Too Foxy for Words

The ink slingers at Media Matters have mastered the art of the plausibly deniable smear: how to lie without lying.

There are many different ways to create a smear campaign. Clearly the sleaziest technique is simply to falsify, and then when caught, refuse to correct or retract the false statement. This "brute force" approach is typified by the newshounds (with recent examples here and here).

There is a more subtle, more effective method. Don't tell a 100% outright lie. Instead, use misdirection, semantic tricks, and half-truths to create an impression. Reinforce your dishonest message with a deceptive headline. Create a straw man and spend multiple paragraphs knocking it down. By the time you actually quote what your chosen victim really said, it's too late--he's already been slimed.

This kind of foxy legerdemain is not for the amateur; it requires considerable skill and experience to pull it off. Which is why self-admitted liar David Brock was the ideal choice to head up Media Matters, the leading exponent of this nuanced approach to character assassination. Two of their recent fusillades against Fox News from just the past seven days show how much he has refined this methodology.

Exhibit A:

Deceptive Headline:
Hannity and N.H. sheriff suggested illegal immigrants can't be prosecuted for murder

The key word here is "suggested". Everyone knows what it means:

v 1: make a proposal, declare a plan for something [syn: propose, advise] 2: imply as a possibility; "The evidence suggests a need for more clarification" [syn: intimate] 3: drop a hint; intimate by a hint [syn: hint] 4: suggest the necessity of an intervention; in medicine; "Tetracycline is indicated in such cases" [syn: indicate] [ant: contraindicate] 5: call to mind or evoke [syn: evoke, paint a picture]

Straw Man:
In fact, illegal immigrants are prosecuted on a regular basis...

And they go on at length about how illegals are prosecuted. But did Hannity "suggest" any such thing? When MM finally gets around to quoting what he said--at the bottom of the page, natch!--it's not quite as advertised:

Actual Quote:
HANNITY: What would happen if a major crime is committed or a murder is committed, are we allowed to prosecute at that point?

This is what Brock's brigade uses to concoct a charge that Sean Hannity "suggested" something? He asked a freaking question!

Exhibit B:

Deceptive Headline:
Hannity falsely suggested only "liberals" oppose coastal oil drilling

There's that word "suggested" again. It's a pretty good rule of thumb that when MM uses it, they ain't got nothin'. But what we want you to keep in mind is a different word: "only".

Straw Man:
In fact, Republican presidents and governors have also opposed coastal drilling...

Followed by another tedious parade of paragraphs as before. Note the re-use of "in fact"--a Straw Man phrase to make the reader think what Hannity said was untrue.

Actual Quote:
HANNITY: Liberals in this country ... won't allow us to drill off the shores...

Where exactly does Brock's battalion come up with the notion that Hannity said "only liberals"? Where did the "only" come from? They made it up!

We have exposed hundreds of falsehoods, errors, and outright lies told about Fox News. No tricks: we just tell the truth and give the facts. But media "watchdogs" who try to outfox their readers with slippery semantic shenanigans aren't exposing lies--they're telling them.

posted: Thu - May 12, 2005 at 02:58 PM       j$p  send 

john t
Surprise! I'm going to put a comment on a topic that doesn't have the Newshounds bashed in it. Probably the first in the history of this site. Oh well.
I was accused of playing word games on here in an earlier post. Now here you are (again playing word games) about the word "only".
Yes MM used the word "only" because if you read the transcript Hannity says it's the Liberals that are stopping the drilling off the coast. He doesn't mention any Republicans. He "only" mentions the Liberals. He doesn't mention anyone else. He "only" mentions Liberals.
May 12, 2005, 8:10:11 PM EDT – Like – Reply

johnny dollar
Hannity did NOT say "IT'S THE liberals". Neither did he say "ONLY" liberals. He said simply "liberals". 
I could say "liberals oppose the War in Iraq". Does that mean ONLY liberals? No, unless you consider Pat Buchanan a liberal!
Media Matters makes valid points sometimes, but when they get hard up for something to post, they come up with phony stuff like this.
May 12, 2005, 10:07:30 PM EDT – Like – Reply

No, john t, you are wrong again. Two points:
(1) Hannity's quote makes no mention of conservatives' views or actions on offshore drilling, therefore they are neither included in nor excluded from the population of people who are stopping drilling. The word "only" would make this an "exclusive-or" (one but not the other) situation, which it is not: it is an "or" situation, where one state is given (liberals oppose drilling) and, as long as that is true, the other state is irrelevant (it doesn't matter - and is not pertinent to Hannity's point - which side conservatives are on).
(2) The "suggested" setup - followed by the "in fact" argument is the key point J$ is making.
May 12, 2005, 10:21:19 PM EDT – Like – Reply

