So Wednesday night I was in New York for an appearance on CNN’s AC360 with Anderson Cooper. As happens in the news business, there was breaking news that scrambled the show’s line-up at the very last minute. In this case the breaking news was the decision by a federal judge in Hawaii that halted the Trump travel ban.
Because of this last minute change I was re-scheduled for one brief appearance with co-panelists Van Jones and Gloria Borger. The segment began with an interesting discussion between Van and, on the phone, Harvard Law Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz. It was a great debate between two liberals, neither Trump fans, over the constitutionality of the ban, with Dershowitz vouching for it (although not agreeing with it) and Van opposing. I was next up, responding to a question from Anderson Cooper about the six countries on the travel list and why not others. I began my response by referring to the “so-called intelligence community” and how they processed intelligence for these decisions. While I didn’t mention him, I repeated the core of an analysis that former Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers had made a while back. Mike is both an ex-FBI agent and a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a man who knows a thing or two about the world of intelligence. His point: intelligence comes from several sources and is routinely updated. The intelligence info of, say, post-9/11 — which was 16 years ago — is necessarily not the same as intelligence gained this week. Hence, the list of the six countries on the list reflects current intelligence.
In the process of making this point — quickly for time purposes — I referred to the “so-called intelligence community.” The show moved on and I headed home. On the way I checked in on Twitter to see, to my amazement, that in using the phrase “so-called intelligence community” I had aroused the ire of CNN analyst General Mark Hertling. Astonished, I found the General saying this:
Jeffrey Lord just said “the so-called intelligence community.” A guy who knows nothing about the IC and how they keep us safe. Disgusting
Say what? Why was this disgusting? And while I didn’t — and should have — cited Mike Rogers — most assuredly I think Rogers is indeed someone who knows one heck of a lot about the intelligence community. I quickly responded that there was nothing in the way of some sort of insult intended, but the good General would have none of it. He insisted:
Unfortunately, it was an insult. I have friends/relatives there, buried guys who served IC. Ur “phraseology” is offensive
The thing you and Potus need to learn: words are important, be precise. Stop insulting those who serve the nation
And so on.
So let me take a moment to be absolutely precise.
As I assumed the General — and most people listening in the CNN audience — understood, there are two specific and quite precise dictionary definitions for the phrase “so-called”. The definition I was using was this one, as supplied by Merriam Webster:
“So-called” — commonly named: the so–called pocket veto
The second definition is the one the General wrongly assumed I was using:
“So-called” — falsely or improperly so named: deceived by a so–called friend
The second definition is all about using the phrase as an insult. The furthest thing from my mind was insulting the intelligence community. Why in the world would a longtime Reagan conservative who believes in a strong military and serious intelligence-gathering capabilities abruptly do a 180 and suddenly, out of the blue, attack the people who risk their lives to do this? There are in fact considerable issues out there swirling around the IC — most recently a former Obama-era CIA deputy director asserted that the recent leak of CIA material to Wikileaks was in fact from someone inside the agency. It is hardly insulting to have an open discussion about problems of this nature. But that was not the topic last night. With the topic the travel ban and intelligence I chose the phrase “so-called” specifically because I knew it meant the first dictionary definition — “commonly named” — and used it precisely.
The collection of agencies who are involved in intelligence are indeed, as the dictionary definition describes, “commonly named” in Washington as the “intelligence community” or shorthanded in Washington-speak as the “IC.” There is nothing insulting in saying so, particularly when speaking on television and understanding that the watching audience is not necessarily aware of “Washington-speak.” The latter is used all too frequently by politicians who salt their conversations with phrases like “POTUS,” “FLOTUS,” “DOD,” “SecDef,” “Foggy Bottom,” “The Hill,” “Langley” etc., etc., etc. The General says he doesn’t give a “flip” about this, but in fact I believe when on television it is not helpful to speak “Washington-speak.” We differ. No big deal.
Let’s be plain. General Hertling is an American patriot of the highest order. So are members of the intelligence community.
It’s perfectly fine to disagree with the President — as the General does — and certainly with me. God Bless America and the right to free speech. But in simple fairness, attributing motives that simply do not exist is not helpful to understanding and resolving whatever issue is at hand. There are enough so-called problems out there as it is.