Thursday, January 26, 2006

So I was listening to an NPR story this morning that ticked off the administration's now-familiar arguments in defense of the warrantless domestic spying program, and I realized that many of these arguments -- as is often the case with the Right -- are lies of a very specific kind, one that doesn't have a name and desperately needs one.

I'll give you an example: You and I know that administration critics would not be angry if these wiretaps took place under warrants from the FISA court -- yet a key administration talking point is that we simply don't want the government to eavesdrop on al-Qaeda terrorists. This is, obviously, a lie -- but it sounds like the truth. In fact, it is the truth -- but with a few key details (the key details) distorted, muddied, and/or excised. We are angry about these wiretaps. But we're not angry about wiretaps aimed at preventing terrorism per se, and we'd trust the FISA court's judgments. This distortion of the truth is close enough to the truth, unfortunately, to pass muster with much of the public and a lot of the press.

The process of concocting lies of this kind -- lies in which the truth is tweaked, so the difference is almost invisible to casual listeners -- needs a name. I'm not much of a namer, but I'll give you a placeholder until there's something better. I call the process "truth creep."

Truth creep is critical to right-wing argumentation. Example: John Kerry tells an interviewer that we'll never completely eliminate terrorism, but we can hope to reduce it to a "nuisance." Right-wingers immediately pounce, asserting that Kerry's position is that "terrorism is a nuisance." That's close enough to the truth to sound like the truth, but it's an out-and-out lie. That's truth creep.

It's easier to condemn an vile or sleazy political practice when it has a name. That applies to everything from "Astroturf" and "push-polling" to "pork" and even "McCarthyism." We need a name for a lie that can slither by as the truth, and that name needs to enter the political lexicon. If you don't like my name, all suggestions are welcome.


Yeah, "truthiness" is a clever word, though I'm not sure it quite captures the specific technique I'm describing.

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