January 9, 2018

No. Just no.

The ancient Greeks put a lot of stock in the ability to speak well in public. They understood effective speakers to have political and cultural power. They made moral judgments about their fellow Greeks based on the ability to speak well in public. In general, it was within the range of unbelievable for them that the unworthy could be good public speakers.

That seems naive to us today. But, simplistically, there are big cultural and technological differences between us and the ancient Greeks. The power of public speaking, and all the assumptions they made about its most effective practitioners, was reality for them.

Oprah Winfrey gave a (rhetorically) good speech at the Golden Globes awards ceremony.

Now some members of the Democratic Party and the political left (including pundits) —  tearing a page from the ancient Greek playbook —  are losing their minds because — OMG! — she could be President.

No. Just no.

I have already had my fill of amateurs who have launched their political careers in offices not meant as political training grounds. The current governor of Missouri — Eric Greitens — is a good example of not using an executive office to learn how to be a politician. Maybe he’ll get it someday. But it’s not looking good.

There’s another example I can think of. And maybe after I finish the sloppy Michael Wolff book I’ll have something to add.

Oprah Winfrey and I share much (not all) politically (if I understand her correctly). That doesn’t mean I want her anywhere near the Oval Office.

And, IMO, sober members of the political left in this country should be aghast that this terrible idea has been planted in the brain of another entertainer with a massive ego (just check out her magazine covers).

Look, a big problem (i.e. not the only one) with Trump isn’t his policies– to the extent that you agree or disagree with any given policy and to the extent that he can be said to have policies and understands them. An important problem is he’s an entertainer — an amateur politician — with a massive ego who is learning (or not, as the case may be) how to be a politician having achieved an office that should be the final chapter in a long story of public service in governance.

This was, BTW, a legitimate criticism of Obama — not enough experience going in. But he was a professional and avoided doing things such was Tweeting about his big button.

Please, Ms. Winfrey. Check that ego. You give a good speech. You are not ready to be President.

Please, Democratic Party, do not make me beg you to avoid making such a massively stupid choice.

November 30, 2017

The John Wayne Shot

My Carbon Trace documentary team is working on a film called Syrian Doctor (working title) about the mental health crisis in Syrian refugee children that has been called “human devastation syndrome.” (You can follow our progress on Facebook.)

Along the way we have done some humanitarian work (i.e. provided video) for the Syrian American Medical Society. For example, we created this mission recap video from the April medical mission to Jordan. Below is the climax of that video illustrating a bit of video rhetoric (ethos and pathos): something I call the John Wayne shot.

Imagine John Wayne. The actor? A specific character? My guess is the image that popped into your head was Marion Morrison in a cowboy costume walking confidently toward danger — to save the day.

The John Wayne Shot from acline on Vimeo.

That’s exactly the heroic image the John Wayne shot is supposed to invoke. Here’s what it looks like (at :18) at the climax of the video with doctors as the heroes.

November 29, 2017

I Bought A Digital Subscription

I just renewed my digital subscription to The New York Times this week.

Last night I added, for the first time, a digital subscription to the Washington Post.

I’m a sucker for that “democracy dies in darkness” tag line. Here’s what I actually think about such things. But this an emotional response, not an intellectual one.

And this is, IMO, dead on:

But such incredulity misses the deeper significance of this stuff. The brazenness of it is the whole point — his utter shamelessness itself is meant to achieve his goal. In any given case, Trump is not trying to persuade anyone of anything as much as he is trying to render reality irrelevant, and reduce the pursuit of agreement on it to just another part of the circus. He’s asserting a species of power — the power to evade constraints normally imposed by empirically verifiable facts, by expectations of consistency, and even by what reasoned inquiry deems merely credible. The more brazen or shameless, the more potent is the assertion of power.

(Obvious quibble from my theoretical perspective: rendering reality irrelevant IS a persuasive intention. But never mind.)

