Missing Characters: Who's Responsible? (Lehrer & Weinberger)

Identify/Generate the principle
Time: 15 minutes

Distribute this handout to students: explain the situation (as it appears on the top of the handout), assign a student to read aloud the part of Lehrer and another to read Weinberger. After they've played out the interview, ask the class what information Lehrer wants—who attacked the ship and on whose authority—and why Weinberger wants to avoid giving it out. How does he avoid giving it out? Talk about the power of missing characters, or of distracting characters (e.g., the helicopters).
Missing Characters: Who's Responsible?

This is the text of the journalist Jim Lehrer's 9/22/87 interview with then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Lehrer's questions are about an incident in the Persian Gulf, when a U.S. ship attacked an Iranian ship that was caught laying mines in shipping channels.
Lehrer: And the attack [on an Iranian ship laying mines] was carried out —

Wein.: — Yes, by helicopters.

Lehrer: Who decided to engage them? And what was the authority for —

Wein.: — Hostile action was taken —

Lehrer: Laying mines?

Wein.: — my yes, laying mines in proximity to our ships is a hostile action, and once the Iranian ship had taken this hostile action the decision had to be made quickly and it was made and steps were taken.

Lehrer: The decision was made?

Wein.: Yes, once there was a hostile action, the decision had to be made immediately and in response to that action.

Lehrer: And the authority for the decision?

Wein.: Well, you don't want decisions like this to have to go through in box after in box. The decision had to be made quickly on the spot, and it was made, and the right people were notified. . . and the President was briefed thoroughly. . . .

Lehrer: [continuing the discussion of notification ]. . . and the Congress?

Wein.: We are following the notification provisions of the War Powers Act, notifying Congress in more detail than the act requires. I notified the Congressional leadership —

Lehrer: — Congressional leaders?—

Wein.: — the top members. I called four, got two. Other members of the department notified other members. . . .