January 31, 2003

Conflict of interest has no meaning…

President Bush has appointed ABC news political commentator Cokie Roberts to the Council on Service and Civic Participation. Is this a conflict of interest? According to the article:

Though ABC’s Roberts provides analysis on subjects including Bush, an ABC News spokeswoman said the network gave its approval and saw no conflict of interest in her serving on the president’s council.

“Not only does she have a family with a long history of commitment to public service and she herself has a personal commitment to public service, but she also has a very strong and distinguished track record of being an absolutely fair and objective observer and analyst,” said network spokeswoman Su-Lin Nichols.

Black is white. Night is day. War is peace. (via Media News)

January 31, 2003

January search strings…

What a strange month. “Bushisms” was the top search term for the blog portion of The Rhetorica Network. That’s not so strange because I got into a snit this month about that particular feature on Slate. But what to make of the rest of the top five?

  • In second place: “bush book.” Related to Bushisms?
  • Third place: “daniel pearl death video.” Yikes!
  • Fourth place: “political definitions.” Close, but no cigar.
  • Fifth place: “pirate language.” How about Pirate Blog?

All the usual stuff–media bias and various rhetorical terms–managed to stay in the top ten. I got 8 hits looking for “college is a waste of time.” One might say the same thing about blogging.

January 31, 2003

Lions and tigers and bias, oh my!…

Yesterday I linked to a U-Wire column about bias in the college classroom. Here is a link to Noindoctrination.org–the site mentioned in the article. Students may post anonymous complaints about professors and their biases.

Just as there are structural biases in journalism, there are structural biases in academia. I have not listed these on this site because this topic is not the focus of this blog or of The Rhetorica Network. I’m writing about it now simply because I found the U-Wire item interesting and important.

To make a long posting short, I spent about two hours reading the complaints. Some seemed legitimate and made me angry with the professors in question. Many of complaints, however, seemed to me to be from students who just didn’t want their precious little world views challenged. See what you think, and let me know.

UPDATE (3:58 p.m.): More bias! A biology professor refuses to give recommendations to med/bio students who do not agree with, or believe in, the theory of evolution.

January 31, 2003

Can CNN be saved?…

Jon Friedman thinks CNN would be better off if founder Ted Turner would buy it back from AOL Time Warner. Maybe.

As regular readers of Rhetorica know, I have a low opinion of TV as a medium for news. But, there are many excellent journalists who struggle every day to make it work. CNN was once a news network that encouraged that type of journalist.

January 30, 2003

Eloquent misconceptions…

A couple of days ago, I took Peggy Noonan to task for poor rhetorical theorizing. Now let me take aim at Michael Kinsley–proof that liberals and conservatives are equal opportunity trangressors when it comes to misunderstanding rhetoric. In the opening paragraph of his critique of the State of the Union address, Kinsley says:

It may seem petty to pick apart the text. But logical consistency and intellectual honesty are also tests of moral seriousness. It is not enough for the words to be eloquent or even deeply sincere. If they are just crafted for the moment and haven’t been thought through, the pretense of moral seriousness becomes an insult.

Logical consistency is a matter of form. One may, for example, badly botch a syllogism and remain morally serious about one’s topic. Such a person is being sloppy, not amoral or immoral. On the other hand, to deliberately torture the logic may be a rhetorical tactic and serve one’s political purposes–moral or otherwise.

Eloquence, or its lack, like logic, or its lack, may be employed as a rhetorical tactic. Trust me, in a presidential speech, especially one as serious as the State of the Union address, these tactics have been well considered. Certainly, speech writers and policy aides make rhetorical blunders (re: my contention about Noonan). But these choices are not crafted “for the moment” without much thinking about their persuasive effects.

Eloquence and sincerity–and logic, fallacies, figures, and schemes–are not pasted on to discourse. They are discourse. They are its substance because we cannot separate how something is said from the consideration of its meaning. Let’s consider an eloquent bit of tortured logic from the SOU (you may read my full analysis here):

You, the Congress, have already passed all these reductions, and promised them for future years. If this tax relief is good for Americans three, or five, or seven years from now, it is even better for Americans today.

This passage demonstrates a skilled hand at crafting political messages. The conclusion is a fallacy. In fact, I could make the argument that it is a triple fallacy; it has characteristics of faulty causal generalization, question begging, and ad populum argument. I am not necessarily making a negative criticism here. Fallacies are “errors” in the field of logic. In the discipline of rhetoric, however, they may be used as “tools.” Check nearly any commercial advertisement for confirmation of this assertion.

Is a lack of logical consistency evidence of a lack of moral seriousness as Kinsley suggests? (Note: He makes this claim in regard to Bush’s stand on Iraq. But, to be consistent by his own standards, he must also make it regarding such statements in the domestic section of the speech.) I don’t see how one can miss the moral seriousness here. Bush is so serious that he’s willing to use fallacy to create a common sense argument that glosses over a multitude of complicating factors. That takes a dose of moral courage.

Let me end with a quote that I reproduce at the top of my syllabus for my rhetoric classes. It’s from the song “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” by Sting:

Poets priests and politicians
Have words to thank for their positions
Words that scream for your submission
And no-one’s jamming their transmission
‘Cause when their eloquence escapes you
Their logic ties you up and rapes you

I contend Sting made an error in the last two lines. “Logic” and “eloquence” should be transposed. It screws up the meter, but it clarifies the substance.

January 30, 2003

This is important…

Do professors try to indoctrinate students? Do professors impose their biases in class?


