September 21, 2004

A dishonest implicature

A few hours ago CBS News President Andrew Heyward put out a prepared statement saying, "Based on what we now know, CBS News cannot prove that the documents are authentic, which is the only acceptable journalistic standard to justify using them in the report. We should not have used them."

Not a false statement, yet less than candid. Human languages are tricky that way: you can state something true and simultaneously implicate, in the context at hand, something false. Of course CBS News can't prove the Killian memos are authentic. That's because they are completely obvious fakes. But that's what CBS still won't directly admit. Saying they "cannot prove that the documents are authentic" conversationally implies that authenticity is still a very reasonable hypothesis but they're just having a little trouble coming up with the solid evidence that those epistemologically truculent bloggers in their pajamas seem to need. A dishonest implicature. CBS News still hasn't won back my respect.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at September 21, 2004 12:39 AM