The most memorable scene in The Empire Strikes Back, I’m sure everyone would agree, is when Darth Vader reveals himself as Luke’s father:
No, Luke, I am your father!
As a kid in a movie theater, seeing Empire for the first time, this blew my mind. I remember it so vividly.
Alas, that movie doesn’t exist.
What, you ask? The Empire Strikes Back doesn’t exist? What are you talking about?!
It’s true. No such movie exists with that scene.
As you can see, the line is slightly different than the one that is burned into my memory:
No. I am your father.
When I remember the line, I am off by one word. He never says “Luke”. The movie I remember doesn’t exist.
In a hyper-technical sense, what I just wrote is true. But if you were explaining the error, would you say (1) the movie doesn’t exist, or would you say (2) I made an insignificant error in remembering a key scene? Of course you would say (2). To say (1) is stupid, unhelpful, and misleading.
Unless, for some reason, I wanted to convince people that The Empire Strikes Back doesn’t exist at all. (Actually, for the Star Wars prequels, I do, but that’s another story.)
This is the bizarre place we find ourselves in the attack on Carly Fiorina, who said in the Republican debate:
Anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’ This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.
First, let it be conceded that Fiorina made an insignificant error in remembering the scene. The sentence “We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain” is not word-for-word, it’s a paraphrase; and the paraphrase obscures the fact that the fully formed fetus to which the interviewee referred is not the same one that appears on screen. As it turns out, the fully formed fetus on screen — its heart beating and its legs kicking — is B-roll footage, used to illustrate the interview. The whistleblower didn’t have a hidden camera to capture the scene she described.
So we don’t know what happened to the fetus on screen. Well, we do know that it was left to die, cold and alone, in a stainless steel specimen vessel. But we don’t know whether someone cut into his skull to harvest his brain.
Nevertheless, the video certainly exists. (Warning: horrifying footage.)
When discussing this, you can say (1) Fiorina’s video doesn’t exist, or you can say (2) the video is slightly different that Fiorina’s off-the-cuff description.
Why would you say (1), which is stupid, unhelpful, and misleading?
There’s only one reason. You want to insinuate that the video doesn’t exist at all (even though you know it does). You want the people who read your column to think that video appeared out of Carly Fiorina’s fevered imagination.
For their target audience at least, it seems to be working. Other leftists echoing the attacks — people who haven’t seen the videos, and therefore don’t know how narrow and hyper-technical the attacks are — misunderstand them, and thus say things that are simply false. They say that the videos are “imaginary”, which they certainly or not. Or, this outright falsehood (from Amanda Marcotte):
There is nothing in the videos made by CMP, either in the edited or full-length versions, that has anything approaching images of legs kicking or hearts beating.
(ASIDE: I’m assuming that Marcotte is a dupe here, but perhaps she is simply lying.)
So that is the plan: Announce that the video does not exist [whispering] precisely as described [/whispering]. Let everyone draw the wrong conclusion and repeat that the video doesn’t exist at all.
In support of this, they also Dowdify Fiorina’s defenders. For example, Jonah Goldberg wrote:
The exact scene, exactly as Fiorina describes it, is not on the videos. But anybody who has watched the videos would find Fiorina’s off-the-cuff account pretty accurate.
(Emphasis mine.) But when Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick quoted Goldberg, she deleted the part in bold. (ASIDE: She also added many outright falsehoods, such as describing live babies as stillborn, but that’s not my point here.)
I’ll be interested to see if the new standard for off-the-cuff descriptions is consistently adhered to. (Just kidding! We know it won’t be.) Misremember a detail from Uncle Tom’s Cabin? That means the book doesn’t exist, and no one needs to grapple with its content.
It’s just too bad about Casablanca, Dirty Harry, Silence of the Lambs, Field of Dreams, The Graduate, The Wizard of Oz, All About Eve, and Snow White and Seven Dwarves. I guess I imagined some really good movies.
POSTSCRIPT: More along these lines from Ross Douthat. (Via Instapundit.)