Examples of calumnies against Todd Akin

November 26, 2012 § 5 Comments

Calumny is when someone tells falsehoods about a person in a way damaging to that person’s reputation or standing in the community. In the case of the Todd Akin affair, many people have told lies about what he actually said.  I’ve said my piece about that here, here, here, and here; but one thing I haven’t done is explicitly give examples of the lies.

There are far too many to document, in truth, and in any case I’m not interested in making accusations against particular individuals. But to the extent that my thesis has been resisted it has mainly been by those who object by characterizing lies as not lies: by claiming some right to uncharitable interpretation, such that one may licitly assert that Akin said something when he actually didn’t say it, contributing to the pile-on damage to his reputation in the process, without committing calumny.

It has also been suggested that if a lot of the lies told about what Todd Akin said really are lies then a significant amount of political speech and blogging is immoral. With this latter I agree. I’ve suggested before that things like voting and blogging provide plenty of vicarious opportunities to do evil; and where there are pervasive opportunities for fallen human beings to do evil we usually see lots of fallen human beings doing evil.

Notice what I am not addressing here: I am not addressing Todd Akin as a candidate, politician, pro-life leader, or human being. I am addressing specifically and only what he actually said in his widely disseminated comments about rape and abortion. It is not acceptable to tell lies about what he actually said just because we object to other things about him. To take it all the way to the Godwin asymptote, it is not morally acceptable to lie about Hitler: lying about Hitler in a way which damages Hitler’s reputation is still calumny, and we shouldn’t do it.

Notice also that I am not accusing people who think his actual remarks were untoward or insensitive or whatever of asserting falsehoods. What I am addressing specifically is claims that Akin said X, when in actual fact he did not say X and may have even said the opposite of X. Lying about what someone said in a way that piles on damage to his reputation doesn’t become morally acceptable under some postmodern subjectivist rubric of “interpretation”. Either he said it or he didn’t; and if we claim he said it when he didn’t actually say it, we are liars.

Finally, I am not addressing someone’s intentions or culpability in committing calumny against Akin. I am addressing the behaviour such a person chooses. Someone who commits calumny against Akin may have all sorts of conflicting feelings, rationalizations, or what have you. I don’t care about those things. Someone might even have done so while making a completely non-culpable error in judgement. Again, I don’t care: it is never acceptable to equate evil done, even through a non-culpable error in judgement, with a good act. An evil act is a disorder in relation to the truth about the good, and a calumny against Akin is a calumny against Akin no matter what subjective protestations are raised. What people have actually said matters and cannot be swallowed up in the moral disinfectant of subjectivity. Someone who has committed calumny against Akin should retract it, in at least as public a way as it was initially done, and even if doing so was based on a non-culpable error in judgement (trusting some media paraphrase or seeing only some truncated quote that leaves the impression that he said something different come to mind as possible conditions for such a non-culpable error).

I’ve personally only seen one single person retract and apologize, and good for him. That’s the kind of guy I want in the moral foxhole with me.

So without further ado, here are just a few examples of how ostensible pro lifers have falsely characterized Akin’s words.  Maybe I’ll add some more over time; maybe not.  I am not going to link or attribute them, because the point is not to call out particular individuals. The point is for people of good will to wake the Hell up to what they are doing and stop doing it:

Akin’s deplorable comments were a psychic re-rape.

… when [the victim is] basically being blamed for being raped, …

… implies she should just get over [rape] or not let it bother her … 

So there’s nothing offensive about [Akin's] notion that pregnancy is proof the rape victim Really Musta Wanted It?

The implied conclusion that a woman seeking to abort a pregnancy resulting from rape may be assumed to be lying…

Akin demonstrated he believed one of the following:

1. Pregnancy from rape is impossible. This would reveal scientific ignorance, and, in my view, be disqualifying.

2. Pregnancy from rape is too rare to require being addressed specifically.

[Notice how this one is set up too. The first is ludicrous and bears no resemblance to what Akin actually said, but it poisons the well to set up the second falsehood to look like it is a reasonable "interpretation" of Akin's words. In fact Akin not only didn't say the second, he actually specifically addressed pregnancy in the case of legitimate rape in the very comments under "criticism".]

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§ 5 Responses to Examples of calumnies against Todd Akin

  • johnmcg says:

    Rather than leading me to (further) examine my conscience for calumny, these posts are leading me to examine my conscience for times I may have cheered you on pulling this crap on other people that I may have shared your disagreement with.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    I’ve personally only seen one single person retract and apologize, and good for him. That’s the kind of guy I want in the moral foxhole with me.

    It’s a bewildering fact about the Internet: Anonymity makes cursing easy and apology hard.

  • johnmcg says:

    I am going to make one more run at this, and then be done.

    What I have described is what I and many other listeners heard when they heard Rep. Akin’s answer. When someone is asked a question regarding a situation, and they begin their answer by describing a mechanism that would prevent that situation, I take it to mean they are saying that mechanism is either perfect in preventing that situation, or so effective that it is not worthy of their attention to address it. This may not be an altogether fair inference, but it is one I draw in good faith. So I dispute the notion that they are “falsehoods.” That is, in fact, what we are discussing. When I express that view, it is in equal part to convince others and to check what assumptions I am making in forming that inference to see if it is valid.

