Part 2—We’ve seen this movie before: Last Friday, Candidate Bush was asked to state his views about the latest mass shooting.
Three days later, Charles Blow quoted the hopeful in the New York Times. But did he really quote Candidate Bush? We aren’t entirely sure:
BLOW (10/5/15): Speaking Friday in South Carolina, Jeb Bush resisted calls for greater gun restrictions, saying: “We’re in a difficult time in our country and I don’t think more government is necessarily the answer to this. I think we need to reconnect ourselves with everybody else. It’s just very sad to see.”Blow quoted Candidate Bush, then paraphrased his remarks. And sure enough! Blow ended up with a simple account:
Bush continued: “But I resist the notion—and I had this challenge as governor—because we had—look, stuff happens, there’s always a crisis. And the impulse is always to do something and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”
Stuff happens? Really? That stuff is the continued gun slaughter of Americans by other Americans. This “stuff” is a scourge.
The callous hopeful had said “Stuff happens!” It was the callous way the callous hopeful referred to the latest gun slaughter!
Let’s be fair! Unlike some of his colleagues at the Times, Blow hadn’t “invented” his quote. Bush actually said every word Blow typed. Blow hadn’t dreamed any words up.
Blow didn’t even omit any words when he said, “Bush continued.” In fact, the second statement quoted by Blow continued directly from the first.
Breaking with his paper’s traditions, Blow didn’t invent any words by Bush when he quoted the hopeful. Of course, that doesn’t mean that he quoted Bush fairly, or that his subsequent paraphrase was fair.
For our money, Bush made a very weak statement about the possibility of “greater gun restrictions” that day. We’d even say that the candidate’s extemporaneous statement was less than obsessively honest—but then, we’d be inclined to say the same thing about the columnist’s work, which he had three days to compose.
By tradition, New York Times reporters and columnists enjoy inventing quotes. Blow eschewed this traditional practice—but there’s more than one way to be unfair, and to mislead readers, when you paraphrase a candidate, or even when you quote.
In our view, Blow was misleading his readers in the passage we’ve posted. And not only that! Sadly enough, we’ve seen this movie before!
Doggone it! Blow’s quotation-plus-paraphrase led to a preordained place. The callous candidate had made a callous statement—“Stuff happens!” It was his callous way of describing the latest gun slaughter.
The hopeful did say those words, of course—and as we noted yesterday, they were quickly put to good use. But before he made his allegedly callous remarks, he had said so many things more!
What else had the candidate actually said? Once again, we’ll show you the various things Bush said before he uttered the words our tribe found to be callous, perhaps as we chose to pretend:
BUSH (10/2/15): And this president—the tendency when we have these tragedies that took place yesterday, it’s just heartbreaking to see these things, but this is the broader question of rule-making I think is an important point to make. That whenever you see a tragedy take place, the impulse in the political system, more often in the federal level, but also at the state level, is to “do something,” right?In his initial statement about what happened, Bush kept describing the killings as “this tragedy that is just heartbreaking to see.” Ignoring that characterization, Blow hunted through a subsequent statement and came up with this ultimate quotation/paraphrase:
And what we end up doing lots of times is we create rules on the 99.999 percent of human activity that had nothing to do with the tragedy that forced the conversation about doing something.
And we’re taking people’s rights away each time we do that and we’re not necessarily focusing on the real challenge.
So if we have people that are mentally ill, to the point where they go into the vortex and they don’t come out, and they’re hateful, and they’re in isolation, and they kill people, the impulse in Washington is take personal rights away from the rest of us.
And it won’t solve the problem of this tragedy that is just heartbreaking to see. Maybe we ought to be more connected in our communities. Maybe we ought to have greater awareness of the mental health challenges that exist all across this country. Maybe there’s a better way to deal with this than taking people’s human, you know, personal liberty away every time we kind of require people to do something.
Stuff happens! In the end, that’s what we’re saying the callous candidate said.
Our view? Work like this is lazy and dishonest—and it’s misleading for readers. It’s a variant of the practice we’ve long described as “The Cult of the Offhand Comment,” in which journalists seize upon some minor remark to paint a preordained, unflattering portrait of a disfavored candidate.
Let's be fair! The Cult of the Offhand Comment is built around extremely useful rituals. It’s a cult for those who are somewhat dishonest. It’s a cult for those who are lazy, for those who may be a bit dumb.
Increasingly, the liberal world has followed the mainstream press into this form of pseudo-discussion, in which a single offhand remark is grabbed to take the place of real argument. As liberals, we've produced and screened this movie before; we produced it on several occasions during Campaign 2012.
In the current case, this familiar old practice offers a dull-witted substitute for a remarkably easy argument—the remarkably easy argument we ought to be able to make against Candidate Bush’s position on possible gun measures, which we’d be inclined to say was less than obsessively honest.
That said, we liberals don’t seem real good at constructing argument any more! Increasingly, we don’t even seem to try.
Instead of attempting to persuade other voters, we increasingly focus on demonized portraits of The Others—demonized portraits which mainly serve to make Our Tribe feel morally good. That said, Our Own Tribe isn’t morally good. What could be more obvious?
Bush made a callous remark, we say. It gives our pitiful tribe a way to enjoy the latest gun slaughter—and to avoid the task of finding ways to persuade Other People, who we increasingly seem to regard as the great unwashed.
We’re dishonest and lazy and nobody likes us! Tomorrow, let’s remember one of the times we screened this movie before.
Tomorrow: Everyone knew it was wrong
Transcript of the callous remarks: For a longer transcript of Bush's comments, just click here, then scroll to the end of the piece.