Noth­ing to read here folks

Move along now

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - PAUL BERTON Paul Berton is ed­i­tor-in-chief of The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor and thes­pec.com. You can reach him at 905-526-3482 or pber­ton@thes­pec.com

My favourite quote of the week comes from White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who said Sun­day that Don­ald Trump Jr.’s meet­ing with a Rus­sian lawyer was “a big noth­ing burger.” To me, it seems a full meal. It’s kind of like a po­lice of­fi­cer an­nounc­ing “noth­ing to see here folks — move along,” which im­me­di­ately alerts peo­ple to “Stop! There’s some­thing to see here!”

Or a prom­ise of a “24/7 help line,” which, when called, in­evitably an­swers with the fa­mil­iar “our of­fices are now closed” record­ing.

Or the ubiq­ui­tous “easy to as­sem­ble” guar­an­tee, which sends most of us into a jus­ti­fi­able panic be­fore can­celling all ap­point­ments, ac­quir­ing the tool box and putting on a large pot of cof­fee.

It all de­pends on your per­spec­tive, I guess. And how we in­ter­pret the lan­guage.

Call it what you will: spin, point of view, mis­in­for­ma­tion, in­ter­pre­ta­tion, ma­nip­u­la­tion, ob­fus­ca­tion ...

It has al­ways been a chal­lenge to see through the state­ments of pro­mot­ers, mar­keters, ad­ver­tis­ers, pub­li­cists, politi­cians, and yes, even some jour­nal­ists, but we are en­ter­ing an era when ev­ery state­ment seems to mean the ex­act op­po­site of what is said.

And so it is with fake news, ap­par­ently.

If U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump calls it fake news, it’s prob­a­bly real. If he says some­thing is real, it’s prob­a­bly fake. But you may feel dif­fer­ently. You may think the Trump Jr. email is in­deed a big noth­ing burger. You may be­lieve some me­dia out­lets who say it’s part of a left­wing con­spir­acy. You may think Trump Jr. is not as dumb as he ap­pears to be, and that his father is a nice guy who saw the big­gest crowds in his­tory at his in­au­gu­ra­tion.

The fact is the Trumps ap­pear to be­lieve ev­ery­thing they say, which makes it all the more be­liev­able. Full dis­clo­sure: In a col­umn this spring, I ques­tioned the Trump cam­paign’s al­leged Rus­sia con­nec­tion. I said Trump “looks too stupid for a coverup” and “doesn’t seem adult enough for col­lu­sion.”

Turns out I was wrong. His team is be­yond dumb — they stag­gered into a meet­ing with Rus­sians about col­lu­sion ap­par­ently with­out know­ing it.

Or that was the story. And then later: Be­sides, it’s no big deal.

Trumps know what mar­keters ev­ery­where know: we’ll be­lieve any­thing if we’re told of­ten enough. Just look at the ap­par­ent ef­fec­tive­ness of ubiq­ui­tous “sale” signs in malls.

Up can be down, back can be for­ward, dif­fi­cult can be easy, left can be right, and dumb can be smart, if some­one says it of­ten enough.

De­vel­op­ers mar­ket new sub­di­vi­sions as “For­est Val­ley” when the av­er­age ob­server sees only a muddy field and a drainage ditch. Sewage ponds are “blue la­goons.” Traf­fic noise be­comes “dul­cet tones.”

Restau­rants prom­ise hot crispy French fries and ice cold beer while rou­tinely serv­ing cold, limp French fries and luke­warm beer. When ser­vice is ad­ver­tised as “al­ways friendly,” you can count on it be­ing of­ten surly.

“Ye olde” means brand new. Per­fectly safe means pos­si­bly dan­ger­ous.

The “best” is prob­a­bly the worst; the “top” likely the bot­tom.

“Vir­tu­ally in­vis­i­ble” means clearly no­tice­able. “Fresh picked” or chem­i­cally pre­served? “Home­made” or fac­tory pro­duced ...

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