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Kris and I are struck by the military’s decision to “spin” the death of Pat Tillman. Pat, the truth is now being told, was killed by “friendly fire” — a spin if I’ve ever heard one — there are no “friendly” bullets. Better, so it now appears, to tell a story of a former NFL player’s heroic killing at the hands of enemy fire than to tell the truth that he was killed by the accidental shooting of his own comrades.
Words are the media and media is all about its words. Since the Reagan era, who was both a master of words and surrounded by others who knew how to cast a vision with words, Democrats have been persuaded that they are losing elections because they are losing the battle of words. George Lakoff, a professor at Cal-Berkeley, is the author of the recent Thinking Points and this book builds on his others: Don’t Think of an Elephant!, Moral Politics, and the more recent Whose Freedom?. His colleage, Geoffrey Nunberg, in his Thinking Right, addresses the same theme. Both authors are trying to help Democrats find a potent set of words that will express the Democratic agenda and strike home with common Americans.
These books of late have led me to think about how evangelicals have labeled liberals (and Diana Butler Bass’ Christianity for the Rest of Us comes to mind as an attempt to undo some of that labeling), how liberals have labeled evangelicals (if you think of Jerry Falwell you can thank the wordsmiths), and how critics of emerging are labeling it (footnotes omitted).
What continues to amaze me is the potency of a well-crafted image or expression. The best words tell a whole story, evoke a common set of values, and bring insight all in one little bundle. Like “friendly fire” — a bullet shot by comrades in a war situation is transformed, because of accident, from death into the unfortunate casualty of comrades in war who sometimes are put in situations that are tragic for their own comrades. O’Reilly has persuaded millions that liberals are “spin doctors” but he’s “fair and balanced” while CNN gives off the image of cool, objective, rational, disinterested detached “nothing but the facts” reporting.
I’m awestruck tonight to think that “the Word” became flesh so that embodied life brings into living reality that Word. And then four evangelists tried to capture that living-reality-Word back into words so that the story of Jesus would be told.
Words, words, words … we use words to tell the truth and we use words to spin the story.
What baffles Kris and me is that the military evidently (1) knew the truth [Pat Tillman was killed accidentally], (2) realized it was a bad time for bad news, so (3) invented a fiction that told the story of a hero.
How many times have you been shoved, as Tillman’s comrade was, by a superior into putting a spin on a clear set of facts in order to manufacture an untruth that protected that superior’s preferred story?

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