David-Plouffe-on-ABC

Controversialization — Rob Long

Sharyl Attkisson, the CBS News reporter who was either forced out or quit, depending on your level of tolerance for weasel-wording, because she wouldn’t let go of the Benghazi story, used an interesting word to describe the Obama administration’s strategy when dealing with the entire Benghazi scandal: “controversialize.”  It’s a mouthful, and it’s not particularly elegant, but it is certainly descriptive.  From Mediaite:

Attkisson was asked for her thoughts on how the White House has reacted to the latest release of emails pertaining to the response to Benghazi, particularly [David] Plouffe’s appearance on ABC News’ This Week in which he said the investigation into the attack was driven by a “delusional minority” of the GOP.

“The key words they use, such as ‘conspiracy’ and ‘delusional,’ are in my opinion clearly designed to try to controversialize a story — a legitimate news story and a legitimate area of journalistic inquiry,” Attkisson submitted.

“To some degree, that’s successful,” she added. “But I think primarily among those that don’t want to look at this as a story in the first place.”

“I see that as a well-orchestrated strategy to controversialize a story they really don’t want to hear about,” Attkisson continued.

I hadn’t encountered that word before, but I like it, despite its clumsiness. The only question I have here is, why has the strategy been so successful? The events in Benghazi seem to fit the description of a general-interest non-partisan disaster for the Administration. But, for now at least, as galling as it is, it’s hard not to give the Obama Administration (and the other villain of the tale, Hillary Clinton) points for managing the public’s reaction to the (possibly preventable) murder of a United States ambassador and the flurry of lies that followed it.

Why does this work? Or, alternatively, does it work?  

My concern here is that our side tends to look at something utterly indefensible like this — “controversializing” a genuine news story — and say, “This won’t work.” Or: “This shouldn’t work.” Or: “This wouldn’t work if we all kept Tweeting about it.” But for now, at least, it’s working. Why?

 

 

 

  1. Arahant

    English is a living thing, of course, and new words are born.  But how is controversialize really different from marginalize?

  2. Rob Long
    C

    I think it’s different — though the same basic idea, I suppose.  Maybe it’s a subset of marginalize.  My sense is, to controversialize something is to discredit it by making it seem just part of the swampy mess of American politics.  It’s what Hillary Clinton did when she complained that the entire Monica Lewinsky affair was just a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”  

    Put it this way:  all controversializations are marginalizations, but not the other way around.

  3. Arahant

    Rob Long: But for now, at least, it’s working. Why?

    That is the golden question.  I know that part of it is low-information voters.  “That’s just kook stuff!  I don’t wanna talk about that.”  But there is more to it.  It isn’t just skillful semantics, either.  There are other factors to the story of why it works.

    One factor is the old square of the distance rule.  (The further away it happened, the less important it is.)  Another factor is the activity in people’s lives.  America is an extrovert culture that promotes always doing and not so much thinking.  “Gotta take Jimmy to soccer, have no time for this!”  Maybe narcissism?  It’s not about them?

    Maybe the most important part of it has been the expansion of the franchise that allows people without an investment in the future to vote for what they can get now.  I know.  That ship has sailed.  The horse is out of the barn, and we can’t take it back.

    In other words, no clue.  I wish I knew, too, Rob.

  4. KC Mulville

    I’d say it indulges the cheap self-esteem of relativism.

    When two people make contradictory claims, it’s easy to “transcend” their narrow claims and pretend that you’re above them, because everything is relative, and their claims are proof that they only see things from their own perspective. Like high school sophomores, they’ve “discovered” that human beings are subjective, and think that being “savvy” means accepting that it’s all just subjective, man.

    Or should I say, “Dude …”

    Matthew Dowd, on ABC News This Week, routinely plays the “oh they both do it” card, as if he has risen above such petty subjectivity. Yesterday, Cokie Roberts played the same card.

    It’s easy to claim there’s no answer when you definitely don’t have one.

  5. JavaMan

    KC Mulville:”It’s easy to claim there’s no answer when you definitely don’t have one.”

    Or more likely you don’t wanna acknowledge the one staring you right in the face.

     

  6. Casey

    Rob Long:

     

     

     

     

     

     The only question I have here is, why has the strategy been so successful? 

    I’ve been catching up on the podcasts and I was shocked to hear Judith claim she was shocked that nobody cares about this story.  And then I got depressed that she was depressed because if that’s how we think about politics we’re never going to win ever again.

    Here’s why this is successful – Most people hate politics.  And they hate politicians.  They are sick of the endless bickering.

    These people understand the issue.  And they’ll catch up at the end when something is happening and pick a side.  But in the meantime, they are going to tune out the noise.

    The strategy is to keep the noise going until the consequences no longer matter.  And it works every time.

    Partly because we contribute to the noise.

  7. John Hendrix

    Rob Long:

    I think it’s different — though the same basic idea, I suppose. Maybe it’s a subset of marginalize. My sense is, to controversialize something is to discredit it by making it seem just part of the swampy mess of American politics. It’s what Hillary Clinton did when she complained that the entire Monica Lewinsky affair was just a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

    Put it this way: all controversializations are marginalizations, but not the other way around.

     I agree with Rob.  Further, controversialization is intended to ghettoize the subject into something that only somebody “on the fringe” could be concerned about.  The more “Black Helicopter” said fringe is understood to be the better it is for those who are attempting to make the subject beneath discussion. 

  8. Arahant

    I need a black helicopter, so I can make the neighbors nervous.

  9. Rob Long
    C

    Ricochet needs Black Helicopters!

  10. DrewInWisconsin

    Why has this tactic been successful? Because the news media is assisting, by downplaying, ignoring, or generally treating Benghazi like a conspiracy theory.

