You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick risks life and limb by posting a c-span link to an “absolutely incredible exchange between Intel Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers and law professor Stephen Vladeck.”  Rogers figured he could easily outmaneuver Vladeck (and two others on the panel before the committee) with some tricky rhetoric, as Kevin Underhill explains:

In what was intended as his wrap-up question, Rogers asked each of the three panelists for a “quick yes or no answer” as to whether they thought “the government should have the ability to try to find a nexus between a foreign connection and a business record in the United States that would indicate the identity of someone who may be working with a terrorist organization.” Well, I think you don’t have to be a lawyer to understand that this is not a “yes-or-no” question.

If you say “yes,” you have just said that you have no objections to giving the government the power to access business records whenever it likes, as long as it claims to be looking for terrorists. If you say “no,” you have just said that the government should have no access to business records for that purpose, no matter what the situation.

There are few things a congressman likes better than having a TV camera on him when he controls a hearing and gets to make a chump out of his witnesses by putting the screws to them. Oh, that Mike Rogers. Such a smart guy.

But Vladeck refused to play his game, and it made Rogers angry.  How dare he blow his TV moment!  Which led to an exchange that should haunt the government:

Rogers gets upset at this (bizarrely appearing to totally not comprehend the point Vladeck is making) and then finally Vladeck again points out that the process matters, and it’s ridiculous to answer a substantive question about whether the concept makes sense without discussing the process, leading to the following, in which Rogers suggests there are no process questions because no one has complained:

Rogers: I would argue the fact that we haven’t had any complaints come forward with any specificity arguing that their privacy has been violated, clearly indicates, in ten years, clearly indicates that something must be doing right.  Somebody must be doing something exactly right.
Vladeck: But who would be complaining?
Rogers: Somebody who’s privacy was violated.  You can’t have your privacy violated if you don’t know your privacy is violated.

And Vladeck’s response nails it:

Vladeck: I disagree with that.  If a tree falls in the forest, it makes a noise whether you’re there to see it or not.

Rogers failed to see what trees and forests had to do with much of anything, and instead suggested this was a good reason to drink wine (no, not making this up).  But this is all a prelude to the real point of this post, which is that Ken White took the exchange and crafted a parody of it to drive the stupidity of Rogers’ argument home:

Representative Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) was defiant today in the face of accusations that he had installed a small digital camera in the women’s bathroom in his office at the Capitol.

“This is just politics,” said the ten-term Congressman.  “I would argue the fact that we haven’t had any women come forward with any specificity arguing that their privacy has been violated, clearly indicates, in ten years, clearly indicates that something must be doing right. Somebody must be doing something exactly right.”

When reporters asked how women would know to complain — the spycam, funded by the government, was expertly hidden — Rogers asserted that was the point.  “You can’t have your privacy violated if you don’t know your privacy is violated,” said Rogers.

When you know the backstory behind Ken’s parody, and you read it knowing it’s a parody of what Rogers did, it’s funny. Ken is an incredibly funny guy, and is pitch-perfect in making his point through biting humor.

But what’s my point? A substantial number of readers, both at Popehat and Techdirt where Ken’s parody was cross-posted, thought the parody exchange was real.  It was even worse at Reddit,

We have reached the point in American politics where a parody is no longer distinguishable from reality when it comes to Congress and spying.


5 comments on “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone

  1. Rick Horowitz

    Wow. I have to admit I also was snookered. Not having seen the earlier story when I saw Ken’s post, and believing it totally plausible that a politician of Rogers ilk would both have a camera in the women’s restroom and think it was totally okay, and, finally, believing Popehat to be a credible source, I bought it.

    The one thing that did try to get me to reject the idea was the “ten years” statement. I thought, “Wow. Time flies. I didn’t realize they’d been that crazy that long.”

    That the story is so believable, as you noted, is a sad commentary on the state of American politics, but, more importantly, on American leadership.

    My fear is that there may be no going back.

    1. SHG Post author

      Yeah, the one factor for which Ken was unable to control was his own credibility. Which way that cut is anyone’s guess.

      1. Fubar

        Since his people have no tradition of proofreading, I thought it was just an ethnically induced typo or two.

        But more generally, his brilliant example demonstrates the astonishing breadth of Poe’s law.

        1. SHG Post author

          The first time I read the line that “my people have no tradition of proofreading,” a fell off my seat. It’s my personal favorite.

  2. UltravioletAdmin

    Charles Stross is a Fantasy and Science Fiction author who has several novels that deal with the nature of privacy and surveillance with different themes. He’s been working on a follow up series where a character was suppose to be a newbie in an intelligence agency that’s a mixture of satire and parody.

    He apparently chucked parts of it because of everything coming out has made the truth no longer indistinguishable from parody.

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