Yesterday I wrote about accountability -- and the lack of it -- in our media (as of this post, by the way, neither Chuck Roberts, nor CNN has issued an apology*). Today, I'd like to take it one step further.
Following is the first installment of the Orwell Awards for truth and lies in our political discourse.
Nobody has written more compellingly about the connection between language and politics than George Orwell. One of his central themes was that you'll never be able to recognize a problem, much less fix it, unless we are honest in the language we use to describe reality.
In 1946, he wrote in Politics and the English Language: "[P]olitical chaos is connected with the decay of language... one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end."
From "slam dunk" on WMD to "Mission Accomplished" to the insurgency being in its "last throes," the refusal to describe reality with something even approximating truth is having disastrous consequences on our political life.
We'll never be able to have a serious debate about what to do in Iraq and elsewhere if we don't describe reality accurately. Politicians are, of course, always going to try to use rhetoric to their advantage, and spin their accomplishments in the best possible light. But there is a tipping point where the debate becomes so divorced from reality that the spin becomes outright deception.
Given that the campaign season just kicked off with a CNN anchor calling Ned Lamont "the al Qaeda candidate," I'd argue we are at that point right now.
So during the campaign season (and, possibly, beyond), we'll be doing our small part by periodically giving out the Orwells.
And we'll give them not just for the most fraudulent statements, but also for speaking the truth. We'll knock them when they screw up, and we'll applaud them when they do the right thing.
So, for the first installment, the envelopes, please:
The Orwell Awards for Fraudulent Statements
To Tony Snow for blaming 9/11 on George H. W. Bush, perpetuating an outrageous lie about the connection between Iraq and 9/11, and implying that Ned Lamont and the sixty percent of the public who agrees with his position on Iraq want to "walk away" from fighting terrorism:
"There seems to be two approaches, and in the Connecticut race, one of the approaches is ignore the difficulties and walk away. Now, when the United States walked away, in the opinion of Osama bin Laden in 1991, bin Laden drew from that the conclusion that Americans were weak and wouldn't stay the course, and that led to September 11th."
To ABC's Martha Raddatz for implying that one can't support withdrawing our troops from Iraq and at the same time "support the troops":
"It's a very different kind of war. And it's a war that the Democrats don't want to say, 'This is terrible. The troops should come home,' because, you have -- the lesson from Vietnam also was you have to support the troops or there's tremendous backlash from that."
The Orwell Awards for Speaking the Truth
"That may be the way the Vice President sees it...but I don't see it that way, and I don't think most Americans see it that way."
To Senator Russ Feingold, for correcting Joe Lieberman's fraudulent statement on This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Lieberman thinks that your approach will strengthen the terrorists and it's a victory for terrorists. What's your response?
FEINGOLD: Well, I like Joe Lieberman, but I support Ned Lamont, because Joe is showing with that regrettable statement that he doesn't get it. He doesn't get it. The fact is that we were attacked on 9/11 by Al Qaeda and its affiliates and its sympathizers, not by Saddam Hussein....
Post your nominations for future Orwells in the comments.
UPDATE: I woke up this morning to an email from Eric Alterman pointing out that the National Council of Teachers of English gives out every year the "George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language" (indeed, Eric doesn't point this out, but he was a recipient of the award in 1993). Last year, the recipients were Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show" cast. Great choices. Great that the National council of teachers is doing this. How about we call ours just plain "The Orwells."