Did Nixon say “no?”

Sometimes it is what you say.  And how you say it.

Every now and then we catch the British Parliament’s “Question Time” on C-Span.  It’s that time when the Prime Minister  goes before the Lords and the MPs and answers policy questions, often defending positions he and his government have taken.  Sure, it’s political. 

There are some things that are impressive about these events.  Although the questions are often pointed and highly partisan, they are asked with respect for the system.  The responses often are greeted with dignified derision that seems completelly foreign to those of us who watch political debate here in the colonies. 

Another thing that is interesting to watch is the way the Prime Minister responds.  We have never seen a PM flustered.  We have never seen one stammer and stumble and let an answer just dribble away.   

Jay Nixon would never make it in Question Time.  He’s great at reading speeches and he has a really good speech writer.  But off the cuff?   Let’s just say it’s an adventure for those of us who deal in soundbites to get a clean 20 or 30 seconds that constitutes a complete answer.  

Of course, that can be to his advantage when he doesn’t want to answer a direct question with a direct answer.  It can be to his disadvantage when somebody tries to figure out exactly what he says.  Unscripted moments are not his strong suit, and that’s not good for someone who (the Capitol rumor mill is whispering) might have national aspirations when his time as governor ends.  

We have run across highly-intelligent people, some of whom are accomplished politicians, as Governor Nixon is, who have minds that race far ahead of their vocal cords, where ideas collide before words form, resulting in garbled expressions. 

We got a phone call  Friday (the 26th) from Nixon spokesman Scott Holste.  We’ve worked with Scott for many years and we’ve had a good relationship.  So when Scott questioned one of our stories, we paid attention.  We had reported on the air and on our website that House Speaker Tim Jones said Nixon was not going to comply with a subpoena issued in a southeast Missouri lawsuit challenging the Revenue Department’s data accumulation.  “That’s not true,” Scott told us.  Scott said Nixon told reporters in St. Charles that he was letting “the lawyers” handle the issue.  Scott had recorded the Q&A. I asked him to email it to us. He did.

Scott also called our friend Jim Butler at KMOX to question the story posted on the KMOX website. Some thing.   Jim called us.  We discussed it.  He said KMOX was standing by its story.  

Understand that people like the Missourinet and KMOX don’t go around misquoting people.  Recorders are a great protective tools. 

So we listened to the recording.  John had listened to a recording  in which one of his reporters, Brett Blume, asked Nixon if he was going to appear at the May 3rd hearing the subpoena was for.  A lot of crowd noise makes it difficult to pick up every hem and haw and uh and eh in the Governor’s response.  The Missourinet and KMOX have some electronic editing tools that help us clean up audio so it’s easier to understand—–not as sophisticated as some of the stuff we see on the cop shows on the teevee or in spy movies, but it’s adequate. 

John and the folks at KMOX determined Nixon’s answer was “No.  I, I, I’ve, people, by golly, guys, I’ve been in public service for 26 years. I’ve been, uh, huh, eh, I’ll leave that to the lawyers to talk about.”   John is sure the governor said “no” at the start.    Here’s the segment of the interview from Scott Holste’s recording:

                                       AUDIO: The Holste recording

We did some noise reduction work and then tried to amplify a little “bump” after Brett’s question before Nixon started stumbling around with “I, I,…”   Was that the “no?”   Here’s the segment after our filtering and our amplification.

                                       AUDIO: cleaned version

So what do you think?  It’s not unusual for someone in his position to say “no…” at the start of an answer before going on with a more complete and sometimes contradictory answer.  It’s an almost automatic response.  Sometimes, though, the first response is the real response.

We don’t know after listening to this recording several times if the governor said “no.”  His final answer to the question, though, was that he’s letting the lawyers handle the situation.  That’s not an unusual answer.,  We’ve covered a lot of political figures who’ve gotten into some difficulty and sooner or later they tell us they’re letting their lawyer handle things.  

The rest of the answer to the question, however, was vintage Nixon.  Figuring out what he meant, let along what he said, is about as much an exercise in trying to figure out if he said “no.”   At the end of the ramble, the final answer was that he was letting the lawyers take care of things.

And we’ll leave it there, I guess.

Conscience

Reporters in Capitols throughout the country, we suppose, have watched their legislatures get consciences.  More and more proposals are being made and passed excusing more and more people in occupations of broad public service  from serving that public.

Suppose you were to go into your local pharmacy with a prescription for, say, Lipitor, a popular anti-cholesterol medicine.  Suppose the pharmacist said, “I’m sorry. I have a moral objection to dealing with any medications that regulate cholesterol.”

“But I have a prescription from my doctor,” you say.  “Don’t you have to fill a prescription from a doctor who thinks this medication could reduce a life-threatening condition that I have?”

“No, I don’t, ” the pharmacist replies.  “State law says I do not have to stock any medications if I have a moral objection to them.”

There is no state law yet that allows a pharmacist to refuse to fill your prescription for Lipitor. Yet.  But one has been proposed.  Although the sponsor, Senator David Sater, who ran a pharmacy for 29 years, says it’s nothing more than free enterprise, a look at who has testified for it makes clear what it is.