In a nutshell, this is one reason the press finds it difficult to cover President Trump. And it hints at the way forward.

My long-standing cure (one of many) remains unchanged: the rhetoric beat.

March 17, 2017

Rhetorica Update

A few things going on this spring (cuz, yeah, it has arrived in Missouri):

  • My Carbon Trace Productions documentary team has two projects in the works: 1) Student Debt (working title), and 2) Syrian Refugee Doctor (working title). For the latter, my team and I leave for Jordan in three weeks to begin filming. BTW, only 4 days left for our crowd-funding campaign for the trip. Click here to see the particulars and make a tax-deductible donation.
  • I am compelled to push this idea: Every journalist needs to begin asking this question of public officials: Do you mean that literally? That whole “literally” thing may be the gift that keeps on giving for the news media in the weeks ahead. I’m going to pull that thread a bit and see what happens. It’s related to the stenography issue.
  • Should Rhetorica become the site for an extended examination of the rhetoric of documentary film (and, perhaps, multimedia journalism, especially in its long audio and video forms)? Oh, no! Not another re-invention! 🙂
November 7, 2016

A Quick Interjection in the Silence

Rhetorica, as a site examining media-political rhetoric, remains retired.

But I have to call your attention — whatever is left of my readership — to Jay Rosen’s current entry on PressThink. The whole thing is important, but this struck me in particular:

How can you say to readers: these people live in a different reality than we do… and leave it there? That is not the kind of story you can drop on our doorsteps and walk away from. It’s describing a rupture in the body politic, a tear in the space-time continuum that lies behind political journalism. I don’t think the editors understood what they were doing. But even today they would find this criticism baffling. We reported what people in this movement believe. Accurately! What’s your problem?

Back in the day, here’s what I wrote about facts as a liberal bias.

September 13, 2016

On Futility

I should have known better.

I was right the first time.

I dramatically cut back on blogging here (2010ish) in part because the effort seemed futile.

To that point I had created what I think is an interesting body of work (might even be a book in here somewhere). Several academic essays, a book chapter, and an encyclopedia chapter came from it. I achieved tenure at Missouri State University in part because of Rhetorica. There’s nothing like daily, written engagement to keep you focused and help you develop ideas.

Rhetorica began as “Timeline” — a blog at my Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2000 site run on the servers of the University of Missouri – Kansas City as part of a graduate project in rhetorical analysis. Rhetorica is one of the oldest, continuously-published blogs on the internet.

I am very proud of it.

I’ve attempted a few times to re-jump-start it — the silliest of those attempts being the “doom files” days. But that silliness actually said something important about where my head is and has been.

Blogging about the rhetoric of journalism and politics these days is simply an exercise in frustration and futility. Donald Trump is the final nail in a lot of coffins. Our civic discourse is damaged — potentially beyond repair. Political journalism doesn’t have the tools to help correct it because, frankly, political journalists are a big part of the problem and seem unable/unwilling to understand how and why. They are slaves to their master narratives and biases.

No amount of blogging is going to make the slightest dent.

Rhetorica will remain open as long as I have a credit card that works. And I will, from time to time, post things here.

But the main project is finally over. It’s really been over a for many years now. I wish I had had the grace to realize it and close the lid.

Here’s another “but” and a hopeful one: Carbon Trace Productions is now the main creative focus of my life — although not necessarily the associated blog 🙂 My 60s are going to be my documentary years!

Last year my team of students and I completed our first documentary short entitled Shared Spaces.

This past May we completed our first feature documentary entitled Downtown: A New American Dream. It is an official selection at the 2016 New Urbanism Film Festival in Los Angeles next month.

We also have projects working about the student debt crisis, the Trans-Siberian Rail Road, and homeless cargo-bikers who make their way picking through our dumpsters.

