Last year, Karl Rove was reported to have suggested that Hillary Clinton had brain damage:
Karl Rove stunned a conference when he suggested Hillary Clinton may have brain damage. Onstage with Robert Gibbs and CBS correspondent and “Spies Against Armageddon” co-author Dan Raviv, Rove said Republicans should keep the Benghazi issue alive. He said if Clinton runs for president, voters must be told what happened when she suffered a fall in December 2012. The official diagnosis was a blood clot. Rove told the conference near LA Thursday, “Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.”
Rove subsequently denied reports that he said Hillary Clinton may have brain damage. Peter Beinart in the Atlantic dissected Karl Rove’s denial as follows:
Karl Rove now denies reports that he said Hillary Clinton may have brain damage. “I never used that phrase,” he said on Fox News. True. What Rove said was, “Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.” In other words, Rove didn’t say Hillary Clinton has brain damage. He hinted it, thus giving himself deniability while ensuring that the slur lingers in the public mind. Which is what he’s been doing his entire career.
In an unrelated incident, Andrew Weaver was reported as having called for Pachauri’s resignation. Weaver subsequently denied that he had called for Pachauri’s resignation. Alert readers may detect some structural similarity in the disputes.
Communications specialist Christopher Witt here, who is definitely not a Rove supporter, used Rove’s verbal (rhetorical) technique as an example of the “rhetoric of deception”. In today’s post, I’ll show that some of the statements in the Weaver (and other) controversies fall squarely within Witt’s typology. I intend to apply some of these concepts in a future post on the second major count of Weaver’s libel suit: whether he believed that the fossil fuel industry was responsible for break-ins at the University of Victoria. But in today’s post, I will re-visit a 2003 incident involving Weaver and McIntyre and McKitrick 2003, showing a very clear example of Weaver employing one of the rhetorical techniques listed by Witt.
Christopher Witt’s List
Witt described five ways in which a malicious statement could be made while retaining deniability:
Make a malicious statement so that the idea, image, or phrase you used becomes part of the public discourse.
The statement doesn’t have to be true or supported by logic or the evidence. As a matter of fact, the more outrageous the statement, the more sticking power it has. You can deny having made the statement, or say you were misquoted, or regret having misspoken, or apologize for having offended anyone. But the idea, image, or phrase has been introduced into the conversation — into people’s consciousness — and it will be repeated, if only to be attacked and discredited.
Here are five common ways (you’ll recognized them) to make an malicious statement, without appearing to be a nasty piece of work yourself:
- Pose a malicious statement as a question.
“Is Karl Rove a master of deceit who will say anything, no matter how false or misleading, to advance his political agenda?”
- Deny making a malicious statement.
“I’m not saying that Karl Rove has made himself rich by spreading outrageous lies about his political opponents.”
- Attribute a malicious statement to others.
“Many people have said that Karl Rove wouldn’t recognize the truth if it hit him over the head with a bat.”
- Condemn a malicious statement.
“Those who say that Karl Rove has contributed to the degradation of civil discourse should be ashamed of themselves.”
- Quote someone else’s malicious statement (with tepid disapproval).
“I’m not sure I would agree with Joe Conason when he wrote, ‘Karl Rove is a liar and a scoundrel.’
It’s easy to think up examples in the Climate wars. Mann sued Mark Steyn and National Review for an example of type #5:
Not sure I’d have extended that metaphor all the way into the locker-room showers with quite the zeal Mr Simberg does, but he has a point.
Weaver used a combination of type #3 and #1 during his interview with Richard Foot (while also making statements that were less subtle/not subtle at all):
Some might argue we need a change in some of the upper leadership of the IPCC, who are perceived as becoming advocates. I think that is a very legitimate question.
As already discussed, Weaver also made statements that have less wiggle room (“I think he has crossed the line, and I would agree it’s time to move on”; “in the case of Pachauri, I agree with what is being said in Der Spiegel”), but Weaver’s argument, as I understand it, is that his statement with Karl Rove deniability superceded the other two statements. As we’ve discussed on the other thread, it’s hard to reconcile the statements, but, regardless, today’s quote fits neatly within Witt’s exemplars of the “rhetoric of deception”. In saying this, I am not opining as to whether Weaver subjectively or objectively meant to “deceive” Foot; only that when Weaver used a rhetorical technique falling within Witt’s exemplars of the “rhetoric of deception”, he can hardly complain if Foot misunderstands him.
