Parsing Words


One of the things they teach in law schools is how to parse language in order to determine exact meanings.  This is a necessary skill because lawyers have to figure out what statutes mean (and whether they have been broken) as well as draft enforceable contracts and wills.

One time back when I was drudging my way through my juris doctorate, I gave my nephew a ride to do some yard work for my mom, and afterwards I discovered he left his dad’s weedwhacker in my trunk.  I needed my trunk for something else at that moment, so I put the weedwhacker in my garage.

Later that day I ran into my nephew and his dad, and my nephew asked “Is our weedwhacker in your trunk?”  Being a habitual smart-ass I simply replied “No it’s not” (which was technically true) and waited. 

My nephew looked confused and started to walk away when his dad (who is well aware of my smart-ass proclivities) said “Now ask him if he knows where it is.”

One of our recent trollish visitors said this during his brief existence here:

“Again, what is it about the fact that Fitzgerald said that Obama is in no way connected to this scandal that confuses you?”

That statement is laughable because Obama is obviously connected to the scandal, even if he is completely innocent of any wrongdoing.  But that’s not what Fitzgerald said.  He’s an attorney, and what he very carefully said was:

“There’s no reference in the complaint to any conversations involving the President-elect or indicating that the President-elect was aware of it, and that’s all I can say.”

Fitzgerald isn’t telling us what evidence they have, he’s only telling us what information they used in the complaint.  He may or may not have additional evidence, but he’s neither confirming nor denying its existence.

So when you listen to or read some of the statements being made by the players in this latest Obamadrama, parse the words carefully.

If Obama says “I have never spoken to the governor on this subject” his statement literally means that he personally did not have verbal communications directly with the governor on that specific topic.

It does not rule out written communications, indirect communications through staff or others, or communications on other topics.

So your homework assignment is to parse this:

“I have never spoken to the governor on this subject. I am confident that no representatives of mine would have any part of any deals related to this seat. I think the materials released by the U.S. attorney reflect that fact,” Obama said at a Chicago news conference. “I’ve asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the governor’s office about this vacancy so that we can share them with you over the next few days.” 

“I have not been contacted by any federal officials, and we have not been interviewed by them,” Obama said. “As is reflected by them, we were not perceived by the governor’s office as amenable to any deal-making.” 


One Response to Parsing Words

  1. Mike J. says:

    This could be fun… The gaps, as I see them:

    Obama exchanged forms of communication with Blago, and frankly “this subject” can be a weasel term too. His representatives have discussed this with Blago and/or his reps (not being amenable is not the same as not discussing). Some of his people were contacted by the Feds (though Obama himself has not been). They might have been actually amenable to deals, it’s just that Blago did not perceive them as such.

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