During the course of a post not long past, I took Wes Allison to task for using the phrase "impressive display" regarding one of President Obama's early achievements in office.
I don't think the phrase belongs in objective writing. On the other hand, I don't particularly champion objective writing. I think I can report objectively about as well as anyone (the neutrality part, anyway) when I want to wear that hat. But I have a big problem with mainstream media outlets pretending to set objectivity as the ideal while falling ridiculously short of even the appearance of success.
Google has added a searchable news archive. Anyone should be able to check the results of my survey.
I had never used the archive search feature on Google before, so the graphics immediately grabbed by attention. The phrase roughly doubled in usage in the mid 1980s and has stayed high ever since.
A 1989 hit from the Washington Post talks about an "impressive display" of military strength at George H. W. Bush's inauguration. This one counts as less as a failure of objectivity than as a failure to avoid trite phrasing.
A news analysis piece from 1993 talks about President Bill Clinton's "impressive display" of log-rolling. News analysis. That's where reporters are allowed to drop the pretense of objectivity.
Another entry combines elements of the first two. It was a news analysis piece from 1995 referring to an "impressive display" of military might by the Chinese navy.
The fourth hit, from 1998 in The New York Times, talks about how some of the past achiements of Indonesia's President Suharto amounted to an "impressive display" of political control. The phrase in context seems neither objective nor flattering.
The next hit was a public relations piece from Advantest. PR releases are generally not regarded as objective.
The next hit has the phrase in a quotation (that sort of thing doesn't count against reporter objectivity).
The seventh hit, from Reuters, again uses "impressive display" in reference to the military, this time in South Africa (2001).
The eighth hit deals with sports (cricket, which also suggests that the American standard of objectivity is inapplicable in the first place).
The ninth hit finally gives us "impressive display" in reference to the second Bush presidency. But we find it in its most appropriate application in American journalism, in the writings of opinion columnist Molly Ivins.
The second page of hits turns us back to 1939.
The 1939 entry again refers to a military display (thus helping to prove that it is trite).
The second hit on the second page calls Richard Milhous Nixon's floor support more impressive than that produced by Rockefeller during the 1968 Republican National Convention. What I can gather of the context suggests an underlying objective comparison (more signs, louder shouting).
The third hit is similar to the former in character, this time via the Chicago Tribune in reference to a museum display.
The fourth hit refers to an "impressive display" of (what else?) military strength. It's actually a repeat of one from the first page of hits.
James Gerstenzang, in the LA Times, wrote in 1990 about the "impressive display" of solidarity in establishing international resolve against Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait. Though the full context would require payment, Gerstenzang's non-objective phrasing is apparently somewhata mitigated since he seems to play off of a Bush statement that established the judgment in question.
The sixth hit perhaps equals Allison's transgression in characterizing political support for an announcing candidate as an "impressive display." David Ibata wrote it in 1991 for The Chicago Tribune.
The seventh hit repeats the Clinton log-rolling one.
The eighth hit represents another repeat.
The ninth hit is fresh, and represents a columnist's judgment of some negotiating by Jesse Jackson. Columnists get to offer non-objective opinions since columns are not expected to deliver straight news.
The survey supports my impression that "impressive display" is rarely used in objective journalism, and rarer still when applied to the achievements of individual politicians.