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Nonspeak and nonsense in the Bush White House

10/23/02 12:00AM By Bill Seamans
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(Host) Commentator Bill Seamans says that controversy continues over the Bush administration's information policies.

(Seamans) Complaints about the fog of secrecy President Bush has allowed to envelope his administration have reached new levels of tension and even confrontation with the news media.

So great is the press corps frustration that Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist, recently wrote that Washington "has always been a place where people say the opposite of what they mean..." but according to Dowd, "the capital has soared to ominous new Orwellian heights." She was alluding, or course, to George Orwell's classic novel "1984" which introduced a language called Newspeak that was used to brainwash the people.

Most of the media's anger is directed at Press Secretary Ari Fleischer who, they say, is the master of the Bush White House's non-news briefings. They say Fleischer talks a lot but tells them nothing which leads me to suggest that Fleischer has created a new Bushian language which, with apologies to Orwell, we could call Nonspeak.

While Orwell's Newspeak did convey some form of information, Nonspeak is distinctive because it conveys no information at all. Fleischer's Nonspeak is a language which enables him to create the illusion of communicating when he is, in fact, not saying anything that would enable the news media to penetrate the Bushian fog of secrecy.

I've also observed that the noncommittal nature of Nonspeak has bred a new type of newsperson whom we could call the nonanalyst. He or she has become expert in disseminating the Nonspeaker's message in endless interpretive columns or by appearing on those TV talking-head programs. But since the Nonspeaker is a master of the art of communicating nothing, then it follows that the result of the nonanalyst's commentaries is authoritative nonclarification.

Meanwhile, Washington newspersons continue filling their broadcast and print media with nonspeak pseudo news to justify their existence or they would soon be nonemployed.

Now, while we might find in all of this a bit of nonsense, one fact emerges that is noncontestable: In this Nonspeak war between the Bush administration and the White House press corps we, the people, are all the nonwinners.

I'm reminded of how one of my mentors liked to quote a great Chinese sage who as early as the sixth century warned of the danger of the misuse of language. He wrote, "When the language is incorrect, one doesn't mean what one is saying. When one doesn't mean what one says, creativity is not possible. Without creativity there can be no art and morality. Without art and morality there can be no justice. Without justice the people know not where to put their hands and feet."

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.
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