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More Factchecking Follies



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In today’s Washington Post, Howard Kurtz has an “Ad Watch” column* titled “McCain Spot Distorts Obama Comment About Military”.  At issue is this excerpt from an ad by McCain:  “Who is Barack Obama?  He says our troops in Afghanistan are— (Barack Obama:) ‘just air-raiding villages and killing civilians.’”

Kurtz’s topline assertion is that the ad “blatantly distorts Barack Obama’s words in an effort to paint him as callous about the role of the U.S. military.”  Specifically, the ad “truncates” a comment that Obama made.  Here, according to Kurtz, is Obama’s full statement:

“We’ve got to get the job done there [in Afghanistan], and that requires us to have enough troops so that we’re not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there.”

Kurtz’s analysis (emphasis added):  “In short, Obama was saying he wanted to avoid just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, not that this was all that American troops were doing.  His meaning was the opposite of what is portrayed in this spot.”

Kurtz’s analysis makes no sense.  To say, as Obama did, that American troops in Afghanistan were “just air-raiding villages and killing civilians” is to say that that’s all they were doing.  That’s what the adverb “just” means.  To borrow the same sentence structure:  If I were to say to my colleagues, “We’ve got to get back to our desks so that we’re not just standing around and talking,” I’d obviously be complaining that (in all relevant respects) we’re just standing around and talking.

Or when Obama falsely claimed that Bill Ayers is “just a guy who lives in my neighborhood,” was he, in Howard Kurtz’s understanding of the English language, really saying that that’s not all Ayers is?  (Oops.  It seems that I misquoted Obama, who merely implied, but did not add in, “just” in his reference to Ayers.)

* The system isn’t letting me insert a hyperlink.  The column is here:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/06/AR2008100603082.html.



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