Two days after the ad ran, after having testified for hours on end, Petraeus told reporters in Washington: “Needless to say— and to state the obvious—I disagree with the message of those that were exercising the First Amendment right that generations of soldiers have sought to preserve for Americans. Some of it was just flat, completely wrong and the rest was at least more than arguable.”
There are a few items to consider here: the person calling the name, the manner in which it was done, the object of the name calling and the context of the situation.
MoveOn.org acknowledged on its website that its language was inflammatory and noted that this was intentional, since “the truth about the mainstream media is that the kind of analyses with which some of us feel more comfortable don’t generate enough attention or news coverage to shift the debate.
“Phrases like ‘General Betray Us’ are ‘sticky’—that is, they get repeated again and again in the media—because they are so memorable.” The manner in which this name calling was done was through a vehicle, the “New York Times” that is delivered into people homes on a daily basis.
It helps to have a bit of background regarding the object of the name-calling: in this instance, Petraeus. Last month, the Wall Street Journal published a wonderful, insightful column by Peggy Noonan that tells the story of Petraeus getting shot on September 21, 1991.
The short version is that Petraeus was accidentally shot in the chest during a live-fire exercise when a soldier tripped on an M-16. Petraeus was taken for emergency surgery to a nearby hospital, where Dr. Bill Frist – the future Senate majority leader – was on duty. The surgery was a success; Petraeus was discharged early after completing 50 pushups.
Those of us with children relive the experience of dealing with name callers as our children grow up. Preschool is fraught with such lessons. Two years ago, one of my children arrived home, upset at having been called a name at school. I listened to her story and, when she finished, I asked her: “So, is what they called you true?”
This is the approach we still take in our family. Some cases are easier than others, because as often as I repeat the mantra regarding sticks and stones, I know that words matter and have power. However, in the end, we get to determine how we react to the words, which is often more telling than the name calling.