Thursday, June 2, 2016

An aggregation of subtle word choices makes an indictment

Ann Althouse loves to explore the nuances of words. She is a law professor so there is some consilience between avocation and occupation. In her post, "If Clinton wants to become the president of the United States, she needs to explain how she could make such a reckless decision" she explores word choices in a USA Today editorial. Referencing her blog post title (a quotation of the editors):
Say the editors of USA Today, after detailing the 4 separate warnings Hillary ignored that her home-based email system was threat to national security.

I don't really understand what explanation is possible. She's already said it was a mistake. What we can see now is that she had to know she was doing something that threatened national security and yet she continued to do it. What explanation could make the facts appear any better? I can only think of explanations that would make it worse. So I assume we'll never hear more from her about this.
It is a fair and incisive point. Clinton knew the rules, she issued memos to others telling about their need to comply with the rules, she fired some who failed to comply with the rules and she was reminded numerous times that she needed to comply with the rules. It seems as if this is a reasonably open and shut case at this point. Every one of her factual assertions in that press conference nine or twelve months ago has now been shown to have been false.

Althouse's point is a little more subtle than the factual litigation. She is exploring the editor's the language and cognitive processes behind the editor's word choices. There is a sotto voce hint at hidden biases. Althouse's argument seems strong. There is now no longer any explanation for Hillary Clinton's actions. She did what she did for her own reasons and in conflict with the plain regulations of which she was repeatedly reminded and for which she was responsible. If there were a non-insidious explanation, it would have been made by now. An implication of Althouse's observation is that since there is no remaining innocent explanation conceivable, the editors are consciously deflecting attention from the gravity of the transgression by falsely holding out the expectation that there is an innocent explanation still available.

This is such a subtle point that it is easy to dismiss it as entirely insubstantial. But I think the cumulative impact of multiple instances of perceived partisan bias is partly behind the public's deep distrust of the media and likely these nuanced, and possibly unconscious, framings are a material part of that lost trust.

So Althouse's initial point is, I think, an interesting and clever observation. But she's not done. She makes a second point about wording choice from the same editorial.
But the USA Today editors clearly refrain from opining about criminal law, presumably because the FBI is still working on that:
While Clinton is under potential criminal investigation by the FBI for the mishandling of classified material sent through her email.... It's already clear that, in using the private email server, Clinton broke the rules. Now it remains to be seen whether she also broke the law.
How can you be under a potential criminal investigation? That's an odd way to put it. Also, it's odd to make the distinction between breaking the rules and breaking the law.
Great points. We know she is under investigation (both e-mail and Clinton Foundation corruption) because the FBI has said so. Not potential investigation, actual investigation.

We also know from her own admission that she broke the regulatory rules which have the force of law and for which people are routinely punished and imprisoned. So it is not about rules, but the law.

You can see why conservatives have such a deep distrust of the mainstream media. I always follow Occam's Razor and assume ignorance, incompetence, and laziness as the most likely explanations for bad reporting and editorializing but some of this seems subtle but blatant in aggregate.

In this instance, Althouse makes a strong case that in a single editorial, the editors of USA Today mislead their readers by implying
* That there remains an innocent explanation for uniformly and only using your own personal home-rigged email system in obvious contravention of both past practice and current transparent and repeatedly communicated law.

* That Clinton might not be under FBI investigation.

* That the laws broken can be recast as less obligatory "rules."
Posited in those simpler terms, it makes the USA Today editorial seem much more biased. Althouse has a sharp eye, because none of these single items on their own particularly rises to the level of consciousness but, in aggregate, they seem much more deliberate and conniving.

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