February 11, 2005

Slate's Dishonest Feature - 'Bushisms'

The online publication Slate does a feature called Bushism of the Day. The President has a reputation for sometimes using garbled syntax and awkward phrasings in his speech. To be sure, these can be embarrassing and humorous, depending on ones perspective. However, the existence of some examples of syntax mistakes has caused Slate to look for ever more examples - even when no such Bushism exists.

Eugene Volokh at Volokh Conspiracy has been covering these Bushisms and providing the context, proving that many of the Bushisms make perfect sense once the context - removed or ignored by Slate - has been provided.

Volokh shows us that some of these Bushisms are actually perfectly lucid, intelligent and utterly unremarkable statements. Here are two of the three Volokh has covered so far (in bold):

[W]e've got a lot on the agenda. Obviously, winning the war on terror is still on my mind. And I want to appreciate those of you who wear our nation's uniform for your sacrifice and for joining our great country's cause of freedom.

and

Listen, the other day I was asked about the NIE, which is a National Intelligence Estimate.

These are both perfectly normal statements to make. The first one, when removed from context, sounds a little weird because 1) he uses the phrase 'want to appreciate' which is somewhat unusual, but grammatically it's just fine and 2) the middle part sounds funny because he put 'who wear our nation's uniform' in the middle of a clause, but that again is perfectly acceptable and common.

For the second one, Slate mis-quoted Bush as saying National Intelligence Estimate twice. Volokh explains that the White House transcript has Bush saying NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE (in all caps) where he actually said the acronym NIE. The audio version of the speech is available online, and Bush said the acronym, then explained. This is an example of sloppy, irresponsible reporting. Why did Slate display such inability to check alternate transcripts for the real phrase? After all, the transcript curiously had the first phrase in all caps, presumably because the acronym was translated directly without paying attention to the context.

The reason Slate didn't give a damn to double-check a dubious statement is simple - they're already starving for Bushisms. When the best they can get is a very slightly unusual usage of the word 'appreciate' and a restatement of the same word, they're desperate. They don't have the 'put food on your family' and 'is our children learning' Bushisms any longer. When even a relatively unfunny version appears, they grasp at it.

They also have to have an extremely dim view of Bush. Why would he say "National Intelligence Estimate, which is a National Intelligence Estimate" unless he were joking? He'd have to be retarded or have a bad tele-prompter error to do that. They ought to have seen a) that's not a very reasonable mistake to make and b) the fact that the first NIE was in all caps has some significance.

This is a pretty disappointing feature when they have to basically lie (by omission) in the first Bushism and exercise a stunning lack of journalistic investigation on the second one, and all they can come up with is a mildly unusual phrase and a repetitive acronym.

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