Monday, December 12, 2005

With Bush Administration, Staying "On Message" More Important Than Telling Truth

We've all heard the story about how George Washington admitted to his father that he chopped down a cherry tree. It's a straightforward story with a clear moral: people shouldn't lie.

I wonder if someday there will be a similar children's story regarding spin.

When members of the Bush Administration is caught telling a lie, misstating a fact, or make a bad prediction, the first instinct isn't to admit the mistake. Rather, it's to spin.

The reason for this is the administration's desire to stay "on message." Unhappy with the way Iraqis are handling the war? Get them "on message" with propaganda. Don't like what your top generals say about Iraqi troop self-sufficiency? Stay "on message," even if it means using creative math.

Back in August, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart provided a brilliant look at how the administration tries to stay "on message" by repeating the same catch-phrases over and over.

And let's face it, "staying on message" has worked wonders for George W. Bush. The "message" in 2000, for example, was to repeatedly ask the nation how many times Florida ballots should be "recounted," when they never were officially recounted in accordance with state law. Bush may never have been the nominee, of course, had it not been for South Carolinians being blanketed by the "message" about Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) -- that he was a Manchurian Candidate who had fathered a child with a black New York prostitute.


To see a full example of how the Bush Administration stays "on message," take a look at the Dec. 4 edition of Fox News Sunday. Host Chris Wallace gave National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley three opportunities to admit Vice President Cheney made a mistake in May when he said the Iraqi insurgency was in its “last throes."

But Hadley, the loyal soldier, knows that when faced with admitting a mistake, the first instinct is to spin. The results are almost comical:

Opportunity 1:

WALLACE: Last May, Vice President Cheney said the following, and let’s put it up on the screen if we can, I think the level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think will clearly decline. I think they’re in their last throes, if you will, of the insurgency. Since then, 462 American troops have died. The insurgency back in May was not in its last throes, was it?

HADLEY: One of the things the president did in his speech on Wednesday was to try and be clear about who is the enemy, who we’re up against, and he categorized it really in three ways…

Opportunity 2:

WALLACE: But, Mr. Hadley, with respect, I don’t think you answered my question. Was the vice president mistaken last May when he talked about an insurgency in its last throes, given the fact that almost 500 American troops have been killed since then?

HADLEY: The violence is continuing, as I said in my answer to the prior question. We have made clear we thought the violence was probably going to go up in this period.

Opportunity 3:

WALLACE: But doesn’t that undercut the credibility of the administration, first of all, when the vice president talks about last throes, last May, and clearly it turns out it was wrong? And, with respect, there’s an unwillingness for you to admit it was a mistake then. A lot of people say that this administration, even when it’s clearly mistaken, is never willing to say it was wrong. ...Was he wrong when he said that?

HADLEY: Well, look. What I think we can say is that there were indications that we are making progress against the insurgency.


What would have happened if George Washington had known the art of staying "on message?"

CAPT. AUGUSTINE WASHINGTON: George, did you cut down this cherry tree?

GEORGE WASHINGTON: Oh, father, must we be consumed with the success or failure of any one tree? Our family owns so much acreage. And yet there are children who starve. Are you suggesting that the fate of one diminuitive tree is greater than of a starving child?

CAPT. WASHINGTON: You have not answered my query, George. I note you are holding an axe in your hand. Is this not proof of your guilt?

GEORGE WASHINGTON: I do not believe that the question of guilt comes into play, father. For cherry trees have no legal rights in the commonwealth. I suppose you would defend this tree in a court of law, seeing as you place its value above that of the aforementioned starving children.

CAPT. WASHINGTON: I suggest no such thing! I merely wish to know whether you chopped down this cherry tree!

GEORGE WASHINGTON: You remain consumed with this one tree, whereas I would prefer to look at the success of all the surrounding trees. Perhaps you would do well to consider providing the fallen fruit of this one tree to the starving children you so willfully ignore!


Yes, it's a farce. George Washington's first instinct, as the story goes, was to tell the truth and admit wrongdoing, even for something as trivial as a cherry tree.

But another George, and those who surround him, don't have that same instinct.


Blogger IdentityMIA said...

Your blog doesn't like Firefox, or my Firefox doesn't like your blog. Either way, please fix this so your blog is readable in Firefox. Thanks. :)

6:59 AM  
Blogger don dzikowski said...

Excellent essay JABBS. But you're forgetting that the spin appears to be working.
We've all read the reports of over the last few days of Bush's overall popularity and his standing on the Iraq issue improve in the latest polls as a result of his ongoing serious of spin speeches. (Well, the reports don't tell us that the improvement is largely within the margin of error, but never mind).
The problem rests once again with the MSM, which does not appropriately challenge Bush spin with facts, or the words of more authoritative sources who are on the ground in Iraq and can attest to what is actually going on. These counter arguments quite simply do not receive the same placement as does Bush spin, despite all the distortions and lies earlier uncovered through earlier Bush Administration statements on Iraq, and despite polls showing most of the public does not trust the president on Iraq. Shameful. Disgusting. Hence, the propaganda becomes more powerful than the truth.
As a footnote, everyone especially the Bushies should read this powerful lenghty new report by James Fallows in the Atlantic on the true state of Iraq security forces. Why such a documented, authoritative report does not receive fair, if any, coverage in the MSM is a question for the angels, I guess.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Craig R. Harmon said...

I add my voice to that of IdentityMIA's your adds make your essay unreadable in Firefox. I'm not going back to IE just to read your site.

2:41 PM  
Blogger Ryan Clark Holiday said...

isn't it kind of ironic that you used a false story to imply that the bush administration ought to be honest?

Ryan Clark

Ryan Clark

4:43 PM  
Anonymous rob of wilmington, del. said...

The actual story may be more legend than reality, but the moral is clear.

At this point, I'd be happy if the Bush Administration learned its lessons from Schoolhouse Rock, if it would mean a more honest government.

"I'm just a bill,
Yeah I'm only a bill,
And I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill.

But one long, long day while I was sitting in committee,

It was a long, long day and it wasn't very pretty,

Because Tom DeLay said I couldn't be a law!!!

Oh, I hope and pray that I will,

But DeLay says I'll be just a bill.

5:51 PM  
Blogger prying1 said...

Perhaps the liberal left should learn to spin the news as well as Bush does. Then you might start winning elections.

8:12 PM  
Blogger don dzikowski said...

"The liberal left" does not want to resort to spin. It wants to tell the truth.
Rovian spin became more appealing than the truth to middle Americans.
But it sets a dangerous precedent when the only way to win an election is to resort to a bunch of lies. We do not elect the most qualified candidate, rather the one who can do the best job of spinning. A wonderful Rovian contribution to human civilization.
So now we witness the disasterous deadly result of those lies almost daily.
Bush is the better president to protect us (Katrina). Bush is the best president for Homeland security (the recent findings of the 9-11 commission), Bush is the best president to reduce the size and cost of government (too much to list here) etc. etc. etc.

3:20 PM  
Anonymous revolute said...

Excellent post - linked to and inspiration grafted from @
Everything Between

keep up the good fight!

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm. I use Foxfire. Am using it right now and have no problems.

Keep up the good work JABBS. The small voice in the wilderness will someday have the volume that the national press will not be able to ignore.

3:09 PM  
Blogger Dean P said...

It's a bit sad that the right-winger on here says lefties should start using spin and we might start winning elections. This, of course, is not a surprise. It's the same republican cabal who derided those of us who live in a "reality based" world. If facts can change, they can never be wrong.

Positively orwellian.

7:49 PM  

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