Thursday, June 23, 2005


British as a foreign language

Last Friday I wrote a post on the PBS NewsHour debate over the meaning of the Downing Street memos held between former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and Reuel Gerecht, a former CIA operative trotted out by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). At the post's conclusion I listed a mix of tactics and arguments that Gerecht had used to deny the incriminating nature of the memos. (Since Gerecht was sent by AEI, the Neocon think tank, you can bet they will be used again.)

Let me repeat them—

I must confess that the first example I gave of the muddy-the-water ploy didn't actually come up during the PBS program, but I had already seen it elsewhere. For instance, in an article of June 8 in USA Today, Mark Memmott wrote (to ensure balance!) in his wrap-up—

Robin Niblett of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, says it would be easy for Americans to misunderstand the reference to intelligence being "fixed around" Iraq policy. "'Fixed around' in British English means 'bolted on' rather than altered to fit the policy," he says.

Yesterday Ray McGovern surveyed this sudden interest in linguistics by the Right, which has been dutifully repeated in the media. British English, according to them, has diverged so markedly from American English that the meaning of "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" has become all but unintelligible to Americans and requires translation.

My own suggestion is that Dearlove, the head of British intelligence, meant that "the intelligence and facts were being repaired around the policy."

Frankly I'm surprised that Bush and Blair were able to hold their recent meeting without language assistance. I did not know that Bush was bilingual. Were those men around them Secret Service agents or simultaneous translators?

Well, I'm going to have to cut this short so I can go watch an episode of Fawlty Towers. It's my favorite British comedy, but I wouldn't understand a word of it without the subtitles.

But Ray McGovern has it on good authority that—at least in the case of the Downing Street memos—"fixed" means ... "fixed."

Previous post
PBS NewsHour claims credit for Downinggate; may deserve some after last night (6/17/2005)

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