« Ehrman Neglects Evidence | Main | Politics, Medicine, & Morality - Partial-birth Abortion »

June 29, 2010


Funny. Yeah, everyone knows spies can’t garden.

It could be that her argument was:

P1.Having a beautiful garden takes a significant amount of time

P2.Being a spy takes a significant amount of time

C1.Mrs. Murphy had a beautiful garden, which means she couldn't be spy because one does not have enough time to be both a spy and a gardener.

If that was her argument, which is questionable, its still not that great since the premises are questionable (you could pay someone to tend your garden, hydrangeas don't require THAT much work, etc), but it wouldn't be a non sequitor

Isn't there a John Le Carre spy thriller called 'The Constant Gardener'?

Whether it's a non sequitor or not, it's still kind of sad that there are people who actually think this way. Bless their hearts. :-)

In the NY Times article the exact quote is this: “They couldn’t have been spies,” she said jokingly. “Look what she did with the hydrangeas.” The joke is the supposed logical fallacy.


Hi Brian

Your right. Nation Review Online has the quote wrong. The quote is from a 15 year old, and is actually pretty funny. Not too impressed with NRO.

The more I think about it, the more I think the original post should be edited so as not to give misinformation. Maybe with an added comment about always double checking your source. (Not that I haven't made the same mistake before).

Well...The original quote that appeared online did not include "jokingly". It was:

<misspelled>Jessie Gugig</misspelled>, 15, said she could not believe the charges, especially against Mrs. Murphy. “They couldn’t have been spies,” she said. “Look what she did with the hydrangeas.”

But I think it really was a (lame**) joke. See here and here and here. The first article describes the quote and includes the blog author's own opinion that it was a joke. He also reports observing the change in editions to include "jokingly". The comment section includes a long post from someone claiming to be Jessie Gugig confirming that it was a joke. The follow-up articles discuss whether the comment really is from Jessie Gugig. I'm not sure that it is, but I'm leaning that way.

According to the comment, Jessie's family informed the Times and first got the name corrected and after a lot of wrangling with the Times, eventually got the word "jokingly" inserted. NRO was obviously quoting from an earlier online version of the article that had the name right, but that did not include "jokingly".

Jessie, quite correctly, thought the original made her look vapid. She said she had made other jokes about the case to the reporter as well. I suppose we may conclude that Miss Gugig does not believe the charges (for reasons that neither she nor the Times article ever get into) and was, through jokes conveying the message that the results of this 7-year investigation were absurd.

(As a side note, I'd be willing to bet that her impression is wrong and that the Murphy's are as guilty as sin.)

The original quote by the Times was poorly presented, since it gave the impression this was really Jessie's reason for not believing the charges. I'm not sure that adding "jokingly" really repairs the damage, since it then simply looks inconsistent (they say JG doesn't believe the charges, but then the only reason they give for that is a joke?).

Wouldn't this have done the job better:

Jessie Gugig, 15, found the charges, especially those against Mrs. Murphy, absurd. “They couldn’t have been spies,” she quipped. “Look what she did with the hydrangeas.”
The Times was reluctant to change the quote at all (except the name issue), because they thought (correctly) that it was the 'money quote' of the whole article. And, obviously, part of it's 'buzz' is the fact that some readers would misconstrue it as a vapid remark. So they were willing to mischaracterize a 15-year old's remarks to make her look like a complete airhead in order to generate a little extra buzz for their sinking ship. Desperate Times call for desperate measures I suppose.

** - And I mean "lame" in that charmingly awkward 15-year old kind of way...I don't think ill of Miss Gugig at all.

It depends on what the meaning of the word "jokingly" is.


The comments to this entry are closed.