The Rhetorica Network will remain my main brand. I’m not sure what that means 🙂

August 15, 2016

An Amusing Aside

I’m finishing an essay — due today — for the American Political Science Association conference in Philadelphia. The title is “Race, Poverty, and Police: A Conversation.” Here’s what it’s about:

How might we understand #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter in terms of #allmenarecreatedequal?

It’s about memes and hashtags and the conversation we’re not having because we cannot have it.

August 11, 2016

When Stenography Matters

So I’ve spent a lot time here grousing about stenography.

But the candidacy of Donald Trump is changing the game of journalism a bit — including my game. It’s been easy to point out examples of the lazy reporting I call stenography. But with Trump, I now find it necessary to put a finer point on my grousing.

Let’s use this article in The New York Times as an example. Trump said about President Obama: “He’s the founder of ISIS.” And he said that ISIS “honors” Obama.

OK, so what’s a reporter to do with that?

It’s news. It’s news because a candidate for President of the United States said such a ridiculous thing. But there’s very little you can ask in follow up.

What question can you ask?

I suppose you could ask for specifics about how/why Obama founded ISIS (and risk sounding like a reporter for The Daily Show), but you’re as likely to get a cogent answer as you are to get a invitation to Trump’s next wedding.

And there you have an important distinction between stenography that is reporting the news and stenography that hides the news.

It isn’t stenography to quote the outrageous and let it hang in the air like a fart.

August 10, 2016

Where I’m Coming From

Back in the day, I wrote this:

As I learned early in my journalistic career before becoming an academic, there is no such thing as an objective point of view. And the ideal of fairness is almost as elusive. But I will always attempt to be fair according to standards that I will try to make plain. I will try to reveal my biases when I think they intrude on my critiques.

Yesterday I wrote a scathing and snarky critique of Donald Trump’s latest outrage. I did not publish it, and I will not publish it because I need to change a few things regarding the quote above.

You can use the following to decide if you think Rhetorica is worth your time during the remaining weeks of the 2016 election.

I consider Donald Trump to be a dangerous amateur, and I despair for the Republican Party that it chose this person. His candidacy is so alarming that I am unable to maintain the fiction of academic detachment. He must be stopped.

I will hold my nose and vote for Hillary Clinton. She’s just another centrist Democrat. I am sick to death of centrist Democrats such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

My track record here over the years, and the tools that I have published for your use, may be employed to determine if anything I write here in the next few weeks is worthwhile.

I will try to maintain focus on press coverage, especially regarding the glaring differences between reporting and stenography.

But I may not be able to let another scathing snark-fest go unpublished.

Just so you know.

August 5, 2016

Unanswered Questions

There are plenty of jobs for stenographers in American political journalism. It’s the safest — and easiest — job in the business. American political stenography thrives in the new multimedia/social media context. It is perfectly suited for the clickbait headline, the vacuous soundbite, the hashtag thinking, and the (apparently) declining attention span of the audience.

I’m waking Rhetorica up for the 2016 election.

Unlike years past when I covered a wide range of rhetorical issues in the press and politics, this time I’m focusing on political stenography in journalism. It occurs at all levels. I’ll be particularly focused on its practice in prestigious newspapers and self-aggrandizing cable/network news programs.

You can click that link and read some of what I’ve written about stenography in the past. But in case you don’t want to work quite that hard, what I’m talking about is the near universal practice among American political journalists not to ask — or get answers for — painfully obvious questions when politicians speak in hashtags and soundbites as if it were all so much common sense.

Here’s another way to understand it:

Stenography = writing down what sources say

Reporting = discovering and writing down the facts (about what sources say)

Here’s a short list of problems stenography causes that I published in 2009:

1. Sounds bites get substituted for facts and rational argument.

2. Mere partisan contention becomes news pushing out context (series: part 1, part 2, part 2 supplemental) and proportion (bad kairos).

3. Intentional falsehoods achieve a cultural force equal to facts and (something like) the truth.

Let’s see what happens this time 🙂

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