August 05, 2004

Making the point

On NPR's Morning Edition this morning, White House Correspondent Don Gonyea commented on a speech yesterday by the President in Iowa, which included the claim that Bushi had "made the point that hei has made the country safer" (coreference safely inferred).

To me, make the point that x presupposes the truth of x (or at least strongly implicates it; I don't know, it's been a while since I've thought deeply about the fine line between these two). I can think of only one reasonable scenario in which Gonyea did not intend to raise this presupposition/implicature, but do reporters' intentions matter much when it comes to how the public interprets what the media feeds it?

So here's the scenario: being a White House Correspondent, Gonyea lives and breathes the White House and the President. Apart from the Bush Administration itself, he is among those that know the most about what the President says and does publicly. We all know that Bush has been repeating his claim that his policies have made the country safer, but Gonyea -- bless him -- gets to hear the claim every time Bush makes it. Plus, he probably gets updates in the White House press room that summarize for the correspondents the "points" that Bush has made in a recent speech or will make in an upcoming speech.

So, to Gonyea, the embedded clause "that [Bush] has made the country safer" might just be an unanalyzed "point" that he knows Bush is repeating over and over again on the campaign trail. Under this scenario, I can see how Gonyea may not have intended to raise the presupposition/implicature that Bush has actually made the country safer. But even if this is all correct, I think that Gonyea should have been more careful with what he said: the kind of presupposition (or implicature) that shouldn't be raised in an unbiased news report was in fact raised, whether he liked it or not.

[ Comments? ]

Posted by Eric Bakovic at August 5, 2004 11:15 AM