Friday, May 25, 2012

Accidentally Telling the Truth is Not a Gaffe

Or, at least, it shouldn't be. The reason the concept of the Kinsley gaffe, "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth - some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say."[3]", resonates is that the media does an atrocious job of informing readers and viewers when a politician is lying.

A while back I took part of an online quiz on a "fact checking" site, in which they asked readers to estimate how many... Pinocchios, flaming butt cheeks, or something like that... they assigned to various statements by politicians. The pointlessness of the exercise was best illustrated by the rating of a statement by Rick Santorum as being mostly false. The statement was one of opinion. Had the scale been the "Chauncey Gardner" garden rake scale, the person doing the rating would have been free to editorialize that the comment was so dim-witted and disconnected with logic that it ranked as a "hit in the face with a garden rake so hard that your zombie head gets knocked off", that would be fine. One opinion against another. Even if the rationale is, "That's such a baseless opinion that I can't believe Santorum holds it," it remains your opinion that he's lying as opposed to being ignorant or obtuse.

When self-professed fact-checkers stop checking the facts and start assessing the degree to which a politician may be shading the truth, they're no longer engaged in fact-checking. It's a perfectly legitimate function of the press to point to a statement that neatly avoids key issues or problems and to point out that it's not the whole story, but that's a different tasks than fact-checkers claim to be performing. It's interesting to me, also, that fact-checkers will use "Pinocchio" scales or a "pants on fire" meter, but they shy away from actually using the term "lie". You don't have to bring it out for every nuanced statement, but when a politician tells a real whopper why not tell it like it is? Instead, we have gasbag commentators who don't hesitate to call up down and the truth a lie, when they're talking about the other side, while the mainstream media at times passively "reports" on the controversy.

Here, Charles Pierce catches Mitt Romney in a "Kinsley gaffe",
Halperin: Why not in the first year, if you're elected — why not in 2013, go all the way and propose the kind of budget with spending restraints, that you'd like to see after four years in office? Why not do it more quickly?

Romney: Well because, if you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5%. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression. So I'm not going to do that, of course.
So... by pumping a whole lot of money into the economy and propping up state governments, the stimulus did what, Mitt? Once you agree on the conceptual framework you need to provide something more than bombastic rhetoric - whenever the other party does something it's different... and wrong - and start explaining how you are being consistent in your positions. Or at least, that's what should happen. But it won't. And Romney knows it won't, which is how he manages to get away with saying, "Up" on Monday, "Down" on Tuesday, "Sideways" on Wednesday, and "I don't remember what I said on any prior occasion, but I agree with whatever it was" on Thursday.

Romney is a walking caricature of everything people say that they hate about politicians. And yet....

So how about this? How about having the mainstream media stop chuckling when a politician "tells the truth" and instead congratulate him for being honest about a difficult issue, and pushing him to state how the sudden introduction of reality into his rhetoric affects his stated policies and future plans?

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