“Because the impression crafted by the Herring campaign… is not the one any reasonable person would take away had they heard the entirety of his comment. Indeed, a look at what Adams actually said paints a very different picture than the one offered up by Herring’s team.”
OPINION: The insidious web of political wordplay
By: Rob Longley, Managing Editor
June 27, 2017
The email from Attorney General Mark Herring’s campaign last week came complete with the truncated quote from the opponent, the incredulous “Can-you-believe-this-guy?” message from the candidate.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Herring, the Democratic AG running for re-election, says at the start of the email message. “At our debate this morning, here’s what my opponent, John Adams, had to say about women’s access to birth control …”
As promised, the quote from Adams, who won the Republican nomination for attorney general on June 13, comes next, centered and in bold, larger type to make it stand out.
“It’s not an issue I think about,” starts the quote from Adams. “It’s not an issue I care about.”
Gasp!!! Adams “doesn’t care about” women’s access to birth control?! What kind of barbaric misogynist IS this guy?
At least that’s the reaction Herring’s campaign and Democratic pollsters likely hoped for. And it may well be the one they got from many who read the email — if they took the quote at face value.
And therein lies the rub. Because the impression crafted by the Herring campaign — that Adams is little more than a heartless, uncaring, Neanderthal conservative who neither “think[s] about” nor “care[s] about” women’s health care — is not the one any reasonable person would take away had they heard the entirety of his comment.
Indeed, a look at what Adams actually said paints a very different picture than the one offered up by Herring’s team.
Here’s a more thorough accounting of the exchange between the two men at last week’s debate. See if you think the Democrat’s email accurately portrays Adams’ position.
Herring speaks first and the case he’s referring to is a lawsuit that retailer Hobby Lobby filed against a provision in the Affordable Care Act — a challenge that Adams helped argue. Hobby Lobby eventually won a 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that requiring family-owned companies to pay for contraception for employees violated religious freedom.
HERRING: “Do you know what those cases were about? Limiting access to birth control … [Adams] fought at the Supreme Court twice for that.”
Next, Adams responds, arguing that the case had less to do with birth control and more to do with religious freedom. ADAMS (emphasis added): I have zero interest in limiting women’s access to birth control. None. It’s not an issue I think about. It’s not an issue I care about.” The italicized portion of the comment — the part that wasn’t used in the Herring email — gives the entirety of Adams’ quote a much different meaning than the one offered up by the Democratic incumbent.
Adams didn’t say he didn’t think or care about women’s access to birth control. He said he didn’t think or care about limiting women’s access to birth control. Not only is it entirely different, it is, in fact, the exact opposite of what Herring would have us believe. Adams’ comment actually sounds more like something you’d hear from a liberal Democrat than a conservative Republican.
Now, to be fair, this kind of ethically suspect wordplay is hardly unique to Herring and his campaign, and Republicans are no less guilty of it than Democrats.
It’s just one example of how politicians through the ages — from Roman senators and English kings, to Russian czars and American presidents — have twisted, edited or taken out of context their opponents’ words for supposed political gain.
It’s always been an effective tactic, but in our current political climate, it’s especially damning to the integrity of the political process (if you can even consider the political process having any kind of integrity.) The gulf between left and right has grown so wide, and the discourse has become so gratuitously mean-spirited, that posting a supposedly outrageous quote, one that bears little resemblance to what was actually said, has become a grotesquely simple way to stir the pot. And in the process, fan the flames of not only vitriol and contempt, but misunderstanding and ignorance as well.
The politics won’t change. That makes it all the more critical that the average American — you, me and everyone else born with the God-given gift of a working brain — think critically, react skeptically and consider carefully the onslaught of political messaging we’re confronted with every day, and not fall into the ever-looming trap of confirmation bias. It doesn’t matter if we’re liberal, conservative, centrist or somewhere left or right of center. If we remain vigilant against the disinformation shoveled onto the Internet every minute of every day from every corner of the political spectrum, our lives, our communities and our nation will all be the better for it.
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