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NASA, Shuttle Contractors Share Doublespeak Award

November 21, 1986 GMT

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AP) _ An English teacher’s group on Friday named NASA and two contractors for the space shuttle winners of the 1986 Doublespeak Award for the year’s most glaring example of deceptive language.

Attorney General Edwin Meese took second place and the Department of Defense third place.

The citations were announced at the 76th annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English, whose Committee on Doublespeak monitors statements for language that is ″grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing or self-contradictory.″


The committee also named Neil Postman the recipient of the George Orwell Award for his book ″Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.″ That award honors contributions to honesty and clarity in public language.

Committee Chairman William Lutz, in announcing the Doublespeak Award, said the language used by officials of NASA and the contractors in discussing the Challenger tragedy last January and the subsequent investigation ″was filled with doublespeak.″

The seven-member shuttle crew, including teacher Christa McAuliffe, perished when Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff.

Lutz quoted a NASA official who said:

″The normal process during the countdown is that the countdown proceeds, assuming we are in a go posture, and at various points during the countdown we tag up the operational loops and face to face in the firing room to ascertain the facts that project elements that are monitoring the data and that are understanding the situation as we proceed are still in the go direction.″

Morton Thiokol, the maker of the booster rocket, and Rockwell International, the main contractor to build the shuttle, also were cited by the committee.

″Officials of Morton Thiokol,″ Lutz said, ″when asked why they reversed earlier decisions not to launch the shuttle, said the reversal was ‘based on the re-evaluation of those discussions.’ The presidential commission investigating the accident suggested that this statement could be translated to mean that there was pressure from NASA.

″NASA also called the accident an ‘anomaly,’ the bodies of the astronauts ‘recovered components,’ and the astronauts’ coffins ‘crew transfer containers’,″ Lutz said.

Meese was named the second-place winner for language he used in criticizing the Supreme Court’s Miranda ruling, which gives suspects a right to counsel before police questioning.

Asked whether people who are innocent should have protection, Meese replied:

″Suspects who are innocent of a crime should. But the thing is, you don’t have many suspects who are innocent of crime. That’s contradictory. If a person is innocent of crime, then he is not a suspect. ... (The Miranda decision’s) practical effect is to prevent the police from talking to a person who knows the most about the crime - namely the perpetrator...Miranda only helps guilty defendants. Most innocent people are glad to talk to the police. They want to establish their innocence so that they’re no longer a suspect.″

Third place was awarded to the Department of Defense for calling temporary coffins ″aluminum transfer cases;″ a hammer a ″manually powered fastener- driving impact device;″ and a steel nut a ″hexiform rotatable surface compression unit.″

Past winners of the Doublespeak Award include President Reagan, Alexander Haig, the State Department and the CIA.