Defining Dissembling

Columbus Alive | June 9, 2005
Last week Bush went above and beyond his normal verbal flub-ups by not merely making up or mispronouncing a word, but by making his gaffe while in the act of defining a word for the benefit of the gathered—incorrectly.

Referring to an Amnesty International report harshly criticizing U.S. detention facilities, Bush sought to dismiss its credibility, stating during a May 31 press conference, “It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of—and the allegations—by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble—that means not tell the truth.”

Disassemble, of course, means to take something apart. The word Bush no doubt meant to use was dissemble, which does mean to not tell the truth, or, more specifically, to hide the truth with misleading speech or behavior. Not quite the same as lying, but not exactly forthcoming either.

Here’s a good example of dissembling. During the May 26 press briefing, professional dissembler and White House spokesperson Scott McClellan was fielding questions from the press as usual. World Net Daily correspondent Les Kinsolving noted that guests of the president were wearing stickers with the words “I was an embryo” on them. Kinsolving asked, “Since all of us were once embryos, and all of us were once part sperm and egg, is the president also opposed to contraception, which stops this union and kills both sperm and egg?”

OK, an off-the-wall question, but a tough one. Does McClellan say, “No, of course not,” and risk alienating the president’s religious-right supporters (remember, the administration advocates abstinence-only sex education and isn’t cool with contraception, as they feel it encourages sexual activity and promiscuity)? Or does he say, “Yes, of course he is,” and risk exposing the president as someone who believes people should only have sex when they plan on procreating?

Or should he choose none of he above, and simply dissemble?

“I think the president has made his views known on these issues,” McClellan said, and repeated it when the question was repeated.

“I think that this question is,” he started when it was asked a third time, and went back to “I think the President’s views are very clear when it comes to building a culture of life,” when it was asked the fourth time.

“If they were clear, I wouldn’t have asked,” the reporter finally snapped back after the string of non-answers, to which McClellan responded, “If you want to ask those questions, that’s fine. I’m just not going to dignify them with a response,” and moved on to another reporter.

That is what’s known as dissembling.

Columbus Alive

Founded in 1983, Alive is the Capital City's oldest and only independent alternative and is known for providing a forum for the area's free thinkers. The paper's spirited and original perspective on music, arts and culture distinguish it from the...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 62 E. Broad St., Columbus, OH 43215
  • Phone: (614) 221-2449