Thursday, September 02, 2004

Telephone Politics Continues

Martini Republic points out that the "core of Miller's attack on Kerry is similarly founded entirely on GOP email agitprop." [but probably sans Communist angle] The site links to Snopes's email debunking efforts.

Though the Snopes work is being floated around the 'sphere - I'm not sure it will really make it to the mainstream in a way that effectively discredits Miller's performance. His rhetorically effective yet overblown and largely false speech is just the lastest example of the new age of machine politics. That is, politics that literally mimic machines - here a combining of telephone and washing machine politics.

Telephone - like that old game. You know the one, where the first player makes a statement and passes it along until it comes out comically morphed on the other end (usually into something obscene or just gross - depending on age level). Washing machines launder things - we've seen Cheney do it, now we have Miller, Swift Boat Vets and others scrubbing up their takes on Kerry's record. Someone plants a rumor, completely unfounded - a whisper campaign. Get one, just one, reputable source to repeat the rumor - they can even say it's unsubstantiated - and presto, the original rumormonger can cite to the reputable source as the source of the information - regardless of its veracity. Its been laundered and comes out fresh and tidy.

Sad, no? The real beauty comes when the press, catching on to how it's been used, at some point, stops following up. So whereas we have (formerly more) reputable CNN questioning established facts (Kerry was awarded medals - regardless of whether he "deserved" them), CNN might choose now to no longer answer to potentially shady internet information. The Swift Boat Captains got theirs in the door in time, the truth might get frozen out in irony.

So there's the new machine politics - less about strong arming the populace and more about mutating information and fabricating truth. Telephones and washing machines. Who knew home appliances had all the answers . . . .

For fun, let's do a little exercise illustrating how these things get started. Let's take this graf from the Snopes analysis explaining that Kerry's votes to "kill" various weapons systems weren't votes attacking specific programs but were votes against omnibus spending packages:

Senators and Representatives might vote against a defense appropriations bill for any numbers of reasons — because they object to the presence or absence of a particular item, because they feel that the government is proposing to spend too much or too little money on defense, or anything in-between. Maintaining, as is the case here, that a Senator who voted "nay" on one year's defense appropriations bill therefore voted to "kill" a variety of specific weapons systems is like claiming that any Congressman who has ever voted against a defense appropriations bill has therefore also voted to abolish the U.S. military.
So, here we go. If I'm a Republican blogger, I take from this seeming defense of Kerry, the last sentence. I pass onto my friends a email, excepting just that part, introducing it by saying "see, even those who'd side with Kerry say that a vote again these vital appropriations packages may as well be votes to abolish the U.S. military! They pass that on to their friends. It gets to someone with a more widely read site. Or to a particularly creative pundit. And then it takes just two mentions on cable TV until the line becomes: "Kerry might as well just vote to abolish the U.S. military - that's how often he votes to cut funding. In fact, maybe that's what he's trying to do."

Duh. No it's not. And for our side, we could as easily point to later Snopes facts that the Reeps themselves (no really, the same guys working for George I) testified that many of these planes and programs were outdated and should be scrapped. Frankly, had Kerry voted for them he'd have been another careless spender. Why aren't the Reeps careless spenders for that matter? Why encourage the continuation of obsolete weaponry. That's not very fiscally responsible? (See what I'm doing here - now you keep it going. In fact, take the meme and run with it).

Martini Republic calls Miller's statments unequivocal lies. They aren't. Exactly. Sorta. See that's what's tricky. Did Kerry vote against the Apache helicopter? Sorta. He voted against one funding package in which the Apache was included. Did Cheney testify on 13 August 1989 that "we cancel the AH-64 [Apache] program two years out. That would save $1.6 billion in procurement and $200 million in spares over the next five years?" Yes. Does 1989 come before 1990 and 1995 - the years in which Kerry voted to "kill" these vital programs? Yes. So is Miller "lying?" Depends what your definition of "is" is, doesn't it. He's certainly, at the very least, obfuscating the truth. Miller et al can comfortably rest on black letter facts - but if the media were brave enough to do a little research (or, hell, even really low-impact research) maybe they would feel confident enough to conclude that "lies" is a better diction choice.

(No, one, it seems, is comfortable calling anyone a "liar" outright. You know, except for Arnold Schwarzenegger who called the Dems liars, or at least our convention a collection of lies. "True Lies." Remember? That's okay because he's a) a celebrity, b) masked the accusation in a joke, and c) c'mon, you aren't going to call him on it are you? You're a girlie-mon!)

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