Sunday, April 09, 2006

"on the ground"

i have a small request.

i would prefer that folks refrain from using the expression "on the ground" since it is a bushism that adds zero information to whatever statement it is added. the term is a kind of rhetorical olestra; it imparts a dubious flavor to the discourse without any benefit of nutritional value. and, quite frankly, abuse of the phrase is starting to drive me a little batty — consider this quote from white house press secretary scott mcclellan during a recent press conference:

well, i think that general casey and the vice president talked about that very issue yesterday. they talked about their views of the situation on the ground. general casey is someone who is on the ground and has a firsthand account of what is taking place, as is our ambassador, ambassador khalilzad and they've expressed their views of the situation on the ground.

white house briefing, march 20, 2006


i believe that the bush administration has strategically adopted the use of this expression to short-circuit criticism of its spin on events in iraq, by implicitly bestowing an unearned authenticity to its deployed personnel that stateside critics cannot claim.

certainly authenticity is more a function of accuracy and transparency than of mere location. certainly credibility has more to do with whether one is a responsible journalist (or any other type of news source), who presumably would be just as credible from wherever "on the planet" he reports.

would we imagine a report by bill o'reilly or brit hume to be any more credible were they to choose to broadcast from iraq — admittedly a not very likely scenario — rather than from the safety of their comfortable studios in new york? one might hope, but not if they and their ilk simply choose to shovel more of the same distortion and propaganda that their networks substitute for honest news.

"on the ground" however has become no longer exclusively the administration's favorite press whip. quite ironically, as the white house in march stepped up its campaign to blame the messenger for the bleak news coming from iraq, reporters in iraq to their credit quickly took up the gauntlet, throwing the expression right back in the president's face:

gregory: do we miss the overall story about what's going on in iraq, or does security remain the overall story?

engel: i think the security problem is the overall story and most iraqi's i speak to say — actually most reporters get it wrong — it's the situation on the ground is actually worse than the images we project on television.

nbc today, march 22, 2006


unfortunately the occurence of the expression has metastasized, its use now reflexively employed to convey any sort of authenticity, even when physical location is completely irrelevant to the issue, as blogger jonathan singer does in his recent article on the senate fight over the now-defunct immigration bill:

in his weekly radio address today, george w. bush strenuously worked to spin his own party's immigration bill disaster by pinning blame for the legislation's downfall on harry reid. unfortunately for the president the facts on the ground do not support his claims, as is often the case.

"bush wrongly tries to shift blame ...", april 8, 2006


i doubt any meaning would have been lost on us if singer had instead written:

unfortunately for the president the facts do not support his claims, as is often the case.

my continued sanity may soon depend upon it.

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