Precision, Accuracy, and Word Salads
President Trump threatened to cancel the daily White House press briefing last week. This seems like a drastic measure, but Trump really h our best interests at heart. The president’s spokespeople had a hard time explaining the firing of James Comey. It was not the first time they have had such difficulty. I am a cynic. I thought the root of the problem was that the president is a habitual liar. This leaves his communications team out of the loop (unless they happen to be in his ass right before he pulls a story out of it). We know it is impossible for him to stop lying, so it makes some sense that President Trump threatened to cancel the daily White House press briefing to alleviate the problem.
But, my cynicism makes me a low life critic. I should have waited for Twitter to give me the real reason. We are so lucky to have a president who can boil every issue down to 144 characters. This golden message explained why there had been so many contradictory messages regarding the firing:
As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!….
President Trump threatened to cancel the daily White House press briefing to address the problem.
…Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future “press briefings” and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???
I had to ask a few questions about these statements. I am sure it is very hectic to spend your days not getting any legislation passed. Who knows how all those other presidents managed to tend to things like the Great Depression, World War II, and the War on Terror and still support (consistent and useful) daily press briefings? If the president is too busy to talk to his surrogates, how would he have time to prepare written reports ? If he did write reports would it help us ? Would it help the administration ?
Given the content of just these tweets, I can answer the last three questions. He would have time to write reports because he writes at a 3rd grade level. His written reports would not help us get to the truth, and they would not make the administration look any better. Even in 144 characters, he manages to violate fundamental rules of grammar and vocabulary. If the president is going to be doing all of his communication in writing, he has some work to do. Let’s review his messages together and help him learn, so he can do better next time.
The president likes to dangle things where they don’t belong. Just ask a Miss Universe contestant. He has a dangling problem right of the bat in his tweets. Specifically the subordinate clause, “As a very active President with lots of things happening, ” is a dangling modifier. Look at the full sentence. The subject of the main clause, “it,” is not a very active president. That phrase not modify the verb, “is,” or any of the objects either. We need to make the adjective clause modify something in the main clause. “As a very busy President with lots of things happening, I cannot always send my surrogates to the podium with perfect accuracy!” is the grammatically correct form for this sentence.
As long as we are being picky, there are a couple of other errors in the first clause of the first tweet. The description is redundant. By definition, ‘A very active President’ has ‘lots of things happening.’ And, the word president should only be capitalized when it is part of a formal title (i.e. President Trump, ugh!). At least he used the correct homophone here. Remember when China took that un-presidented action against or survey submarine?
If it were truly not possible for Trump’s surrogates to “stand at podium with complete accuracy,” we would notice them standing at odd places on the stage. I think president meant that his surrogates could not always have accurate information. In that case, the statement should have been closer to “it is not always possible for my surrogates to present accurate info.” Maybe he really meant his team has trouble getting behind the podium. But, his schedule would not affect their standing abilities. In that context, the entire sentence should have been something like “Because there are so many earthquakes in D.C., it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at the podium with perfect accuracy!”
Maybe we can give the president a break on sentence structure. I had to look at the tweets a couple of times to realize he mangled what he intended to say. But, even if we give the president the benefit of the doubt on sentence structure, he still has a vocabulary problem. The surrogates drew criticism because each one told a different story to explain Comey’s firing. It was not just inaccuracy that made the administration look foolish. It was imprecision too.
Kellyanne Conway told us the “Rosenstein Memo” completely explained Comey’s dismissal. She also told us that the dismissal had nothing to do with events that occurred during the campaign, which was all the memo discussed. Sarah Huckabee Sanders told us the president had wanted to fire Comey since Jan. 20th. She threw out the phrase “basic atrocities” to describe Comey’s misdeeds. Sean Spicer figured it would be better to just hide instead of attempt to explain the event at all. It is almost as if they all just came up with their own details because they have grown accustomed to lying to cover Trump’s blunders.
To be fair to the spokespeople, it is very hard to be accurate or precise when the target keeps changing. The president was the least precise of all of them in describing his own reasoning. He gave at least four different reasons: that he was just following recommendations, that Comey was not doing a good job, that Comey was a showboat, and that he planned on firing Comey regardless of any recommendations. He also admitted that he did consider the Russia investigation in his decision. With that, he made the only point all of his surrogates were precise about completely inaccurate. I would illustrate how each spokesperson actually missed multiple targets with each statement. However, I can’t draw the space time continuum.
I will give it to him. President Trump was thinking outside the box when he proposed cancelling the daily White House press briefing in the name of accuracy. I would be happy to accept clearly written, truthful statements from the president to explain each day’s decisions. Let me know when we have a president who writes clearly and tells the truth. President Trump threatened to cancel the daily White House Press briefing. President Trump threatened to cancel the daily White House Press briefing. President Trump threatened to cancel the daily White House Press briefing.