March 20, 2003

Concept sounds…

The pithy “shock and awe” provides an excellent example of the power of words as weapons of war. While the real pounding behind the term has yet to begin, its shockwaves as rhetoric are already being felt worldwide. The Washington Post reports on international media reactions.

The term comes from a 1996 Pentagon report that argues for rapid dominance in military situations. The concept appears sound, but it is the sound of the concept that may have real military value.

UPDATE (21 March 1:40 p.m.): Click here for my radio interview on this topic with CKNW in Vancouver. From the drop-down menu, choose 21 March 9 a.m. My interview is about 5 minutes into the broadcast.

March 20, 2003

More on the Daschle-Hastert snit…

The every-cogent Josh Marshall weighs in on the recent remarks by Sen. Tom Daschle and House Speaker Dennis Hastert. While my remarks mostly concern their statements as argument, Marshall covers the politics of the statements. (I suppose that’s a rather fine distinction.)

UPDATE (21 March 12:25 p.m.): Does this constitute “backing off”?

March 20, 2003

All quiet on the campaign front…

The war with Iraq will rightfully take our minds away from the 2004 presidential campaign for a while. PoliticalWire links to several articles commenting on the silence.

I’ll be adding some new speeches to the analysis on PCR2004 over the next few days. Look for Bush’s last two addresses on Iraq. I’ll also get caught up with several speeches by Howard Dean.

March 20, 2003

Expected leadership…

President Bush said nothing new last night as he told the nation that we are now at war with Iraq. Such remarks are an expected form of leadership. On his orders we have attacked Iraq. On his words we listen for the leadership necessary to see us through this difficult time.

As I have said many times before, Rhetorica is not a war blog. I will not be following this conflict except as it intersects issues of rhetoric and propaganda in the press and politics. Much of war is fought with words, however, so I will have things to say from time to time.

Bias alert: I have come to think that this war at this time is a bad idea.

That said, I wish we had finished the job during the Gulf War. I wish one of Clinton’s cruise missiles had killed Saddam Hussein. I hope one of our missiles got him last night. I know our soldiers will prevail. I know some will pay the ultimate price. I am comfortable with that because death is a reasonable hazard of the great and difficult job they willingly do for us.

UPDATE (11:15 a.m.): The New York Times considers competing claims of media bias regarding coverage of the war.

March 19, 2003

Camera shy…

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks today to the City Club of Cleveland and collects its Citadel of Free Speech Award. He has insisted, however, that there be no TV coverage by C-SPAN. Apparently, he’s often camera shy.

Is this irony? Well, on the surface, yes it is. But is it the kind of delicious, deep-structural irony that makes academics, political wags, and culture-watchers swoon?

If he were really worried about press coverage, or a closet First Amendment hater, it seems reasonable to assume that he’d not wish to speak in front of print reporters (much less an audience). I’m left to wonder if what’s really going on here is a true case of camera shyness. Perhaps he thinks he looks funny, or doesn’t like his own voice, or finds the lens intrusive, or thinks his robes don’t fit quite right, or stutters, sweats, and spits profusely. Who knows?

It would be nice, however, when one accepts a free-speech award to be a bit more forthcoming about such ironies. (via Romenesko)

UPDATE (11:55 a.m.): Thomas Spencer also finds this situation amusing in a disturbing sort of way.

March 19, 2003

How to speak and not be a traitor…

Here’s today’s rhetoric quiz:

You must make a statement against a particular policy or action. Your opposition, however, may claim your statement gives comfort to a common enemy. How do you make your statement and avoid such criticism?

You might wish to use the comment function to type your answer. Here’s mine:

There is no statement you can make if your purpose is to avoid criticism. So criticism be damned.

It seems Sen. Tom Daschle is less than pleased with President Bush’s handling of the Iraq situation. He said, among other things, that he is “saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we’re now forced to war. Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn’t create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country.”

While this may be a bit melodramatic, does it really constitute coming “mighty close” to giving “comfort to our adversaries” as House Speaker Dennis Hastert claims? And, if so, then my question goes back to the quiz above: Just how does one articulate a position opposing the war without drawing what amounts to an accusation of treason from the Speaker of the House?

I suppose the alternative is that none of us should articulate such concerns. Instead, all of us–every one of us–should forget our founding principles and join lock-step on whatever path the President wishes us to follow (that vibration you’re feeling is James Madison spinning in his grave).

If I’m missing something here, please enlightenment me. Answer the quiz above with a statement that you think would not draw such fire. What rhetoric–exactly what words–should an American politician use to protest the war without drawing such fire from the Speaker. I do not know.

March 18, 2003

Good is up…

This is the telling line for me from President Bush’s speech last night:

The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours.

