Saturday, September 06, 2008

Quoting Palin Out of Context

On lots of places on the web and Usenet, I am finding versions of the following:

"Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told ministry students at her former church that the United States sent troops to fight in the Iraq war on a "task that is from God.""

It is, to be blunt, a lie. The full sentence, which can be checked from the original video or any of lots of web pages, was:

"Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them[U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God, that is what we have to be praying for"

By snipping the rest of the sentence, the AP (which is what I linked to above) and lots of other sources are converting "I hope this is true," which is what "pray that it be true" implies, into "this is true." It's a striking example of how a partial quote can be used to attribute to someone something she didn't say--indeed, in this case, something inconsistent with what she did say.

18 Comments:

At 8:01 AM, September 06, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"[Pray] that our leaders...are sending them[U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God...."

Yes, you're right, but I admit it took a few readings to be sure. So this is probably a careless mistake rather than malice.

 
At 8:35 AM, September 06, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

appy polly logist

 
At 10:14 AM, September 06, 2008, Anonymous Robert S. Porter said...

Seems to me that that is a mildly different meaning.

 
At 10:43 AM, September 06, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Seems to me that that is a mildly different meaning."

"I hope we are doing the right thing," which is what "pray that" implies, is only mildly different from "we are doing the right thing?" I would say that they are not only different, they are inconsistent. What Palin said clearly implied that, at the time she said it, she didn't know whether we were doing the right thing in Iraq. That's the opposite of what the fragmentary quote implies.

 
At 3:55 PM, September 06, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,
Having lived around AoG and other Pentecostals most of my life, I can assure you that the AP had the correct meaning - these folks have their own usage of the English language. She is saying that the Iraq war is in accordance with "God's Will", because in her theology nothing happens that is outside that will. She is praying for recognition on the part of the national leadership that they are in fact fulfilling Biblical prophecy...
Seriously, go check out some their writings on prayer. I'm not sure AP's mistake was innocent, but they nailed it nonetheless.

Be well,
Dave H.

 
At 8:39 PM, September 06, 2008, Blogger Mark said...

You are right, David. But there are certainly plenty of other reasons to dislike Palin (a few here: libertarianobama.blogspot.com)

 
At 10:31 PM, September 08, 2008, Anonymous Rex Little said...

Believe it or not, there are people who do not consider this to be a distortion. I pointed it out to my brother, who is a very bright guy and (or should I say "but") a strong Obama supporter. His exact reply: "It seems virtually the same to me whether she said that the war is God’s work or whether she said that she prayed it was God’s work."

 
At 1:49 AM, September 09, 2008, Anonymous Matt said...

I think it's idiotic either way. If sending troops to Iraq to die horribly turned out to be God's will, would it be right in Palin's view to pray for other people to condone that?

 
At 4:21 PM, September 09, 2008, Blogger Andrew said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 4:43 PM, September 09, 2008, Blogger Andrew said...

I think David is correct to say that the two statements are different, but I wonder why he would bother to post about it.

It's not as though the real statement is that much more intelligent. Okay, so she "prays" (hopes) that the government does God's will. Does she not know what God's will is? What's the matter? Doesn't he return her phone calls?

David is slightly missing the point of the hysteria over this comment, and that is the idea that policy decisions are based on fulfilling God's will (something that exists only in the mind of the 'believer'). It's comparable to having David Berkowitz (the Son of Sam killer) run our foreign policy, believing that we have to invade other countries in order to satisfy the satanic voices in his head.

 
At 6:50 PM, September 09, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

"I think David is correct to say that the two statements are different, but I wonder why he would bother to post about it."

Because I find blatant distortions of that sort disturbing, and want to correct them.

...

"David is slightly missing the point of the hysteria over this comment, and that is the idea that policy decisions are based on fulfilling God's will"

Policy decisions have to be based on some normative criterion. Fulfilling God's will strikes me as no more nutty than preserving species because Gaia will be angry at us if we don't. I have more sympathy for criteria along the line of maximizing human happiness, but I can't derive them any more than Sarah Palin can derive hers.

She believes in God, as do quite a lot of other people. Given that, it's hardly surprising that she sees the decision of what one ought to do as in part a matter of figuring out what God wants her to do.

 
At 8:56 PM, September 09, 2008, Blogger Andrew said...

Good to hear back from you, David.

"Policy decisions have to be based on some normative criterion. Fulfilling God's will strikes me as no more nutty than preserving species because Gaia will be angry at us if we don't."

