The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Power of Simple Sentences

Posted on | May 31, 2011 | 19 Comments

Why is Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) ready to “move on” now?

Some statements are either true or false. Expressing things in simple declarative sentences helps clarify meaning, so that we can either agree or disagree as to the truth or falsehood of such statements. Here are three examples:


On Nov. 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy in Dallas.


On Sept. 11, 2001, nineteen Islamic radicals perpetrated the worst act of terrorism in U.S. history.


On May 27, 2011, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) used his Twitter account to send a photo of his bulging crotch to a 21-year-old college coed from Seattle he had never met.

There are people who doubt Sentence 1 and/or Sentence 2, but most who have studied those incidents have concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin in Dallas, and that Mohammed Atta & Co. were responsible for 9/11. We now turn our attention to Sentence 3.

Do we know that Sentence 3 is true? No.

Do we know that Sentence 3 is false? Again, no.

What we have are (a) the uncontested fact that, on Friday, Weiner’s Twitter account was used to send a YFrog link of the aforesaid bulging crotch photo, and (b) the statements of Weiner and his spokesman that the congressman was the victim of “hackers,” an accusation of criminality subsequently softened to “prank.”

We do not need to choose between these alternatives in order to conclude that it is a worth the effort required to determine the truth or falsehood of Sentence 3. Because the consequences of either alternative are potentially enormous. Either:

CONSEQUENCE A: An influential member of Congress has been the target of a disgusting,criminal and perhaps politically motivate smear attempt, involving the illegal penetration of a government official’s private communications; or

CONSEQUENCE B: An influential member of Congress, married to a key aide to the Secretary of State, has been engaged in surreptitious sex-messaging online and, when this sordid activity was exposed, has initiated what can only be called a “cover-up attempt.”

Consequence A would result in the exposure of malevolent persons unknown, possibly supporters of the Republican Party (or not), deserving of whatever punishment the law allows, should they be convicted in a court of law pursuant to applicable statutes.

Consequence B would, so far as we know, involve no criminal penalty, although it might result in personal embarrassment to the congressman, his family, friends and political allies.

No one has yet proven that Sentence 3 is either true or false. However, several observers have concluded that relevant evidence — including Rep. Weiner’s statements to the media, and his observed previous behavior online — tends to corroborate their theory that Weiner accidentally sent as a public message on Twitter something that he actually meant to send via private Twitter direct message. However, one need not endorse any particular theory of how or why Weiner would have sent that message, in order to believe that he did indeed send it. Similarly, if one is disposed to believe Weiner’s assertion that he was the victim of a “hack” or a “prank,” one need not speculate as to the identity, method or motive of the perpetrators.

The point? This story is what we call “news.” No matter how unseemly or inconsequential the story may superficially appear to be, it is entirely legitimate and potentially significant, and it is therefore a dereliction of journalistic duty to ignore or dismiss it.

The declarative English sentence is one of the most powerful weapons in the world. And good questions can be just as powerful. It is time — no, it is well past time — that reporters and commentators start putting these weapons to good use in investigating the scandal known as #WeinerGate.



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