The Dude, the Pause, and the Three Words

May 1, 2014, a day that may live in infamy for the career of former Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor, was a day that the former Obama spokesman sat down for an interview with Bret Baier on the show Special Report.  Off all the words Vietor used to answer Baier’s questions, at least one may haunt the attempts that the former spokesman makes to gain further employment as a spokesman.  Those of us unconcerned with the specifics of Tommy Vietor’s resume, may be surprised to learn how talented he is, and how many outlets may be chomping at the bit to employ a former presidential spokesman, but after Vieto’s display on Special Report, any job he attains will probably be of a more bureaucratic, back office nature, than those more suited for a “spokesman” with his credentials.  One of his responses included a career-threatening decision to include a ‘D’ word that has, to my mind, never been used on Special Report in any manner, except those that contain sarcastic intonations.  Vietor, however, used the word in a seemingly serious context.

Dude, that was like two years ago,” Vietor said in response to Bret Baier’s question of whether he (Vietor) changed the Benghazi talking points in preparation for Susan Rice’s appearances on five Sunday talk shows.

safe_imageWe have to assume that Vietor walked into the Special Report interview with three goals in mind: to highlight the fact that the terrorist incident that occurred in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, is an old story, and to diminish Fox News in general, and Bret Baier in particular.  Vietor, and the team that presumably prepped him, probably also hoped to accomplish both with a simple tone, or one word, that would finally put this incident to rest.

We also have to assume that Vietor’s use of the word ‘like’ is designed to be used as a time measure to account for the fact that the terrorist incident that occurred in Benghazi, Libya, didn’t take place twenty-four months ago, but twenty.  We have to assume that Vietor’s flippant recall, regarding time, was an intentional device use to convince all viewers that Benghazi should be regarded as such a non-issue that exactitude is not a paramount concern.  If it were as vital an issue as Fox News would have you believe, in other words, Vietor’s casual references to time suggests, he would have the specifics of time memorized.  We also have to assume that the word ‘dude’ was used with an intonation designed to castigate Baier, in an awkwardly hip manner, for being so unreasonable as to ask a question that has been addressed so often that it’s now so over dude. Even though new information contained in the previously redacted emails, between senior White House adviser Ben Rhodes and other top administration officials, revealed what could be called a coordinated effort to protect President Barack Obama. Vietor chose to avoid answering these questions directly, and instead chose to attempt to diminish Baier by characterizing his question as pertaining to an old story that is so over.

Some may excuse Vietor’s comment as an off the cuff remark from a nervous thirty-two year old that was caught off guard by the series of questions regarding a story that Vietor hasn’t thought about it in, “like, two years”, but before sitting down to the interview Vietor tweeted:

Guessing (Bret Baier) invited me to come on (Special Report) to talk Benghazi, as a (Throwback Thursday) thing, since it happened in 2012 but tune in!”

With that in mind, we now know that Vietor sat down for this interview, knowing that Baier invited Vietor on his show for the expressed purpose of discussing matters surrounding the terrorist incident in Benghazi, what happened on that day in 2012, and the subject of the talking points that followed.  Knowing that this line of questioning was inevitable for a self-described bureaucrat that edits documents,Vietor, and the team that presumably prepped him, decided that their goal would be to dismiss any and all Benghazi questions as the equivalent of a joke, internet theme day, like Throwback Thursday. They also, presumably decided that the best way to convey this message was through ‘The Dude’ strategy, after, apparently, seeing how well it worked for Jeff Bridges in the movie The Big Lebowski.

Here’s the thing that bothers some Americans, Dude Vietor:  In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist incident that occurred in Benghazi, Libya, that took the lives of four Americans, we constantly heard Obama officials state that they could not comment on this specific, terrorist incident, because it was “currently under investigation and we cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.”  We understood that.  We weren’t happy with it, but presidents have been giving this line for as long as most of us have been alive, so we were told that we would have to live with it, for now, until those responsible for this could be brought to justice … after the investigation was concluded.   The incident eventually made its way to the back-burner, as it presumably percolated in investigation status, until new information arose that hinted at the fact that whistle blowers —with presumed knowledge of Benghazi— were being prevented from coming forward, as happened one year ago when current Obama spokesman, and Press Secretary, Jay Carney said:

Let’s be clear,” said Carney. “Benghazi happened a long time ago We are unaware of any agency blocking an employee who would like to appear before Congress to provide information related to Benghazi.”

