WickedEye's Quotient

11/16/2008 at 16:09

Rachel Maddow and Recanting

I watched the Rachel Maddow show with my mom and brother tonight (they're two of the approximately five people on earth who can actually get me to watch a TV show from start to finish). I was surprised (because I generally hold TV "news" in contempt for the extraordinarily limited amount of information it provides) to find that I enjoyed Ms. Maddow's commentary. She's whip-smart, wry, winning—and has a sharp eye for the absurd.

There was one thing she said tonight that irritated me, however (though again, unlike other news personalities, it was the only dumb thing that came out of her mouth during the entire hour).

She was talking about "leaks" from the Obama camp, and she repeatedly used the word "recant" to describe his official statements correcting the reports of the leaked [dis]information.

Foul. (And two foul shots.)

The statements issued by Obama cannot be described as "recanting". Here's why.

Per the American Heritage Dictionary:

3. [Informal] To become publicly known through a breach of secrecy: The news has leaked.
2. [Informal] To disclose without authorization or official sanction: leaked classified information to a reporter.

To make a formal retraction or disavowal of (a statement or belief to which one has previously committed oneself).
To make a formal retraction or disavowal of a previously held statement or belief.

Don't hurl words like "recant" about. The word is by both definition and context pejorative—an admission of error, often interpreted as admission of a lie (a witness recanting his/her testimony). Terming the corrections "recanting" connotes that the "leaks" were in fact authorized and intentional.

If that's what Ms. Maddow intended (she most certainly has the verbal facility to imply that or anything else she wishes), I'm offended. Since when has Obama been coy about enunciating his views and intentions?

If she didn't intend that, I'm irritated. (Though again, almost as much because of Ms. Maddow's extraordinary charm and dexterity in every other minute of the broadcast as because of the implied slur.)

To recant a statement is to disavow a statement to which one has committed oneself. Only the party making a statement may recant it.

A leak is an unauthorized statement, i.e., a statement which a party does not want to—and barring multiple personality disorder, does not—make or commit to.

If a party does not make or commit to a statement, it cannot recant that statement.

To review:

If recanting is a formal disavowal of a statement one has made and committed to

And Obama did not make or commit to the statements he later disavowed

Then Obama cannot have recanted those statements.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

And good night.

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