House” or “the Senate” — when referring to them as institutions, or possibly to a unanimous vote. Do not suggest that Congress is somehow responsible for what is actually the work of one party or one faction. Readers cannot hold the right people accountable if we don’t tell them who’s responsible.

Proper usage:

  • “Hard Right Grinds House to a Halt, Rebuking McCarthy for the Debt Deal” (June 6, 2023)

Improper usage:

  • “Time Is Running Out for Congress to Raise the Debt Ceiling” (original headline from May 26, 2023)

Conservative – Do not use “conservative” to describe people who are not conservative. For instance: extremists, Christian nationalists, and authoritarians are not conservative. Conservatives believe in limited government, states’ rights, personal freedom, and personal integrity. Donald Trump is not a conservative; neither is the movement he leads; and neither, anymore, is the party he leads – especially not its right flank. For MAGA in general — and for the anti-gay, anti-immigrant movement in particular — use instead, far-right, extreme right, extremist, Christian nationalist, or fascist, and describe their preferred policies as regressive, authoritarian, radical, or intolerant.

Improper usage:

  • “Conservatives thrust the House back into chaos on Wednesday, grinding business to a halt in protest of the spending deal Speaker Mike Johnson struck with Democrats to avert a government shutdown and leaving the funding package in limbo.” (Jan. 10, 2024)
  • “Do you support the right of a woman who is just seconds away from birthing a healthy child to have an abortion?” [then-Rep. Mike Johnson] asked at a Judiciary Committee hearing….The exchange reflected the lawmaker’s deeply conservative views, particularly on social issues, and his tendency to express them in inflammatory ways.” (Oct. 25, 2023)

Proper usage:

  • “Ultraconservative House Republicans have panned the $1.66 trillion agreement Johnson made with Senator Chuck Schumer…. ‘This is a total failure,’ the far-right House Freedom Caucus…. wrote on social media…. The backlash from the extreme right….” (Jan. 8, 2024)

“Depends on who you talk to.” Avoid when dealing with facts, which do not depend on who you talk to. .

Improper usage:

  • “Of course, just what is threatening democracy depends on who you talk to. Many Republicans are just as frustrated, convinced that the threat stems from liberal teachers, professors or media personalities who they fear are indoctrinating their children; undocumented immigrants given a path to citizenship; or Democrats widening access to voting so much that they are inviting fraud.” (Oct. 23, 2022)


Donald Trump — On second reference, describe him as “the twice-impeached former president who has been charged with 91 felony counts on charge ranging from X to Y” where X and Y may include stealing top-secret documents, refusing to return stolen top-secret documents, conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, etc. On third reference, some mention of his consistent mendacity is essential context.

Improper usage:

  • “Mr. Trump — who detests little more than being mocked, who delights in little more than doing the mocking.” (Jan. 16, 2024)

Proper usage:

  • “Mr. Trump, who could face years behind bars.” (Jan. 11, 2024)


Evangelical – When you are writing about racist, right-wing white Christians who consider themselves a persecuted minority, do not use “evangelical” as shorthand. They are not necessarily evangelical. Call them racist.

Improper usage:

  • “Being evangelical [is] often used to describe a cultural and political identity: one in which Christians are considered a persecuted minority, traditional institutions are viewed skeptically and Mr. Trump looms large.” (Jan. 8, 2024)


Falsehoods – Only use “falsehoods” when you have already used the word “lie” too often.

Improper usage:

  • “Trump Signals an Election Year Full of Falsehoods on Jan. 6 and Democracy” (Jan. 6, 2024)


Insurrection – An insurrection is a violent uprising aimed at overthrowing the government. The January 6 riot was an insurrection. You may also use riot or mob on second reference.

Proper usage:


Moderate – Do not describe someone as moderate just because on one or two issues there is some daylight between them and the extremists in their party. A moderate is someone who represents centrist views, who has principles that trump partisanship. There are currently no moderate elected officials among House Republicans.


Nation – Do not ascribe behavior to “the nation” – nor to “everybody” or “nobody”. It is lazy and inevitably inaccurate. Avoid in particular when writing about Republican disinformation campaigns. (h/t Rick Perlstein)

Improper usage:

  • “It is the topic the nation just can’t delete from its political conversation: Hillary Clinton’s emails.” (June 12, 2023)


Populism – Do not use “populism” as a synonym for racism or nationalism. Populism is not the rage of white folks. Populist rage is against institutions that pervert the will of the people — for instance by subjugating workers and enriching the plutocracy. Sometimes the people feeling left out are susceptible to fear, scapegoating and strongmen. But that makes them nativist, white Christian nationalist, and authoritarian — not populist. Donald Trump is not a populist, he is a con man. Actual populists include Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Improper usage:

  • “The party has become more populist and anti-establishment, but Mr. Trump’s ability to capitalize on his celebrity status while harnessing the swirling mix of anger at elites, racial grievances and mounting distrust of political, judicial and international institutions was, for now, unique.” ( 16, 2024)

Racist and Racism — Identify racist acts and people straightforwardly. The great replacement theory is racist. The view that white European immigrants are superior to Africans or Asians is racist. The view that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the country is racist. Do not use “racially charged” and “racially tinged“.


Reality –There are divergent views of reality, but there are not divergent realities. Reality is reality. It is never up for debate or at stake.

