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Gore: Anatomy of a Non-Denial Denial

July 1, 2010

[Updated below]

Today’s New York Times notes that Portland, Oregon police have reopened the investigation into allegations of sexual assault made by a massage therapist. The story is very short, and contains a single sentence that I feel I should dissect:

A spokeswoman for Mr. Gore said he “unequivocally and emphatically” denied making unwanted sexual advances toward the woman.

Let’s start with the first words: “A Spokeswoman …” Gore has someone doing his talking for him. In a criminal matter, that’s virtually required. It’s a woman. That’s not accidental.

The next part in the money graf. The spokeswoman says he “unequivocally and emphatically”. That’s a quote. The reporter heard those words from the spokeswoman, who was characterizing Gore’s response. But that’s where the quote ends. The quote does not even include the word “denied.”

To me, what is striking is that the rest of the sentence contains no quotes. The three words quoted can mean anything depending on the context. I can unequivocally and emphatically deny that I drove to my office this morning, because I drove to the train station and took the train to my office. But I did drive this morning, and no matter how unequivocally and emphatically I deny that I drove to my office, I’m not denying that I got in the car, started the ignition, and drove it.

The rest of the sentence is how the reporter characterized what the spokeswoman said about what Gore says. That probably means that what she said was too convoluted to follow and the reporter condensed it for easy understanding, but that also means the nuances got lost.

What the reporter thinks the spokeswoman said was that Gore denied “making unwanted sexual advances toward the woman.” I’m thinking there are two flexible words in there. To a certain extent, “sexual” has wiggle room. The spokeswoman may have said that Gore did not try to have intercourse with her, or something else that the reported turned into “sexual advances.” But much more importantly, “unwanted” is a huge weasel word. “Not unwanted” is what creeps and sexual harassers say when they get caught; they say “she wanted it, she liked it.” We don’t know if “unwanted” is what the spokeswoman even said, and if it is, we don’t know if it refers to the massage therapist’s state of mind, or the state of Gore’s claimed knowledge.

Updated: Talking Points Memo is running the following longer quote from the spokeswoman:

Mr. Gore unequivocally and emphatically denied this accusation when he first learned of its existence three years ago. He stands by that denial.

Shit, “this accusation” is even more pliable that what the AP said. If that’s what the reported from the AP was relying on, I think they should have run the full sentence from the spox instead of paraphrasing it.
[End update.]

Ultimately, this tells us nothing about what Gore says. He can say, “I’ve never seen that woman before in my life,” and it’s consistent with the story. He can say, “she came to my room, gave me a massage and left, and that’s all that happened,” and it’s consistent with the story. He can say, “I tried to get her to have sex with me because I thought she was interested, but she wasn’t, so she left, but I never tried to pressure her,” and it’s consistent with the story.

(I’ll go ahead and pick my spot now. I’m saying his defense eventually sounds like the last one, a guy who made and flubbed a pass that he thought was welcome. I am not saying that’s what happened. I’m saying that’s what I think he’ll say.)

I’m a little surprised at the reporter for not writing more about the dance the spokeswoman did. It’s an AP story, so I don’t know who the reporter is. Maybe ze didn’t think to drill down on the no doubt slick but opaque language used by the spokesperson during the call, or maybe ze though what the spokeswoman said was clear. But it’s not. It’s a non-denial denial.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 2, 2010 12:38 pm

    Hi there. I read often though comment infrequently. I sometimes have a little accessibility trouble with the text colours on this page though — especially with the darker grey that’s used for the blockquotes. Would it be possible to lighten these a little? Big thanks!

    –IP

  2. Quercki permalink
    July 22, 2010 3:17 pm

    AP seems to lift stories from their original papers and leave off the attribution.

    I’ve noticed that problem when I’m looking for a different story to quote on my blog because my local paper puts stories behind a paywall after two weeks.

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