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Why 'spokesperson' is still irksome

In the S&P downgrade debacle, it's not clear who speaks for whom.

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Of all the indignities associated with Standard & Poor's downgrade of America's credit rating, this may be a minor point.

But I'm going to make it anyway: The news coverage of this debacle, and especially the salvos fired off Aug. 5, between S&P and the US Treasury Department, showed that "spokesperson" is still all too much a part of our public discourse. Alas.

As you may recall, during the course of the day Aug. 5, it became apparent that the S&P calculations included a math error on the order of some $2 trillion. This was pointed out by the Treasury Department – and S&P decided to go ahead with the downgrade anyway.

This was not well received at Treasury, as you can imagine.

"A judgment flawed by a $2 trillion error speaks for itself," was the quote all over the front pages and the Web.

OK, so the error speaks for itself – but who speaks for the Treasury?

An online report from CBS News stated, "Late Friday, a Treasury Dept. spokesman told CBS News' Mark Knoller that 'A judgment flawed by a $2-trillion error speaks for itself.' "

An online report from ABC News of what would appear to be the same moment suggests a gathering of a number of journalists rather than a CBS exclusive: "A Treasury Department spokesperson told reporters, 'A judgment flawed by a $2 trillion error speaks for itself.' "

If the CBS correspondent simply failed to notice other people in the room, he would not be the first reporter to do so. But note how the CBS "spokesman" has become "spokesperson" in the ABC report. CNN used "spokesperson" as well.

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