Permalink to Controversialization — Rob Long

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?

 

 

 

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  1. Profile photo of Arahant Member

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

    • #1
    • May 5, 2014 at 10:04 am
  2. Profile photo of Rob Long Founder
    Rob Long Post author

    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.

    • #2
    • May 5, 2014 at 10:16 am
  3. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    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.

    • #3
    • May 5, 2014 at 10:19 am
  4. Profile photo of KC Mulville Member

    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.

    • #4
    • May 5, 2014 at 10:24 am
  5. Profile photo of Casey Member

    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.

    • #5
    • May 5, 2014 at 10:30 am
  6. Profile photo of John Hendrix Inactive

    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.

    • #6
    • May 5, 2014 at 10:32 am
  7. Profile photo of Arahant Member

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

    • #7
    • May 5, 2014 at 10:35 am
  8. Profile photo of DrewInWisconsin Member

    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.

    • #8
    • May 5, 2014 at 10:39 am
  9. Profile photo of Casey Member

    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.

    • #9
    • May 5, 2014 at 10:46 am
  10. Profile photo of Casey Member

    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.

    • #10
    • May 5, 2014 at 10:51 am
  11. Profile photo of James Gawron Coolidge

    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

    • #11
    • May 5, 2014 at 10:52 am
  12. Profile photo of Rob Long Founder
    Rob Long Post author

    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!”

    • #12
    • May 5, 2014 at 11:11 am
  13. Profile photo of Rob Long Founder
    Rob Long Post author

    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.

    • #13
    • May 5, 2014 at 11:13 am
  14. Profile photo of Rob Long Founder
    Rob Long Post author

    Ricochet needs Black Helicopters!

    • #14
    • May 5, 2014 at 11:13 am
  15. Profile photo of Probable Cause Member

    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.”

    • #15
    • May 5, 2014 at 11:28 am
  16. Profile photo of EJHill Member

    Rob Long: Ricochet needs Black Helicopters!

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

    • #16
    • May 5, 2014 at 11:30 am
  17. Profile photo of Job-locked Poet Member

    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.

    • #17
    • May 5, 2014 at 11:35 am
  18. Profile photo of Western Chauvinist Member

    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.

    • #18
    • May 5, 2014 at 11:39 am
  19. Profile photo of Tuck Inactive

    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…

    • #19
    • May 5, 2014 at 11:42 am
  20. Profile photo of Covert Conservative Member

    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.

    • #20
    • May 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm
  21. Profile photo of JavaMan Member

    • #21
    • May 5, 2014 at 12:05 pm
  22. Profile photo of JavaMan Member

    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.

    • #22
    • May 5, 2014 at 12:13 pm
  23. Profile photo of WI Con Member

    Well I like the word. Unfortunately, the Left can point to several instances (Vince Foster, Mena Airfield in Arkansas, the ‘Birth Certificate’) where we went off the deep end. Note, that I still think Barry is hiding something-see Power-line about his College Transcripts and trading on his exotic name and Kenya to ‘get in’).

    The Left has gone off the deep end as well (New Orleans: ‘Blowing up the levees’, 9/11 Truthersim, arming Saddam Hussien with chemical weapons).

    Why does it work? The Left has the media on their side – that counts for a whole lot. It’s not everything but it gives the Left an enormous advantage. I’d reccomend that pundits and politicians from the Right grille media “journalists” about scandals like these as if they were administration officials. It publicly shames them, illustrates the water-carriers they are and shows those watching how much is unknown. Don’t get into the ‘he said/she said’ – ask Coakey Roberts: ‘where was the President?’, ‘what/when military response did he authorize?’. They won’t have answers and will look like the partisans they are.

    • #23
    • May 5, 2014 at 12:19 pm
  24. Profile photo of Mark Member

    There are two reasons it works.

    The first has been mentioned. The influential news outlets like the NY Times and WaPo, who the rest of the media take their cues from to decide what should be covered and how it should be covered, have decided to treat this as a political dispute rather than a question that deserves an answer.

    The second is that no Democratic politician has broken ranks to insist on answers. They slavishly follow the White House line. If a senior D politician broke ranks it would transform this from a partisan to a “real” issue.

    You need both things to happen. Think of it the opposite way – the MSM will always go for something that looks bad for the R’s and then what sets that issue into overdrive is when R politicians decide they are more interested in the truth than in politics. See, for example Watergate and Iran-Contra where it was the participation of R’s that gave these issues traction. Unfortunately, the D’s are much more disciplined plus they know the MSM has their backs and will not put undue pressure on them.

    • #24
    • May 5, 2014 at 12:32 pm
  25. Profile photo of Mark Member

    Further to my comment above you are about to see this entire dynamic play out with the House Select Committee on Benghazi. If the Democrats refuse to participate it tells the MSM that this can continue to be covered as merely a “partisan” issue and the work of the committee will be ignored, regardless of what it may discover. It will be as if it never existed.

    On the other hand, to quote a well-respected politician “what difference does it make?” In the big scheme of things maintaining confidence in the President and the viability of Hillary’s 2016 chances matters much more than the deaths of four Americans. If we were to transform Benghazi into a real issue that might damage the President and Hillary then wouldn’t those deaths have been in vain?

    • #25
    • May 5, 2014 at 12:38 pm
  26. Profile photo of Yeah...ok. Member

    Please EJ! No photos of black helicopters here. Sure, have fun but don’t advertise it.

    Anyway, isn’t a White helicopter more threatening?

    • #26
    • May 5, 2014 at 12:49 pm
  27. Profile photo of David Williamson Member

    I hope Ms Attkisson is offered a lucrative contract at Fox News.

    As for the American public – the majority of ’em voted for Mr Obama – twice! Thanks to Mr Plouffe and his ilk – their cover-up of Benghazi incompetence and malfeasance worked.

    Anyway, “what difference at this point does it make?”.

    • #27
    • May 5, 2014 at 1:18 pm
  28. Profile photo of rico Member

    David Williamson:

    I hope Ms Attkisson is offered a lucrative contract at Fox News.

     I think she will be more effective by remaining independent of Fox News. She brings a great deal of credibility to the Benghazi issue, particularly to those who may be skeptical of the ‘right wing conspiracy’.

    • #28
    • May 5, 2014 at 1:37 pm
  29. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Rob Long: Ricochet needs Black Helicopters!

     We can have them when we start the Ricochet Republic, right after I write that post…which will be after I start writing it. Seasteading…just a taste of where Ricochet needs to go, Consul Long.

    • #29
    • May 5, 2014 at 1:46 pm
  30. Profile photo of Mike Rapkoch Member

    Maybe at some level it’s a loss of Patriotism. Many people have bought into the lie that America is evil. As Lenin said, tell a lie often enough and it becomes true. Iraq and Afghanistan probably have something to do with this too. Many Americans buy the lie that we went into Iraq for oil. That’s not to say Iraq wasn’t a misadventure after the fact. But the left has so successfully sold the false narrative that we were basically conquerors. 

    30 years ago such an attack would have been met with swift patriotism and a strong response. Even Clinton responded to the Cole attack. His attack was political showmanship, but he did it because patriotic Americans forced his hand. Now many people are embarrassed to be patriots. People continue to be cool to the Benghazi story, I think, because they are no longer outraged by an assault on their country.

    • #30
    • May 5, 2014 at 2:26 pm
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