Debunking the misuse of ‘debunk’

Debunking the misuse of ‘debunk’ April 16, 2018

• My Google news feed for “evangelical” keeps turning up this amazingly wrong headline from the right-wing aggregator OneNewsNow: “FRC debunks NPR claim of evangelical ‘concern’ over Trump.” (Not linking because it’s OneNewsNow.)

One problem there is the misuse of the word “debunks.” The Family Research Council’s bossman, The Liar Tony Perkins, does not “debunk” the claims made by his fellow court evangelicals in the NPR report, he merely disagrees with them.

“Debunking” cannot apply here because the dispute between TLTP and his fellow court evangelicals is not about a set of facts external to them, it’s about their own opinions, motives and concerns. His comrades/competitors said they were hoping the meeting would provide a chance to discuss their concerns over the Stormy Daniels/Karen McDougal scandals. Perkins isn’t interested in discussing that with the president. That’s his prerogative, but that doesn’t mean that his particular set of concerns must therefore also be their set of concerns. Their concerns are not open to “debunking” by him.

This is a pet-peeve of mine. “Debunk” and “rebut” are frequently misapplied and misused in headlines in this way. Sometimes, as here, it’s on matters where those terms cannot apply — differences of opinion rather than differences of fact. Other times it’s on matters where they simply do not apply — where facts are disputed, but not conclusively resolved in the way that “debunk” and “rebut” imply.

Apart from that, though, it’s just hilariously astonishing that TLTP and OneNewsNow are both so angrily indignant that they imagine “debunk” is the proper word here. They take great umbrage at the suggestion that they have any concern at all about the president’s mistresses or the hush-money he and his associates have paid to cover them up. How dare anyone besmirch their dishonor by saying such a thing?

Ruth Graham on Bill Hybels. The last paragraph sums it up well.

• Managed to snap one far-off cellphone pic of one of our family of foxes. This little one was playing peek-a-boo with my dog Saturday morning, sneaking out every time Willow turned her back and walked away from the shed, then dashing back underneath whenever she turned around.

The blurriness of that makes it look like something from a cryptozoologist — “The chupaganso, the dreaded goose-sucker …” It doesn’t do justice to how wildly lump-in-your-throat adorable these little ones are. Later that morning the whole family came out to play, literally, with one proud parent watching two of the kits wrestle while a third and maybe a fourth went exploring in Pat’s yard next door under the watchful eyes of the other parent.

• Hemant Mehta, “Subject of Fake ‘Heaven’ Book Sues Christian Publisher for Never Paying Him.” Alex Malarkey was seriously injured in a car accident as a child. After he awoke from a coma two months later, his dad cashed in by writing a book claiming his son was a traveller who had returned from the undiscover’d country — that the boy had died and visited heaven. The book became a best-seller, making a lot of money for the elder Malarkey (yes, that’s the real name) and for his Christian-brand publisher.

But young Alex and his mother say they didn’t see any of that money, despite Alex being touted as a co-author of the book.

That publisher is Tyndale House — the Christian imprint that gave us the Left Behind series. I’ve sometimes been told that I’m overly cynical in my appraisal of outfits like Tyndale, but these evangelical industrial operations always manage to be far more cynical themselves than I’m able to imagine.

• David Swartz reports from the “Red-Letter Revival” outside of Liberty University: “Falwell vs. Claiborne: A Report from Lynchburg.” Swartz, who has written a history of the “evangelical left,” seems hopeful about their prospects (which is understandable, since he’s still riding the wave of sermons from both William Barber and Tony Campolo). His report ends with a David-vs.-Goliath or wake-the-sleeping-giant burst of optimism (the gigantic metaphors can get confusing).

I came away from it, though, gaping at the sheer scope of the juggernaut Liberty University is becoming:

There were construction cranes everywhere. As the student tour guide described Falwell’s vision for the longest academic lawn in the country, she said, “If it’s Christian, it has to be better!” Most of the buildings lining the lawn were less than five years old. The newest of them, the divinity school building called Freedom Tower, rose 14 stories in the sky, making it the tallest building in Lynchburg. Promotional literature described how Liberty went from $100 million in total assets in 2008 to over $2 billion in 2018. Its endowment rose from practically nothing in 2008 to $1.4 billion in 2018.

$1.4 billion is a lot of money. Who is giving Liberty all that money? And what do they expect in return?

What’s he building in there?

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