Improper usage:

  • “Parties’ Divergent Realities Challenge Biden’s Defense of Democracy” (Sept. 2, 2022)
  • “Clashing Over Jan. 6, Trump and Biden Show Reality Is at Stake in 2024” (original Jan. 6, 2024 headline)


So far — Only use “so far” when describing something that is likely to happen or keep happening. “So far” and “thus far” both carry with them the implication that something is indeed going to happen, it just hasn’t happened yet, at least not entirely. Do not use “so far” in the context of fishing expeditions, wild speculation, and bad-faith investigations.

Improper usage:

  • “The Republican investigation so far has not produced concrete evidence of a crime by the president.” (Sept. 14, 2023)

Proper usage:

  • “So far, he’s the only Trump employee known to have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors after facing charges.” (Sept. 9, 2023)


Some and several – The modifiers “some” and “several” – as in “several voters” or “some critics” — is too often a crutch used by reporters to non-transparently launder their own views or inflate the significance of the one or two people they spoke to. How many is “some” or “several”? It should be more than three, that’s for sure.

Improper usage:

  • “Several voters who backed Mr. Biden in 2020 and are now leaning toward Mr. Trump said they had not followed the ins and outs of the former president’s post-White House activities and tended to discount and brush aside his past scandals.” (Nov. 21, 2023)

What would you add to the New York Times style guide? Please add suggestions to this Google Doc — and be sure to provide actual examples. I’ll update as appropriate. Thanks!


  1. “Donald Trump is not a populist, he is a con man. Actual populists include Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”

    Thank you, Mr. Froomkin, for including this reminder in your excellent critique of the NYT’s flaccid political vocabulary. It’s more important now than ever before to differentiate real populists like Warren and Ocasio-Cortez (and, for that matter, Bernie Sanders) from right-wing demagogues whose supposed “populism” is just a façade concealing their support for kleptocracy.

  2. I agree with not calling these people evangelicals. That word means accepting and spreading the good news of Jesus. Our ignorant media has equated that term with being right wing. I know this is unrealistic but I object even more strongly to calling Trump’s base Christian.

    The Reverend William Barber, leader of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign and an evangelical explained this clearly in an interview with the NY Times:

    “Q: Your politics flows from an understanding of love, justice and compassion as being at the heart of Christian faith, which is something that presumably every Christian agrees with. You also iden​tify as an evangelical. How do you square that with the politics of Christians — I’m thinking mostly of conservative evangelicals — whose faith manifests itself politically as support for politicians and policies that seem to go against those same values?”

    A: “I understand it as a form of heresy………”

    He is exactly right. Not only are these people not true evangelicals these people are not Christians.This is clear from the description the Times’s interviewer gives above although his assertion that presumably every Christian agrees that love, justice and compassion are the heart of Christianity is ridiculous given that he clearly is accepting that these far right phonies are Christians.

    You do not have to be religious (I’m not) to know about the things that Jesus taught and the example he set. Clearly these people believe in the exact opposite. Instead of living by the teachings to “turn the other cheek”, “love your enemy as you love yourself”, treating “the least of these” as you would treat Jesus himself, “guard against every kind of greed” etc. these people preach hate, violence and greed.

  3. Hard to whittle down the travesties in NYT writing in recent years, but I’ll suggest two additions, both from yesterday’s story “America Stares Down a Trump-Biden Repeat in Disbelief and Denial”:

    1. Don’t pretend omniscience. Report only what you actually know from your own fact gathering, no matter how enamored you are of your own writing.

    “Democrats, for their part, are consumed by a gut-wrenching hope that Mr. Trump won’t be the nominee. They are crossing their fingers that his legal cases or efforts to disqualify him from office through the 14th Amendment will keep him off the ballot. Most harbor few hopes that his nomination can be derailed; they are simply clinging to a belief that a man they loathe will somehow go away.”

    You can’t possibly know what “most Democrats” or most anyone thinks or what they feel in their “gut.”

    2. Never quote Roger Stone as if he’s a credible source, political analyst, or anything but a sociopath drawn to lawless conduct and inflating himself.

    “ ‘I continue to predict — as I have for well over two years — that Michelle Obama will be the Democrat Party Nominee for President in 2024,’ Roger J. Stone Jr., the longtime adviser to Mr. Trump, posted on social media a week before the Iowa caucuses.”

  4. Write with a modicum of intellectual humility and honesty. Know that as smart and as correct as you think you are, there are many things you don’t and can’t know–for instance, how people throughout human history thought.


    “For millenniums before that … many people simply assumed that the supply of wealth was finite. If I’m going to get more of it, it will be the result of conquering you and stealing what you have. In a zero-sum mind-set, the basic logic of life is dog-eat-dog, conquer or be conquered. Property is theft. Predators win.”

  5. Thanks, Dan, for your work on this. Thanks also to the commenters, who’ve added to my education on the subject.

    To the extent that any other newsrooms refer to the NYT Style Book at all, I’d like to add some terms that burn my butt: “fiery,’ “firebrand,” and “defiant.” Maybe it’s just me, but I always associated these terms with a modicum of heroism, of positivity, of courageously going against prevailing milk-toast assumptions. My feeling is that people who tend to be described thus by our media, though, are usually frothy, borderline-personality right-wingers who make up so much of the GOP these days; the very last traits they should be described with are heroism or courage. “Extreme” is too mild; “insane” is a clinical judgment; “batsh8t crazy” is accurate but ya can’t SAY that. My own poor vocabulary isn’t helping my point here, but thanks for letting me vent in any case.


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