In Paris yesterday, President Obama said at a news conference, “I mean, I say this every time we’ve got one of these mass shootings; this just doesn’t happen in other countries.” It’s a jaw-droppingly false and irresponsible statement, especially since where he made it was just devastated by multiple mass shootings, with ISIS-affiliated terrorists killing random victims in public places with automatic rifles. Just one mass shooting at the Bataclan theater took almost a hundred lives.
The Volokh Conspiracy (now under the auspices of The Washington Post), as other fact-checking columns have done previously with similar assertions of this sort as Obama has demagogued the gun control issue, definitively rated the statement false:
Is the president’s statement about “other countries” accurate? No. For example, on Nov. 20, 2015, mass shooters attacked a hotel in Mali, murdering at least 19 people.
Although President Obama has relatives in Kenya, his statement suggests a lack of awareness of events there. On April 2, 2015, criminals murdered 142 students at the University College Campus of Garissa, in northeastern Kenya. Among the other mass shootings in Kenya in recent years are those as Lamu (29 murdered, July 5-6, 2014), Mpeketoni (53 murdered, June 15-17, 2014), Majembeni and Poromoko (15 murdered, two days after Mpekoni) and the Westgate Mall in Nairobi (67 murdered, Sept. 21, 2013)…On Saturday, Boko Haram attackers murdered four people in Nigeria, and four more in Niger. Last weekend, four Egyptian policemen were murdered in a drive-by shooting. As reported by CBS News the day before Thanksgiving, “Two massacres that killed 15 people in less than 12 hours rocked Honduras and left the country’s top cop in tears on Wednesday”…Suppose we accept the president’s implicit premise that “other countries” includes only the most-developed countries of the West. With this limitation, what is the accuracy of his statement that “these mass shootings; this just doesn’t happen in other countries”? Plainly false, especially considering that the president was speaking in Paris, the site of multiple mass shootings on Nov. 13 and of the Charlie Hebdo mass shootings in January.
Of course it’s false. It is also, to be blunt, stupid, given the locale, and also unpresidential for a leader to be criticizing one’s own nation overseas (but we are used to that from Obama.)
More interesting to me was the phenomenon I observed over at Mediaite, where the comments almost invariably disintegrate into simple-minded-talking points, rationalizations and name-calling. A significant group of commenters, led by a snide, arrogant Obama defender calling himself “Tommyboy,” argued that only hateful, biased, “Repugs” could find fault with Obama’s statement. He didn’t literally mean that “this” doesn’t happen in other countries. Only fools could argue that he meant that, because it would be nonsense, especially given the locale. He’s a smart guy, so he would never say something stupid.
Later, Tommyboy’s proof was that Obama always uses this hyperbole, and thus it is an act of hate and bias to take the words to mean what the words do. Interesting theory: as long as a politician always uses the same misleading words, we should assume that he’s not trying to mislead.
I don’t know what to call this phenomenon, so for now I’ll name it after Tommyboy. Obama has made it a mandatory tool for Democrats in denial, andit has graduated to a disease. Obama has encouraged the ploy (or delusion–it’s hard to tell if the Tommyboys are spinning, or if they really believe what they are saying) by his repeated denials that he said what he said, often with shameful news media assistance. He didn’t literally mean that there was a red line in Syria. He didn’t literally mean that you could keep your health care plan. Neither of these denials worked very well, but they managed to dilute public comprehension of Obama’s ineptitude and habitual mendacity sufficiently to keep his poll numbers up.
Obama’s unearned reputation for being brilliant has created an airtight tautology with his supporters. Since he’s brilliant, stupid statements can’t possibly mean what they seem to mean, and it’s a sign of bias and hate to assume they do. Obama is incapable of saying dumb things. The crucial context that media reports leave out is that a brilliant, infallible leader made the statement. If we can’t understand the wise and accurate meaning behind it, that’s our fault, not his.
I mentioned in a comment elsewhere that my sister used this argument to shrug off Hillary Clinton’s recent statement that Muslims had nothing to do with terrorism “whatsoever.” Oh, you are only criticizing that because you don’t like Hillary, I was told. She obviously meant that terrorism had nothing to do with the Islamic faith.
No, Clinton obviously didn’t mean that, because that’s not what she said. If she meant something else, why didn’t she correct her choice of words? I know for a fact that my sister really believes this line of argument, or has been forced to adopt it in the process of being corrupted by Hillary: if someone you support says something that would make you lower your opinion of her, then she just couldn’t have made the statement. It just meant something else. So, like Tommiyboy, my sister retroactively alters such a statement so it is palatable and excusable.
If you don’t do that, you’re just biased, that’s all.
There’s only one way to combat Tommyboy Effect. As NBC’s Chuck Todd said in his exasperation with Donald Trump’s insistence that his claim that thousands of New Jersey Muslims cheered the 9-11 attacks was close enough for horseshoes, “Words have meaning!” Neither we nor the news media should accept attempts to spin outrageous statements by claiming they meant what the words didn’t convey. The options for the speakers should be these and nothing else:
1. That was not accurate, and I shouldn’t have said it. I apologize.
2. I was lying, and I apologize.
3. I stand by the clear meaning of my words, and accept full responsibility for saying it.