Recently, a prominent Virginia newspaper offered an editorial opinion that complemented the Virginia Senate for “slowing down” legislative approval of bills, thereby allowing “cooler heads” to prevail. Naturally, this opinion was supported by selections from the Founding Fathers with respect to the purpose of a senate.
The editorial, however, failed to mention that the function of a senate in a bicameral legislature is, in fact, to pass legislation especially as the subjects pertain to matters raised by voters in electoral campaigns. It also failed to take note that one major frustration expressed by voters with elected representatives (remember the Tea Party?) is precisely the failure to act.
There is no statutory code requiring state senators to qualify for office upon a showing of a “cooler head,” whatever that means; nor is there a duty to slow down legislation, notwithstanding the comments of colonial leaders. In effect, the editorial opinion offers an excuse for some legislators to take refuge in some ersatz statesmanship rationale. Newspaper editors are often clever in selecting topics that they believe their readership will not question. And this is the ultimate failure, especially as the Founding Fathers championed the freedom of the press to educate the citizenry.
In journalism and publishing, such statements are often labeled canards, from the French word for duck and the phrase vendre un canard a moitie, i.e., to sell half a duck. In contemporary usage, the term is applied to false reports, rumors. In the matter at hand, the editorial also reflects intellectual laziness as it engages in a task to explain a phenomenon–“slow” and “cool”–which have no antecedent in natural or social science. In effect, the justification for the failure of some legislators to act upon or vote on legislation is that there is indeed no justification; the inaction is purely whimsical or, at best, political. And, if the editors are justifying some political choice, then they have once again failed to make that clear to the general public.
Canards abound in our culture, and appear far too frequently disguised as opinion pieces that fail more critical examination of a subject.
Canards abound in our culture, and appear far too frequently disguised as opinion pieces that fail more critical examination of a subject. Worse, the victims of these duplicities are the consumers of the material. Skilled politicians, including state legislators, are adept at this type of deflection, particularly when questions are posed to them. There is little excuse when media enjoying the First Amendment freedom parrot canards as majestic communications.
Another form of editorial laziness in this vein is the publication of editorial opinion articles written by advocates (sometimes even lobbyists) for a particular issue. On a number of occasions, these writers are barely identified with respect to the organizations for which they primp. For example, some are identified as a staff person at Americans for Prosperity without acknowledging that it is the Koch brothers’ organization. Their inclusion on the editorial page is functionally free advertising with an imprimatur for the ideology being peddled. The failure to identify adequately and specifically is a hoax upon the reader consumer.
The General Assembly has no rules requiring a legislator to identify the source of proposed legislation, either in whole or in part. Thus, neither legislative colleagues nor the public is informed as to the origins of the content of the legislation.
As there are many types of ducks, there are at least an equal number of canards. Recently, VoxFairfax, in reviewing a piece of legislation passed by the General Assembly, concluded that, due to the complexity and density of the bill’s language and terms, it must have been authored, not by its sponsor, but by a professional organization such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The General Assembly has no rules requiring a legislator to identify the source of proposed legislation, either in whole or in part. Thus, neither legislative colleagues nor the public is informed as to the origins of the content of the legislation. There may even be a larger number of canards than there are types of ducks. Or legislation, for that matter.
Quackery is defined as the dishonest practices and claims to present special knowledge and skill in some field. This term is perfectly suited to encompass the behavior represented in canards, as well as the sounds they make. We may be unable to distinguish the difference between a duck and a canard, but it’s quite likely that they make a similar sound, look similar, walk similarly.