Sunday, January 23

"May" and the Double "At Least" Plus "Just": Government Grammatical Hedging of the Week

Reuters collects this stellar example of doublespeak from the American proconsul in ambassador to Iraq, explaining the looting of $300 million in cash from the Iraqi central bank to CNN:
"So what we may be seeing, at least in part at least here, is just part of the wind-up of a political campaign. In any case, we are looking into it," he said.

What an embarrassing wealth of qualifiers all in a row. Naturally the party in power is going to bulk up the war chest for the final wave of suicide attack ads. Why, the GOP has been using public funds in a very similar way lately, buying and inventing phony "journalists" to tout its legislative agenda without disclosure. It's just business as usual, nothing to worry about.

One of the things about working until I drop every day, and weekends, too, is that I have less mindshare to invest in rage and bitter laughter about the transparent contempt these people have for the intelligence of the ordinary American. I want to check the transcript to see whether the anchor saw the slow hanging curve and hit it out of the park: "You expect the American people to buy this bullshit?" My impulse is to sell that possibility short, and mortage the house and kids to do it.

Seriously, though, who's the public affairs officer that let this orangutan within 3,000 miles of a live microphone without a mysterious bulge in his suit jacket? Appoint him cultural attach´┐Ż for life to Outer Mongolia, make him study throat-singing.

We had a bit of a scuffle this week setting up an interview with an industry big-man, but at least the negotiations were rational. They wanted us not to ask about the one topic that would make the interview worth printing, we told them that we could only run the interview if we disclosed that they had imposed restraints. My reaction was that you have a brain trust of PR people, can't you come up with some interesting explanations for why you can't talk about the topic at the moment?

The reporter was reluctant to go the final mile, though: saying that under those conditions, we'd have to pass. I guess I am not sufficiently briefed on what a big-shot the guy is. I mean, I have a vague idea, and I'm willing to telegraph the topics to be covered, though not the questions and follow-up, obviously, to give him time to devise some carefully crafted off-the-cuff remarks. But the bottom line is we're onto this story and we're not going to pretend the hippopotamus at the dinner table is just crazy old Uncle Bob, pay him no mind.

A non-newsmaking interview is no news and we don't have time and warm bodies to waste not reporting news while we make it look like we are. That's what the PR profession is for, it's quite labor-intensive, and the real pros can make lemonades from the lemon, negotiating the scen so everyone is satisfied, instead of just getting on and whining that their boss is gonna yank their bonus if we don't cave.

At least well-crafted evasions give your readers something to practice their hermeneutics on. And if you want to pull a Negroponte on us, we're happy to have some black-comic relief. But we prefer that you don't. We know that you and your people, at least, are better than that. Seriously, this one of thing the private sector should be better at than the government is. The bar is set pretty damn low.


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