Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Art Of The Smear

First, the anonymous author of “Courant Asks If Shays Is ‘Too Shaky To Serve,’” CaptCT, quotes from a comment made on the Courant site by the anonymous “Ex-cop.”

“Ex-cop,” a moniker that may lead the casual reader to assume that the author is, you know, an ex-cop, said on the Courant site, according to the anonymous CaptCT, “…if any of you displayed this type of juvenile behavior, you would have been stuffed and cuffed and placed on the Capitol police nut list.”

The behavior to which “Ex-cop” refers is noted in David Lightman’s story on Chris Shays: “To critics, the erstwhile gentle, patient Shays seems to have been replaced by someone who has trouble controlling his anger. In July, he confronted the Capitol officer and touched his name tag after getting angry - and spewing profanities - because constituents were left standing in the rain, unable to enter the building.”

Next, the anonymous MyLeftNutmeg author, CaptCT, characterizes the Lightman story as a “puff piece that attempts to defend the sanity of Chris Shays,” which seems to suggest strongly that Shays is not sane. “It's an appropriate topic,” the anonymous CaptCT continues, “ and Lightman deserves credit for bringing it up. However, he seems to lead readers to believe that Shays is probably as sound-minded as ever, and that comments suggesting otherwise are just Democratic dirty tricks.”

CaptCt apparently cannot rest comfortably in his insinuation that Shays is wacko if there is anyone within striking distance who may think otherwise. And that is how I entered the “discussion” at MyLeftNutmeg:

“And who does Lightman turn to for evidence?” asks the anonymous CaptCT, “ A psychologist, perhaps? No. He turns to a blogger, Don Pesci!

"’His recent actions have been no more erratic than his past actions,’ said Republican-leaning writer and blogger Donald Pesci in an e-mail. ‘It's just a smear,’ said Pesci of the charges against Shays. ‘Bloggers have raised smearing to a high art.’

“... said Pesci, the blogger.”

This is cute. Part of the art of the successful smear, in this particular case, is to suggest that Shays is not merely angry on occasion but insane, and to do so in such a way as to preserve deniability.

The charge is that Shays is nuts, and the anonymous CaptCT regards as puffery any news item that casts doubt on the matter.

Now, the difference between being nuts and engaging in occasional erratic, non-normative behavior is that nutty behavior is normative in the nut.

Let’s say , for example, that the anonymous CaptCT is a senator. His constituents have come to pay him a visit in Washington DC and they are caught in a rainstorm. The Capitol police do not notify Sen. CaptCT that his constituents are outside in the downpour, getting all wet. They do not permit the wet constituents take shelter while waiting for Sen. CaptCT, who gets angry and lets loose a sting of profanities at the Capitol police. Later he apologizes for his behavior.

The question arises: Is CaptCT nuts, or is he merely angry?

I would say, though I am not a psychologist, that CaptCT was angry, not nuts. If CaptCT berated Capitol police every time it rained, I might be disposed to believe that CaptCT was nuts, because then his erratic behavior would be repetitive and, for him, normative. However, before asserting – or strongly suggesting – in my own blog that CaptCT was nuts, I might want to check with a psychologist, rather than to rely upon an anonymous commentator who writes in a Courant commentary that CaptCT undoubtedly is wacko.

See, that’s the way we do here in Saneville.


Anonymous said...


I considered Lightman's story a puff piece because Lightman failed to mention all the reasons Democrats were questioning Shays sensibilities, including these:

* the DC cop incident (mentioned)

* Shays announcing he might resign then denying he ever said such a thing (the story only mentions that he might resign, not that he denied it)

* Shays saying Democratic bloggers can't ask him questions

* Shays saying, in the same breath, we-don't-need / we-do-need permanent bases in Iraq

* Shays' alternating views on withdrawal timelines -- in a single week

* Shays saying Abu Ghraib was a sex ring, not torture

Does a sound-minded person say such things? It's a reasonable question. To address it, if I were Lightman, the last person I would interview for the story would be a blogger.

That was my point. If Lightman really wanted to get at the depths of Shays's psychosis, or whether he had a psychosis at all, he should have talked to a psychologist, not a blogger.

It's not really a criticism of you, or even of Shays really, but of the integrity of the story itself. It was an appropriate topic, but poorly addressed.

Don Pesci said...


You make several interesting points. Still, I think the charge that a legislators is nuts is a very serious one. A non-nutty legislator, faced with such a charge, might well refuse to talk to the person making it.

Iran is difficult – more difficult for people who believe that precipitous withdrawal would be calamitous, not an insane position. I don’t know what Sen. Chris Dodd’s current position on withdrawal is, six months I think. It keeps changing, and not because Dodd is insane.

I’m old enough to remember that, in pre-internet days, the surest way to destroy a congressman’s reputation was to start a whispering campaign against him: He cheats on his wife; He once had a mental breakdown… That sort of thing – then and now – is unconscionable.

Let me introduce you to Occam’s Razor. It says, briefly, that the best explanation for an event is the simplest and most obvious. Shay’s doesn’t want to talk to bloggers because he doesn’t like them; his views on withdrawal timelines have changed because events ion the ground in Iraq have changed. I don’t know what Abu Ghraib was – perhaps it was a bit of both torture and sadomasochism – beyond knowing that it was wrong and shouldn’t happen again. Shays agrees with this.

So on down the line.

In other words, there are explanations for Shays behavior other than he is mad.

I don’t know who you are. But I am going to assume that you are an honorable man or woman. To say a man is mad on such flimsy grounds is not right or honorable.

So, do the right thing.

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