Archive for September, 2004

When in Trouble There’s Nothing Like a Team

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004

Clintonista Spindoc James Carville says Senator Kerry is going to be OK: He now has a team “of really good people” working on his campaign and prepping him for presidential debates.

“Team,” of course, is corporatespeak for everything will be okey dokey from now on because we have turned over the problem (disaster, opportunity, no-win challenge) to a gaggle of diverse minds who then practice group think. “Team” became popular spin after “task force” caused too many subversive smiles.

In a timely article, Jared Sandberg reports in the Wall Street Journal Online on the value of teams (“Some Ideas Are So Bad That Only Team Efforts Can Account for Them”). He tells the hortatory story of the Air Force “process improvement team” (PTT) that spent a month devising a better way to handle incoming mail. When the PTT finished its work, one of the Air Force’s largest bases had increased from eight to 19 the steps needed to deliver a letter to its proper recipient after it arrived on the base.

Obviously, appointing a PTT is superior to a simple team.

Really, Really That’s the Way It Is: Just a Mistake

Tuesday, September 21st, 2004

Struggling like a lamed Houdini to extricate himself from a locked safe to which more chains are added by the hour, CBS Anchor Dan Rather along with CBS unloosed six additional varieties of memogate spin to the seven already described in the Spinspeak Letter:

  • The “we were led to believe” spin — We never said they were absolutely the real thing. (Well, not in the last few hours anyway.) And now that everyone but us is saying they are forgeries, we want you, our diminishing viewers, to know that “we were led to believe” they were OK by “others.”
  • The Edward R. Murrow spin = “I’d like to break that story” if those documents turn out to be forgeries. (Of course, the trouble with this spin is that Rather was already scooped by the “ pajama-clad” bloggers who first spotted the fraud.)
  • The “cannot prove that the documents are authentic” spin = See, the problem here is not that the documents are blatant forgeries but that we can’t prove they are real; therefore, maybe they are not forgeries after all, maybe.
  • “I no longer have confidence in these documents” spin = See how we safeguard the viewers’ interest: I, Dan Rather, after much research, now withdraw my confidence in what so many others on whom surely you can’t rely have been calling an outrageous forgery for days.
  • The big “apology” spin = Not for perpetrating and defending a major journalistic fraud for a week, not to the President of the United States for trying to destroy him in a presidential election campaign, but for a “mistake.” And, of course, we all make ‘em, right? As the spindocs for a former President used to say: It’s time to move on.
  • CBS Wins Golden Spinny Award for Memogate

    Thursday, September 16th, 2004

    The Spinspeak Letter has awarded a special Golden Spinny to CBS Anchor Dan Rather and CBS for its handling of the fake documents imbroglio.

    Rather and CBS along with Democratic surrogates have offered at least seven varieties of spin in less than a week as alternate explanations to crass, pajama-clad disbelievers of CBS’ insistence that its newly-discovered documents trashing President Bush’s Air National Guard service are not fakes. The seven varieties:

  • The objective journalism spin – Our reporting on the fake documents is highly professional and accurate even if they are proven to be fake (which we insist they are not.)
  • The truth-will-out spin – The content of the fake documents is accurate even though the documents submitted to prove the content true are really fakes.
  • The victim spin – We have been had by some nerdy, irresponsible computer trickster.
  • The conspiracy spin – The fake documents were given to us by agents of that devilish plotter, Bush Strategist Karl Rove, as part of the vast right wing conspiracy.
  • The technological marvel spin – The documents could indeed have been made to look like 21st Century computer processed documents more than 30 years ago. All it would take would be a highly adroit typist in an Air National Guard office in Texas using an advanced IBM Selectric with a variety of handily installable font balls or maybe a type setter-printer or maybe a secret PC prototype being tested before being shipped to Cambodia.
  • “They” are dodging spin = The Republicans are using the fact that the documents are fakes to avoid answering the unsubstantiated slanders in the fake documents.
  • The first-to-tell-you spin – Should we be wrong, and we are not saying we are wrong, we’ll be first to tell you and “want” to do it.
  • Criteria for Golden Spinnies include “innovation under fire, speed of change in argument, maintenance of sincerity and reasonableness of tone despite extreme provocation including laughter, strong self-delusionary capability and total shamelessness.”

    And That’s the Way It Is: the Accurate Faux Facts

    Tuesday, September 14th, 2004

    The major flap over CBS’ “reporting” on Bush’s National Guard service record based on very apparently fake documents puts under the spin detector’s microscope for study a whole new category of spinspeak: the accurate faux fact.

    Initially, CBS Anchor Dan Rather, with all the sincere relish and mock dourness of a certified Bush basher, reported “new” sensational facts trashing the President’s service in the Air National Guard during the Viet Nam War. The “facts” were based on “newly discovered” documents.

