Monday, March 13, 2006

“A Three-Letter Word”

I was watching the game on TV, while Patty was reading the paper.

“There it is again,” she said.

“There’s what again?” I asked.

“’Misled,’” she said. “Here’s another story where someone is charging that the administration ‘misled’ the public. You see them all the time any more.”

“Now that you mention it, I guess you’re right,” I said. “What’s your point?”

“I don’t know,” she said hesitantly. “It just seems as if the reporters are… pussyfooting around something. As if they’re doing anything they can to avoid calling a spade a spade. ”

“You mean like saying that the President’s claim that we had hard proof the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction was … ‘inaccurate’?”

“Um hum,” she nodded. “Or when the administration trumpeted all those feel-good stories about the heroics of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, and it turned out the stories were just … ‘in error.’”

“Or when they claimed that Bush’s tax cuts were going primarily to the middle class and lower-income people, and they were actually going to the wealthy,” I said. “That was just a… ‘discrepancy’?”

“There has to be a better way of putting it,” she said. “I know there’s a word that captures what I’m trying to say. It’s on the tip of my tongue, but I just can’t think of it.”

“Is it ‘spin’?” I asked. “Like when the President claimed that privatization would save the social security system, and, in fact, it would undermine it?”

“No, that’s not it,” she said, frustrated. “I’m thinking of something like the administration’s claim that they didn’t know the levee in New Orleans had been breached until several days after the fact.”

“Oh, and now Michael Brown is testifying that he notified the President’s staff the very same day, and may even have told the President directly.”

“Right. And the President went on TV and said ‘Nobody could have anticipated’ the damage to New Orleans, and now we have a video of a conference right before the storm where a roomful of experts and government officials is telling him, in detail, how bad it is going to be.”

“So now people are saying the President may have ‘distorted’ what occurred.’”

“Yes,” she said, “that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. Where the administration says something that’s clearly contrary to the facts. What’s the word I’m looking for?”

“I don’t know,” I said, yawning, as the Mountaineers missed yet another three-point shot. “But I’m a reporter. We write for a mass audience, so there are a lot of fancy words we don’t use.”

“This isn’t some obscure, Latinate word,” she said. “It’s something short and precise and to the point.”

“Let’s see,” I said. “Are you thinking of something like when the administration put out those figures on the cost of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, when they knew going in that the figures were wrong, and they gagged a government worker who wanted to supply accurate numbers to Congress?”

“Right,” she said. “They were saying something they knew wasn’t true.”

“Okay,” I said. “’Made a mistake’ doesn’t get at the actual intention to deceive. How about ‘misrepresented’? Or maybe ‘bore false witness.’ Remember when they circulated stories in the Republican primary that John McCain had fathered a black baby? Or when they assembled those military figures to say things they knew were false about John Kerry’s military record?”

“’Misrepresented’ and ‘bore false witness’ get at the idea,” said Patty, “but they’re still just not quite right. I can almost picture the word I want. It’s short. I think it’s a three-letter word. Darn it,” she said in exasperation, “I must be getting Old-timer’s Disease.”

“Well, what did the papers call it when Dick Cheney went around insisting that there was a link between Saddam and 9-11, long after intelligence had determined that was absurd?”

She thought a minute. “I can’t remember for sure,” she said. “I think they just said he was ‘misguided,’ but they may have said he was ‘overzealous.’”

“Listen, Patty,” I said, “the second half just started. Why don’t you fix me a ham sandwich and bring me a beer, and go on up to bed. I’ll just watch a few more minutes and be right up.”

“Ace,” she said, “that’s a lie and you know it.”

© Tony Russell, 2006


zenyenta said...

Ain't happening. We haven't heard so much as a, "That statment is now inoperative." out of this bunch. They've learned a lot from criminals of yore and what they've learned is - maintain that black is white until proof that is made widely public. Then switch to "Black, could, under a certain set of circumstancews, be white. Looked at , in the right light and with information that we have and we're not going to share with you, black is at the very least light gray. Pretttty close to white, wouldn't you say? Or do you hate America?" or, "If you tell the world that black is not white, the terrorists win."

Tony Russell said...

Zenyenta -

They lie. But in this column the administration was really a secondary target; it's the networks and magazines and newspapers and putative opposition that I'm after, because they all have a duty to call a lie a lie. And their failure to perform their duty amounts to their own betrayal of democracy.

Thanks for reading and commenting!