David Neiwert points out the ritualistic elements involved in someone like Bill O’Reilly “retracting” a bogus story while not actually retracting it: The Kabuki Correction.
– The feint. This is the “correction” itself, such as it is. Typically this requires the pundit to suggest that some minor transgressions, none of which even potentially affected the overall thrust of the reportage, occurred.
– The assurance. This involves the pundit assuring both his interlocutor and his audience that he is well-intended and decent, and therefore any minor errors that occur along the way are perforce inconsequential. (Typically delivered with a smarmy, thoroughly insincere sincerity.]
– The defense. Here, the pundit produces some kind of half-fact, mischaracterization, or non-sequitur that serves to stake the claim that the overall thrust of the reportage is perfectly accurate, no matter to what extent it was built upon the foundation of errors or falsehoods previously admitted. Indeed, the more the reportage was built on those errors, the more ferocious the defense. This part of the ritual is almost always delivered in a bullying, petulant, intimidating tone, which makes the previous smarminess all the more clearly phony.
– The attack: The interlocutor is at this point accused of engaging in the same kind of error and smear tactics, forcing him to defend a point that has nothing to do with the pundit’s own rotten journalism.
The particular false reporting in this case concerned O’Reilly’s claim that gangs of lesbians packing pink pistols were engaged in a nationwide crime wave. No, really.