Tag Archives: Media

Perdue’s Performative

By Zane Wubbena | Last updated May 2, 2019

The Washington Post reported on Jan. 12, 2018 that during a bipartisan immigration meeting on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, U.S. President Trump said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”.

Trump was referring to immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and Africa. Although both Democrats and Republicans confirmed this comment, Republican Senator, David Perdue has denied it was said on national television.

Here, I inquire into Senator Perdue’s denial because it has the potential to impinge on public trust and accountability. To do so, I provide a linguistic analysis to the following question:

Did Senator Perdue lie to the American public about Trump’s “shithole countries” comment in his interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, Sunday, Jan 14th?

The answer is not so straightforward.

Let’s get straight to the point. Technically, Perdue was deceptive while still telling the truth—a conclusion we can call, Perdue’s Performative.

What’s a performative?

According to the social psychologist, Dr. James Pennebaker:

“When people tell the truth, they usually use I-words at high rates. The one big exception is the performative. When people start a sentence with something like ‘I want you to know that…’ or ‘Let me be perfectly clear…’ then anything that follows can’t be judged as false or truthful. Performatives are a delightful way to deceive while technically telling the truth.”

So, what’s Perdue’s Performative?

To understand Perdue’s Performative, let’s take a look at what exactly Senator Perdue said in response to George Stephanopoulos’ question on This Week.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you saying the president did not use the word that’s been so widely reported?

SENATOR PERDUE: I’m telling you, he did not use that word, George. And, I’m telling you, it’s a gross misrepresentation. How many times do you want me to say that?

So, let’s break down Perdue’s response to see if it follows the linguistic structure of a performative, as outlined by Dr. Pennebaker. We’ll focus our attention on his first sentence: “I’m telling you, he did not use that word, George”.

The first step is to identify the premise part of the sentence. A premise is basically a statement or proposition that expresses a judgment from which other things can be inferred. It is the essence of a logical argument.  So, in Perdue’s case, the part of his statement that says “I’m telling you, …” is the premise. Yes, he is telling us, and yes, he is being truthful. If he weren’t, he wouldn’t have said anything at all.

The second step is to deal with what’s being inferred. In the second part of the sentence, Purdue says, “… he did not use that word”. This part of the sentence is false—a claim supported anecdotally by other lawmakers who attended the meeting about immigration policy and who heard Trump make the derogatory comment.

What can we conclude from Perdue’s statement as a whole?

Perdue’s response was deceptive, but he was still telling the truth even though he lied. We can call this deception, Perdue’s Performative.

The identification of Perdue’s Performative is important. The public trusts that policymakers and public officials alike will work for and represent their interests. When public officials are deceptive, as in the case of Perdue’s Performative (what would normally just be called a lie), they jeopardize the integrity of public trust.

By identifying Perdue’s Performative, we have come one step closer to holding a government official accountable for deceptive communication.

*This article was peer-reviewed by Dr. James Pennebaker from the University of Texas at Austin on Wednesday, January 17, 2018.


New Book Release: “News Media and the Neoliberal Privatization of Education”

Book - News Media and teh Neoliberal Privatization of Education_Zane-Wubbena

Edited by:
Zane C. Wubbena, Texas State University
Derek R. Ford, Syracuse University
Brad J. Porfilio, California State University

Read the introduction here to learn more about neoliberalism and for an overview of the book.

This edited volume contributes to a burgeoning field of critical scholarship on the news media and education. This scholarship is based on an understanding that the news media has increasingly applied a neoliberal template that mediates knowledge and action about education. This book calls into question what the public knows about education, how the public is informed, and whose interests are represented and ultimately served through the production and distribution of information by the news media about education. The chapters comprising this volume serve to enlighten and call to action parents, students, educators, academics and scholars, activists, and policymakers for social, political, and economic transformation. Moreover, as the neoliberal agenda in North America intensifies, the chapters in this book help to deepen our understanding of the logics and processes of the neoliberal privatization of education and the accompanying social discourses that facilitate the reduction of social relations to a transaction in the marketplace. The chapters examine the news media and the reproduction of neoliberal educational reforms (A Nation at Risk, Teach For America, charter schools, think tanks, and PISA) and resistance to neoliberal educational reforms (online activism and radical  Black press) while also broadening our conceptual understanding of the marketization and mediatization of educational discourses. Overall, the book provides an in-depth understanding of the neoliberal privatization of education by extending critical examinations to this underrepresented field of cultural production: the news media coverage of education. The contribution of this edited volume, therefore, helps to build an understanding of the contemporary dynamics of capital accumulation to inform public resistance for social transformation.

You can order the book from your favorite bookseller. I encourage you to support independent bookstores. It can also be purchased from  Amazon or Information Age Publishing. If you’d like a discount code, please contact me!

Book Cover: Artwork created by Sarah Pfohl
Book Information: download