Can This Story Die Now? (Update: Or Not)

Filed under:Language Barrier,Need a Good Editor?,Politics — posted by Anwyn on December 23, 2007 @ 2:03 pm

I saw my father fly tankers every day for the air force, too.

Because I lived in the same house with him and saw him get up early, put on his flight suit, drink his Coke, and go to work. Did I ever actually lay eyeballs on him manipulating the controls of a KC-135? No I did not. But I saw him fly for our military nevertheless.

So now that we’ve established Romney’s dad was literally with MLK, can we all also accept “saw” as a figure of speech that means “I knew my dad was doing this”?

And even if Romney’s father hadn’t actually marched physically with MLK, marching at the same time and for the same cause is good enough to fall under the same figure of speech. He would have “marched with MLK” kind of like the British armed forces “stand with us” in Iraq even if most of our guys never inhabit a tank with them.

For pete’s sake.

Update: Or not.

Then-governor George Romney did indeed march in Grosse Pointe, on Saturday, June 29, 1963, but Martin Luther King Jr. was not there; he was in New Brunswick, New Jersey, addressing the closing session of the annual New Jersey AFL-CIO labor institute at Rutgers University.

Those facts are indisputable, and quite frankly, the campaign must have known the women’s story would eventually be debunked — few people’s every daily movement has been as closely tracked and documented as King’s. As I write this, I am looking at an article from page E8 of the June 30, 1963 Chicago Tribune, which discusses both events (among other civil-rights actions of the previous day), clearly placing the two men hundreds of miles apart. I also have here the June 30, 1963 San Antonio News, which carries a photo and article about Romney at the Grosse Pointe march; and an AP story about King’s speech in New Jersey.

A King researcher editing his letters from that time has stated definitively that the two men never marched together; Michigan and Grosse Pointe historians have stated definitively that King was not at the 1963 Grosse Pointe march; Michigan civil-rights participants of the time have concurred; so have those who worked for George Romney at the time.

So the campaign gave the two “eyewitnesses” the contact information to tell their story to Politico after Romney already said he was saying “saw” in the figurative sense, as I described above. Both statements were figurative–that George Romney “marched with” MLK (because he marched at the same time for the same cause) and that Mitt Romney “saw it” (in the same sense that I saw my dad fly for the air force). Both of those figurative uses are perfectly acceptable, grammatically speaking. But the campaign directing the two “eyewitnesses” to Politico after Mitt had already gone all-out with the “figurative” explanation, again perfectly acceptable, is at the very least a huge political screwup and at the very most the promotion of a blatant lie.

Message to the Phoenix, though:

It is offensive because of people like Russell Peebles.

Peebles is an 88-year-old man, a former resident of Grosse Pointe for 48 years, who was present at both the Grosse Pointe march in 1963, and the MLK speech in Grosse point in 1968 — the event at which the Romney campaign initially insisted Romney and King marched together.

I tried to contact Peebles earlier this week, prior to writing the original article, but we missed each other back-and-forth. Peebles sent me an email today, attesting to the fact that George Romney was at the 1963 march, but not the 1968 speech; and that King was at the 1968 speech, but not the 1963 march.

Peebles, and many others like him, deserve to have the history of what they did told honestly. Changing that history by mistake — which is quite possibly how this began — is unfortunate. Changing that history intentionally — which is what the campaign is doing now — is offensive.

A lot of people have tried to make “offensive” the last word (heh) in damning adjectives. But it’s not. Untrue is still quite a bit worse. And for the Romney campaign to promote the story of the eyewitnesses if they already know it’s untrue, after Romney himself indicated that it’s untrue by his explanation of his use of figurative language, is dumb on the face of it and promulgating a lie on people they think are stupid at worst.

(H/t: Hot Air.)

image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace