This is how you do it

I’m pretty annoyed with CNN these days. I have called them “recklessly irresponsible” for failing to apply the slightest skepticism to the administration’s absurd claims of sonic weapon attacks in Cuba. Then there’s their website’s autoplay videos, which shrink, move to the sidebar, and keep playing if you scroll past them. Because obviously, when you scroll past a video to read a story, what you want is to see the video.

But Brianna Keilar nails it in this interview with Georgia State Senator Michael Williams:

That’s right, she asked the exact question I’ve criticized CNN for failing to ask: how do you know that? And Senator Williams dances a beautiful little jig in his effort to dodge her question.

I generally try to avoid pretending I know what other people are thinking. What I will say is that Senator Williams’ behavior is completely consistent with the hypothesis that he knows what he’s saying isn’t true. Let’s analyze that choreography.

First, the claim: Delta provides discounts to Planned Parenthood. And at the very first sign of pushback, he tries to muddy the waters by shifting the claim. Now all of a sudden it’s “other left-leaning organizations” that Delta is giving discounts. As if he hadn’t just said Planned Parenthood.

When Keiler pushes him for a source, the best he can come up with is “we looked it up on Google” and a promise that his campaign will provide that information later (he still hasn’t, by the way). Unfortunately for Senator Williams, Keiler had apparently anticipated his claim and researched it. So he retreats to “left-leaning organizations,” carefully avoiding admitting that the Planned Parenthood claim might not be true.

When Keiler asks whether he shouldn’t have his facts straight, he replies that “it is correct” that Delta gives discounts to “left-leaning organizations” and throws it back at Keiler as if she were the one making a claim. This is some beautiful footwork:

Him: X is true.

Her: How do you know X is true?

Him: Y is true.

Her: But shouldn’t you have checked that X is true before you said it?

Him: Are you telling me Y isn’t true?

When she goes back to the original claim, that Delta gives discounts to Planned Parenthood, he responds “Is that not a left-leaning organization?” This is such an obvious attempt at misdirection that I can’t believe he’s not aware of it. He’s saying that because something is true of one member of a category, obviously it must be true of another member of the category.

I’m allergic to clindamycin. Clindamycin is an antibiotic. Therefore, I must be allergic to penicillin. Are you telling me I’m not allergic to clindamycin?

At the very end, he shifts again, this time to Delta giving discounts to “left-leaning organizations that support Planned Parenthood.” Again, as if that’s what he was saying all along. It isn’t.

I can’t know for sure whether Senator Williams believes what he’s saying, but he gives every indication that he doesn’t. His behavior in the face of questioning is completely consistent with having assumed that his claim wouldn’t be questioned. And rather than admit that he actually doesn’t have the goods to back it up, he tries to pretend that he made a different claim to begin with. Keiler doesn’t let him. That’s how you do it.


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