Friday, October 16, 2020

Hi Kids! Today's Lesson: Responding to Accusations

 Hi, kids! Yesterday, during our class on political corruption, we discussed "pay to play."

Today, we're going to talk about the four ways to respond to accusations of wrong-doing, especially in politics or legal circles (they often overlap). And we'll use yesterday's story about Hunter Biden's "pay to play" foreign influence scandal as our example, once again.

There are four ways to respond to an accusation or attack. Here they are, in descending order of effectiveness.

1) Deny. The most effective way to rebut or respond is to claim that is not true. Having some evidence of its falsehood is useful, but the burden of proof, remember, is on the accuser.

2) "It's not what you think." If you are unable to deny the accusation because there's an element of truth to it, the second-best way to respond is to use phrases like, "it is taken out of context," or "that's not what happened" are useful. But it is also imperative, for this line of response to be effective, that you provide factual information in your defense.

3) The third best way to respond is to admit guilt and claim that you'll never do it again. To be effective, you must follow Clinton fixer Lanny Davis's sage advice: "Say it early, say it all and say it yourself."

Be careful not to mix 2) and 3), as former White House chief of staff John Sununu (President G. H. W. Bush), did when accused of using a government limo to attend a stamp auction: "It's not true and I'll never do it again." That doesn't work very well.

4) The least effective but most popular means of responding, especially in politics, is to undermine the credibility of the accuser. And that's where our Biden - New York Post example comes into play.

Notice that no one has denied or countered the facts as presented in yesterday's New York Post story. No one has denied that the laptop in question was Hunter Biden's. No one has questioned or challenged the story of the computer repair shop owner (who probably is in fear of his life right now). No one has questioned or challenged the veracity or authorship of the emails thus far presented.

But the Washington Post came to the Biden's rescue with this story last night: "White House was warned Giuliani was the target of a Russian intelligence operation to feed misinformation to Trump." The story, consistent with most other Post reporting, is based on anonymous sourcing, which often proves wrong or misleading. "Anonymous sources" is a topic for a future class on how news stories get published (or not), and how to gauge their veracity.

The story has nothing to do with Biden or his laptop or the foreign influence scandal involving the payment of millions of dollars to the Biden family from nefarious sources. It is about undermining the credibility of Rudy Guiliani - a former federal prosecutor who has put members of the Mafia behind bars - who shared the contents of the laptop with members of the media.

Good consumers of information are not diverted by such tactics that seek to undermine credibility in ways that are often unrelated to the real story. Only partisans looking for an excuse are. Don't be one of those partisans. They're intellectually lazy and uninteresting.

Remember, look for one of these strategies in responding to accusations: 1) Deny; 2) It's Not What You Think; 3) I'll Never Do It Again, and 4) "The person accusing me of that is a scoundrel!"

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