Jim Clark: Be wary of the liberal political spin machine (opinion)
In last week’s column, I warned: “the (Clinton/Trump) contest will be brutal … no referees … so there will be fouls aplenty.”
The Democratic Convention pretty much affirmed that. Each candidate (and his/her henchpersons) will be aiming straight at the other’s negatives, so for the next 100 days or so we can look forward to lots of unpleasant mudslinging.
Here’s what makes politics interesting. If someone utters a false statement, oral or written, about an ordinary person, which is or could be damaging to that person’s reputation, he or she has a legal remedy in the courts in an action for defamation.
But in a landmark 1964 case, captioned New York Times vs. Sullivan, the US Supreme Court held that the First Amendment to the Constitution affords an almost unlimited right to defame “public persons.”
Since then there has been no effective common law restraint on bashing politicians. The New York Times case has given rise to a new branch of political science in which no holds are barred. Here are some recent examples of techniques employed by the masters of the negative.
Technique number one: twist the facts. Former pugilist and now senior senator from the State of Nevada, Harry Reid, recently described Hillary Clinton as, “the most qualified and prepared candidate in the history of America,” and went on to suggest that the CIA and other US intelligence officials should brief Donald Trump with “fake” intelligence “because this man is dangerous.”
Wait a minute. It was Clinton whom FBI Director James Comey called out on national television as being “extremely careless” with classified intelligence, going on to give case by case examples of her lying to the public. So is old punch-drunk Harry Reid suffering from dementia? Could be. Or maybe he’s just engaging in politics as usual.
Technique number two: Exaggerate the facts. Donald Trump recently said: “Russia … I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing (from Hillary’s computer).”
The Los Angeles Times reported that Trump invited Russia to hack Clinton’s emails; NBC News said that Trump called on Russian intelligence agents to hack Hillary’s emails; the Clinton campaign announced that Trump “actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage.”
HUH? All he said, in response to news reports that Russia hacked the Democratic National Party computers, was: “I hope you’re able to find (them).”
Technique number three: Pretend to be neutral. FactCheck.org published an analysis of Donald Trump’s acceptance speech. Trump blamed Hillary because, “Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons.”
Fact Check said: “But Iran was already on the path.” What? The Obama Administration gave them a quarter billion dollars and a written agreement they could go nuclear after ten years, and FactCheck doesn’t think that spurred Iran on their way?
FactCheck faulted Trump for saying: Clinton “plans a massive tax increase.” FactCheck said: “experts say” otherwise. “Experts say” and “studies have shown” are refuges for the lazy who want to express a bias but don’t want to be accountable for it. At least tell us who said “otherwise.”
Trump claimed Clinton “illegally” stored 33,000 emails on her server. FactCheck said: “the FBI cleared Clinton.” No way. FBI Director Comey laid out a clear indictment of Clinton, but declined to prosecute for lack of evidence of “specific intent.”
Finally FactCheck reported Trump said: “the trade deficit in goods was $800 billion last year alone.” FactCheck says that’s correct, but it discounts services the US exports. What? If his statement was correct, just leave it there and let Clinton argue the contrary.
There are many other examples of the art of negative campaigning but you get the idea. Try to look it as a scientific word game, and the “spin” will not be as bad for your blood pressure.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.