Twice in just a few hours Saturday, President Trump and his representatives offered textbook examples of the fog-making rhetorical response known as the non-denial denial.
Asked during a Fox News interview whether he was a Russian agent (as the FBI suspected, according to a blockbuster New York Timesstory), Trump harrumphed, “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked. I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written, and if you read the article you’ll see that they found absolutely nothing.” (Trump gave a more direct denial on Monday.)
.. Like all non-denial denials, both responses were forceful, even emotional in tone. But neither really answered the question.
That’s exactly how a non-denial denial (or NDD, if you will) is supposed to work. It suggests the speaker is responding forthrightly, without really confirming or rejecting the claim.
NDDs aren’t technically lies, but they are evasive and obfuscating. By seeming to dispute a statement without actually doing so, an NDD can raise doubts about the veracity of a damning statement. They have the added benefit of letting the non-denial denier off the hook if and when more facts emerge that confirm the original report. The denier, after all, never actually said the initial report was wrong, so he or she can’t be called on a blatant lie later.
.. In addition to their many inaccurate, misleading and baseless statements, Trump and his representatives have been frequent practitioners of the NDD:
●Following news reports that Trump intended to replace national security adviser H.R. McMaster with John Bolton in March, Sanders tweeted, “Just spoke to Potus and Gen. H.R. McMaster. Contrary to reports, they have a good working relationship. There are no changes at the NSC.” There weren’t then; Bolton replaced McMasterfour days later.
●McMaster himself provided non-denial cover for the White House after The Post reported last year that Trump had leaked details of a classified operation against the Islamic State during an Oval Office meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. “The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false,” he said, adding, “At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.” But the story never said Trump disclosed nonpublic military operations or discussed “intelligence sources or methods.”
McMaster’s statement never cited anything specific in the story that was false.
The “non-denial denial” phrase itself appears to have entered the lexicon during the Watergate era of the mid-1970s.
Several sources credit the late Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee with coining it in reaction to statements made by President Nixon and his spokesman about The Post’s reporting.
“As best as I can recall, Bradlee was the first to use the ‘non-denial denial’ language,” said Bob Woodward, who along with Carl Bernstein reported those stories.
At one point, Woodward said, the White House said The Post’s sources were a “fountain of misinformation,” but did not specifically challenge the reported facts. “I recall when I first heard [the phrase], I thought, ‘Ah, Bradlee was giving language to precisely what was happening.’ ”
Woodward said the most artful NDDs are issued with “such force, language and outrage that it sounds like a real denial.” What’s more, as with Trump, the Nixon White House mixed non-denials with outright denials, creating the impression that his administration was actually denying everything.
.. The Trump White House pushed back on Woodward’s most recent book, “Fear,” with its own nonspecific NDD regarding the book’s many anecdotes about infighting and chaos among Trump’s top officials. In a statement upon the book’s release in September, Sanders said, “This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the President look bad.” (Trump and former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly did, however, issue more specific denials).
As a rhetorical device, NDDs are an updated version of the “red herring” fallacy, the notion that an irrelevant topic is introduced in an argument to divert attention from the original issue, said Edward Schiappa, a professor of comparative media studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In other words, he said, “it’s just another in a long line of strategies of evasion.”
Trump isn’t unique in this, said Dana L. Cloud, a communication and rhetorical studies professor at Syracuse University. “One need only think of Bill Clinton’s reductionist use of a definitional argument when claiming that he did not have sex with Monica Lewinsky,” she said.
“It is not a set of tactics unique to Trump or any particular political party.”
.. But Trump’s NDD’s tend to fit a pattern, said Jennifer Mercieca, a professor at Texas A&M who specializes in American political discourse. His strategy typically involves a combination of
- denying knowledge of an accusation;
- denying associating with the people allegedly involved;
- asking what the victim did to deserve his or her fate; and
- accusing his accusers, “which is an appeal to hypocrisy.”
As such, Trump’s non-denial denials are different in kind and manner than earlier presidents, according to Rosa A. Eberly, a rhetoric professor at Penn State, because they assert “de facto negative evaluations” of most democratic institutions. “I don’t see [rhetoric of this kind] as an effective strategy for the long game of democracy,” she said.
Trump, Woodward said, “has taken the old Nixon strategy of making the issue the conduct of the press, not the conduct of the president, to new strategic heights. And some of it is working.”
Last week the Trump administration and its congressional allies working on tax reform achieved something remarkable. They released a tax plan — or, actually, a vague sketch of a plan — that manages both to add trillions to the deficit and to raise taxes on a large fraction of the population.