While this line may not be remembered as one of the finest delivered by a President, it is nonetheless an example competent rhetoric. Final evaluation, of course, must wait for history because the final measure of rhetoric is its utility: Did it work? (I will do a formal analysis of this speech for PCR2004 by the end of the week.)

Structurally, the statement relies on the scheme of antithesis–the juxtaposing of two contrasting words, ideas, or concepts. This scheme is standard fare in Bush addresses for a number of reasons. First, antithesis reduces choices to simple dichotomies (often based on a narrow range of moral choices). Second, sustained use of this scheme sets up pleasing, rocking-horse rhythms (and makes it easier to read the Tele-Prompt-R).

The antithesis plays on the deep structural metaphor of “good is up.” Further, it deploys two active verbs often associated with this metaphor–live and rise. In our culture, to live up to one’s responsibilities is a noble component of the Protestant work ethic. To rise up to one’s responsibilities is demonstrate the willingness to live up to the ethic as well as to demonstrate one’s ability to understand and accept the moral choices involved.

But this antithesis does more than simply contrast the difference between failing to live up to something and rising up to something. It equates American interests and moral standards with UN interests and standards and finds the UN, specifically the Security Council, wanting. The antithesis effectively hides any notion that, perhaps, the Security Council is rising up to is responsibilities while the U.S. may not be living up to its responsibilities. The dichotomy disallows any such question.

Bush did not have to deliver a 15-minute speech last night. He could have spoken this single sentence and the message would have been largely the same. Is it good rhetoric? History will decide. Is it good policy? Ditto. Notice how the two–rhetoric and policy–are difficult to separate.

UPDATE (8:05 a.m.): William Saletan offers a broader look at the rhetoric of the address in terms of intent. He says the purposes of the speech were to psych out Iraq and psych up the U.S. I think that’s an accurate assessment of the overall purposes of the address. The statement I analyze above plays into these intentions by putting moral distance between U.S. and UN actions, i.e. If the world won’t do the right thing then we must. This is a powerful psych up for Americans.

March 17, 2003

Real people, only more so…

David Shaw considers the role of celebrities in the anti-war movement and why the press takes them seriously. Here’s one idea:

Leo Braudy, a USC professor whose book “The Frenzy of Renown” examines the cult of celebrity, says the media pay attention to the political opinions of celebrities because “they’re outsized versions of regular human beings. It puts things in boldface and ups the ante.”

Regular human beings do not live in the limelight. That isn’t just a minor detail; that’s a very large difference in context. While I find the professor’s idea interesting, my knee-jerk reaction is to disagree (understanding that I should read his book before coming to some kind of a conclusion).

Here’s another idea:

Phil Bronstein, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and, as the husband of actress Sharon Stone, no stranger to celebrity himself, says the answer is even simpler:

“We live in a celebrity culture. Just look at all the magazine covers. What we have here is a convergence of celebrities, politics and going to war. That amplifies everything.

“That doesn’t speak to our responsibility as journalists to filter that, to use our judgment on what’s really newsworthy,” Bronstein says, “and I’m not happy about that. But we are part of our culture, and we reflect it and respond to readers’ interests.”

He missed one little thing: The news media also help create the culture.

March 17, 2003

Friedman on the tube…

Howard Kurtz considers columnist Thomas Friedman’s foray into news television, and the results are revealing. Here are two moments I found particularly interesting:

“One thing about being a columnist is you get to talk to a lot of people off the record because you don’t really need any quotes,” [Friedman] says. “That means a higher percentage of the time, people will tell you the truth. The thing that was so hard in doing this is getting people to tell you the truth on camera — about an incredibly sensitive subject.”

This quote reveals how a medium affects not only the type of material that may be presented but also how that material may be gathered and its quality. A TV camera and microphone are not a neutral instruments. Reporters must gather that which the camera and microphone make possible. And they must deal with the subject’s interpretive reaction to those information-gathering devices. In other words, a print reporter and a TV reporter cannot cover the same story the same way. They cannot get the same information.

And this:

Friedman hardly needs more outlets to tell the world what he thinks. He’s won three Pulitzer Prizes, writes best-selling books and appears on such programs as “Face the Nation.” But he was drawn to using television to capture the anger and frustration of the Arab world.

Portraying anger may certainly be accomplished in print. But how much more pathos might we portray in moving images and pictures? We then must consider how this pathos plays into Friedman’s (rhetorical) intentions.

Friedman’s program will air on Discovery on 26 March at 10 p.m.

March 17, 2003

Back to work…

I’m back from spring break. As the second half of the semester begins, be sure to follow my students’ progress on Pirate Blog. Now that they are used to the concept of blogging, I’ll be challenging them to push themselves beyond simple reactions into sustained discourses.

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