May 06, 2004

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Dingbat Kabuki Edition)

Michael Froomkin is, in his current addled state, confused:

Discourse.net: Privately?: In my current addled state, I’m having a little trouble understanding headlines like Bush Privately Chides Rumsfeld. Erum. “Privately”? Like on the front page of every newspaper on earth? Yes, I understand it’s off-camera, but is that what “privately” means now?

Michael is pretending that he does not understand that he is watching Washington Post reporters Robin Wright and Bradley Graham play a game of Dingbat Kabuki with the "senior administration official" who tells them that "Bush privately chides Rumsfeld." We have no idea whether Bush privately chid Rumsfeld or not. We do know that David Stockman swears that a previous "president chid cabinet member" story--when Reagan supposedly took Stockman "to the woodshed" was a lie, a made up fantasy, a story created because Reagan White House Chief of Staff James Baker thought it would be helpful.

So all we know is that the "senior administration official" wants Wright and Graham to tell the world that "Bush privately chid Rumsfeld." It may be true. It may be false.

But, of course, Wright and Graham don't begin their story with: "Bush aide spreads story that Bush has privately chid Rumsfeld"--which is what they know. That would focus attention on their ignorance and on their value as a conduit for information and misinformation. That would require that they be reporters--or at least vertebrate animals.

They would rather have their story have a headline that is grossly misleading. Bush may have chid Rumsfeld. Bush may not have chid Rumsfeld but some senior official wants the story spread that he did. The only thing we do know is that whatever was done was not done "privately."

Dingbat Kabuki.

Posted by DeLong at May 6, 2004 06:55 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

Damn. I'm that transparent?

Posted by: Michael Froomkin on May 6, 2004 06:58 PM

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To those of us who've known you for 38 years, yes. :-) So do you want universal rights to "Why Oh Why... Press Corps?"?

Posted by: Brad DeLong on May 6, 2004 08:32 PM

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Fortunately, there does remain a single useful guiding principle in dealing with all these press corps stories you report:

"Believe the Opposite"

Posted by: Tom Slee on May 6, 2004 08:35 PM

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So the right response to any administration statement is Hobbes's, "Today is opposite day!"?

Posted by: Brad DeLong on May 6, 2004 09:04 PM

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Brad -- is past tense of chide ==> chid and not chided? I am confused ...

Posted by: Ennis on May 6, 2004 09:24 PM

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I understand Bush was angry at Rumsfeld because he learned about the torture from the newspapers - not because it occurred.

Posted by: a on May 6, 2004 11:18 PM

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Political Strategery 101:

The best way to send a mixed, multiply targeted message at once is to confuse everybody. That way, one does not have to attend to one's own confusion, but can rest assured that a perfect equilibrium of confusion will be achieved.

Posted by: john c. halasz on May 7, 2004 01:48 AM

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Ennis is surely right.

I hoped that the use of "chid" originated at the White House, so I could cite it as another example of "opposite day" -- even if a bit stretched -- but it seems that it crept in at a later stage (there is no use of "chid" in the Washington Post story linked to by Michael Froomkin).

Oh well, perhaps tomorrow

Posted by: Tom Slee on May 7, 2004 05:13 AM

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The NYT said they were told Bush "chastised" Rumsfeld. Personally, I'm waiting for the pictures...

Posted by: DSchultz on May 7, 2004 05:28 AM

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Everyone knows that Rumsfeld would not have continued into any second term anyway, so why not get rid of him now and reap the benefits that would accrue in the Muslim world for doing so? Not only is Rumsfeld not indispensable, his flawed and rigid thinking are a threat to the nation.

Posted by: Bob H on May 7, 2004 05:39 AM

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Dingbat Kabuki. I've got to find a vehicle for using that phrase myself.

But this all illustrates Bush's absolute brilliance at distancing himself personally from bad news, notwithstanding his responsibility for policy at all levels. He knows perfectly well how the press will react to these things. Want to bet his approval ratings won't be helped by this episode? Depressing.

Posted by: Jim Harris on May 7, 2004 06:26 AM

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--Brad -- is past tense of chide ==> chid and not chided? I am confused ...--

My wife tells me it's "chided." But I'm off in a world of my own...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on May 7, 2004 06:31 AM

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Chid. Cool, I learn a new past tense variation. Chided was soooo overused anyway. I chid you not.

Posted by: paulo on May 7, 2004 06:54 AM

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Jim Harris calls this "Bush's absolute brilliance." No, such an obvious fake can't be called brilliant. What it represents is the Washington Post's absolute corruption for swallowing every Karl Rove feint and then, caught out, calling Rove "evil but brilliant". The reporters might ask, "If Bush really chid Rumsfeld, then why does the source have to be anonymous?" That they don't is corrupt.

Posted by: paulo on May 7, 2004 07:26 AM

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According to American Heritage via dictionary.com "chid" is also correct. Who knew?

Posted by: Peter MacLeod on May 7, 2004 07:32 AM

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In case anyone is still reading this thread, I'd like to make a prediction.

Given that "NBC reported that Rumsfeld would apologize to Congress." and in the spirit of "Believe the Opposite" (see above), I predict that what Rumsfeld offers will not, in fact, be an apology. That is, among other things, he will not take responsibility for what happened.

Posted by: Tom Slee on May 7, 2004 08:35 AM

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Dingbat Kabuki.

Yes, that sums up the game perfectly.

And I gotta agree - with this Administration, *every* day is 'opposite day'.

If only they were funny, like Calvin and Hobbes.

Posted by: RT on May 7, 2004 08:43 AM

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Looks like maybe I was wrong. I think I'll just call it "stopped clock" day instead.

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