But not in the way this student believes. Sure, there are rotten teachers out there. Lots of them. With a little digging you can come up with all kinds of horror stories about students who have been abused for their beliefs by professors (by rotten professors of the left and the right…so much of this kind of criticism ignores that little fact). I condemn these teachers.

A warning to students attending, or thinking of attending, Park University: If you take my rhetoric class, prepare to be challenged. I don’t care what your beliefs are. You go right, I go left. You go left, I go right. You go some other direction, and I’ll find its opposite and go that way. I will do all that I can to shake up your world view, to get you to question your values, your knowledge–everything you’ve been taught so far. That, dear student, is one huge part of what education is all about. That’s also a big clue about why there are so many liberals in the humanities and social sciences. Shaking up world views, questioning authority and received wisdom, is not a (classically) conservative endeavor.

January 30, 2003

Jesse to the rescue…

Can Jesse Ventura save MSNBC? Verne Gay says if his new soon-to-be-announced show fails, then that’s the end of the cable network.

I would think there’s room for optimism. Ventura is a showman. Plus, as D. J. Leary, co-editor of the newsletter Politics, says: “The gift he brings to MSNBC is the ability to find that little phrase, that nerve, that will touch people. He talks to the people who want to give the finger to the system.”

This is real talent–for TV.

Further, there’s every expectation he’ll bring his distain for the news media to his new job in the news media. Ventura will become his own “jackal.” This should be entertaining, which means the show will succeed and MSNBC will be saved! (from the delusion that it is a serious news organization).

January 29, 2003

Analysis of State of the Union address…

I have posted my analysis of the State of the Union address to Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2004.

Highlights: More sophisticated use of schemes and fallacies. Personal transformation or a new delivery style? Dearth of metaphors. Two for the price of one–DICTION 5.0 shows how. Best speech yet.

UPDATE (7:00 p.m.): Here are early poll numbers from ABC. Should we judge the persuasiveness of a speech by its polling number less than 24 hours after the event? I wonder. (via Thinking It Through)

January 29, 2003

First reaction to the SOU…

–> One entry so far, but many UPDATES below…

As I said yesterday, I’ll post my analysis of the President’s State of the Union address later today on Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2004. I have a few initial reactions to the style of delivery that I offer “for what it’s worth.”

1) Bush deviated a bit from the standard genre, or structural pattern, of a mid-term address. Such deviation is important to consider in the analysis of this address. We got two speeches for the price of one.

2) The Bush persona changed (more measured and resolute). Gone was the trademark smirk. No leaning on the podium. No chopping motions with his hands. Bush got out of the way of his own words and sounded/appeared more presidential than in previous addresses.

3) A weak reaction address by the Democrats heightened the effect of Bush’s delivery.

For more (political) reactions, see these articles in:
The New York Times
Washington Post
The Washington Times

UPDATE (10:24 a.m.): Howard Kurtz offers a coverage-and-punditry round-up of the State of the Union address. There’s a lot of talk about the speech being two for the price of one (structurally)–a policy laundry list and a foreign policy address.

UPDATE (10:40 a.m.): Blogger reactions from:
Talking Points Memo
Missouri Kid
Andrew Olmstead
Thinking It Through
Arcturus (Jay Manifold)

UPDATE (1:12 p.m.): David Frum, former Bush speechwriter, has this to say. I disagree with his assessment of the speech as a “step-down in quality.” I think he considers himself the only speechwriter worthy of the task, re: his “axis of evil” line.

I have finished my initial analysis–on paper–and will complete its online version soon. The process is rather entertaining–colored pens, colored markers, lots of lines and annotations and idiosyncratic symbols. A student dropped by and watched me for a few minutes–chuckling several times at the sight of me hunched over the speech grasping for pens and markers while sipping coffee and eating Chili Cheese Fritos from tiny bags.

UPDATE (1:30 p.m.): SpinSanity counters the tax spin. Bush says accelerated tax cuts will lower the taxes for a family of four–income $40,000–from $1,178 to $45 per year. …pregnant pause… I don’t get it, either.

January 28, 2003

Presidential rhetoric’s big night…

For those of us who study the rhetoric of the presidency, the State of the Union address is our big night. The only other address that similarly sets our hearts aflutter is the inaugural address.

I’ll prepare an analysis of the address for Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2004 by late Wednesday afternoon.

Mid-term State of the Union Addresses are unique in that a first-term president now has a political track record and a list of unfulfilled promises. Bush is no different. These mid-term addresses typically recall recent successes and prepare the way for the third year legislative session and the presidential campaign.

Complicating this formula is the prospect of war with Iraq.

To be successful tonight, I believe Bush must:

1) Either set out a more moderate domestic agenda in line with the views of most Americans (as interpreted from polling over the past few months), or offer principled justification for his “compassionate” conservative agenda. This includes dealing fairly with, among other things, the issues of taxes, health care, and affirmative action.

2) Give us the facts about Iraq (re: Noonan).

3) Deliver the best speech of his life in terms of eloquence, presentation, and presence, i.e. look and sound like a world leader. (I do not mean to make this sound impossible. I think Bush and his speechwriters are quite capable of pulling this off. Further, it is not necessary that every State of the Union address be “the best speech of his life.” Some have been quite dull, pedestrian, and perfectly adequate to the situation. This moment in history, however, requires more from Bush than, say, a Clinton-like laundry list of social programs or a Reagan-like litany of sunny anecdotes.)

For more on tonight’s address, check out these articles from The New York Times and the Washington Post.

UPDATE (2:50 p.m.): TomPaine.com offers this preview.

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