    The only reason Democrats have any power at all is because they have “operatives with bylines” in every major media outlet in the country.

  11. Casey

    Voters are like parents on a phone while kids are arguing about a green crayon.

    The innocent kid runs in and says “Mom, he took the green crayon!”  The guilty kid follows in and says something only tangentially related like “Mom, he stepped on my foot!”

    They begin frantically pleading and arguing but mom doesn’t listen carefully and pass judgment.  (She’s busy!)  Instead she says “I DON’T WANNA HEAR IT!  BOTH OF YOU, GO TO YOUR ROOMS!… sorry, Marge… you were saying…”

    Later, she’ll pull the guilty kid aside and say “You shouldn’t have done that, honey.  Don’t do it again.”

    Now, if the guilty kid hadn’t immediately frustrated the process, he probably would have been dealt a more severe and immediate punishment.

  12. Casey

    DrewInWisconsin:

    Why has this tactic been successful? Because the news media is assisting, by downplaying, ignoring, or generally treating Benghazi like a conspiracy theory.

     

    Not entirely true.  People who don’t care generally aren’t watching news programs about the things they don’t care about.

  13. James Gawron

    Rob,

    Let’s accept your premise that the BHO gang is very good at controversializing stories and that it has been effective so far.  What is the root of the word.  Controversy.  People are afraid of controversy and want to stay away from it.  Only when they start to feel angry & threatened are they willing to enter into the fight.

    The illusion that the Obama foreign policy could work was still possible for the low information voter in 2012.  Now in the last two years the Arab Spring/Egypt & Syria and the Russian Reset/Ukraine shows the BHO foreign policy to be a disaster.  People realizing that there is nothing to be gained begin to take a look at what the gang was willing to do in Benghazi to get elected.  Now they can see an administration willing to sacrifice American lives to maintain the absurd fantasy of a useless foreign policy.  That makes them angry and threatened enough to engage in controversy.  Morning Joe’s attitude to Donny Deutsch was “I don’t want to hear anymore BS from these SOBs”.  Translated relevant to this discussion “Damn the controversy, I want some real answers!”

    Regards,

    Jim

  14. Rob Long
    C

    KC Mulville:

    I’d say it indulges the cheap self-esteem of relativism.

    When two people make contradictory claims, it’s easy to “transcend” their narrow claims and pretend that you’re above them, because everything is relative, and their claims are proof that they only see things from their own perspective. Like high school sophomores, they’ve “discovered” that human beings are subjective, and think that being “savvy” means accepting that it’s all just subjective, man.

    Or should I say, “Dude …”

    Matthew Dowd, on ABC News This Week, routinely plays the “oh they both do it” card, as if he has risen above such petty subjectivity. Yesterday, Cokie Roberts played the same card.

    It’s easy to claim there’s no answer when you definitely don’t have one.

     Exactly.  When a Republican does something awful, it’s “Look at that horrible Republican.”  When a Democrat does it, suddenly it’s “A pox on both houses!”

  15. Rob Long
    C

    Casey:

    Voters are like parents on a phone while kids are arguing about a green crayon.

    The innocent kid runs in and says “Mom, he took the green crayon!” The guilty kid follows in and says something only tangentially related like “Mom, he stepped on my foot!”

    They begin frantically pleading and arguing but mom doesn’t listen carefully and pass judgment. (She’s busy!) Instead she says “I DON’T WANNA HEAR IT! BOTH OF YOU, GO TO YOUR ROOMS!… sorry, Marge… you were saying…”

    Later, she’ll pull the guilty kid aside and say “You shouldn’t have done that, honey. Don’t do it again.”

    Now, if the guilty kid hadn’t immediately frustrated the process, he probably would have been dealt a more severe and immediate punishment.

     This is profound.  Seriously.

  16. Probable Cause

    Casey:

    Here’s why this is successful – Most people hate politics.  And they hate politicians.  They are sick of the endless bickering.

    When I hear this expressed, I like to tell them, “Then you’ll love North Korea — they have none of that.”

  17. EJHill

    Rob Long: Ricochet needs Black Helicopters!

     I say this in passing, sort of a casual conversational controversialization…
    Helio

  18. Job-locked Poet

    Let’s compare media reaction to Benghazi against the way they reported on an actual triviality – the Valerie Plame non-scandal. “The Bush adminstration outed a CIA agent to harm the purveyor of information contrary to their case for war.” Repeat ad nauseum.

    Too many LIV’s still get their news from the major network newscasts. Whatever the networks broadcast will become the news and thus the water cooler topic. Whatever they don’t will die on the vine. The only way Benghazi will become a major story is if a Republican can be found in some way to be at fault.

  19. Western Chauvinist

    Why does this work? Because Americans have been “educated” out of any ability to think critically and discriminate right from wrong, justice from injustice. As I said in another thread, they’re above all that “dirty talk.” Discernment is hard. So, we end up in this endless loop of ignorance and self-congratulation. It (by which I mean our society) can’t last.

  20. Tuck

    The word she’s looking for is “delegitimize”…

    It works because to some extent the human mind works off keywords, and people use these keywords in place of double-checking an argument.

    The classic recipe for this was the demonization of the Bush Administration over New Orleans’ and Louisiana’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina.  Even Republicans now cite this as a failure, although the response was in line with what FEMA has done in other locations: including NYC during Sandy.

    FEMA relies on efficient local governments…

  21. Covert Conservative

    It’s a combination of two interdependent factors:
    1) An administration that has relied on endless delaying tactics, to the point where they no longer have to delay because the public has largely “moved on;” and 2) A complicit mainstream media who would have never stopped asking questions and demanding answers if a Republican was in office.
    It’s breath-taking really, how far the “sons of Woodward and Bernstein” have fallen.

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