Let me say publicly that DonBoy’s answer exudes a combination of intuitive genius and confidence that make me think DonBoy is going to do big things in his life. -- Steven D. Levitt (Freakonomics blog)
Thursday, June 17, 2004
Choosing his words carefully

Fred Kaplan at Slate has a detailed examination of Bush's not-quite-totally-lying technique as applied to the Saddam-Al Qaeda question:
In his May 1 address aboard the Lincoln, he came close to crossing the line but stopped just short. "The battle of Iraq," he said, "is one victory in a war on terror that began on Sept. 11, 2001. With that attack, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got."

This passage could be read as equating the toppled Iraqi regime with the terrorists of 9/11 or at least with their supporters. But that's not the only possible reading. Read the sentences, even the individual clauses, not as a logical stream but as separate thoughts. Iraq did support terrorists (not al-Qaida, but terrorists), so the war could be seen as part of a war against terrorism. The terrorists of 9/11 did declare war on the United States (though those were different terrorists from the ones Saddam supported). And war is what the 9/11 terrorists got (in Afghanistan).

See? The president didn't say that Saddam was tied to 9/11. He just made some observations in a way that people might interpret them to mean that Saddam was tied to 9/11.
I think this kind of word-by-word analysis of political deception is sorely needed, and I'd like to see more of it.

Here's a golden oldie of the deniable implication genre -- G.H.W.Bush on Clinton, 1992:
"Maybe I'm old-fashioned, Larry," Bush told King Wednesday night. "But to go to a foreign country and demonstrate against your own country when your sons and daughters are dying halfway around the world -- I'm sorry, I just don't like it. I think it is wrong. I think it is wrong to do that."
"Larry, I don't want to tell you what I really think because I don't have the facts. But to go to Moscow one year after Russia crushed Czechoslovakia, (and) not remember who you saw in Moscow. ... I'm just saying level with the American people on the draft, on whether he went to Moscow, how many demonstrations he led against his own country from a foreign soil. Level."
Based on what the elder Bush said here, plenty of people went away thinking that Clinton had protested against the Vietnam War in Russia; those protests were, of course, in England, which is indeed "foreign soil", but it's in the same sentence as "whether he went to Moscow", so of course the confusion is sown. And this same artful juxtaposition lives on today, this time from the ever-charming Ann Coulter:
A frenzy of “McCarthyism” arose again in Bush’s next presidential campaign against noted patriot Bill Clinton. While a Rhodes scholar, Clinton joined anti-war protests abroad. One year after the USSR crushed Czechoslovakia, Clinton had taken what the media called a “sightseeing trip to Moscow.” For mentioning Clinton’s anti-war protests abroad, Bush was called a nut and a McCarthyite.
Impressively, Coulter's purified the slander into only two sentences, which I've bolded here. Factually, they're totally unrelated; their proximity creates a lie out of a series of small truths. And Coulter, of course, knows the facts of the matter, all the while carefully mentioning Moscow, but not England. (She's also got 2 smearettes packed into the one sentence on Moscow -- the mini-juxtaposition of Moscow with Czechoslovakia, taken from the source material, and the scare quotes around "sightseeing trip".) Two sentences. I'm sure she was quite proud.

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