Sunday, January 16, 2005

Double Speak, or “No” Speak

I tried to watch Meet the Press today. Every few weeks, I give it another shot, thinking that this is supposed to be America’s most respected Sunday morning weekly round-up. This is where the great newsmakers of our time are supposed to come before the American people and speak for themselves, rather than having their words filtered through journalists and newsrooms and editors and redactors. It’s supposed to be A time of candor and openness (to the degree possible with government officials), a chance to rid ourselves of quotes taken out of context. This is not what Meet the Press is.

In “1984” life is based upon “double speak.” You say one thing, but mean another. Nothing one says can be trusted or relied upon, and whatever the government says at that moment, regardless of what it may have said in the past, is now and has always been the truth and the only position it has ever taken. Naturally we regard this kind of thing with a great deal of trepidation, and so we are very critical of “flip floppers” in our society. And thankfully, we do not generally have double speak on Meet the Press either.

Instead, we have “no speak.” This is where the highest ranking and most politically powerful and influential people in the country sit for an hour and say, in many words, absolutely nothing. This has turned into quite an art.

Question (Russert): Does the president think that private savings accounts will save social security?

Answer (Bartlett): The president will work with Congress.

Answer (Bartlett): The president is willing to spend political capital.

Answer (Bartlett): We aren’t going to have this debate with ourselves, we’re going to work with Congress.

How many ways can you say absolutely nothing? Why bother going on the show at all? Why not stay at home in the Bush White House and get some work done, because you aren’t doing or saying much about anything on the show. It has become the policy of public officials of all kinds to say nothing about anything. Don’t comment about anything, don’t say anything, don’t reveal what you actually think about anything, don’t give an opinion, don’t contribute to the public debate (whatever that is), even if you have a position. Read only the authorized party-approved cue cards and pre-screened, pre-vetted, pre-focus-grouped sound bites. Keep your answers to under 15 seconds, and for God’s sake, don’t “say” anything.

And why not? You have jerk-off journalists like Tim Russert who don’t ask hard questions, or for that matter, do any journalism. And when he does ask a question that might seem to be masquerading as a tough question, it’s a “gotcha” question – the kind where you take a quote from 15 years ago out of context and say “you said this, do you think this.” Answer: I don’t remember making that specific comment, but I can tell you that we are working with Congress on it.”

In the face of all this, it may turn out that in another 20 years that the only reliable journalism will come from the paparazzi – at least they still dig.

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