Sunday, September 26, 2004

Dubya caught sodomizing family pets and amputee Iraqi orphans!!

Oh, sorry, I guess I "misspoke" there. Bummer. Which just emphasizes how tired I'm getting of this epidemic of "misspeaking" going around. And when exactly does someone misspeak? I'm thinking it's when they get caught flat-out lying, and are forced to 'fess up, like in this article in which Dubya spokesweasel Dan Bartlett has to admit that he dumped a load of swill on the press once upon a time and now has to recant:

On July 30, 1973, shortly before he moved from Houston to Cambridge, Bush signed a document that declared, ''It is my responsibility to locate and be assigned to another Reserve forces unit or mobilization augmentation position. If I fail to do so, I am subject to involuntary order to active duty for up to 24 months. . . " Under Guard regulations, Bush had 60 days to locate a new unit.

But Bush never signed up with a Boston-area unit. In 1999, Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett told the Washington Post that Bush finished his six-year commitment at a Boston area Air Force Reserve unit after he left Houston. Not so, Bartlett now concedes. ''I must have misspoke," Bartlett, who is now the White House communications director, said in a recent interview.

But what exactly does it mean when someone admits that they misspoke? Apparently, from the available evidence, what it means is, "Well, I tried to foist some total nonsense on you earlier, and I got caught, so I'm going to disavow it without explaining why I said it, and refuse to discuss it further. So there. Next question."

And it's not the completely weaselly way these people try to walk away from their previous BS that's so maddening; it's the way the press let's them get away with it. What exactly does it mean to say that someone misspeaks? Well, technically, there seem to be three (and exactly three) possibilities for a "misspeak", so let's take a look at each one of them.

  1. First, there's when you truly believe what you're saying at the time, but it turns out to be wrong. That is, you were absolutely sincere in your statements, but you were mistaken. Happens all the time, you apologize, and move on.
  2. Second, there's what I call the "true misspeak", when your brain and your mouth are not quite running at the same speed, and you unconsciously say the wrong thing without even realizing it. We've all done it; "Sorry, did I say meet at 5 pm? I really meant 6 pm, sorry, just trying to do too many things at once." Again, this is no big deal -- you were sincere in what you were saying, you just garbled it, so a quick apology and you move on.
  3. Finally, there's when you say something you know is untrue. This is what we in the industry refer to as a "lie". Which, as I'm sure you can appreciate, differs from the first two categories in a fairly meaningful way.
Now, as far as I can tell, these are comprehensive and mutually-exclusive categories -- any alleged "misspeak" has to fall into one (and only one) category. Which suggests that, when anyone claims to have "misspoken", it would be nice if the press would at least have the temerity to ask, "Um ... what exactly do you mean, you 'misspoke'? Can you explain what you mean by that?"

Instead, what we get is the worthless exchange of:

Weasel: "I misspoke."
Press: "Gotcha. Movin' on, then ..."

And everyone moves on to discuss, oh, John Kerry's windsurfing. Or his hair. Quite simply, spokesweasels shouldn't be allowed to get away with this. And it's the press' job to see that they don't. Which means, don't expect things to change anytime soon.

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