It doesn't strike you as nutty? Do David Berkowitz's ideas strike you as nutty? (I hate to use him again, but I do because of his high profile as someone acting upon voices in his head)

I will say that if God's existence were likely, and his desires knowable, then it would be totally different.

Unfortunately, God's existence seems like a fiction, to the same extent that Berkowitz's demons were fiction, and likewise I know of no proven method for determining God's desires.

"I have more sympathy for criteria along the line of maximizing human happiness, but I can't derive them any more than Sarah Palin can derive hers."

I think you're going a little too far there in your relativism. I understand that epistemological arguments can get pretty hairy, but I will say that the evidence supporting Palin's belief in God and additionally her belief that God's will is knowable (and yet somehow unachievable by God himself, requiring humans to do his bidding for him {go figure that one out}) is so weak that it just can't be taken seriously.

"She believes in God, as do quite a lot of other people. Given that, it's hardly surprising that she sees the decision of what one ought to do as in part a matter of figuring out what God wants her to do."

I agree completely. However, this strikes me as a good argument for why atheists should be fearful of electing religious folk into office. If theists derive their political ideas from supernatural sources; sources they confide in not through rational argument but through unquestioning faith, then how do you reason with them?

Cheers,
Andy

 
At 2:10 AM, September 10, 2008, Anonymous Matt said...

"She believes in God, as do quite a lot of other people. Given that, it's hardly surprising that she sees the decision of what one ought to do as in part a matter of figuring out what God wants her to do".

True, though I think this is quite different from figuring out what God wants other people to do.

What she says isn't "I hope we are doing the right thing", or even that God is directing things favorably, but that she prays "that our leaders" are doing the right thing. Theologically, that's a nonsense.

This only proves one thing above all to me: Palin treats prayer in this case as a political function (and one she's circumspect about to boot).

 
At 7:58 AM, September 15, 2008, Blogger Dan Clore said...

"Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them[U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God, that is what we have to be praying for"

I do not think that it makes any sense to parse this as if Palin makes two parallel statements, using the same word (pray), but changes the word's meaning.

Palin was addressing the sort of people who pray for people -- they literally ask their imaginary friend to do favors. It's very common to do this on the behalf of others. E.g., churches will have "prayer rings" who call each other and keep lists of individuals to pray for -- sick relatives or whatever.

In the first sentence Palin is clearly asking that her audience ask Gawd to protect the US military. In the second sentence, I think she intends to request her audience to ask Gawd to protect "our national leaders".

Following this with a request that her audience "hope" that the war is a mission from Gawd does not make much sense, either rhetorically or on its own grounds.

I think that Palin just left out a word, so that she intended to say:

"Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, [who] are sending them[U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God, that is what we have to be praying for"

This is how her request has generally been interpreted.

 
At 1:26 PM, September 15, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

"I think that Palin just left out a word, so that she intended to say:

"Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, [who] are sending them[U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God, that is what we have to be praying for""

The word "that," which I have boldfaced above, makes no sense on your reading. It makes perfectly good sense if you don't add additional words but read what Palin said as she said it. We are to pray that something is true.

"This is how her request has generally been interpreted."

That "interpretation" requires that you leave out a word ("that"), add some additional words, and ignore what Palin herself said when she was asked by Gibson. I can imagine someone saying that he thinks that was what she meant, but what various people, including Gibson, claimed was that that was what she said. And they didn't do it with the full quote but with a fragment taken out of the middle of a sentence.

I find it hard to see how anyone could do that in good faith.

 
At 1:41 PM, September 15, 2008, Blogger Dan Clore said...

'The word "that," which I have boldfaced above, makes no sense on your reading. It makes perfectly good sense if you don't add additional words but read what Palin said as she said it. We are to pray that something is true.'

Unfortunately, as I said before, this interpretation does not make sense either rhetorically or on its own. (Really, let's hope that this is a mission from God? As opposed to what, a mission from Satan?)

Palin's second sentence is ungrammatical. She seems to be having trouble getting out what she wants to say, putting out some sentence fragments that don't fit together, restarting and going back to clarify. So if you want to, you can argue all day about what she really meant.

 
At 11:19 PM, September 17, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Really, let's hope that this is a mission from God? As opposed to what, a mission from Satan?"

As opposed to a mission not from God, of course. That could be a mission from Satan or simply a human mission that some people mistakenly think is from God.

 
At 11:22 PM, March 16, 2009, Blogger moto said...

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