"The President Won't Say the Word 'Terrorist,'" and Other Right-Wing Spin

I've noticed a strange echo lately in claims by right-wingers that supposedly President Obama will not say the word "terrorism" or "terrorist." On January 2nd, Chris Matthews had two fellows on to debate about the White House's Saturday radio address on the attempted Christmas day bombing. (The transcript is not yet available, but I will post it here once it posts there.) Let's get to the bottom of this new myth.

The Myth that President Obama Won't Say the Word "Terror"

Blue darts on red targetDuring the show, Matthews played a clip from the statement, in which the President talks about "terrorism" and also uses the words "incident" and "extremists." The right-wing flack, whose name escapes me, responded by asserting that President Obama won't use the word "terrorism" or "terrorist" despite what the president actually said. The flack then seized on the use of the word "incident" as weak and the word "extremists" as too vague. Since then, I've heard other so-called conservatives make the same baseless claim, that the President won't use the word "terrorism."

So, I pulled the transcript of his address, in which he uses the word "terrorist" or a variation at least six times, along with "Al Qaida" at least seven times. It seems strange to me that opponents would make such a baseless and actually silly claim, so easily refuted, about such a serious matter. But, I suppose they are counting on Americans not actually listening to the four-minute speech and instead getting their news digested by bloviators who then regurgitate some partially dissolved version of the truth to feed the masses who listen to their high-pitched talk shows. But if you don't want to take someone's word for it -- and I'm a big believer in primary sources -- you can watch the whole short speech yourself.

In case you hear this lie about the presidential omission of the word "terrorism" again and again (which I suspect you will), I thought I'd save you the research and post the transcript here. But in the meantime, as frustrating as such baseless spin can be, perhaps it should be cause for rejoicing that there was so little to criticize about the president's response to this serious situation that they had to practically make something up.

You'd think patriots of all political persuasions would appreciate the sober and steady response to the plot by a president from any political party, but because that is one of the areas in which Obama's party retains some polling strength, it too is just fodder for the continued politicization of national security by the so-called "right." Or perhaps they think that the best defense is a good offense, because they fear they will be blamed for larding the Terrorist Watch List with so many names (a half million terrorists? ridiculous) that it's just not very useful for airport checks. I will not even belabor the numerous documented instances of members of Congress, and even babies, being on the overly inclusive list, and having trouble getting off of it.

The Hypocrisy over Charging the Plotter in Federal Court

Of course, one might also think that charging the thwarted Christmas Day bomber with a host of federal crimes in order to keep him off the streets and off planes for years to come would be embraced as the U.S. bringing a terrorism suspect to justice. But, you'd be wrong. Because there is apparently no hypocrisy too great to be embraced by craven politicians, like Senator Kit Bond. The former GOP Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence who did President George W. Bush's bidding without blinking, now claims it's wrong to charge the guy in federal court, even though he stood behind the Bush Justice Department when it charged Richard Reid, the foiled shoe bomber, with federal crimes, as Rachel Maddow documented in her show.

It seems the "right" really is intent on destroying the American justice system as the place where a free and democratic society goes to ensure that justice is done, that the guilty are punished and the innocent are freed, not that the system is perfect by any means. It seems they'd prefer to replace at least five of the amendments to the Constitution (the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th) with the letters [Guantanamo Camp Xray|G-I-T-M-O] by fiat. This is why Dick Cheney remains their leader-in-exile, their ultimate id and superego, or in other words, their superhero. I just think he ought to be exiled for being the ultimate antihero who broke law after law, and has yet to face any consequences in the American justice system.

Dick Cheney's Role in the Myth about the Missing Word "Terrorist"

What is Cheney saying about this whole myth that President Obama won't say the word "terrorism" Well, his speech writers helped kick off this little myth with a speech more cleverly worded than his minions can mimic on the talk shows, but the gist is the same. But-for the purpose of proving my point on the origin of the echo chamber, I would not quote this criminal at all; his line was that the president "seems to think if he gets rid of the words, ‘war on terror,’ we won’t be at war."

It's just another bit of well-spun spin wrapped with a bow, because the United States is unquestionably continuing to fight wars in two countries, and is using lethal force to attack al Qaida strongholds in other places in the region. And it's not as though the President has catered to the will of many of those who voted for him to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and instead deal with al Qaida without U.S. troops occupying two countries.

It is true that the Obama administration has tried to dismantle the extra-constitutional (and by that I mean illegal) structure of imperial presidential power to disregard or reinterpret all law as not binding on the president. That's what the Bush administration basically meant when it used the phrase "Global War on Terror" (GWOT). Cheney and company acted as though they had a blank check to allow the President, or rather the Vice President, to dictate any change in law in secret, like U.S. laws against torture, under the notion of unlimited power, or what Cheney called the president's "plenary" power (a $10 word for unlimited).

Much to my chagrin, the upshot of Obama discarding this rubric has not been a pullout from Afghanistan, the closing of Guantanamo yet, the rolling back of the warrantless surveillance approved by Bush and ratified by the last Congress, or the abandonment of the pernicious "state secrets" doctrine which thwarts citizens' ability to sue the government for violating their rights. But it has meant that the days when Dick Cheney could dictate an order to violate the law and have President Bush unthinkingly embrace this as divine right, like torture practices literally borrowed from the Spanish Inquisition, are over.

While that's a good thing for the health of our democracy, Cheney apparently misses the limelight of his glory days of acting with king-like power, and he seems to believe that "terrorism" was the magic word that made his kingdom possible. He misses the word even when it is spoken; perhaps he thinks it just cannot be said enough. His acolytes mindlessly repeat his mantra in their simplified versions of the truth as spoken by their dark lord. So I'm sure we've not heard the last of this canard that the word "terrorist" has gone missing at the White House. It hasn't.

Still, the man who in many ways abetted the terrorists in their effort to strike terror in the hearts of Americans by playing the fear card over and over is missing from the White House. I wouldn't care if this fear monger was a Republican or a Democrat or Republicrat, from any party or none. I'm just glad this Rumpelstiltskin who so cleverly helps the truth get spun into such fine webs of lies is no longer ruling the White House, even if he continues to ride the airwaves pitching his special brand of fear. It would be nice if pundits would intervene more often when a guest says it's night even though it's day and help nip these lies, like the myth of the missing word "terrorism," in the bud. Although Chris Matthews failed to challenge the bald faced lie that the President didn't talk about terrorism in his talk about terrorism, the Hard Ball interviewer did later chastise Politico for acting as Cheney's "news feed" in just reprinting his assertions time and time again.

Lisa Graves is the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy based in Madison, Wisconsin.


Lisa Graves

Lisa Graves is President of the Board of the Center for Media and Democracy and President of True North Research. She is a well-known researcher, writer, and public speaker. Her research and analysis have been cited by every major paper in the country and featured in critically acclaimed books and documentaries, including Ava Du Vernay’s award-winning film, “The 13th,” Bill Moyers’s “United States of ALEC,” and Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously.”



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