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DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS, AT THE CORNER OF WISDOM AND WORDINESS

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Thursday, 3.2.06: Truthiness on C-SPAN

Okay, I'm a nerd. On days when my hands are doing more work than my brain I listen to C-SPAN.

Yes, it's as boring as the largo movement of a symphony, but if you hang in there the overall beauty and purpose of the thing emerges.

There are lots of hearings on now -- the Port issue, Katrina, budgets. Maybe the five other viewers and I are waiting for the gotcha moment, when a Senator confronts a witness and they break down, John Dean-like to confess "a cancer on the White House."

Fact is, the hearings are full of gotchas by Senators and Representatives, but the witnesses only smile and say, "That's not how we interpret it."

No matter the party, the Senators are pompous lecturing blowhards and Representatives are loud, wild-haired table-thumpers. Those giving testimony are experts in truthiness.*

You know that people are appointed to Cabinet positions or other executive posts in part (if not primarily) for their abilities to testify in front of Congress with absolute certainty and credibility. This holds true for anyone in the private sector in a position likely to require making a case before Congress.

I know, as a former bureaucrat myself, what it's like to provide "testimony" to an external reviewer. No matter how voluntary the situation is or how helpful the review might ultimately be, the moment of the interview is an adversarial one. The questions are never what you quite expected and the situation (and your ego) don't allow you to be humble. No matter how screwed up or off-base your organization-policy-budget-strategy is, you must make it sound absolutely compliant with whatever the reviewers expectation is.

We're doing the right thing -- you're just asking the wrong question.

I was always terrible at this, undergoing an emotional meltdown no matter how prepared I was. And often, the bigger the idiot doing the review, the worse I would stammer and blank out.

But one guy I worked with was always great to have by your side. He could lie like a rug. Whatever a reviewer asked, he could assert that of course we did it, couldn't they see? A good poker player. Part of the art is, first, understanding that you are correct, no matter what the facts say. Once you are certain -- emotionally and instinctively -- that you are correct, a fact is simply one item in your well-stocked toolkit, to be used or adapted as needed.

We're doing the right thing -- you're just asking the wrong question.

 

*Truthiness: a term invented by Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert. From wikipedia:

Truthiness is the quality by which a person purports to know something emotionally or instinctively, without regard to evidence or to what the person might conclude from intellectual examination. The term was popularized by Stephen Colbert after he used it during the first episode of his satirical television program The Colbert Report, as the subject of a segment called The Wrd.

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