On Being ‘Re-Framed’

December 19, 2021 Updated: December 21, 2021


As I sat down to write today, my eye fell on the headline to an article in The Hill by the Fox News commentator Juan Williams.

It read: “The GOP is an anti-America party.”

Now it has always been daylight and sunshine-clear to me, as I imagine it has been to many of you, that the idea of Republicans entertained by left-wing writers and Democrats like Williams was just the opposite of this. Up until now I had supposed, as I imagine many of you had, that their view of the GOP was that it was pro-America to a fault.

What about all that Make America Great Again stuff that they’ve been scoffing at for years?

What about all those Republican objections to illegally entering foreigners who are pouring across America’s undefended borders or to the perfidious Chinese who are stealing America’s technology along with our manufacturing industry? What about the GOP’s opposition to the domestic advocates for un-American ideas like socialism or to the New York Times’s assertion that the American Republic is foundationally and irredeemably racist?

Are we now to believe that sticking up for America and Americans against their many enemies and detractors has all along been secretly anti-America?

Well, not exactly. It turns out that Williams is merely entertaining his readers with a typical bit of rhetorical legerdemain that has lately found favor with many other Democrats, in the media and out of it.

You start by assuming the undoubted and presumptively undoubtable truth of the Democratic narrative as it has been honed and polished by the media for the last year, and especially of its two most undoubtable tenets: that Donald Trump’s complaints about the electoral irregularities in Democrat-dominated jurisdictions of several key states during the election of 2020 are nothing but a “Big Lie” and that Joe Biden’s legislative agenda, including every penny of its trillions of dollars in new spending, will do nothing but good for the country.

See how easy it is? With those two axiomatic propositions at your back it is child’s play to go on to characterize as “anti-America” anyone who thinks Trump’s suspicions about the election might be worth investigating, or anyone who believes, as most Republicans do believe, that the ill-effects of Biden’s spending blow-out will far exceed the good.

Williams simply isn’t listening to what those he characterizes as anti-America are saying. Why should he when he knows, or thinks he knows, that they are questioning the unquestionable? It’s really that which makes them, in his view, anti-America. America, c’est moi. Contrary opinions not permitted.

A similar trick was played for the delectation of New York Times readers this week by the author of that paper’s “Morning Newsletter,” David Leonhardt.

“America’s Anti-Democratic Movement” it was headed: “It’s making progress.”

What? You didn’t even know that there was an anti-democratic movement in America, let alone that it was making progress? Clearly, you haven’t been reading The New York Times lately.

Of course, Leonhardt could have been playing on words by pretending to mean small-d democratic when in fact he meant capital-D Democratic, as in Democratic party. But he needn’t have resorted to anything quite so obvious as that.

It was still the Republicans to whom he meant to attach the stigma of being anti-Democratic but not because they oppose the Democrats per se. Instead, he relies on another of the media’s axiomatic propositions, that anyone who is concerned with the security and integrity of our elections or who wishes to institute the mildest of measures for the prevention of electoral fraud really only wants to suppress or exclude the votes of minority voters and is therefore anti-democratic.

Like Williams, Leonhardt has never bothered actually to listen to what those he opposes are saying. He only knows that they have disqualified their opinions from serious attention by questioning another one of the most sacrosanct, the most unquestionable truths of the media narrative, now enshrined among the Democratic party’s core principles—namely that there is no such significant thing as electoral fraud and therefore no need for any measures against it.

This method of argument by simply ignoring what the other side is saying and recasting it into some more easily refutable form seems to have been invented by an academic linguist and philosopher at Berkeley named George Lakoff.

In his terminology, this is called “re-framing” the argument, but it would be more accurately described as showing how to lie without saying anything that is demonstrably untrue.

You can see how useful such a skill might be for a politician, especially for a progressive one who might otherwise be constantly stubbing his toe against truths of the unre-framed variety.

As you may remember President Biden used this kind of re-framing or re-contextualization back in August in order to describe the American evacuation from Afghanistan an “extraordinary success.”

And who, thought he, could deny it? If you forgot about all the parts of that military and diplomatic debacle that were horrific blunders and if you ignored the context of the extinguishing of Afghan freedoms purchased with American blood, the airlift of quite a large number of refugees from the disaster—which was then the only thing remaining in the “frame”—could indeed be seen as an extraordinary success.

You don’t have to be a partisan politician to argue in this manner, but you do have to have a partisan politician’s determination not to be fair to the person you’re arguing against.

This week, John Stossel took to the New York Post to describe a recent run-in he had had with Facebook’s “fact-checkers.” His contention in a video that climate change was not really a “crisis,” and that we could adapt to it over time, was labeled “partly false.”

“I asked a Science Feedback reviewer what was wrong with my climate-crisis video,” wrote Stossel, “and he admitted that he and his other fact-checkers found no incorrect facts. … ‘The problem is the omission of contextual information rather than specific ‘facts’ being wrong,’ he said.”

Just so. The omission of the context of the media’s narrative of “crisis” is not permitted at Facebook—for that’s the only way to ensure that that narrative can never be disturbed by any mere fact.

Honest argument is an attempt to persuade those who disagree with you to come around to your point of view. Re-framing isn’t really any kind of argument at all. It’s a rhetorical bully’s bald assertion that you are not to be allowed to disagree with him in the first place.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

James Bowman
James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” he is a movie critic for The American Spectator and the media critic for The New Criterion.