July 26, 2004

Two paradigms of eloquence

Two blogs that I read regularly have recently featured devastating analyses of shameful behavior by mainstream media figures.

Eugene Volokh has continued his effective critique of Slate's Kerryism feature, which is at least as lame as its catalog of Bushisms. He asks:

When someone asks the author of Slate's Kerryisms "Do you have the time?," does he just say "Yes" and walk on? If someone else says "Yes, it's five thirty," does the author condemn the "it's five thirty" as a "caveat" or "embellishment"?

From these rhetorical questions to the peroration,

...it just galls me to see this sort of stuff -- not substantive, not funny, just empty snideness descending into self-parody -- in a magazine of Slate's prominence and quality.

it's a pleasure to watch to Prof. Volokh dissect William Saletan's Kerryism of the day, in a small masterpiece of merciless but controlled outrage. The unavoidable conclusion: either Saletan is stupid, or he was forced to create material to occupy a predetermined slot in the magazine by filling in a predetermined form with the first quotation he could lay his hands on.

The supporting testimony of several decades of research on conversational meaning would be a superfluous addition to Prof. Volokh's commonsense analysis. Still, the pairing of Saletan's paint-by-numbers japery and Volokh's insightful reaction would make a good reading assignment for a course on pragmatics -- or one on rhetoric.

Larry Lessig's takedown of Bill O'Reilly over the Jeremy Glick issue is a rhetorical tour de force of a different kind. It's longer, and is supported by no fewer than 16 hyperlinks documenting the facts of the case, O'Reilly's ongoing campaign of abuse against Glick, and the gulf between the two. Against the background of this documentation, Lessig's rhetoric is as strong and as carefully controlled as Volokh's was:

On February 4, 2003, Jeremy Glick was your guest on THE FACTOR. Glick had lost his father in the attack of 9/11. He had also signed an ad criticizing the war in Iraq. You were “surprised” that one who had lost his father could oppose that war. And so you had him on your show, presumably to ask him why. (Here’s a clip from Outfoxed putting this story together.)

You might not remember precisely what you said on that interview, or more importantly, what Jeremy Glick said. So here’s a copy that you can watch. Nor may you remember precisely what the ad that Jeremy Glick signed said. Here’s a copy that you can read. And when you’ve watched what was actually said, and read what was actually written, I’m sure you will see that the statements you continue to make about Jeremy Glick are just plain false. Not Bill Clinton “depends upon what is is” false, but false the way most Americans learned growing up: just not true.

[... 13 bullet points, with hyperlinks, detailing and refuting O'Reilly's accusations against Glick]

I understand how someone loses his temper, Mr. O’Reilly. I have done the same myself. But a decent man apologizes for his lack of control, and he certainly doesn’t continue to abuse someone he has wronged.

Mr. Glick is not the New York Times. He will not earn more money from higher ratings because you attack him so viciously. Neither he nor his widowed mother get any benefit at all from seeing Glick slandered by your show on a regular basis.

You are wrong about the facts, Mr. O’Reilly. And you are wrong to continue to do such harm. Have the courage to admit your error. Apologize to Mr. Glick, and let him go back to a life that has been made difficult enough by, as you said, the “barbarians” who killed his father. This family has suffered enough from barbaric behavior.

It's nice to see that the tradition of Joseph Welch is in good hands.


Posted by Mark Liberman at July 26, 2004 10:28 PM