A White House press conference revisited.

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Sept. 15 2006 6:31 PM

Watch What You Say

A White House press conference revisited.

Christopher Hitchens writes in to defend former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer against the lingering charge that he told Americans in effect to "watch what they say" in the way of unpatriotic speech after 9/11. The debate in the Fray, initially focused on differences of interpretation, flourished into a broader reflection on the tactics used to instill fear in the public.

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For pubbdwriter, the thorough vetting of official White House statements, "combed over by Rove's office, and, one would suspect, Dick Cheney's office, among others," can only mean that Fleischer's words were intentionally censorious.

After a close textual reading of the transcript, pmohtr concludes:

It's ambiguous, at best. At the press briefing, Fleischer was asked about Maher, and in reacting and responding to what he was told Maher had said, interjected that, "there was an earlier question about has the President said anything to people in his own party." Take that phrase out of his answer and there would be no question that Fleischer would have been speaking specifically about Maher and warning others about making similar comment.

That said, the quibble over whether Fleischer's remarks refer back grammatically to Maher or Cooksey misses the point, says RonB52, as the government has no place sanctioning the speech of its citizens except in extreme circumstances: "The only valid utterance, by the US Government, of the phrase 'Americans need to remember to watch what they say' is in relation to the sailing times of Navy ships and the movement of troops in wartime."

This incident from five years ago is symptomatic of a much larger fear industry in America, of which janeslogin catalogues some recent examples:

This "fear industry" has influences far beyond anything that Hitchens writes about. In an hour here on the internet, probably here on Slate, we are told to fear global warming, obesity, new drugs, sex predators, hackers, preserved foods, unpreserved foods.

Outside my apartment there are signs warning of skateboards, roller blades and bicycles.

A couple next door, both criminals on parole, warn their kids not to speak to me.

My doctor says my heart, liver and lungs are failing and my prostate is too big.

Oh, and I almost forgot, a celebrity was seen driving with her kid not strapped in to the car seat properly.

PacificBlue adds to the list:

terrorists
Mexicans
cholesterol
high blood pressure (a good one to develop due to the subject)
Hilary Clinton
railroad crossings
fish hooks
muggers (don't hear much about them anymore)
gangs
nuclear war
McDonald's

With a stuff upper lip, portorchardkid asks: what climate of fear?

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