    Within minutes, the “report” began to fray as the authenticity of the documents was questioned on the Internet. Increasingly, hour after hour the documents were exposed by various experts as poorly constructed fakes. Among the more damning of numerous defects: they were miraculously composed by computers and software that didn’t exist in the early 1970’s when the documents allegedly were written.

    It were as if the Metropolitan Museum of Art unveiled a long-lost Tintoretto of St. Jerome. And there was the saint looking out of his cave at a distant landscape that included a very small World Trade Center in the distance; also the paint was acrylic; also the ornate gold frame was made of genuine Lexan.

    CBS and Rather unloosed a jumbo cloud of spin: they insisted that the documents were authentic; or they insisted that at least they were told the documents were authentic; or they had no reason to doubt the authenticity of the source which they would not disclose on their journalistic honor; and, in any case, they insisted that the “reporting” of what the documents said was totally accurate even if the documents were fakes.

    There was the breakthrough in spin technique: the establishment of a new level of journalistic excellence for our times: the careful, professional, absolutely, totally, completely accurate, repetitive reporting of humbug regardless of truth.

    So what’s your problem?

    Ever Onward in the Science of Spinspeak

    Tuesday, September 14th, 2004


    Two more technical categories for scholars in the linguistic science of spinspeak:

    disingenuous = nicespeak terminology for calculated lie or strongly misleading statement.Employed apparently to his great satisfaction by Sen. John McCain (R-NM) in describing Movie Producer Michael Moore’s attacks on the Bush Administration and the Second Iraq War. McCain, without naming him, called Moore “a disingenuous film maker who would have us believe that Saddam’s Iraq was an oasis of peace when in fact it was a place of indescribable cruelty, torture chambers, mass graves and prisons…”

    taqiyya = the art of dissimulation grounded in the Islamic strategic concept that one never owes the truth to unbelievers.

    Prof. Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins writes in the Wall Street Journal that taqijja has been used “to perfection” by Islamists to take advantage the pluralism of the West while thwarting Muslim assimilation. Ajami is author of Dream Palace of the Arabs.

    >Carville Spins "Po’ ol’ Senator Zell"

    Tuesday, September 7th, 2004


    What’s a spinmeister to do when a prominent player on his team delivers a crushing indictment of the competence and policies of his presidential candidate as Sen. Zell Miller (D-GA) did at the Republican National Convention?

    No problem for James Carville: You simply ignore the deadly content of the speech and strongly suggest early senility. Simultaneously, you shake your head sadly over how pitiful it all is to see such a grand old senator and former client manipulated so cynically by scheming Republicans.

    Miller, who is only 72 and appears extraordinarily fit and feisty, excoriated Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry’s record in the Senate and elsewhere and said Kerry apparently thought America could be defended with “spitballs.”

    But in response to all questions on NBC News’ Meet the Press Sept. 5, Carville avoided the specifics of Miller’s speech and in less than 10 minutes floated the following:

  • “It’s a shame they put that poor man out there in the twilight of his career with a bunch of half-truths. Then they put him on TV after, out there making a fool of himself.”
  • “You know, it’s a shame, because Senator Miller’s had a distinguished mid-career, and I’m very sad for him and the people that work for him.”
  • “I love Senator Zell. I’m just so angry at what those cynical Republicans did to him, putting him up and making him says stuff that is indefensible.”
  • Carville also wanted his listeners to know that “po’ ol’ Senator Zell” wasn’t to blame for the speech in any case. Carville said the speech was written for him by White House Political Strategist and the Democrats’ favorite bête noir Karl Rove.

    The problem with this final bank-shot spin was that Carville’s wife, GOP Political Strategist Mary Matalan, was also on Meet the Press and the following exchange ensued:

    Matalan: “I think I know who wrote Miller’s speech.”

    Carville: “You know?”

    Matalan: “Senator Miller wrote his own speech.”

    No one ever said life in the spin factory is a bowl of berries.

    >Never Mind that It Walks and Quacks, that’s Just Anger

    Friday, September 3rd, 2004


    Two spinballs being hurled by Democrats at Republican National Convention critics are “anger” and “questioning patriotism.”

    The first, “anger,” is psychobabble for the obvious mental disorder of people who keep bringing up unpleasant facts and history. “Anger” is in the same spinspeak family as “mean spirited” — much favored by onetime presidential hopeful MIchael Dukakis.

    The second, “questioning patriotism,” is smearspeak for changing the subject and besmirching anyone with the audacity to mention a record of anti-military behavior and appeasement.

    Chamberlain’s reluctance to build up Britain’s military and his signing of the disastrous Munich Pact with Hitler wasn’t unpatriotic. But, as Churchill kept pointing out, it was appeasement. And it was dumb.