At the start of a news conference in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday, Roy Moore's campaign chairman, Bill Armistead, strode to a bundle of microphones set up by the media and began his address to reporters like this: “Thank you all for joining us today. As you know, Judge Moore has been falsely accused of some things that he did not do.”
If the phrase “as you know” sounds familiar, in the context of a statement to journalists, that might be because it is frequently deployed by President Trump in interviews. More than a verbal tic, it is a tactic designed to suggest to anyone watching that the media agrees with whatever assertion is about to follow.
“It’s a rhetorical device fairly widely used,” said D. Charles Whitney, a former United Press International journalist who teaches communications at Northwestern. “It serves two functions: to assume the factuality of something not established to be true and to sound mildly patronizing at the same time.”
“It plays on a pragmatic aspect of language called common ground, which is the information that speakers and listeners assume is shared by all members of an interaction,” added Spencer Kelly, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Colgate. “When there is common ground, the message has a better chance of hitting its mark. So it appears that this technique is an attempt to impose a common ground that will then make what follows more impactful.”
In the case of Moore's campaign chairman, the idea may have been to signal to viewers that the journalists scrutinizing the Senate candidate believe he is innocent of sexual misconduct but are trying to smear him — or, perhaps, simply reporting on the allegations because it is an unavoidable part of their jobs.
“The phrase 'as you know' implicitly communicates both to the reporters present and the audience that the chairperson and reporters are buddies, part of an in-group that has established friendly and cordial relationships,” said Ross Buck, an emotional communication specialist at the University of Connecticut. “It does tend to mislead viewers and also may disarm reporters.”
Sahara Byrne, who teaches persuasion and strategic communication at Cornell, said that Armistead was “speaking to supportive viewers who, like anyone else, are striving for consistency between what the spokesperson is saying and their own previously held thoughts, namely that they like [Moore] and that he is being falsely accused.”
Byrne observed additional “tricky language” in Armistead's statement: The chairman said that Moore has been accused of “some” things he did not do. That is not a blanket denial.
In an open letter to Fox News host Sean Hannity on Wednesday, Moore wrote that he did not date “underage” girls — meaning under the age of consent in Alabama, which is 16. He did not say that he did not date, or try to date, teenage girls when he was in his 30s, as eight women now allege. In fact, Moore suggested in a radio interview with Hannity on Friday that he might have done so.
“If I did, you know, I’m not going to dispute anything, but I don’t remember anything like that,” Moore told Hannity, adding, “I don’t remember ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother.”