Also, Occam's Razor would apply here - by introducing an ambiguity (saying that Hannity is excluding conservatives when their position is actually ambiguous), he is making the situation more complex.
May 12, 2005, 10:32:43 PM EDT – Like – Reply

john t
I didn't put it's the liberals in quotations as if Hannity said it that way. And MM didn't put only in quotations marks as if Hannity stated that either. MM put Hannity suggested that only "liberals". Suggest is to put an idea out. Everbody that's heard Hannity knows how he likes to throw ideas out.
May 12, 2005, 10:37:15 PM EDT – Like – Reply

> Everbody that's heard Hannity knows how he likes to throw ideas out.
Ah! john t has resorted to the use of the "Glittering Generality" (commonly used by his favorite newshounds): associating Hannity with an idea or concept - "throwing ideas out" - to make us accept and approve of john t's views without examining the evidence.
May 12, 2005, 10:49:02 PM EDT – Like – Reply

johnny dollar
"Suggest is to put an idea out".
Correct. Hannity suggested that liberals oppose drilling. He did NOT suggest that ONLY liberals oppose drilling.
Follow: Liberals oppose drilling. No news there. Even MM can't object to that statement. But what if Hannity said ONLY liberals oppose drilling? Hey, we got an article. But he didn't say that. OK, we'll claim he "suggested" it, spend multiple paragraphs proving how wrong that is, and hope nobody notices that he never said "only"!
The subtlety of it all amuses me after dealing with so many outright falsehoods from you-know-who. At least these MM guys are TRYING to cover their tracks.
May 12, 2005, 11:00:17 PM EDT – Like – Reply

john t
Okay Mickey, I did watch during the Schiavo mess and I did watch the other night when Hannity had his "exclusive interview" with the Schiavo family. Hannity sat there and all he could do is make accusations about how Michael Schiavo abused his wife. And don't try to say he didn't I heard the whole interview.
May 12, 2005, 11:04:41 PM EDT – Like – Reply

Schiavo? Is this now "bait-and-switch"?
May 12, 2005, 11:30:48 PM EDT – Like – Reply

john t
Boy, I guess you two got so excited that someone was on here you could gang up on you had to go have sex with each other.
May 12, 2005, 11:34:32 PM EDT – Like – Reply

Any further comment would violate J
May 12, 2005, 11:57:33 PM EDT – Like – Reply

But wait - there's more. The article says that:
"The Bush administration has flip-flopped on protecting California's coastal areas from drilling. After initially trying to facilitate drilling..."
Try and find anything that says the Bush administration tried to "facilitate drilling" in CALIFORNIA COASTAL AREAS. Nothing. PUBLIC LANDS? yes:
"Some of these assaults on still-pristine PUBLIC LANDS are being carried out by the administration of its own accord. But it also is looking to passage of a fossil-fuelfriendly energy bill that would ramp up efforts to FACILITATE DRILLING on PUBLIC LANDS with a minimum of public review, including allowing the establishment of "energy corridors."
-- Harrisburg Patriot-News, "SPEAKING UP," November 12, 2003
Only the phrase "facilitate drilling" was extracted from news releases and used in completely different context.
May 13, 2005, 6:00:45 PM EDT – Like – Reply

To further clarify, the so-called flip-flop was about drilling in the WATER off the coast:
"...the Bush administration announced Monday that it will not appeal a court decision giving California the right to block oil drilling in federal waters off the state's coast."
-- San Francisco Chronicle, 4/1/03
May 13, 2005, 6:05:20 PM EDT – Like – Reply

john t
Dollar, has your little buddy Mickey lost his mind? What the hell is he talking about? But just to oblige him. Here Mickey, go read this. . I'll let you know where to send my money.
May 13, 2005, 10:42:24 PM EDT – Like – Reply

(1) your link doesn't work.
(2) the prize is for a falsification by J$ - not me. J$ takes great care to present actual transcripts to back up his points. I'm not a blogger - just a commenter like you (and you would owe me a fortune with your misinformation).
May 13, 2005, 11:02:46 PM EDT – Like – Reply

john t
It wouldn't be that the link doesn't work is because alot of letters are missing? We'll thry again.
May 13, 2005, 11:24:54 PM EDT – Like – Reply

john t
That's funny it didn't work again.Well after la put [timest/neww] and then carry on with the rest.
May 13, 2005, 11:29:57 PM EDT – Like – Reply

john t:
I suggest you take a few courses in internet technology and terminology before you present yourself as an expert.
May 13, 2005, 11:52:38 PM EDT – Like – Reply