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Jewish World Review May 18, 2001 / 25 Iyar, 5761

Diana West

Diana West
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Consumer Reports

'Honest Bill' Clinton and
other Ratheresian Logic -- BILL O'REILLY, of the Fox News Channel and a JWR columnist, had a question this week for Dan Rather of CBS that sparked one of the more phantasmagorical exchanges this side of Wonderland. "I want to ask you flat out,"said Mr. O'Reilly. "Do you think Bill Clinton's an honest man?"

"Yes, I think he's an honest man,"replied Mr. Rather, according to the transcript posted by the Media Research Center at

Mr. O'Reilly, incredulous: "Do you really?"

"I do,"the CBS Evening News anchorman said.

"Even though he lied to Jim Lehrer's face about the Lewinsky case?" asked Mr. O'Reilly, seizing on the one Clintonian whopper that, anchor to anchor, should have gotten Mr. Rather's nanny.

"Who among us has not lied about something?"said Mr. Rather, deflecting the question with a little fortune-cookie-style mysticism.

"Well, I didn't lie to anybody's face on national television. I don't think you have, have you?"responded Mr. O'Reilly.

"I don't think I ever have. I hope I never have..."He hopes he never has?

"Then how you can say he's an honest guy then?"

"Well, because I think he is."

There's Ratheresian Logic for you: Dan Rather thinks Bill Clinton is honest, therefore he is. No matter how many acts of dishonesty this former president committed, Mr. Rather chooses to call him "honest."As the CBS Evening News anchorman went on to say, "I think at core he's an honest person. I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things."

It's difficult to know what is more impressive: Mr. Rather's deceitful illogic, or the blithely prosaic reading he gives his deceitful and illogical mouthful. At the risk of sounding pedantic, it seems worth noting that it's just not possible for an "honest"person to "lie about any number of things,"at least not so long as Webster's has any say in the matter. After all, an honest reputation depends upon acts of honesty--or should if there is any hope of preserving the vital link between word and deed that makes communication possible.

This sort of disconnect, of course, is by no means unique to the mental processes of multi-million-dollar network anchormen. The Democratic frenzy over President Bush's judicial nominees, for example, is scrambling such words as "centrist"and "extreme"beyond recognition, rendering reasoned debate practically impossible. The ongoing toll of so-called political correctness on the language may be continually catalogued. Now, recent developments suggest that a new problem has arisen in bringing words and deeds into line in our schools' efforts to save lives.

It all started with "zero tolerance,"a perfectly sane law enacted in 1994 against guns on campus. With every deplorable school shooting that has occurred since, this policy has variously expanded, with many districts across the country now adopting "zero tolerance"rules against any violence and all threats of violence. This has led to some ludicrous results, capped perhaps by the Louisiana boy who was suspended for two days after warning his classmates ahead of him in the cafeteria line that they better not eat all the potatoes or else: "I'm gonna get you!"

In the New Jersey suburb of Manalapan, according to the New York Times, the policy has become practically draconian as suspension now triggers an entry in a police file. The Manalapan crime blotter now includes the 10-year-old girl who said "I could kill her!"after her teacher refused to let her go to the bathroom and she wet her pants (3-day suspension); the 10-year-old boy who muttered, "I oughtta murder his face"when someone left his desk a mess (3-day suspension); and the 12-year-old shoved during a touch football game who was suspended for yelling, "I'll kill you!"

Interestingly enough, the student who did the shoving wasn't disciplined. The question is, when does "kill"mean "kill"? In a society of causal profanity and untamed coarseness, hardly ever. Granted: Mr. "I oughtta murder his face"oughtta stay after school and write "I will not direct such boorish exclamations at my schoolfellows"about 300 times. But there seems to be a fundamental misreading of the language leading these children to accrue actual police records. Wouldn't a few demerits do in most of these cases--or would that be too injurious to their self-esteem? The fact is, the message we are sending has become garbled, one terrible consequence of the general degradation of the language.

Of course, that doesn't mean that zero tolerance is always a bad thing--especially when it comes to Dan Rather and "honest" Bill.

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


05/11/01: Dodging balls, Bugs, and 'brilliance'
05/04/01: Foot in mouth disease and little lost Tories
04/20/01:The last classic Clinton cover-up
04/20/01: D-Day, Schmee-Day
04/06/01: For heaven's sake, a little decency!
03/30/01: The sweet sound of slamming doors and clucking feminists
03/23/01: America's magazines and the 'ick-factor'
03/09/01: Felony neglect
03/02/01: Who's sorry now?
02/23/01: 'Ecumenical niceness' and other latter-day American gifts to the world
02/16/01: Elton and Eminem: Royal dirge-icist meets violent fantasist
02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West