May 22, 2002

Emotional manipulation…

Aristotle argued that logic should rule the discussion of human affairs, although he realized his contention was idealistic. Emotional appeals move hearts, and hearts move minds.

Last night on television I watched pictures of the Statue of Liberty as some voice told me that terrorists might soon target it for destruction. I was told that it is only a matter of time before terrorists use weapons of mass destruction against the United States.

In the news this morning, I read this:

The Bush administration issued a spate of terror alerts in recent days to mute criticism that its national security team sat on intelligence warnings in the weeks before the September 11 attacks. The warnings, including yesterday’s uncorroborated FBI report that terrorists might target the Statue of Liberty, quieted some of the lawmakers who said President Bush failed to act on clues of the September 11 attacks, although Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle yesterday reiterated his demand for an independent investigation. The latest alerts were issued “as a result of all the controversy that took place last week,” said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, referring to reports that the president received a CIA briefing in August about terror threats, including plans by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network to hijack U.S. commercial airliners. (Washington Times)

To whom should I direct my consternation? At the administration? Perhaps. But are they not playing the game of politics properly by protecting the president? Ari Fleischer did not try to hide this obvious fact of political life. Bush and his aides are fighting back and rightly so. Should I direct my consternation at the press? Perhaps. But are they not doing the job that they are called to do? With the very real possibility of further terrorist action, they would be remiss if they did not report the government’s warnings and comment on those warnings.

I suppose I should direct my consternation at television. This electronic medium amplifies the emotional manipulation of politics by making everything a narrative. Why show me pictures of the Statue of Liberty? It is intact as I write this, so it is not the news. The pictures are, however, the beginning of a story of destruction and national pain. Showing an intact national symbol while weaving a story (based on vague “chatter”) about its possible destruction merely inflames the emotions. I am, however, persuaded by these emotions that we must fight terrorism and remain vigilant, although how we do these things must remain open to reasonable, perhaps even logical, public discourse.

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