On February 3, 2017, while being interviewed on Hardball with Chris Matthews, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway made reference to the “Bowling Green Massacre” as justification for Trump’s travel ban on seven nations. Conway said:
“I bet, there was very little coverage—I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized—and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. I mean, most people don’t know that because it didn’t get covered.” (Cited from the newly minted Wikipedia page for “Bowling Green Massacre.”)
For the last few days, Conway has been the object of extensive criticism and ridicule for manufacturing a fictional event as justification for Trump’s policy. On February 5th she hit back at those she deemed “haters” in an interview with Fox News:
“I should have said plot or I should have just called them terrorists. … I clarified immediately. I should have said terrorists and not massacre,” Conway said. “I’m sure it will live on for a week.”
“I misspoke one word. The corrections in the newspapers that are attacking me are three paragraphs long every day,” she added. (Cited Here.)
In her defense, Conway says she “misspoke one word.” So why don’t we give her a break? After all, it’s just one word!
Just One Word?
Just one word? And that’s meant as a defense? Does Conway realize that the sentences “Donald Trump is a psychopath” and “Donald Trump is not a psychopath” differ by just one word? The same is true of “Donald Trump is a leader” and “Donald Trump is a demagogue“. Just one word.
Apparently a bit more is at stake than merely counting the number of words: it also matters what those words are.
So what’s the difference between “plot” and “massacre”? A rather large one, I would think. Indeed, I submit that it’s on the parallel with the difference between “leader” and “demagogue”.
Conway says she should have used the word “plot” or maybe the word “terrorists”. Right, any other suggestions, Kellyanne? Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could rethink and wordsmith our words three days later? But reality doesn’t work like that. Bottom line: Conway is offering this defense a couple days after her initial foray into bald disinformation propagation. In short: it’s a little late.
It’s also bad, very bad.
Let’s set aside our concerns over the one word issue for a moment and see what happens when we try swapping the two substitution words that Conway proposes. Let’s begin by swapping in her first proposal, the word “plot”:
“They were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green plot.”
Sorry Kellyanne, but that’s more than a bit awkward. The problem is that folks aren’t granted the designation of “masterminding” a plot that fails as the “Bowling Green” plot did. Indeed, the definition for “mastermind” (verb) includes a reference to success. Here’s the dictionary definition for “mastermind”: “
What about Conway’s second proposal? Here it is:
“They were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green terrorists.”
Oh dear, this is even worse. This formulation retains the problem of failure that plagues the first substitution. In addition, it compounds problems with a truly perplexing word salad. On this reading, the would-be terrorists were the masterminds (of a failed plot) that was behind the Bowling Green terrorists (i.e. themselves). How does this even make sense? (Pauses to pull hair out in frustration.)
Answer: It doesn’t. This is nonsense and disinformation of the worst sort.
We all know that political media relations is an endless source of lies, obfuscation, and outright bullshit (of the sort decried by philosopher Harry Frankfurt). What is so disturbing in this case is that it is part of a bald campaign of misinformation which is intended to prop up a demagogue-in-training.
Conway is right about one thing: I’m a hater. I hate disinformation like this which is spewed into the public square to obscure truth and thereby defend the ill-formed policies of a dangerous demagogue under the cover of confusion.