The thing is that between the day of the incident, the “ongoing investigation” status, the back-burner status, and the new information that arose seven-and-a-half months later, in which it became a story that “happened a long time ago”, no questions were properly answered to the satisfaction of most concerned citizens.  There were no findings from an “investigation not yet concluded”, there was no one held responsible, save for the maker of a video few have seen, no one in bureaucratic positions have been held responsible for any poor decisions made, and no one has been arrested for murdering four Americans. The Obama team simply went into a prevent defense, until the time on the clock ran out, and everyone simply forgot about it, and eventually got over it.  Then, when new information arose, and Fox News began asking questions, the Obama team began pointing at the scoreboard saying, “Dude, the game’s over! You can all go home now!”

Carney’s pause, after saying, “Benghazi happened a long time ago” appeared to set the tone, and establish what would be the closest thing we would ever receive as an answer. When certain reporters —from Fox News— began asking further questions on the matter, the Obama team apparently decided to to use pauses, and words like Dude, to diminish those seeking answers, and characterize them as obsessed. The pause appeared to fall in line with the theme that the Obama team has used to handle this, and other, matters that could be deemed controversial.  The theme of the pause could also be heard in a prior statement made by former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in her Congressional hearing on the matter.  “What difference, at this point, does it make?”  Those words “at this point” suggests that the story is over, so get it over already.   It can also be heard in the intonation of the word ‘Dude’ in Vietor’s condescending reply to Baier.  In other words, ‘Dude, get over it.  Dude, it’s like a two year old story!’  Dude, “We’re talking about the mundane process of bureaucrats.”

Dude, it’s the thing everyone is talking about,” Baier said, attempting to match the condescending tones of dismissal Vietor employed.  The tone of the word ‘Dude’ is Vietor’s interpretation of Carney’s pause, and Hillary’s three words, and they are all used to characterize those that stubbornly refuse to let this story die as obsessed, even when that matter happens to produce new, pertinent details.

The thrust of the ‘Dude’ tone can be heard from all Obama appointees addressing members of the media that happened to be employed by Fox News, and in U.S. Commissioner of Internal Revenue Douglas Shulman’s address to Republican Congressman regarding the IRS scandal.  The dude tone, the pause, and the three words, appear to be some sort of refraction device that they use to ask you to join them in the dismissal of these silly Q & A spectacles involving old stories, and to characterize the questions, and the interrogators, as inconsequential, unhip, and perhaps a little silly with their obsession.  This methodology also assists them in avoiding the questions.

It may have been Vietor’s goal, in issuing the ‘D’ word, to provide viewers a distraction from the import of the Q & A. If that’s the case, then those of us that haven’t been as well-schooled in the art of communications must now take a moment to leap to our feet in applause.  If that was the goal, we can now declare that that mission was accomplished. If that was, indeed, the case, however, what does it say about an administration that would throw one of its loyal subjects under the bus so brutally?

Vietor attempted to save face by saying: “We’re talking about the process of editing talking points.  That’s what bureaucrats do all day long.  Your producers edit scripts multiple times.”{1}

It may well be that some of us are so partisan, and so cynical, that we viewed Tommy Vieto’s appearance on Special Report as an attempt to kill a story that has been getting the administration down, man, but most of us viewed what he said as nothing more than debate tactics used to avoid answering the pressing questions that arose shortly before this interview.  We didn’t hear any answers from Tommy Vietor, and we didn’t think he equipped himself particularly well. These opinions come, mostly, from laypeople that don’t know jack about communications, but most of us probably wouldn’t be as eager to hire the Tommy Vietor —a thirty-two-year-old man with a presidential spokesman bullet point on his resume— as we would’ve been prior to May 1, 2014, a day that may live in infamy, for the career of “The Dude” Tommy Vietor.



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