Friday, July 13, 2007

. . . Let me count the ways

By Carol Gee

The words used to describe leaders and to characterize what they do matter very much to our understanding of the news. My Bloglines feed served up this delicious essay this morning, written by a talented wordmaster. Read it and you will finally understand yesterday's White House news conference. Titled "Going Over The Edge With 'Precipitous'," it is by The Washington Post's Henry Allen.

In a strategic and linguistic coup, the president seemed to be saying that in our fight in Iraq we can forget about the shopworn old Vietnam menace called the quagmire. Now it's time to bravely face its equal and opposite menace, the precipice, as in the dread "precipitous withdrawal."

"Extremist groups would be emboldened by a precipitous American withdrawal," he said. And: "A precipitous withdrawal would embolden al-Qaeda."

. . . Anyway, our precipitous president is not a quagmire guy, so he doesn't do gradual anything. Instead of escalations, he does surges. He wants us to worry about precipitousness, not the quagmire: the fall, not the stall; the brink, not the sink; the steep, not the creep; the plunge, not the grunge; the edge, not the dredge.

. . . Pages of the Oxford English Dictionary warn of the threat signaled by this word: "headlong fall . . . perilous . . . thrown down . . . violent hurry . . . excessive suddenness . . . descent."

Sadly, the mainstream media's reporting has far too gradually become more descriptive of our current president (OCP). And it took a lot of digging to find today's examples of relatively adjective rich stories. Let me count the ways MSM news sources currently describe (OCP), our current president. So that I can avoid my usual name calling, I bracket [my own labels].

  • Running Iraq war's my job - Defiant Prez sez funding troops Congress' role -- [defensiveness] New York Daily News (7/13/07)

  • Defiant Bush tells Congress Iraq war can still be won -- "Bush struck a defiant tone Thursday. . ." [aggressiveness] -- Yahoo! News (7/13/07)

  • Bush says no shift on Iraq, "Bush's tone was at times strident, at times beseeching, as he defended the U.S. role in a war. . . " [immaturity] - Reuters (7/13/07)

  • Bush Distorts Qaeda Links, Critics Assert, ". . . President Bush on Thursday employed a stark and ominous defense." [use of scare tactics] -- New York Times (7/12/07)

  • Bush Quiets GOP revolt over Iraq [from a discussion during his news conference, in which the president conflated the facts] -- Los Angeles Times (7/13/07):

    Bush argued repeatedly that persistence is necessary in Iraq to prevent new Al Qaeda attacks in the United States. He did not distinguish between the threat posed by the network controlled by Osama bin Laden and that from an Iraq-based group known as Al Qaeda in Iraq.

    . . . Bush's language in recent months has been less precise, and he has often appeared to suggest that Bin Laden's group is conducting attacks in Iraq. In recent days, Bush has gone a step further, twice asserting that the groups are one and the same.

    . . . Asked by a reporter whether he had evidence the groups operated together, the president retreated somewhat.

  • Bush's Latest, Lame Libby Excuse, [inconsistency] -- Slate's John Dickerson (7/12/07):

    For the last two weeks the president and his aides have asserted that Bush was deep in contemplation over the details of the Libby case as he weighed whether to commute the sentence. But on the larger, four-year episode with national security implications, the inquisitive chief executive asserts he didn't ask a single question of those involved.

The careful use of words is an art that I greatly admire. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's classic love poem "How do I love thee?" is a masterpiece in its use of the English language. Writers' words matter, they endure, they have influence. It would have been better if, over the years, our national media could have been more routinely descriptive of the behaviors of OCP and the people in his administration. It could have saved us an awful lot of grief.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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