November 2, 2007

The Rhetoric Beat

I’ve been suggesting, since I began writing this blog more than five years ago, that journalism ought to cover the rhetoric of civic discourse (including its own). For example, I wrote just last year:

If the rhetorical features of a political text may be identified outside considerations of ideology, then they are reportable facts and should be reported by the news media. Lies are also reportable facts.

(A simple search string brings up this list from Rhetorica.)

Reportable facts. You look at the world. You make note of it. You report it. Easy.

Well, maybe not…but let’s move on.

Brent Cunningham’s essay in the Columbia Journalism Review is well worth your time. He thinks there should be a rhetoric beat in American journalism. Welcome to the club, Brent. It’s small, but it’s important.

I would, however, offer this caution: The rhetoric beat would require specific training and reliance on neutral experts. Otherwise this beat could make people dumber by treating rhetoric in the same sloppy way journalism sometimes treats the sciences (and politics, and…well, you know).

5 Responses

  1. Sven 

    Not neutral in the least, but beautifully written.

    Very interesting (PDF).

  2. Tim 
  3. Tim 

    The Krebs & Lobasz paper Sven provides in the second link is excellent!

    Thanks Sven!

  4. All good links and interesting stuff. And, Tim, I liked your post.

  5. Tim 

    Thanks, Andy.

    On Krebs:

    1. He’s wrong on the Feb 2003 polls on Iraq. He’s also wrong about the Senate vote count on Resolution 114 authorizing force against Iraq.

    2. He inadequately addresses the weakness in logos of maintaining the “terror as crime” status quo rhetoric that preceded 9/11 and the failure of the “coalition of law and justice” to stem the trend of increasing, and increasingly damaging, terror attacks. He also fails to question the logos of the effectiveness of an international “coalition of law and justice” and an international “coalition of allies” in the “War on Terror” to combat (his word) terrorism.

    3. He inadequately addresses the weakness in ethos of individual Democrats who engaged in “war” and “regime change” rhetoric concerning Iraq prior to 9/11 during the Clinton administration. He does a good job describing this rhetoric in terms of establishing an Iraqi Narrative during the 1990s, but does not explain how that “boxed in” political opposition in 2001-2002 without any coercion.

    4. Related to #3, he contradicts himself with the role of memory in the Iraq debate, stating on p.416 that “the larger lesson was that the public’s memory is short.” Not so, in that the previous vote on the Gulf War was newsworthy during the 2002 vote.