You may have guessed by now that my views are indeed more consistent with Democrats than with the ultra-conservative Cowboys currently sitting in the white house. Despite my (general) leftward leanings, I maintain a capacity to assess every situation and issues by its own merits, meaning that I do not consult my “How To Be a Proud Democrat” manual before announcing where I stand on a given topic. And now I will prove it.
To avoid calling the kettle black, I should probably show how, as a wandering grad student with much less to gain or lose, I possess a sense of honesty long since abandoned by the news media hogging the public’s airwaves. Here, to distinguish myself from left-handed MSNBC and its right-handed counterparts at Fox, I present the side of the Libby story that renders unflattering impressions of the party I’m pulling for in ’08, rather than sweeping certain insights under the rug (as Keith Olbermann does whenever Bill O’Reilly unwittingly stumbles over an insightful point of his own).
Corrupt politicking no longer is limited to a single political party or TV station. Nowadays anyone in a position to make a difference seems biased or dishonest. The recent Scooter Libby scandal saw both parties take stances directly contradictory to their supposed traditional values. Republicans, typically advocates strict punishments (recently expanded to include torture) against U.S. citizens compromising national security. George W. Bush, a ringleader of the PATRIOT Act, morphed overnight into the type of person who believes certain sanctions are too strict, unreasonably harsh. Suddenly the same man who promised not to let foreign “the evil ones” jeopardize American lives “on his watch,” finds it no big deal that his buddy Scooter Libby blurts out the agents of CIA agents to reporters. Bush’s crooked, squiggly line of reasoning has only one consistency. Our legal system’s statement that everyone has the right to a fair trial and to be judged by a jury of his peers. In the Bushbook, this goes up in smoke, stealing away all of the rights of the accused, unless the accused in his buddy in which case the jury of peer can go fuck themselves.
The hypocrisy did not stop with Bush this time, however. The Democrats, usually in more forgiving moods, came down unreasonably hard for a change. They wanted Libby put behind bars for two years for his innocent blunder of chatting with a reporter and then forgetting (or fudging) the details of his conversation. What really struck me this time about the Left, however, was not the senators hopping on bandwagons but the shady coverage by MSNBC, zeroing in particularly on the misleading results of the prosecutor’s manipulative semantics.
Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald‘s questions showed that, among other things, he probably read the book Get Anyone To Do Anything by psychologist David J. Lieberman. On page 169, Lieberman unveils his short list of “conversation stoppers”– suggested strategies for confusing people “when you’re under the gun and need time to plan your strategy.” Basically, the screwy syntax of “conversation stoppers” bewilder whoever you’re talking to, making him look stupid, even dishonest, as his brain struggles to process the convoluted, poorly-worded sentences. Here are some examples:
- “Why are you asking me what you don’t know for sure?”
- “Do you really believe what you thought you knew?”
- “Your question is what you knew it would be, isn’t it?”
- “Do you believe that you knew what you thought?”
- “Are you unaware of what you forgot?”
Writes Lieberman about these tricky tactics, “Use them when you need to gain control of a conversation… They give you time to collect your thoughts while others temporarily lose their train of thought.” I can attest from person experience that using these conversation stoppers is an effective way to make people feel like dumbasses. Evidently they work well for lawyers too. Compare the above manipulative inquiries with the questions Libby was asked by the prosecutor:
- “As you sit here today, do you have a specific recollection of remembering that you had forgotten that you knew that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA?”
- “And did you tell Karl Rove how you had responded to Tim Russert when he told you the fact that Wilson’s — that he believed that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA?”
- “And did you check with the Press Office to tell people, hey, have you guys heard what all the press are saying, that Wilson’s wife works at the CIA?”
- “And what did you do as a result of the fact that Russert told you something that you believed, you believed at the time was new to you, the fact that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA?”
True to form, these trance-inducing conversation stoppers came through for the savvy attorney, Libby’s brain locked up in bewilderment. Presumably the jury was unaware that the lawyer was using psychological formulas proven to manipulate people’s minds. Nor were MSNBC commentators Olbermann and David Shuster able to competently detect these language games. Shuster only superficially reported that, “The jury was very attentive. At times, in fact, they were all writing notes in their notebooks, Keith, um, especially whenever Scooter Libby seemed cornered and faced a tough question and answered in a very sort of hesitant and low voice.”
In short, a prosecutor used a tactic from a pop psychology book (and probably from others like it), his interviewee sounded predictably flustered and dishonest as he tried to unpack the question, and (perhaps equally predictably) the press and jury ate it up. I hate to have to say this, but MSNBC kind of dropped the ball on this one.
That said, Libby still may be a lying jackass. The Libby fiasco further outs the strategies employed regularly by the sleazy trifecta (government, media, and big business) behind the wheel of our lives, driving our dying empire into the ground. Yes, Scooter Libby was a jerk. But he was our jerk, an American invention. Let us not for even a minute be duped into thinking he was the only one.