Rhetorical questions (type #1) are common. Here is an example from Rand Simberg in Mann v Steyn et al:
We saw what the university administration was willing to do to cover up heinous crimes, and even let them continue, rather than expose them. Should we suppose, in light of what we now know, they would do any less to hide academic and scientific misconduct, with so much at stake?
CEI and Simberg argued that they were just asking a question. Mann argued that they could not avoid actionability merely by framing their assertion as a rhetorical question. On this narrow point, I think that Mann’s argument is better, though I obviously think that CEI has many other valid defences.
Lucia drew attention to the following rhetorical question by Andrew Weaver’s close associate, Elizabeth May, as illustrative of a technique of conspiracy theorists:
Strange, isn’t it that media are not wondering about who hacked into the computers and who paid them? Or why Dr. Andrew Weaver’s office in Victoria has been broken into twice.
Lucia observed that there was nothing strange about it all, but that conspiracy theorists frequently posited something as “strange” that wasn’t strange at all. In this particular example, Elizabeth May removed any doubt about her adherence to conspiracy theory in her next sentence:
My guess is that all the computers of all the climate research centres of the world have been repeatedly attacked, but defences held everywhere but East Anglia
One sees numerous examples of this sort of rhetoric in connection with whether Weaver believed that the fossil fuel industry was responsible for the UVic break-ins, a topic that I will get to.
How Weaver Slagged McIntyre and McKitrick (2003)
In 2003, in an interview with UBC Thunderbird, s student newspaper, Weaver used rhetorical techniques described by Witt to slag McIntyre and McKitrick 2003. (In a future post, I’ll also tie this incident to some inaccurate commentary in J Burke’s history of events.)
The UBC Thunderbird article was mostly about false balance in Oreskes lineage – Weaver being a staunch opponent of false balance. Here’s an extended excerpt from the article, containing the parts relevant to MM2003:
This article [McIntyre amd McKitrick 2003] is a good example of the behind-the-scene issues surrounding climate change, which include access to reputable science and data about the problem. Peer-reviewed, academic journals, are the primary method that scientists to communicate their findings and express their opinions. Journalists tend to look to the respected ones for their background information on scientific issues like climate change. The issues arise when journalists go to journals that aren’t vetted by reputable scientists knowledgeable about the debate.
For instance, Patterson describes Energy and Environment as a “prestigious British journal,” while global warming proponent Weaver disagrees with this characterization. “It’s not a science journal,” he says, pointing to the fact that the paper was written by an economics professor and a Toronto-based analyst, not climate scientists. “If that paper had been submitted to a science journal, it would have been rejected.” …
Weaver believes that giving equal space to both sides in a dispute can be dangerous, particularly when applied to scientific matters. “They [SM: Energy and Environment ?] let these random diatribes of absolute, incorrect nonsense get published,” he says. “They’re not able to determine if what’s being said is correct or not, or whether it’s just absolute balderdash.”
In the above interview, Weaver introduced the derogatory phrases “random diatribes of absolute, incorrect nonsense” and “absolute balderdash” into people’s consciousness in connection with our research, all the while, like Karl Rove, purporting to maintain clean hands in terms of direct accusation. In my opinion, Weaver’s technique here – though probably instinctive rather than intentional – here comes straight out of the playbook described above. Terry Corcoran, among others, as I’ll discuss in a follow-up post, interpreted Weaver’s above comments as “condemning” our research as “rubbish” – an interpretation that, on re-examination of the material, seems to me to be an entirely justified interpretation of Weaver’s comments.
In closing, I’ve excavated this older issue not to re-litigate it, but in an attempt to fully understand in a non-litigated example why Weaver seems to have been so frequently “misunderstood” by National Post reporters, other incidents (each involving a different reporter) including whether Weaver had called for Pachauri’s resignation, whether Weaver believed that the fossil fuel industry was responsible for the UVic break-ins and whether Weaver believed that McIntyre and McKitrick 2005 was “absolute balderdash”. In future posts, I’ll return to the central issues of the Weaver case.
In keeping with blog policy, I remind readers to refrain from editorializing on either Karl Rove or Hillary Clinton (though I must confess that I watched her press conference on emails today.)