August 29, 2003

Message control, part 642…

Apparently John Ashcroft isn’t interested in the print media for his Patriot Act road show. A reporter for the Philadelphia City Paper was not allowed to enter a recent gig with the television press.

First, nothing was stopping him from covering the event from the cheap seats. All anyone needs to do that is a scrap of paper and a reliable pen. What he couldn’t do was question Ashcroft.

So why give an exclusive to TV? I’m glad you asked. Politicians, especially those connected with the executive branch, have become (with the help of their media consultants) masters of the political road show–masters of manufacturing and controlling “news” events. And if you’re about to hit the comment button and chastise me for dissing the ‘phants, don’t. The donks are just as skilled when it’s their turn.

Here’s what Howard Altman has to say about all of this:

A few minutes later, Ashcroft has plenty to say about his position. He argues that, given the status quo, the government needs to employ the same kinds of law enforcement techniques against terrorists that it uses against mobsters.

He downplays concerns about diminished liberties by pointing out that law enforcement has checked up on people’s library habits and business records before and that the people should trust our government to do the right thing.
Tell that to the little Secret Service agent and the other folks who didn’t want the attorney general bothered by a print reporter.

To be honest, when he ordered me off the premises, I was not just steamed, I was flabbergasted.

Surely, these people understand irony? Perhaps they just don’t care.

Of course they understand irony. They just don’t pay much attention because they are controlling the message through TV, a medium that doesn’t understand irony–although it is the source of so much of it in our culture. All the bunting, flags, balloons, and logos keep TV cameras distracted from the real issue. Print people, inconveniently, don’t need that stuff. They need something far different. They focus on other things–perhaps the things Ashcroft would rather not discuss.

You can call this sinister if you want to. But, what it really is: The manufacture and manipulation of “news.” Sinister is in the eye of the beholder, or the snubbed reporter.

August 29, 2003

: Consider the audience…

Is it silly for the Bush campaign to portray the President as a fund-raising underdog? Well, yes. But consider the audience: Republican donors. The e-mail message in question, sent to solicit donations, was not meant primarily for general consumption. That’s an important consideration in regard to the effectiveness of the message.

What independent voter or Democrat is likely to believe, or be persuaded by, the suggestion that a sitting President can’t raise money as effectively as a herd of Democratic hopefuls all chasing the same general constituencies?

Republican donors, on the other hand, might be happy to lump all the Democrats into a whole and treat the dollar figures, independent of the funding sources and the beneficiaries, as unequal. (via PoliticalWire)

August 29, 2003

Yes, it was amusing…

I’ve been asked to give a quick accounting of my foray into radio (see comments). First, let me say–in response to Jay Manifold’s helpful e-mail–that I did openly deal with certain ironies: 1) My stated antipathy toward electronic media and 2) the fact that I’ve set up a show with liberal-versus-conservative debate despite my repeated arguments against such formats. I’m greatly encouraged that Jay thought the content was high quality. We did not engage in the typical flame war, nor will we. Of course, I don’t have to worry about ratings. 🙂

I enjoyed myself. It was amusing for me and for the audience. I made a few silly errors. My switch from talk segments to music segments could have been handled more smoothly.

And I managed to make the worst mistake you can make: I let an “f-bomb” get out. I planned to end the show with the song Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols. Well, I forgot to cue the right track. So when I hit the button it began playing track 1, which was “F…ed Up and Wasted” by the Anti-Nowhere League.


I read “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr. in honor of the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington. Ben Gardner and I discussed it as political and sermonic rhetoric. That was the guts of the program, and I thought we did a reasonably good job of it.

Tune in next week! (There’s no telling what’ll happen.)

August 28, 2003

40 years ago today…

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Go read the whole thing.

August 28, 2003

Will we lose the bargain?…

Jack Shafer deconstructs the current rash of liar-liar books. He says:

The unspoken premise of the liar-liar books–no matter who writes them–is that the other side lies and mine doesn’t. Of course, neither wing has ever told it straight, a fact all liar-liar books neglect. The rise of the liar-liar book coincides with the proliferation of political talk on TV and radio–especially TV–where the liar-liar dynamic rules. When Crossfire, Hannity & Colmes, Buchanan and Press, and the other shows recruit on-air guests, they approach the task like casting directors. They pre-interview potential guests to make sure they’ll fulfill the binary requirements of the drama

August 28, 2003

You’ll find this amusing…

Today at 11:00 a.m. central time Radio Rhetorica goes on the air.

I gotta say this whole thing started as a lark. A memo in my campus mailbox last week announced a meeting for students and faculty interested in being DJs on the school radio station. My usual good sense left me as I stood there reading the memo: “This could be cool. I can do this.”

Would someone please slap some sense into me.

