Bait ‘n’ Switch with the Swift Boats

Q But why won’t you denounce the charges that your supporters are making against Kerry?

THE PRESIDENT: I’m denouncing all the stuff being on TV of the 527s. That’s what I’ve said. I said this kind of unregulated soft money is wrong for the process. And I asked Senator Kerry to join me in getting rid of all that kind of soft money, not only on TV, but used for other purposes, as well. I, frankly, thought we’d gotten rid of that when I signed the McCain-Feingold bill. I thought we were going to, once and for all, get rid of a system where people could just pour tons of money in and not be held to account for the advertising. And so I’m disappointed with all those kinds of ads.

As every fan of “Law and Order” knows, questions and their answers can implicitly make arguments. Politicians are especially skilled at responding to questions in such a way that the listener draws an inference from the question and answer that is not always justified. Here President Bush responds to the question of his motivation in not denouncing the “Swift Boat for Truth” ads, by saying that he denounces “all the stuff being on TV of the 527’s” (sic.).

In fact, there is a difference between

I denounce all 527 advertising for being misleading and false. The Swift Boat for truth ad is 527 advertising. Therefore, I denounce the Swift boat for Truth ad for being misleading and false.


I denounce all 527 advertising for being unfairly funded. The Swift Boat for Truth ad is 527 advertising. Therefore, I denounce the Swift boat for Truth ad for being unfairly funded.

Obviously the Kerry campaign (and John McCain) is asking the President to denounce it because it is misleading and false not because of the source of its funding. Bush changes the meaning of “denunciation” in the implicit argument contained in this question and answer.

The reporter at this particular event, who is named only “Adam” by this source, caught the fallacy and next asked: “Thank you, Mr. President. This doesn’t have anything to do with other 527 ads. You’ve been accused of mounting a smear campaign. Do you think Senator Kerry lied about his war record?”

This fallacy should have a name if it doesn’t. As it is described here it is the fallacy of equivocation. But in a sense, it is the converse of the “double question” fallacy (Have you stopped beating your dog?) It is so common among politicians that it should have its own designation.