Attention distraction disorder

THE QUOTE

“As he told me this morning, the VA needs new leadership to address [veterans’ issues]. He does not want to be a distraction because his priority is to fix the problem and make sure veterans are getting the care they need.”

WHO SAID IT

President Barack Obama about Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki on May 30.

BACKGROUND

The president’s comment came at a press conference where he announced Sec. Shinseki’s resignation following a scathing report by the Veterans Administration’s inspector general. The report documented earlier allegations of veterans waiting an average of 115 days for treatment at the Phoenix VA hospital and the keeping of a phony set of records that hid the problem. Such problems, the report said, are “systemic” through the VA’s 151 hospitals and more than 800 clinics.

THE FACTS

No one resigns anymore because they done wrong. They claim they are leaving because of the effect of their behavior  — the distraction they are causing — and not the cause of the distraction: their failure at the job. It’s all supposedly for the good of the organization. The real distraction here is that they’re trying to distract us from what they did. They want to take the attention away from their actions that led to their usually involuntary resignation — and then they want us to thank them for being so selfless. The only less believable excuse for a sudden resignation is the “I-want-to-spend-more-time-with-my-family” line of you-know-what.

Like other forms of political euphemism, this one is common across the political spectrum. Scott Brown, the former Republican Massachusetts U. S. senator trying to get back to the Senate by running in New Hampshire, where he has set up residency, resigned recently from the board of a Florida firm after the Boston Globe revealed Brown has $1 million-plus stock options in the company. The Globe reported the “publicly traded company has no revenue, no products, no trademarks, no patents, and only a ‘virtual office’ space in West Palm Beach.”

“It’s clear from recent media reports that my continued role with the company would be an unnecessary and unwanted distraction,” Brown said.

MSNBC host Martin Bashir resigned under pressure for comments he made about former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, also citing the “distraction” he was causing to the liberal cable station. Bashir called Palin a “world class idiot” after she equated the U. S. debt to China with slavery. Bashir suggested that Palin needed a history lesson in slavery, such as being forced to eat excrement, a documented punishment by a Jamaican slave owner in the 18th century.

Just a few of the many other disgraced public figures who left their job so they wouldn’t be a “distraction”: U. S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-New York, who had tweeted a lewd photo of himself to a college student and other sleazy behavior; David Wildstein, the New Jersey Port Authority official and a Gov. Chris Christie administration appointee who was tied to the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge; and Steve Garban, a longtime trustee of Penn State who failed to alert his fellow trustees about the Jerry Sandusky child abuse investigation.

TRANSLATION

“Rather than blame myself for what’s happened, I’m going to play the distraction card to try to make myself out a martyr and hope you feel sorry for me while I slink away.”

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The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting specializes in watchdog reporting, but as much as our government’s policies and actions need watching, so does their language. During the Vietnam war, we had “protective air strikes” -- doublespeak for bombing villages. And during the 2004 presidential election, John Kerry gave this twisted explanation of his vote on a military spending bill: "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

This new feature of pinetreewatchdog will call attention to fresh cases of the “pure wind” that blows regularly from our public figures: politicians, business people, commentators and others “practiced in the art of deception.”

As usual, we aim to be equal opportunity offenders. Because no party, no ideology, no special interest is immune from spin, obfuscation, weasel words, cant, misdirection, euphemisms, flummery, cheap shots and other forms of BS.

— John Christie, editor-in-chief

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