The most ludicrous but nevertheless most memorable post-Nixon non-denial denial has got to be President Bill Clinton’s finger-waggling statement:
I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.
Some non-denial denials come incredibly close to flat-out lies, and that one sure did. It relied on a legalistic definition of “sexual relations” that Clinton later explained did not cover repeatedly receiving oral sex from Lewinsky, because, for his part, he had no “intent to arouse or gratify” her.
The most heinous non-denial denial of modern times relates to the use of torture as administration policy under President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Bush, notably and repeatedly, insisted that “we don’t torture,” evidently employing legal interpretations that had been commissioned by Cheney. Among the many things Cheney’s lawyers decided was not torture happened to be the single most iconic form of torture dating back to the Spanish inquisition: waterboarding.
Bush’s non-denial denial – he never specifically denied waterboarding, for example, and eventually acknowledged it — was obviously based on a definition of torture that was utterly spurious. But the elite media, too meek to use or assert the meaning of a very important word, let him get away with it.
It took repeated use of the word by President Obama – including the unfortunate “we tortured some folks” comment — for it to regain something closer to its true meaning. And when the Senate intelligence committee’s report on the CIA’s interrogation practices is eventually released, there may be a moment of accountability for Bush’s non-denial denials. But I wouldn’t count on it.
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