.. The road to this tax-cut turkey began in 2010, when Paul Ryan — now speaker of the House — unveiled the first of a series of much-hyped budget plans, all purporting to offer a blueprint for eliminating the U.S. budget deficit.
In fact, they did no such thing. They proposed major tax cuts — primarily benefiting the rich, of course — then simply asserted that no revenue would be lost, because reduced tax rates would be offset by closing loopholes and eliminating deductions. Which loopholes and deductions? Ryan didn’t say.
.. In other words, it was all a con.
.. Professional “centrists,” whose whole identity is bound up with pretending that there is equivalence between the two parties, desperately wanted a Serious, Honest Conservative to praise. So did much of the news media. So they slotted Ryan into that role, never mind the actual content of his policies.
.. After all, their supposed concern about federal debt was always just a pose, applying only when a Democrat was president.
.. But after all those years of pretending to be deficit hawks, they feel the need to be seen doing something to offset their high-income tax cuts, to close some loophole somewhere... According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, their plan would give huge tax cuts to the top 1 percent, who would receive 79.7 percent of the benefits. But eliminating deductions would make many Americans, especially in the upper reaches of the middle class, directly worse off:Almost 60 percent of households between the 80th and 90th percentiles of the income distribution would face tax increases... How are the tax plan’s advocates responding to their very big, very bad problem? Partly with evasiveness: You can’t evaluate our plan yet, declared Mick Mulvaney,.. And partly with outright, ludicrous lies: “Wealthy Americans are not getting a tax cut,” declared Gary Cohn.. In broad outlines, the tax story is a lot like health care. In both cases, Republicans have spent years getting away with big promises backed by lies. Now, with real policy to be made, the lies won’t work anymore.
I live in a high-tax state and county, and my family earns enough income that I am fairly sure we would pay more federal tax under this plan. I would be fine with that if it were used to benefit those who have less than us. Pay teachers more, expand healthcare, create a bunch of jobs in places with few, whatever. I would pay a lot more to make our country a better place for everyone. Unfortunately, this plan would take those extra dollars and obscenely direct them to people who already have so much they could never spend it all. It’s unconscionable and shameful. Which is what we sadly have come to expect from the Republican party.
.. The basis of the Republican position on health care and taxes is “Trust me”. Well, based on experience we can’t and shouldn’t.
Given we have a “businessman” in the White House, if any group of executives proposed programs in the same vein as the Republicans have proposed healthcare and tax reform they would be fired. No board of Directors would accept business plans that are based on fictitious economic theory, increase debt to incalculable levels and hurt their core customers (constituents) where is really counts, in their pocketbooks
Mr. Khosrowshahi has said Uber could go public in as little as 18 months. The threat of a London shutdown is likely to raise new questions among potential investors about the company’s global growth prospects.
“The truth is that there is a high cost to a bad reputation,” Mr. Khosrowshahi said Friday in an internal email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “Irrespective of whether we did everything that is being said about us in London today (and to be clear, I don’t think we did), it really matters what people think of us.”
.. the company lost at least $3 billion last year on sales of $6.5 billion
.. At the same time, Uber has abandoned efforts to establish an independent foothold in China and Russia.
.. “3.5 million Londoners who use our app…will be astounded by this decision.” He said the regulator and London’s mayor had “caved in” to pressure from a small group of people “who wanted to restrict customer choice.” He said 40,000 licensed Uber drivers in London could lose work.
.. In 2015, London Transport proposed a raft of rules that would restrict Uber, including requiring a mandatory five-minute wait time between ordering a ride and pickup.
.. The authority didn’t provide details on specific violations, but said Uber fell short in a number of areas, including its approach to driver background checks and reporting serious criminal offenses.
.. As part of Greyball, Uber has been able to use software to hide its drivers from government officials by showing them dummy versions of its app with fake cars trawling the streets.
.. The relatively high cost of a black cab has helped make Uber popular here. A four-mile trip in the middle of a weekday costing at least £16 ($21.64) in a black cab, compared with £8 on Uber
So Apple would not find out that Uber had secretly been tracking iPhones even after its app had been deleted from the devices, violating Apple’s privacy guidelines.
.. In a quest to build Uber into the world’s dominant ride-hailing entity, Mr. Kalanick has openly disregarded many rules and norms, backing down only when caught or cornered. He has flouted transportation and safety regulations, bucked against entrenched competitors and capitalized on legal loopholes and gray areas to gain a business advantage.
