Garrett Graff : "Bungling" is a more likely explanation for government conspiracy theories

Marin B

Active Member
This week's This American Life had a segment titled "Master of Her Domain... Name" about the Clinton email scandal. The guest, Garrett Graff, a reporter who has spent 10 years covering politics, discusses what he learned from reading ~250 pages of FBI summaries of the email investigation. In the last minute or two of the segment the host commented on conversations he had with his guest:

Somewhere in the darker part of his heart, he always kind of wants to uncover some sort of wrong doing, some juicy conspiracy, and he's almost disappointed when he doesn't. But the time that he doesn't, those turn out to be all the times.
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Then you hear Garrett Graff say:

This scandal underscores to me so much of what I have experienced in covering politics and national security for a decade which is whenever you hear a government conspiracy theory, the almost universal truth is that the explanation is more likely either bureaucratic bungling or outright incompetence.
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Podcast link here and summary is below:
Sean Cole talks to reporter Garrett Graff, who read the 247 pages of interview summaries of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Graff concludes that it’s not the scandal most people thought it was. Not a sophisticated, Machiavellian scheme to evade federal rules and record laws. The interviews “depict less a sinister and carefully calculated effort to avoid transparency than a busy and uninterested executive who shows little comfort with even the basics of technology, working with a small, harried inner circle of aides. Reading the FBI’s interviews, Clinton’s team hardly seems organized enough to mount any sort of sinister cover-up.” (19 minutes)
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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Then you hear Garrett Graff say:

Content from external source This scandal underscores to me so much of what I have experienced in covering politics and national security for a decade which is whenever you hear a government conspiracy theory, the almost universal truth is that the explanation is more likely either bureaucratic bungling or outright incompetence.

He's likely think of "Hanlon's razor"
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon's_razor
Hanlon's razor is an aphorism expressed in various ways including "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity,"[1][2] or "Don't assume bad intentions over neglect and misunderstanding." It recommends a way of eliminating unlikely explanations for a phenomenon (a philosophical razor).
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The idea has quite an old history, predating "conspiracy theory".


Another similar quotation appears in Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774):

...misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent.[12]

Similarly, Jane West's The Loyalists (1812) includes:

Let us not attribute to malice and cruelty what may be referred to less criminal motives. Do we not often afflict others undesignedly, and, from mere carelessness, neglect to relieve distress?[13]

A common (and more laconic) British English variation, coined by Bernard Ingham, is the saying "cock-up before conspiracy," deriving from this 1985 quotation:

Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government. I do assure you that they would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory.[14]

Another similar instance from politics is the attribution by First Minister of Scotland, Henry McLeish, of financial irregularities that led to his resignation in 2001, to

"a muddle not a fiddle."[15]
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deirdre

Senior Member.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Are there some federal workers who do boneheaded things? Absolutely. I remember the first week I was on the job I talked to my Defense Secretary Bob Gates who is older and had been there a long time. I said do you have any advice for me Bob? He said one thing you should know, Mr. President, is that any given moment on any given day somebody in the federal government is screwing up.

END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I don't think the Republicans are going to buy that one, although it's probably factual http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1406/27/nday.04.html
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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I think this is a realization that many people come to as they get older. When you are young you've got this idea that the "adults" are very competent, and are know what they are doing. This is certainly true when you are a child, and continue to be true as a young adult. But as you eventually surpass those people in age you realize that they are really just normal people, like you.

I also think this is relates to why people believe in conspiracy theories - and why young people believe in them more than anyone. It's a simplistic view of the "grown-ups" controlling the world.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
The interviews “depict less a sinister and carefully calculated effort to avoid transparency than a busy and uninterested executive
i think the "uninterested" factor is also something many conspiracy theorists can't seem to wrap their heads around. They think if something is important to them, it must be important to others.

Like the footage of the police stopping the reporters in the woods at Sandy Hook. The police stopped and questioned many people that day, why would any official care to go out of their way to give specific details about a couple of reporters sneaking in to get a look? Why would TPTB who were busy with a real investigation even be aware there was video footage of that 'scene'? It's like they think the cops all went back to the office that night and poured over TV footage or checked out Youtube to see what the conspiracy theorists were saying. And even if they were aware of tv footage re the reporters, why would they care?

Why would first selectman Lodra care where the State Police got the check in sign from or who ordered the Porta Potties? But if noone in Newtown goes out of their way to get answers these CT questions (because noone cares), it's a big coverup.
 

MikeG

Senior Member.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Are there some federal workers who do boneheaded things? Absolutely. I remember the first week I was on the job I talked to my Defense Secretary Bob Gates who is older and had been there a long time. I said do you have any advice for me Bob? He said one thing you should know, Mr. President, is that any given moment on any given day somebody in the federal government is screwing up.

END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I don't think the Republicans are going to buy that one, although it's probably factual http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1406/27/nday.04.html
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Some, not most, people think the same thing about teachers. I thought about that as I graded midterms at 5:00 am today.
 
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