Okay, well, technically it’s too late for that. I’m going on the air, and there’s no backing out now. And there’s no missing the gaudy “on air” button in the left-hand sidebar. Just click that and listen live. There’s even a web cam!

Now, one of the great things about being a student or teacher at a small liberal arts university is that you get opportunities such as this. At a big school, you’d have to take a class and wait in line. Not at Park U. I’m going on today with about 30 minutes of training from two reluctant students who couldn’t believe they were wasting their time on a geeky prof who didn’t have enough sense to ignore a memo.

This could get ugly. It could also be amusing.

In any case, I am serious about this. I’m accepting the fact that today will be rough. And maybe the next few weeks, too. But my former students, Ben Gardner and Beth Fraley, and I are determined to create an intelligent radio program based on The Rhetorica Network. We’ll give it a good shot, anyway.

So, please tune in. And I invite you to send e-mail during the show. I’ve set up an address for it:

We have big plans but no real format yet. This thing will simply evolve as we learn.

August 27, 2003

Around the club-house turn…

Tim Porter finds an excellent example of a problem caused, I would argue, by the narrative bias of journalism. The San Francisco Chronicle lets a lead paragraph out-run the facts (or, at least, a reasonable interpretation). As Porter says:

Misrepresentative political writing occurs regularly during horse-race campaign coverage as reporters struggle to put dramatic leads on stories about ordinary events.

The press applies a narrative structure to ambiguous events in order to create a coherent, causal, and dramatic sense of events. Add a clause about persuasive purpose to that assertion and you have a workable theory of journalism that, I think, predicts journalistic behavior. I’m still working on the rhetoric–the purpose–part of the theory.

August 27, 2003

The smell of herring…

What should we make of Wesley Clark’s allegation that the White House tried to get CNN to fire him as a military analyst? From a report by FOX:

“The White House actually back in February apparently tried to get me knocked off CNN and they wanted to do this because they were afraid that I would raise issues with their conduct of the war,” Clark told Newsradio 620 KTAR. “Apparently they called CNN. I don’t have all the proof on this because they didn’t call me. I’ve only heard rumors about it.”

This certainly isn’t the first time a politician–or at least a wannabe–has floated a rumor for political advantage. This is a classic red herring fallacy. While this fallacy drives logicians crazy, as a tool of political rhetoric it can be rather effective (depending upon intention and results). The allegation itself is news in our current media environment. Notice that FOX, and other news organizations, will be happy to run with this as long as they get a reaction. This is “buzz” as news.

Here’s the reaction from the White House:

White House officials told Fox News that they are “adamant” that they “never tried to get Wesley Clark kicked off the air in any way, shape or form.” Beyond that, the White House “won’t respond to rumors.”

It won’t, but it did, which is an interesting rhetorical maneuver–an attempt at dismissal without dignification, which is like having your cake and eating it, too.

Is the White House telling the truth? I have no clue, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the spokesman fibbed. If I were advising Bush, I’d have at least expressed my concern about Clark’s relationship with CNN in regard to his opinions about Iraq policy and the prosecution of the war. There’s also the issue of “equal time” to think about, considering we’ve known since at least February that Clark might run for president. I would not have suggested trying to get him fired, but that could have easily been the decision following those three concerns. (Here’s a “But”: Such a tactic can easily backfire. It is risky enough that I seriously doubt the WH tried to get him fired. They may have certainly expressed their concern to CNN–something that happens frequently and may be interpreted in multiple ways.)

Is Clark telling the truth? I have no clue, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this rumor were based on the thinnest of evidence, i.e. some CNN flunky happens to make a comment within earshot of a Clark supporter who passes on the “intelligence.” The Clark spinners then puff up this whisp of ether into a storm cloud.

I doubt we’ll ever get to the truth of this situation. But, in terms of persuasion, the truth hardly matters. The allegation–the buzz–is now the news. It is a thing in itself. Proving it or disproving it will be quickly swept away in the flood of punditry and prognostication that may likely follow.

Some reporter somewhere might decide to do the long, difficult work it would take to run this down.


August 27, 2003

Carnival of the Vanities #49…

Creative Slips hosts this week’s Carnival of the Vanities. Go check it out!

Next week, Rhetorica hosts the carnival. I’m looking forward to it! If you wish to participate, please send your links to me by e-mail by 10 p.m. central time Tuesday 2 September. I’ll finish building the page for a midnight posting, but I’ll continue to add late links throughout Wednesday afternoon 3 September. You may use the feedback form in the right-hand sidebar or send e-mail to

August 26, 2003

Pirate Blogging has begun!…

The students in my EN105 class have begun posting their introductions to Pirate Blog. I’d appreciate any attention to their work that you care to give. They are worth your time and effort. I’m going to take a break today, so click on over and take a look.

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