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More Fun With Quoting - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
More Fun With Quoting
The CNN story on Al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri's new videotaped warning to the British and American people provides another example, in my estimation, of the subtle way in which reporters can use quotes to impart color to an outwardly neutral story. Here's the first mention of President Bush's response, immediately beneath the subheading "Bush Defiant."
Bush was unswayed. "He's saying, you know, 'Leave,'" he told reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he had just met Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
I'm sure that this is an accurate transcription of what Bush actually said. But I also know that the reporter didn't need to quote this statement at all. The quotes that follow, while hardly eloquent, put the President in a more dignified light:
The U.S. president described the ideology of al-Zawahiri and his adherents as "dark, dim, backwards. They don't appreciate women. If you don't agree to their narrow view of a religion, you'll be whipped in the public square."

Their goal, he said, is to spread their point of view throughout the world, starting in the "broader Middle East. And part of their goal is to drive us out of the broader Middle East."

But Bush said the United States would not bend to the threats of al Qaeda or of al-Zawahiri.

"They're terrorists, they're killers and they will kill innocent people trying to get us to withdraw from the world so they can impose their dark vision on the world. That's what they're trying to do, and the comments today by Mr. Zawahiri absolutely reinforce what I have just told you. We will stay the course; we will complete the job in Iraq."
Sure, we've heard all this hundreds of times. I'm sure there are grooves in Bush's brain carved by the flow of these talking points. But at least he sounds somewhat presidential in delivering them. The lead quote, by contrast, with Bush's use of "you know" to emphasize a point obvious to any second-grader, makes him seem hopelessly overmatched. And I'm not sure that's a good thing. Believe me, I welcome any opportunity to make the Bush Administration pay for its selfishness and arrogance. Yet something in me still bridles at anything that smells of the mainstream media's supposed "liberal bias."

In the end, I don't think making the President look more foolish than he already is makes sense. Fools can get away with a lot more than people respected for their intellect. Wouldn't it be better if we had a clear sense that Bush is responsible for the atrocities being committed in his name? Personally, I'm waiting for the day when W is admitted to the same chamber of infamy to which Richard Nixon was assigned during Watergate. That will only happen, though, if people think he is capable of owning his decisions.
6 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 5th, 2005 07:31 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
But you're saying that Bush is who we make him out to be, not simply who he is. If he's a fool, incapable of owning the atrocities, then there's nothing else to it.

cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 5th, 2005 08:05 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Perhaps. But I suppose you could also argue that we might be better served making him seem less of a fool than he actually is. We saw all this shit with Reagan too. And he certainly knew what he was doing until his mind went.
cpratt From: cpratt Date: August 5th, 2005 06:30 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yup. All of this "smirking chimp" stuff irritates me because damn it, it isn't that the man is stupid, it's that he's really, really good at what he does. You don't just accidentally fail all the way upwards into the Presidency; you have to work very, very hard at it. And this homespun, aw shucks, slightly outwardly stupid schtick works really well for Bush, just as it did for Reagan. All of this Bush-as-idiot talk seems exactly as ineffective as the Reagan-as-Bonzo talk did twenty years ago; can't we come up with anything better?
From: marcegoodman Date: August 5th, 2005 07:32 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
What has been striking to me is how difficult it has been to determine in any given instance when Bush is simply speaking inelegantly or deliberately striving for his "man of the people" effect. Or for that matter when he is telling the truth in terms of what he genuinely believes "for himself" regardless of adequacy to the facts. Bush seems quite cagey at times and proved himself rather adept in the debates at caricaturizing some of Kerry's more nuanced positions beyond recognition. I completely agree that the "Our President is a moron" meme has been worse than ineffective beyond the level of an individual expression of exasperation. I still want to know what Bush means when he uses the word "freedom."

cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 5th, 2005 08:07 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's a good question. You could give a 1984-style answer. But I think the truth is probably more complicated than that. I think of Adorno's elegant commentary on the ambivalence built into the word "free."
danthered From: danthered Date: August 6th, 2005 01:11 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Part of the problem...

[their] ideology is dark, dim, backwards. They don't appreciate women. If you don't agree to their narrow view of a religion, you'll be whipped in the public square. Their goal is to spread their point of view throughout the world, starting in the broader Middle East. And they will kill innocent people trying to impose their vision on the world. That's what they're trying to do.

Quickly now, to whom do "they", "them" and "their" in the above refer?

Is it Al Qu'aeda?
Is it America?

...Is it both?
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