It is a familiar sight to long-time political watchers. The government finds itself caught doing something illegal or unacceptable or lying or pursuing indefensible policies. It then starts using contorted language to avoid acknowledging what is obvious on its face to even a casual observer. At that point, press briefings turn into what looks like comedy sketches as one or two of the more independent-minded reporters try to get the official spokespersons to acknowledge facts and the latter try to avoid doing so by either stretching the meaning of words beyond all reason or stonewalling and repeating the same trite phrase over and over again.
My personal memory of this practice goes back all the way to the ‘Five O’Clock Follies’ at the latter stages of the Vietnam war, the derisive name given by reporters to the daily briefings that spawned such gems as “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
But the practice continued with Ronald Reagan’s spokespersons dodging and weaving during the Iran-Contra affair, Bill Clinton doing the same with Monica Lewinsky, and Ari Flecher, Scott McClellan, and Dana Perino defending the Bush presidency’s many lies about why the Iraq invasion.
We now have the Obama administration spokespersons doing the same dance. This time the questioner is Matt Lee of the Associated Press. Look at the transcript of a recent State Department briefing where spokesperson Jen Psaki is grilled about the administration’s treatment of Edward Snowden. (It is long but the more interesting parts have been bolded.)
In this clip from The Daily Show, we see various government spokespeople try to avoid labeling what happened in Egypt a ‘coup’ because that would trigger certain consequences they want to avoid. (Lee and Psaki also appear in this.)
(This clip aired on July 18, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)