His bill gives pharmacies the right to stock whatever medications they want to stock.  That means, of course, that they can refuse to stock whatever they don’t want to stock.  And if they have a moral objection to any medication, they can refuse to stock it and therefore don’t have to make any medication available that any doctor in his or her professional opinion believes is essential to the health and life of a patient.   “This is no different from a clothing store,” Sater has told a Senate Committee.  A clothing store, he argues, is under no obligation to stock clothing that is not stylish enough to sell or that the proprietor thinks is objectionable.  The decision of what to stock, he says, should be made on the business level.

Except the bill he proposes does not say “business level.”

Testifying for the bill were representatives of the Missouri Family Network, the Missouri Baptist Convention, Missouri Right to Life, the Missouri Pharmacy Association, and Campaign Life Missouri.  As often happens in the process of law-making, the list of people testifying in favor of a bill indicates what the true target of the legislation is even if the proposal is wrapped in seemingly innocuous wording.

There is nothing new in this.  Organizations of all kinds have written self-serving bills that sound like something a well-meaning favorite old uncle might write.

Today the word “conscience” is the word that is being used to try to impose through state law one moral system upon a general public that has a diversity of consciences on a diversity of subjects.

Imagine a civilization in which all people were free to deny rights and services to others because each wished to exercise his or her conscience.

Laws are created, among other reasons, to set the balance between conscience and organized society.  Reporters get to watch those who write the laws seek that balance, to determine whether in a pluralistic society one faith or moral system should be imposed on all, to determine if service to a free general public outweighs a personal standard that can limit that service.

In reporting these stories, we leave it to the public, to the voters, to the competing interests, to determine if it is really true that your personal space ends at the tip of my nose.  And what to do about it.

Truthiness rages across America

Governor Joseph P. Teasdale once looked me in the eye and said he would never lie to me. “But there are times I won’t tell you the truth.” Teasdale was referring to “truthiness” about 25 years before satirist Stephen Colbert launched his television show, The Colbert Report. Colbert coined a phrase at the last minute before shooting the pilot episode for his show.

“Truthiness” became the word of the year in 2005. Comedian Stephen Colbert coined the phrase to describe something that a person considers true because it “feels right” regardless of any proof that the information is, in fact, factual. Colbert says, “We’re talking about something that seems like…the truth we want to exist.”

He later told the satirical newspaper The Onion, “Truthiness is tearing apart our country…It used to be (that) everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.”

Colbert’s “truthiness” phrase easily comes to mind during political campaigns. It pops up on our radar screen today because our friend Steve Kraske, the ace political reporter for the Kansas City Star and one of the analysts we feature each week on our Campaign Watch segment, told me that he had run into Congressman Emanuel Cleaver at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, where Cleaver is to speak tonight. Cleaver told him his speech had to be fact-checked by the Obama campaign folks who are conscious of the questions of accuracy about several things Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan said in his speech last week in Tampa.

USA Today turned to FactCheck.org to analyze speeches at last night’s convention and some of the competing claims made at the Republican convention.

For instance, keynoter Julian Castro claimed the Obama administration has created 4.5 million “new jobs.” The analysis by USA Today notes the nation has lost 4.3 million jobs since Obama took office in January 2009 but had regained four million of them.

Castro told teh audience Romney/Ryan would “gut” the Pell Grants for lower-income college students. What Romney/Ryan have said is that they would limit the growth of the program and freeze the maximum grant of $5,550.

The same analysts examined speeches at the Republican National Convention–for instance, Clint Eastwood’s remark that 23-milion Americans are out of work. The actual figure in July was 12.8-million.

The fact-checking cuts both ways. But it comes back to Joe Teasdale’s statement that he would not lie but there are times he wouldn’t tell the truth.

Here are some sources you can check to see how much “Truthiness” is being thrown around:

  • Factcheck.org is an arm of he Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. There also is a second and perhaps more entertaining site run by Annenberg called “Flackcheck.” And there’s a third site called FactcheckED which is a file of issues the center has investigated.
  • Politifact has a truth meter and blesses the most egregious violations of the truth as “Pants on Fire” untrue, as in “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire.”
  • You might want to check the Washington Post’s Factchecker, or the fact checking categories on the national network web pages. Some local newspapers also run fact checks on local races.

Here’s the truth, folks. We think it will stand up to any explorations by any of the checkers mentioned above.

Convention speeches, campaign speeches, and campaign advertising are focused on selling a product. It’s just like the ads and commercials we see for cars, detergents, hygiene, enhancement, fast food restaurants, gasoline with special additives, and toothpaste products—you name it. Even ads for lawyers. The object is to get you to buy something. Or not buy something. Or sue someone you bought it from. You are being told only the good side for the product being sold or only the bad side for the product being disparaged.

Political campaigns are the same regardless of the level at which they are played out. Whether it’s a presidential race, a senatorial race, or even a race for your city council representative, they’re selling you a product. One side says it’s grass-fed but doesn’t mention it’s been loaded up with MSG in the processing plant. The other side says it’s low-fat but doesn’t tell you that means it has only half the fat it had yesterday and yesterday it was 70 percent fat. The sellers hope you don’t read the label very closely. Just buy the product because it looks so nice in its packaging.

We are surrounded by truthiness. Sometimes we feel like General Custer surrounded by Indians. And you know what happened to him after he let his troops against an Indiana village without knowing how many Indians they were or where they were. .

What is often overlooked about Custer, however, is that half of his men under Frederick Benteen, a former Missouri Civil War officer, survived. They were on another hill. They were fortified.

Custer died a fool who dived into battle without knowing the facts. The other half of his cavalry unit survived because it fortified itself