Journalists should better define ‘RINO’ to disempower its autocratic use

RINOs revere the Constitution — so let’s say that

Former Missouri governor and current senatorial candidate Eric Greitens gestures while speaking to reporters in February. (AP Photo/David A. Lieb File)

By: Michael Bugeja, Copyright 2022 Poynter Institute

The news media has been lax in denoting the derogatory acronym RINO, typically stating that it means “Republican in Name Only.” Although the term and its variations have been used for decades — most notably by the late veteran reporter John DiStaso in 1992 — former President Donald Trump and his followers have usurped it.

One of the most egregious uses appeared in a recent political ad by former Missouri Governor and Senate candidate Eric Greitens. Playing off his military credentials, Greitens leads an armed tactical team that breaks down a door and hurls flash grenades, as if to kill any RINOs in an empty home.

Here’s the transcript:

I’m Eric Greitens, Navy Seal. And today we’re going RINO hunting. The RINO feeds on corruption. He is marked by the stripes of cowardice. Join the MAGA crew, get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn’t expire … until we save our country.

A searing condemnation of the advertisement came from Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for George W. Bush and, presumably, a RINO. Disputing Greitens’ claim that the ad is metaphoric, Gerson writes:

Calling upon a MAGA mob soaked in furious resentment and bristling with heavy weaponry to kill insufficiently radical Republicans is not the equivalent of ‘all the world’s a stage.’ It is the incitement to violence of a rather literal-minded group. The movement that has no moral bottom is finally within sight of one. What is the next step beyond urging your followers to murder your political opponents? It is murdering your political opponents.

In Gerson’s plea for voters to defeat Greitens, he uses the term “RINO” six times (including in the headline). But even Gerson does not further clarify the term, allowing it to stand as a MAGA-vexed vilification.

It is time to add a descriptor whenever writers use the slur.

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