How the Media Promotes Non-Existent ‘Gaffes’


Michael Brendan Dougherty, writing at The American Conservative, makes a good point about how the media helps the campaigns promote absurd “gaffes” that are really just distortions of what was said. He points to two obvious examples — the Democrats using Romney’s “I like being able to fire people” comment entirely out of context and the Republicans using Obama’s “you did not make that” comment entirely out of context — to show how the media narrative helps the campaigns engage in such dishonesty:

There is this weird assumption on the part of the media that if a candidate can be hurt if their comments are misconstrued then it is the solemn duty of the media to misconstrue those remarks.

This news coverage is justified in passive constructions. “The Obama campaign opened itself up to attack,” or “The Romney remark could reinforce a negative image.”

Then the defensive partisans charge in: “Let’s put the remarks in context.”

The charging partisans of the other side: “Let’s put them in some other broader context, like our nation’s unemployment problem, or its history of racism, or in contrast to an obscure Federalist paper quote I can recall.”

This is the cue for pundits who brand themselves “thoughtful” and “fair” to narcotize us with their thoughtfulness.

For once, I’d like a pool report to tell the truth “Candidate x got off the bus and addressed an enthusiastic crowd with the exact same platitudinous crap he said four hours earlier to another equally enthusiastic crowd. There was no sense to it whatsoever, but man, these people really ate it up. And his enemies will twist his words into slightly offensive shapes and make a big dumb boring hullaballoo about it until the nation finally stirs itself to end this thing with their votes.”

Hear, hear. All the things Mencken said 80 years ago about the essential dishonesty of political campaigns is more accurate than other. If anything, things have gotten far more absurd than even he identified — and he got many a good belly laugh out of them.

Comments

  1. Michael Heath says

    Mr. Romney’s comment was exploitable, but instead Democrats went for the dishonest cheap shot. It was exploitable because individuals weren’t able to effectively fire health insurance providers until Obamacare was passed. Romney punches himself in the face which the Democrats largely ignored; though not all, some non-conservative pundits did make good arguments.

    President Obama’s comment does reveal an enormous fundamental defect in conservative thinking, I think a fatally defective point when it comes to their ability to govern. So if the media was going to report something, it would be that defect. The point being growing economies require prudent government investment and services.

    So while Ed does a ‘hear, hear’ kudo to Michael Dougherty to the following statement, I reject Dougherty’s point for these two examples:

    Candidate x got off the bus and addressed an enthusiastic crowd with the exact same platitudinous crap he said four hours earlier to another equally enthusiastic crowd. There was no sense to it whatsoever, but man, these people really ate it up.

    Both men in this case stated something substantial, where the defect by the media was their failure to report what those assertions substantially revealed about the candidates’ respective approaches to governance; and their parties’ for that matter.

  2. d cwilson says

    I think a fatally defective point when it comes to their ability to govern.

    The republicans have no interest in governing at this juncture. They’re really just a marketing machine that’s selling nothing, literally nothing. This is why Romney is their perfect candidate: A man who has no beliefs representing a party that has nothing to offer.

    The two comments in the example are interesting. Obama’s comment was inartfully phrase, making it easy to take it out of context. If he had said, “You didn’t build those roads” instead of “that”, republicans wouldn’t have anything to take out of context. Not that they wouldn’t have tried anyway.

    On the other hand, I can’t figure out a way to rephrase “I like being able to fire people who provide services for me” so that it isn’t a giant tempting target for taking out of context. As Michael Heath noted, most people can’t fire their insurance provider since it’s chosen by their employer. It was a dumb way to say something that doesn’t even apply to most people.

  3. says

    This:

    ‘Today’s politicking evangelicals often cite the anti-slavery movement of their 19th-century forebears and analogize it to their antiabortion activism today.”

    is bullshit. The anti-abortionists are, in the main, the direct descendants, philosophically and morally, of the KKKristians who used the Whooly Babble to JUSTIFY slavery.

    When someone writes such fucking nonsense I tend to stop reading for comprehension as it’s pretty clear that there’s no point in doing so. I’ve already heard/read most (if not all) the reiKKKwing’s oft debunked but never abandoned talking points.

    Dougherty appears to be another one of the “good cop” KKKonservatives as opposed to “bad cop” KKKonservatives like asshole Pat Pukecannon, the founder of “The American Conservative”.

  4. gshelley says

    I thought at the ime, that the Obama camp using the “I like to fire people” comment was not wise. It seems with Romney, his major problems are that he seems out of touch, he isn’t likeable and that he doesn’t seem trustworthy. It would have been better for them to keep the high ground and be able to go after him as a liar who will say anything to get into office, than stoop to the same level and give the Romney camp the chance to use the “everyone puts a bit of spin on comments” defence

  5. TGAP Dad says

    I would draw enough of a distinction between these two particular examples to cry false equivalence. The Romney quote lacks its full context, but the full context only makes it slightly less horrible: “I like to fire people who perform services for me“. As opposed to the Obama quote, which loses its entire meaning without the original context.

