Separating facts from editorializing

Jennifer Loven is at it again. She’s the political writer for AP who always comes out with anti-Bush stories, and who always, somehow, manages to forget to disclose that her husband is a former Clinton employee and was working for John Kerry last I heard. I took her latest “news” story and, just for the fun of it, fisked the first part of it. I noted the editorializing, the unattributed “facts,” and the rhetorical devices, and, as you’ll see, once I got rid of the Lovenizing, there was nothing left. This news report is, in fact, nothing more than an opinion hit piece.

I quickly got bored with this self-imposed task, and figured you’d gotten the hang of it, so you can go off and fisk the rest here. Basically, the gist is that Loven, while falsely castigating Bush for making false claims to bolster his rhetoric, repeatedly engages in precisely that tactic:

“Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day,” President Bush said recently.

Another time he said, “Some say that if you’re Muslim you can’t be free.”

“There are some really decent people,” the president said earlier this year, “who believe that the federal government ought to be the decider of health care … for all people.”

Of course, hardly anyone in mainstream political debate has made such assertions.

[Does anyone notice that Loven is here doing exactly the same thing she’s accusing Bush of doing? That is, using some vague unattributed sources to prove or disprove a conclusion? Aside from that, while Loven has no attribution for her claim that no one is saying that, I can certainly provide mainstream source material for every one of the President’s rhetorical statements.

The first statement can be attributed to two darlings of the press, John Murtha and Cindy Sheehan. Without context, I’m not sure what Bush’s second statement means. Was he pointing to those on the right who have repeatedly identified the submission element in Islam (as have Muslims themselves), or to those on the Left (including Muslims themselves) who say that Islam cannot coexist with freedom. Either statement, of course, is true. As for the third statement, many in the Democratic party have repeatedly demanded “universal healthcare,” a euphemism for a government run program — and when government pays, government gets to control.]

When the president starts a sentence with “some say” or offers up what “some in Washington” believe, as he is doing more often these days, a rhetorical retort almost assuredly follows.

[As I’ve demonstrated above, Loven’s premise is, quite simply, false.]

The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents. In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position.

[Again, I’ve demonstrated that this is false. This is purely Loven’s partisan stance. There is simply no other way to dress up her claim — made without any evidence whatsoever — that Bush is lying about his opponent’s positions.]

He typically then says he “strongly disagrees” — conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making.

[Ditto. Ironically ditto, too, because Loven set up a classic straw man here, by falsely claiming that Bush uses a rhetorical tactic, and then attacking him for doing so.]

Bush routinely is criticized for dressing up events with a too-rosy glow. But experts in political speech say the straw man device, in which the president makes himself appear entirely reasonable by contrast to supposed “critics,” is just as problematic.

Because the “some” often go unnamed, Bush can argue that his statements are true in an era of blogs and talk radio. Even so, “‘some’ suggests a number much larger than is actually out there,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

A specialist in presidential rhetoric, Wayne Fields of Washington University in St. Louis, views it as “a bizarre kind of double talk” that abuses the rules of legitimate discussion.

“It’s such a phenomenal hole in the national debate that you can have arguments with nonexistent people,” Fields said. “All politicians try to get away with this to a certain extent. What’s striking here is how much this administration rests on a foundation of this kind of stuff.”

[As Fields rightly points out “all politicans try to get away with this to a certain extent.” Because this is an ancient, much-used rhetorical device — and given that I’ve just shown that, in fact, some pretty well-known people are saying more or less what Bush says they’re saying — it’s unclear why Bush is the target of this article — unless, of course, someone is out to get him? A true news story about strawmen in rhetoric would have wandered across the political spectrum, rather than gathering the gang to attack the President. By now, all readers should be having flashbacks to their childhood when they got scolded for something and could only sputter helplessly, “But Mom, they did it too.”]

Bush has caricatured the other side for years, trying to tilt legislative debates in his favor or score election-season points with voters. [Uh, did Loven just lift that from a Democratic Party press release? That’s not reporting, that’s pure, partisan opinion.]

Not long after taking office in 2001, Bush pushed for a new education testing law and began portraying skeptics as opposed to holding schools accountable.

The chief opposition, however, had nothing to do with the merits of measuring performance, but rather the cost and intrusiveness of the proposal.

[Fascinating, considering that, on the Left, there’s always money for more and more bizarre sex education classes, for PC indoctrination, for maintaining teachers who don’t teach (Bennish springs to mind here), and generally for turning classrooms into thought control labs. I’ll also point to the fact that, as she claims Bush did, Loven provides absolutely no authority for her contention that the “good guys” didn’t make the arguments Bush claimed they did but, in fact, made the arguments she now asserts on their behalf.]

Campaigning for Republican candidates in the 2002 midterm elections, the president sought to use the congressional debate over a new Homeland Security Department against Democrats.

He told at least two audiences that some senators opposing him were “not interested in the security of the American people.” In reality, Democrats balked not at creating the department, which Bush himself first opposed, but at letting agency workers go without the usual civil service protections.

[Again, I’d like some attribution here. Did all Democrats balk as she contends? Impossible to tell, because Loven again does what she accuses Bush of doing — conclusions without facts. And is there anything wrong with claiming, in a political context, that if your opponents repeatedly come up with reasons to oppose something you think is vitally necessary for national safety, they’re not as interested in safety as you are? That’s not a strawman. That’s pure argument, and a damn good one too.]

Running for re-election against Sen. John Kerry in 2004, Bush frequently used some version of this line to paint his Democratic opponent as weaker in the fight against terrorism: “My opponent and others believe this matter is a matter of intelligence and law enforcement.”

[Considering the famous New York Times interview in which St. Kerry said just that, Loven’s contrary assertion ought to be an embarrassment to both her and AP. Maybe Loven’s boyfriend forgot to tell her about this one.]

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