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Politicians Suffering From 'Foot In Mouth' Disease

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Politicians Suffering From 'Foot In Mouth' Disease

Opinion

Politicians Suffering From 'Foot In Mouth' Disease

Politicians Suffering From 'Foot In Mouth' Disease

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NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr reflects on "weapons of mass distraction" — the words and phrases politicians say, often accidentally, that create an uproar.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Today, General Stanley McChrystal lost his job for words spoken out of turn and on the record.

As NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr reports, McChrystal isnt the only public figure suffering from a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease.

DANIEL SCHORR: Weapons of mass destruction, you might call it. The words and phrases that issue from the mouths of public figures creating an enormous clamor, sometimes because of the menace of the open mic.

During Britain's recent election campaign, Prime Minister Gordon Brown escaped from a critic into his car and grumbled about a bigoted woman, only to discover that his microphone was still open. That cost him an apologetic visit to the woman's home and possibly a few votes.

Or Vice President Joseph Biden preparing to introduce President Obama to a tumultuous crowd in the White House East Room, whispering to him that this is a big blanking deal. The word, of course, wasnt blanking.

Another order is the unrehearsed broadcast, like White House columnist Helen Thomas in front of a camera trained on her, saying that Jews should get out of Palestine and go back to Germany and Poland.

Then there is the wishful slip, like Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal talking before a gathering of veterans of having served during the Vietnam War, which he had, and then of having served in Vietnam, which he had not.

Then there is the intentional ad lib, intended to identify one with the masses. Like President Obama speaking of who's ass to kick for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. And speaking of the oil spill, that has given to rise to a whole new breed of questionable remarks. Like BP executive Tony Hayward pining to have his life back and his countless ways of not responding to congressional questions.

But perhaps the prize for malaprop words of the year should go to Texas congressman and oil industry beneficiary Joe Barton, who apologized to BP for the compensation fund as a shakedown. BP says it actually welcomes the $20 billion escrow account as a small payment on a very big debt.

Words, words, words, to be chosen with care in the electronic age. Chances are they won't always be.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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