    It could be said of any discussion that if the other party is wrong, then they are dispensing falsehoods, and are therefore guilty of various sins against the Eighth Commandment. A rigorous reading of the definitions of these sins could support this view, but I don’t think this is what the Church Fathers had in mind when defining these sins.

    Now, I may have been sloppy in failing to differentiate between the text of the words Rep. Akin said, and the inferences I drew from it (though I should note that the third listed calumny which came from me includes the word “implied,” indicating that this was an inference I was drawing and not something present in the text). On the one hand, I apologize for that. On the other hand, I was working under the assumption that I was conversing with adults who were familiar with the actual text of what Rep. Akin said, and if not, could pull them up in a moment. There was absolutely no attempt to deceive anyone about what Rep. Akin said, and I find it very difficult to believe that any actual deception occurred.

    As I have noted elsewhere, some of my remarks did fail to account fro Rep. Akin’s next statement, where he does in fact address the issue. In my judgement, this mitigates my interpretation, but does not absolve him of it, since he dealt with it as a hypothetical. Still, my failure to account for it was likely an example of rash judgment, for which I have apologized, and repeat that here.

    The definition of calumny includes “damaging to that person’s reputation or standing in the community.” It was not my intent to damage Rep. Akin’s reputation or standing in the community, and, again, I find it very unlikely that I did so by posting my opinions in the comments section of zippy’s blog, which is the only place in which I have discussed this. In my judgement, an accusation of calumny must be accompanied by a demonstration of how the falsehoods have in fact damaged the target’s reputation, and that is notably absent here.

    Also, as I noted above, I have only spoken about this issue in Zippy’s comment boxes. Zippy, apparently convinced that this topic is an occasion of sin for me and some of his readers, re-introduced the topic of Todd Akin weeks after the election, when nobody was talking about him anymore, and continue with a series of posts on the topic. This leads me to suspect that this is not about concern for the state of my soul, but to shut down opposing viewpoints.

    Todd Akin’s comments offended a lot of people. One way to deal with it is to label them all liars and accuse them of calumny. I’m not sure what good that does.

    Differences of opinion are not mortal sins.

  • Zippy says:

    I started posting on Akin again because the subject came up again at Shea’s and elsewhere in election post mortems.

    It could be said of any discussion that if the other party is wrong, then they are dispensing falsehoods, and are therefore guilty of various sins against the Eighth Commandment.

    This clearly wasn’t a case of people just being wrong. This was a case of quite a number of people persisting in telling manifest falsehoods about what Akin actually said, even after their mistakes had been pointed out to them.

    I don’t know what you expect of me. I’ve allowed that people who committed calumnies against Akin may have done so at least initially by mistake — much as I allowed the possibility that, just to pick an example out of the air, the decision to go to war in Iraq, or to support that decision, was at best a mistake. The thing is, though, that when mistakes are made – even unwitting mistakes about the facts – the people who make them have a responsibility to fully own up to it and change course. Appealing to the fact that lots of people presumably made the same mistake doesn’t fundamentally change things. Appealing to the idea that Saddam was being coy and sabre rattling about WMD’s he didn’t have, even if we stipulate, doesn’t fundamentally change things. Appealing to the fact that a particular individual makes only a teeny, tiny contribution to the public perpetuation of the mistake in an isolated place doesn’t fundamentally change things. Appealing to the fact that someone used the word “implied” doesn’t fundamentally change things, turning a manifest falsehood into the truth: “John implied that Hitler was right about the Jews!” wouldn’t become less of a calumny through the magical incantation of the word “implied”. The word “implied” is not an all-purpose moral disinfectant which in all cases makes falsely attributing things to people acceptable.

    Lots of people claimed that the Iraq war was justified. Lots of people attributed things to Akin that he didn’t say, pretended he made categorical statements he didn’t make, and destroyed him as a public figure in the process. Lots of people continue to be frankly unrepentant on both Iraq and Akin. You are getting there, and your latest comment almost gets across the line. But in my opinion you are still frankly waffling, splitting hairs over calumny vs rash judgement and appealing to good intentions. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. You are like the guy who is still clinging to “prudential judgement” on the Iraq war even after all of the facts are in. Sorry; I’m not on board.

    I think people who told falsehoods about what Akin said in fact objectively committed calumny, contributing to a pile on of falsehoods which destroyed him as a public figure, and they ought to fully own up to it for their own sake and for the sake of the common good.

    I’m not trying to call you out personally, but you did make your particular comments on my blog. Yet I’m really not trying to pick on you: it was your own comments and where you made them that makes it seem like I’m focused on you. But I’m not. I cited others who made comments elsewhere as well, and they are only a small sampling of what I’ve run into over the past several months since the Akinfest started.

    But what I’m not going to do – and anyone who reads me should expect this – is pretend under some putative social pressures or whatever that I think I’ve made an error in judgement here. I don’t think that I have.

  • [...] I can’t say if you are doing this on purpose of course, since that would require me to psychoanalyze you over the wire. All I can do is ask you whether it was on purpose or not, continue to ask you to cease, and remind you of your other words on the topic: [...]

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