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S.E. Cupp, Straw Men, and Missing the Point About Rush Limbaugh.

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Over the weekend, an article in the New York Times highlighted the challenges that stand in the way of conservatives & Republicans to get the GOP straightened out.  I’ve written about our messaging crisis and the role it played in our electoral defeats as well as what I believe could help us recover and found the article to be a thorough investigation of the problem.

Overall, the NYT article was fair and painted a mostly accurate picture of our situation.  The article provided quotes from friends of the blogosphere like Erik Telford, as well as RedState co-founder, Ben Domenech.  Some of the opinions varied on which messages should be at the front of our efforts, and I can’t say that I agree with everything that those interviewed had to say.  That’s not especially unusual as I would hope that we can disagree and come to common ground to fight our mutual opposition and stand on our shared principles.

One of the interviewees quoted, columnist & MSNBC Contributor, S.E. Cupp, had interesting words for conservative radio icon, Rush Limbaugh.

“And we can’t be afraid to call out Rush Limbaugh,” said Goodwin’s fiancée, S. E. Cupp, a New York Daily News columnist and a co-host of The Cycle on MSNBC. “If we can get three Republicans on three different networks saying, ‘What Rush Limbaugh said is crazy and stupid and dangerous,’ maybe that’ll give other Republicans cover” to denounce the talk-show host as well.

The uproar on twitter and elsewhere in response to this quote was virtually instantaneous. And rightly so in my estimation. There’s nothing wrong with speaking to the New York Times, but it did seem bad form to highlight Rush Limbaugh as the GOP problem as opposed to the myriad of other issues that the other interviewees (including Cupp) pointed out were the real roadblocks to change.

Twitchy quickly documented the outrage. Some of it was reasonable, some of it was not. I can only tell you my take which I expressed on twitter that night as well:

 

Interestingly, the quote from the NYT changed when Cupp responded to the outrage in a column at NY Daily News this morning. (Changes in bold)

“And we can’t be afraid to call out Rush Limbaugh,” I say as an aside in the piece. “If we can get three Republicans on three different networks saying, ‘What Rush Limbaugh said is crazy and stupid and dangerous,’ maybe that’ll give other Republicans cover” to feel comfortable disagreeing with him as well from time to time.

In the original Times piece, the writer added the line “to denounce the talk-show host as well.” Clearly this could’ve been an interpretation of Cupp’s meaning which Cupp has now specified was to “feel comfortable disagreeing with him from time to time.” These quotes have vastly different implications.

Were I in Cupp’s position, I’d be scolding the New York Times for assigning motives that I didn’t express. Oddly enough she’s chosen to scold her critics who were at least in part outraged over the word “denounce” in the first place.

She does this by setting up the straw man that was thrown out all day in her defense when the quote first appeared: “No one is above disagreement.”

Most of the column is dedicated to Cupp pointing out that she is paid to speak to truth to power and that in no way was she calling for shunning of Limbaugh. Again, the quote as it came from the Times told a different story and Cupp, for some reason, chose not to highlight that difference. But it doesn’t change the fact that she’s still arguing against a position that no reasonable person (in other words, not some random joker on twitter with an anonymous handle) is taking.

The issue with the original quote is that she implied that Rush Limbaugh, and our supposed inability to survive disagreeing with him, is among the top reasons we are losing, or at least high enough on the list to bring it up in an interview about the need for GOP change. Rather than saying something productive like “We have to be able to engage in spirited debate and disagree without denouncing” she seemed to specifically be calling for us to have our trigger fingers ready to denounce Limbaugh for his inevitable “crazy” and “dangerous” comments.

That’s not an example of crafting our messages through the fire of disagreement & debate. That’s more like what one would do when targeting enemies and calling for triangulation of fire. This is not how we talk about our friends. And it is most especially not how we talk about our friends to our enemies.

And that’s the point that Cupp misses even as she explains herself. She can disagree with Limbaugh all day. Hell, she can make a career out of it she wants (she may have unintentionally done so already). But if you’re going to rage against the machine, expect some return fire, and don’t be surprised that when you go to the New York Times, they may apply motives to you that don’t exist.

That is what they did. Right?

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