Friday, February 17, 2006

The Word "Directed"

In the e-mail exchange between the WaPo's Jim Brady and myself (here), I take his organization to task for continuing to assert that Jack Abramoff directed his clients to funnel monies not only to Republican members of Congress, but to Democratic lawmakers, as well. Why does it matter?

Well, the Washington Post, however properly, is still considered one of the better newspapers in the country -- although with few exceptions, all the newspapers in the U.S. have seemingly abandoned investigative reporting where the current administration is concerned. If "abandoned" is too strong a word for you, Deborah, Jim... let's just say this nation's reporters certainly do appear to stop digging shortly after being handed the official White House storyline.

But setting aside all that, for the time being, what excuse is Mr. Brady or Ms. Howell prepared to offer for this glaringly imprecise usage of the word "directed?" After all, journalists of the caliber found at the WaPo ought to hold themselves to more exacting standards. I'm certain their grasp of the English language exceeds my own -- and I find this use of the word "directed" to be entirely unwarranted, given the facts in evidence.

As I understand it, Jack Abramoff was hired by select tribal leaders to lobby Congress on their behalf.

Now, if I were hired by someone to do a job, would there be any conceivable instance where it would be accurate to say that I directed the people who hired me to do anything? To be sure, I might suggest a course of action; I might even recommend that my bosses do a certain something. But would I, by any stretch of the imagination, direct them?

If you can believe that to be possible, you'll probably even buy a shooting victim apologizing to the person who accidentally shot him.

However, you'll note that using the words "suggested" or "recommended" with regard to what Abramoff may have done regarding his tribal employers' contribution amounts to Democratic legislators would make it much harder to sell to the public that the Abramoff scandal is, as WaPo and so many other claim, bi-partisan. The word "directed" makes it seem so... authoritative, and fact-checked. If it is said that I directed you to do something, it's implicit that you actually did it -- a direction is a command, whereas a "recommendation" or "suggestion" can be disregarded.

Setting aside semantics (and please note, I'm trying to be fair to Mr. Brady and Ms. Howell, in all my set-asides), does WaPo provide a single piece of evidence that Abramoff's tribal clients did what he "directed" them to do? Would it matter if the amounts of cash he "directed" were less than what the same clients had given to the same lawmakers in the past? Have we seen comparisons from the WaPo on those amounts, both prior to, and after Abramoff's hiring by these tribal clients? If so, I seem to have completely glossed over those reports.

Peter Daou had a very interesting post on media bias, and the provability vs. assertibility thereof; I recommend y'all read it.