But look, Tim

In college, I dated an English major. Actually, I dated a lot of English majors. I’m not sure how it happened. I didn’t cruise the hallways of the department looking for lit-chicks, playing Mr. Darcy for the Austenites or talking death with the Dickinsonians. No, I’d meet someone, we’d hit it off, and inevitably she’d be an English major. Maybe it was something they did with their tongues.

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Anyway…

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In college, I dated an English major. One day, I was hanging out at her apartment, waiting for her to come home from class, I guess, and I happened across the book Strictly Speaking by former newsman Edwin Newman. Since I had time, I started reading it, which is something I do when left alone in somebody’s house. I read their books. No malicious intent, I just get bored, see something lying on a coffee table and start reading. It has been an oddly educational experience over the years. I’ve learned about the history of garlic, how to cure smallpox should it ever reappear, and I discovered that my quiet church-going neighbors are swingers and deviants.

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See, oddly educational.

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The book, it turns out, was pretty interesting. It was basically and extended essay on how we, Americans, were slowly killing the English language through misuse and abuse, clichés and platitudes, hyperbole and doublespeak. Sadly, it was spot on. We have, as a people, somehow managed to suck all substance from ordinary conversation eschewing real meaning for something that looks and sounds like meaning. Think this is wrong? Listen closely to the news. Start with sports and remember Crash Davis giving interview advice to Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham, “You’re going to have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down…”

Come back to me when someone says anything meaningful after a game, something that doesn’t involve a ‘team win’ with ‘a great bunch of guys who pick each other up,’ a real ‘pull together team’ that ‘doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit.’

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The news itself isn’t a whole lot better, in fact it’s worse. We don’t expect our athletes to be scholars so we shouldn’t be surprised when they resort to sports babble. But the talking heads…we should expect more from them. My local newscaster once said that a group of Hispanics was protesting the ‘proposed criminalization of illegal immigration’. Think about that for a minute. If it is illegal, isn’t it already criminalized? I’d like to think this was an isolated event, but on the same station, days earlier, the same newscaster reported, ‘The violence in Iraq…wow…it just keeps getting worse’.

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Wow. Wow, indeed.

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My point, if I have one, is that Newman’s book has made me a more critical consumer of information, a skill I’ve found to be of increasing value in a world of blogs, 24 hour news, and more media outlets than you can shake a stick at. Since reading Strictly Speaking way back when, I have paid much closer attention to what I read, hear and see. I think the book should be required reading for young people so that they can tell the difference between what is meaningful and what is bullshit. Case in point, my brother-in-law, a college professor, told his students that Wikipedia was not a valid reference for scholarly papers, which is true. It’s a good jumping off point, but you should never bet your grade on groupthink. Do the actual research. Somehow, one of his students failed to see his point and complained to the head of the department that my BIL was being unreasonable.

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Umm, why? Because you’re lazy?

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Give that kid a copy of the book and a smack to the back of the head for being both stupid and a whiner.

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So, yeah, critical thinking, we don’t do that enough. Look at the popularity of talk radio, an entire industry based upon the promotion of bullshit. These are not well reasoned, well researched truths. Unlike reality, where someone looks at the facts then makes a conclusion, talk radio begins with the conclusion then finds the facts to support it. I can make any position unassailably ‘right’ if I choose to ignore my critics too. All I do is stick my fingers in my ears and hum really, really loud. Talk radio, it turns out, is a bigger, louder version of the playground where I’m right and you’re wrong and so there. And it cuts to the left as much as it cuts to the right. The real tragedy of talk radio is that most of the bullshit becomes self-sufficient. The host sends it out into the ether where it feeds on mindless acceptance, eventually attaining a state of unchallenged truthiness.

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My long held dream is that enough people will one day listen to these clowns with a more critical ear, and then quietly turn them off. At that point, we could finally turn AM radio into the all sports format it so desperately longs to be.

AM 1360, KGME – Jock talk not shock jock. Get in the GAME!

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Since I’m on the subject of games, let’s talk a little about spin. Spin is where you take one thing and make it look like something else. The people who are good at spin are very, very good and the people who are bad at it are in jail. One of the unintended consequences of 24 hour news is that I can now watch a half-dozen administration officials say the same think on a half-dozen different channels. And when I say ‘the same thing’ I mean word for word. It wouldn’t be so bad, I guess, if I hadn’t watched George Will lay out the same strategy an hour before the flacks hit the airways.

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But as maddening as spin can be, I have found a sliver lining. I’ve learned how to lie effectively and I must say it is remarkably easy. I’ll share the secret with you here, for free, in advance of my book, Cover Your Ass.

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For fun, let’s say I’ve been caught driving around town, blood-splattered, with a trunkful of dead hookers. I’m arrested, booked, and released on bond. Following my arrest, my lawyer winds up on television, trying to make the best of the situation. To spin events properly, my attorney will follow this simple formula:

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– Acknowledge the position of the opposition.

– Say ‘But look’

– Lie

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Here’s how it sounds in practice.

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‘Well, Tim, there’s no doubt that this looks bad for my client. A car full of dead hookers is just hard to explain away. BUT LOOK, Tim, at this point it would be premature to say my client is guilty of anything. There’s no evidence that he paid for the hookers. There’s no evidence that he killed them. Why, there’s no evidence he even knew they were in the car. And let’s try and back off the rather inflammatory ‘Trunk full of hookers’. Remember, it was a compact car he was pulled over in. How many dead hookers fit in those tiny trunks? Two? Three if they’re well packed? Certainly far less than the number I’ve heard bandied about so carelessly on your program today. Tim, my client was asked to drive this car over the state line as a favor to a friend. A favor. What kind of a country is this that a man can be put in jail for doing a favor? Have I missed something? Is this China?’

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See. Just doing a favor for a friend. Could have been anyone.

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How often does this happen? Well, ever want to get drunk on a Sunday morning? Get yourself a bottle of tequila and watch Meet The Press. Every time someone says ‘But look, Tim…’ take a drink. You’ll be passed out before the end of the show. If only someone would call bullshit when this happens. Unfortunately, it won’t be the media. They have no spines, they are Slinky people. I’ve watched mouthpiece after mouthpiece get away with this nonsense and never get nailed to the wall. Back in the day, if someone had laid a line of crap like this on Mike Wallace, Mike would have jabbed a cigarette in the guy’s eye, kicked him in the nuts and challenged him to a knife fight. Alas, those days are long gone.

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But look, Tim, here’s my point.

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We deserve better than we’re getting. If we don’t start paying attention, we’re screwed.

Now excuse me while I stick my fingers in my ears and hum.

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