Friday, July 27, 2012

Who needs Fox when ...

... the so-called "mainstream media" are so deliberately clueless about the meaning of what they report?

Nicole Goolsby, 48, started her small business, the Cornelius, N.C.-based Rion Homes, 12 years ago after taking out a $15,000 loan on her credit card and setting up a desk in her bedroom.

She says she did not rely on the federal government for help – reacting to recent comments by President Barack Obama that “if you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that; somebody else made that happen.”

To the surprise of no one, what we have here is a pseudo-event -- specifically,  one of two "We Did Build This" events held in North Carolina to give businesspersons a chance to explain why they'd rather have the real American than the Kenyan Muslim socialist.

... There were two dozen events around the country Wednesday touting the “We Did Build This” theme, according to Robert Reid, the North Carolina spokesman for Romney’s campaign. The tumult over Obama’s comments on small-business success shows no sign of fading, and the president is pushing back hard with new ads scheduled to run in North Carolina and other battleground states to counter Romney’s claims.

"Shows no sign of fading" might or might not be true; there's no indication that the reporter looked for any evidence beyond a staged event to test that statement. Should it be true, perhaps one reason is that the notionally grownup press is increasingly incapable of looking at bullshitters and saying -- oh, something on the order of "bullshit."

...  In a Virginia rally earlier this month, Obama spoke about government’s supportive role in providing a stable environment in which businesses can thrive.

“Look,” the president said, “if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. … Let me tell you something: There are a whole bunch of hard-working people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.”

Since then, Obama says the “you didn’t build that” phrase was taken out of context. But the Romney campaign maintains it shows the president is out of touch with the contributions of small businesses.

Uh, yeah. He says the phrase "was taken out of context" because --literally -- it was. (Nor does the story provide the context, but that's a different matter.) That's not a question or assertion. It doesn't have to be attributed. "Context" means something, and it's particularly relevant for pronouns. Let me quote Mark Liberman's week-ago Log post*:

In context, the two instances of
that in "… you didn't build that; somebody else made that happen" clearly refer to the "whole situation" evoked by the phrases "Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges." Maybe that great teacher is in there too.

But a very different meaning emerges if you take out of context the sequence:

If you've got a business — that- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.
Now it seems as if that refers to the hypothetical business — and instead of an anodyne political cliché about the role of socio-economic infrastructure in enabling business success, you get a bizarre denial of the role of entrepreneurial agency.

It's hard to see how the "We Did Build This" campaign can be encountered without bursting into laughter, but that's the sort of challenge that journalism must sometimes rise to. Bogus political assertions often have to be reported. They don't have to be taken at face value. When they're nonsense, and you have evidence that they're nonsense, you're actually kind of obliged to point that out.

* With comprehensive links tracing how such pronouns have worked going back to early modern English.

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