Flak and flackery

“Flack” is a legitimate variant of “flak,” used repeatedly in official DoD documents. But that didn’t keep the press from playing John McCain’s attack on Barack Obama for saying “flack jacket” in a press release as if it were a legitimate “gotcha.” Anyway, since McCain’s visit to the Baghdad market was a pure PR stunt, “flack jacket” seems about right.

Political reporters are displaying their usual combination of gullibility and ignorance &#8212 far bigger problems than any sort of ideological bias &#8212 in reporting on John McCain’s nonsensical reply to Barack Obama’s response to McCain’s nonsensical criticism of Obama’s vote against open-ended funding of the occupation of Iraq.

Obama used the term “flack jacket” in referring to McCain’s silly market stunt in Baghdad. McCain, instead of responding to the substance of Obama’s remarks, snarked about the spelling of “flack” vs. “flak.”

Ordinary usage is indeed “flak” for protective gear and “flack” for a PR artist. But they’re actually the same word; “flack” was originally “flack-catcher.” “Flak” is a German acronym formed from “Fliegerabwehrkanone,” (“anti-aircraft gun”), and came to mean “dangerous flying metal” generally and thus by extension shrapnel, so protective gear against shrapnel got to be a “flak jacket.” By further extension “flak” or “flack” came to mean “hostile fire” and by extension “criticism,” and thus a PR operator became a “flack catcher.” ]

Media Matters had no problem finding lots of instances of “flack” being used with reference to protective gear, including several from official Defense Department statements. But that didn’t slow down the media in reporting McCain’s little piece of snark as if it were a legitimate “gotcha.” It wasn’t just National Review, Drudge, Limbaugh, and Politico.com, either: the New York Times, for example, reported the comment straight, without correction.

I’m not sure whether the “flack” spelling in the Obama press release was a deliberate pun, but it might well have been: since McCain’s stroll in Baghdad was a pure PR stunt, “flack jacket” seems especially appropriate.

Footnote: if it’s wrong to vote against “funding the troops,” then why did McCain vote against the Iraq funding bill that Bush vetoed? Wasn’t that a vote against “funding the troops”? Obama wants the occupation to end, and didn’t want to vote to fund it forever. McCain doesn’t want it to end, and didn’t want to vote to fund it for any limited period. Both were legitimate votes. Neither would have resulted in a failure to deliver supplies to the folks in the field.

Second footnote A McCain flack, hiding like a coward behind the shield of anonymity, said that Obama “wouldn’t know the difference between an RPG and a bong.” Jonathan Martin at Politico.com relayed the nasty comment. Why allow that sort of garbage to be said “on background”?

You’d think that given McCain’s wife’s history of stealing narcotics from a charity she ran to feed her drug habit (which she got away with, no doubt thanks to her husband’s influence) he’d want to be a little bit careful about tossing the “druggie” accusation around. But he and his flack could count on no one in the press calling them on it. That would be mean.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

One thought on “Flak and flackery”

  1. McCain-Obama Flak-Flack Flap

    A silly exchange between the candidates currently in second place for their respective party nominations, Barack Obama and John McCain, is getting plenty of attention in the blogosphere.
    McCain said that Obama’s vote against the supplemental war…

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