Thursday, June 29, 2017

Imprecision Matters

Nancy LeTourneau has an interesting piece in the Washington Monthly "What Happens When You Add Projection to Gaslighting." In it, she invokes the spirit of "Karl Rove and the affection for projection." from a 2011 piece in Washington Monthly.

If you click on Steve Benen's 2011 piece, he calls Rove's tactics "projection", but technically, projection is a self defense mechanism. You project your bad qualities on others to help yourself feel less bad about yourself.

Rove's tactic is more aggressive - to accuse his political opponents of doing bad things that he or his side are already doing. While it is tempting to capture this in an existing term - "projection" - that is not precisely accurate because the objective is to render criticism from an opponent inoperative, in particular, before that criticism can be leveled whenever possible. "Crooked Hillary" is an example, not only of framing, of course, but accusing an opponent of something of which the accuser is already guilty. He does that because he knows he is crooked (and does not feel bad about being crooked). Calling Trump crooked after that, even when accurate loses much of the zing, sounding more like tit-for-tat.

One of our problems is that we do not have precise terms for the array of aggressive tactics being employed by Republicans and Republican media ever since Karl Rove figured out the world was not prepared for his onslaught. (Why don't we call Fox news "Republican media"?)

Gaslighting is another imprecise term, though it captures the spirit of the perpetrators actions, the implication is that the person being lied to is always confused for a period of time. Unfortunately, this idea that there is "confusion" is false. Many of us have seen this day coming for many years, right from the start. But again, our language has no perfect term for this.

In the 1950s, McCarthy's array of tactics eventually came to be known as "McCarthyism".

As Nancy LeTourneau writes about the Rovian tactic of 'projection', "It is a very effective form of propaganda because it turns every argument into a cause for bothsiderism, thereby cutting off all lanes to the truth. This particular form we are now witnessing is especially pernicious in that it is an attempt to cut off lanes to the truth by claiming to seek the truth and casting those who are doing so as the purveyors of chaos and uncertainty…all in the name of creating chaos and uncertainty."

Absolutely correct.

But where does bothsiderism come from? If a news organization starts with a requirement of "balanced" reporting (which the NYT does) instead of commitment to complete and accurate reporting in context and that organization bends over backwards to maintain the appearance of fairness, instead of actual fairness, "fair and balanced" by that twisted definition leads to false balance which translates to false equivalence. And truthful narrative is easily lost.

On the other hand, Fox news has functioned for years as a propaganda machine telling folks stories that "ring true" to them in a mixture of lies and distortions when politics is covered. Both Fox news and NYT claim a separation of news and opinion. But only the NYT feels compelled to throw any story that involves politics into the opinion category if one "side" comes off worse than the other "side".

Just as NYT journalism model has allowed false balance and false equivalence to prosper, the Fox news model is the progenitor of fake news - telling folks stories they like to hear.

I blame the NYT in part for the mess we are in today because the NYT should have reported on Fox in the News section (not Opinion) for the willingness to build stories on fiction and call them factual. If the NYT had been doing their job, maybe we would have precise terms for all the nasty, devious practices being employed by Republicans and Trump today and they would not be able to use these tactics while hiding in plain sight.

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