    So, with only these two examples, you are asserting a false equivalence. These two are not the same. One takes out some context to make something bad into something worse, while the other removes context to make something mean the opposite of what was originally said.

  6. Alverant says

    I have to wonder which side does it worse. A few years ago in Illinois, Foster ran for a Congressional seat. Organizations like the Heritage Foundation ran ads ad nausium showing a clip where Foster said, “You can solve problems by throwing money at them.” The truth is he was speaking at a women’s voters meeting and he actually said, “The idea that you can solve problems by throwing money at them is ridiculous and wasteful.” (Not sure if it’s the exact quote, but I know he said the opposite of what Heritage Foundation protrayed what he said. Has there ever been such a blantant case of the political left doing that?

  7. says

    TGAP Dad–

    But he was clearly talking about liking the fact that he has the ability to take his business elsewhere if someone isn’t doing their job well. To turn that into “Gosh, I sure love firing people” is just dishonest.

    And to Alverant’s argument, I think the Republicans do this far more often than Democrats do. But that doesn’t mean the Democrats don’t do it at all, or that it’s okay to do it. The point of this is to document the ways the press lets the two sides get away with it and helps them do it rather than calling them out for the lie.

  8. kermit. says

    This is part of the mindless non-investigation that MSM journalism has become. I would not be surprised to discover that most reporters do not understand that when they make a story more salable by taking provocative incomplete quotes and headlining them, they are lying, and missing any real story that might be there.

    I am tired of politics in America being treated as a sporting contest. I would like to see more interviews with economists and generals analyzing the party policies, with explanations for the way those experts might be biased. I’m sick of celebrity gossip. The news we hear about Romney might as well be about the Kardashians, for all the substance we are offered.

    I get all my news now from Rachel Maddow, blogs, and webcomics.

  9. dingojack says

    TGAP Dad (#6) – actually I believe Romney said something like: ‘I like to be able to fire people performing services for me’*.
    Clearly he meant he liked that he was not forced to employ people who were not providing the service to his expectations. Not quite the same thing (and not as bad as you think).

    Dingo
    —–
    * As I read Ed has pointed out. Too slow. :(

  10. opyros says

    richardelguru@#1:
    I noticed that too: grammatically speaking, neither of those is a passive construction. Language Log has a whole series of posts, mostly by Geoffrey Pullam, about misuse of the term “passive voice” (mostly in a political context).

  11. Michael Heath says

    TGAP Dad:

    I would draw enough of a distinction between these two particular examples to cry false equivalence. The Romney quote lacks its full context, but the full context only makes it slightly less horrible: “I like to fire people who perform services for me“.

    The ability to fire service providers is a good thing. Romney’s point is a beneficial feature of a working marketplace; the problem was that Romney stands opposed to providing consumers with that option when it comes to their health insurance and in many cases, their healthcare care providers as well. That’s because the marketplace in both sectors is broken, where Obamacare goes a long way towards fixing that on the health insurance side.

  12. says

    As a couple of people have pointed out, the Romney quote can in fact legitimately be labeled a gaffe, because it is precisely the Affordable Care Act that gives consumers more choice and an easier way to choose among insurance providers and enroll in the plan they prefer. And yep, they can dump it if they don’t like it. So his comment made no sense. But . . .

    That would have required actually explaining something slightly complicated about public policy. That’s the last thing the corporate media is interested in, or even capable of. And campaign strategists have concluded that it’s not going to move votes — persuadable voters don’t understand anything about policy, aren’t going to invest in learning, and basically aren’t drive by rationality. The game is to manipulate symbols and inchoate impressions. Ergo Willy Horton and the Pledge of Allegiance, in the case of George Bush the First; and landing on an aircraft carrier with a sock in your jock, in the case of George Bush the Second. This is what they do because this is what works.

  13. Michael Heath says

    cervantes wrote:

    As a couple of people have pointed out, the Romney quote can in fact legitimately be labeled a gaffe, because it is precisely the Affordable Care Act that gives consumers more choice and an easier way to choose among insurance providers and enroll in the plan they prefer. And yep, they can dump it if they don’t like it. So his comment made no sense.

    I don’t recall any commenters describing Mr. Romney’s statement as a gaffe nor do I think it is a gaffe. Instead Mr. Romney was proclaiming the beauty of free-market principles, while simultaneously promoting his party’s misrepresentation regarding how Obamacare actually measures-up to those free market principles. In this case quite well; where Romney doesn’t care since his audience doesn’t fact check anyway; whatever Obama does is socialism. So this argument didn’t contain a gaffe, but is instead slanderous hypocritical demagoguery; where the Democratic response amplified the effectiveness of what Romney said his principled point was correct.

  14. Ichthyic says

    The game is to manipulate symbols and inchoate impressions. Ergo Willy Horton and the Pledge of Allegiance, in the case of George Bush the First; and landing on an aircraft carrier with a sock in your jock, in the case of George Bush the Second. This is what they do because this is what works.

    Lois Griffin:

    “9…. 11!”

    *crowd goes wild*

  15. Ichthyic says

    Mr. Romney was proclaiming the beauty of free-market principles

    I love the smell of napalm in the morning…

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