.. Mr. Kalanick, 40, is driven to the point that he must win at whatever he puts his mind to and at whatever cost — a trait that has now plunged Uber into its most sustained set of crises since its founding in 2009.
“Travis’s biggest strength is that he will run through a wall to accomplish his goals,” said Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire investor who has mentored Mr. Kalanick. “Travis’s biggest weakness is that he will run through a wall to accomplish his goals. That’s the best way to describe him.”
.. Mr. Kalanick mixes with celebrities like Jay Z and businessmen including President Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary D. Cohn. But it has alienated some Uber executives, employees and advisers. Mr. Kalanick, with salt-and-pepper hair, a fast-paced walk and an iPhone practically embedded in his hand, is described by friends as more at ease with data and numbers (some consider him a math savant) than with people.
.. the company has been reeling from allegations of a machismo-fueled workplace where managers routinely overstepped verbally, physically and sometimes sexually with employees.
.. Uber is financed by a who’s who of investors including Goldman Sachs and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund,
.. Mr. Kalanick controls the majority of the company’s voting shares with a small handful of other close friends, and has stacked Uber’s board of directors with many who are invested in his success.
.. He is interviewing candidates for a chief operating officer, even as some employees question whether a new addition will make any difference
.. “Scour was about efficiency. Swoosh was about efficiency. It’s just the way his brain is wired. It’s like the way Uber works right now: What’s the fastest, cheapest and most efficient way to get from point A to point B? That consumes him, and all parts of his life.”
.. When the company struggled, Mr. Kalanick and a partner took the tax dollars from employee paychecks — which are supposed to be withheld and sent to the Internal Revenue Service — and reinvested the money into the start-up, even as friends and advisers warned him the action was potentially illegal.
.. he once held the world’s second-highest score for the Nintendo Wii Tennis video game.
.. “The Travis Kalanick I came to know 17 years ago was relentless in pursuit of his goals at the expense of those who supported him along the way, deluded by his own embellished personal narrative, and a serial prevaricator,”
.. he told Mr. Kalanick, “Sometimes in business you have to battle the establishment, and it can get brutal and ugly.”
.. The idea for Uber came in 2009 from Garrett Camp, a friend of Mr. Kalanick’s, who became fixated on hailing a private luxury car with a smartphone app after being unable to catch cabs in San Francisco.
.. His pacing is so legendary, his father once said, that he wore a hole in the carpeting.
.. In October 2010, the company shortened its name to Uber after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from San Francisco officials for marketing itself as a taxi company without the proper licenses and permits.
.. In some places, Uber employees were also told to create computer programs known as scripts that would automatically vote for the ride-hailing service in city-administered surveys.
.. Hollywood stars were eager to buy into Uber, which they had started using to get around. Actors like Edward Norton, Olivia Munn and Sophia Bush took small stakes in the company.
.. Mr. Kalanick and a top lieutenant, Emil Michael, sometimes hung out with Leonardo DiCaprio, who is also an investor, and Jay Z, whose wife, Beyoncé, performed for Uber employees at a poolside party in Las Vegas in 2015.
.. Mr. Kalanick began mixing with elite business executives. He developed a close relationship with Mr. Cohn, then a top-ranking executive at Goldman Sachs. At one point, the two men spoke on a near daily basis.
.. Mr. Kalanick’s main mantra was “growth above all else.”
.. Uber’s top performers were often promoted and protected. When one general manager, a title for a city-level chief, threw a coffee mug at a subordinate in a fit of rage, the incident was reported to human resources — but there was no follow up.
.. Friends and employees told Mr. Kalanick that he should at least pretend to care about how it looked to take such a hostile stance with Uber’s users. Several described him as “emotionally unintelligent.”
.. Slice collected its customers’ emailed Lyft receipts from their inboxes and sold the anonymized data to Uber. Uber used the data as a proxy for the health of Lyft’s business.
.. Uber’s “driver satisfaction rating,” an internal metric, has dropped since February 2016, and roughly a quarter of its drivers turn over on average every three months.
.. The tool, developed to aid driver safety and to trick fraudsters, essentially showed a fake version of Uber’s app to some people to disguise the locations of cars and drivers. It soon became a way for Uber drivers to evade capture by law enforcement in places where the service was deemed illegal.
.. Mr. Kalanick told his engineers to “geofence” Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., a way to digitally identify people reviewing Uber’s software in a specific location. Uber would then obfuscate its code from people within that geofenced area, essentially drawing a digital lasso around those it wanted to keep in the dark. Apple employees at its headquarters were unable to see Uber’s fingerprinting.