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Peggy Noonan: how a speech writer uses rhetoric to lie

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There’s a rhetorical device people use to defend an unpopular or ludicrous point of view by comparing it to its opposite and then saying that both points of view are bad. For example, on MSNBC lately, they’ve had the rightwinger, Hugh Hewitt, claiming that there are no good choices in the upcoming presidential election. Hewitt, arch-conservative Catholic Republican that he is, cannot deny Trump’s obvious lack of qualifications. So his crafty approach is to say, “They’re both terrible,” as though there were some kind of moral equivalence between them, when there really isn’t. This is a rhetorical device to distract attention from Trump’s unfitness and muddy the waters.

We saw this trick played again in the weekend’s Wall Street Journal, where the prevaricator was none other than Reagan’s second-string speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, a longtime Clinton hater. In her op-ed piece, “The Politics of ‘The Shallows,’” she uses this rhetorical device for a similar purpose: to take the heat off Trump by pretending to be calling for “fairness.” Like Hewitt, there’s no way Noonan can portray Trump’s recent behavior as anything but horrible. She knows he’s a total shambles. Yet she can’t bring herself to admit that her own Republican Party created this Frankenstein monster. So what’s a tea party columnist to do?

Turn to that old rhetorical device! Here’s how Peggy works it. First, she admits how awful Trump’s debate performance was, and how badly he’s mishandled the Miss Universe issue. But she then blames the media for reporting on it! Their “utter antagonism toward” him, she says, is simply unfair. Addressing CNN directly, she tells them to “Tell the story, ask the questions [but] give it to [people] straight…report both sides.” The constant airing of Trump’s incoherences “isn’t helping.”

Well, it’s “not helping” get Trump elected, that’s for sure. Look, when Peggy Noonan is calling for the media to be fair and honest in their reporting, you can’t help but smile. She’s pissed because “the mainstream media” are reporting on Trump’s crazy statements, his thin-skinned tweets, his bullying, his insults, instead of simply “tell[ing] the story.” How many times has Peggy Noonan been on Fox News—on Hannity, on O’Reilly, on the rest of that crowd of haters, where lies and smears of the Clintons and of the Obamas are routine red meat for the tea party? “Give it straight”? Not on Fox.

But have you ever read a Peggy Noonan column where she takes Fox to task for congenital partisanship? No, of course not. Peggy Noonan’s chastising lips are shut tight when her side of the aisle is doing the character assassination. But when her party’s candidate melts down for all the world to see, and CNN and MSNBC point it out, suddenly Peggy discovers “journalistic ethics” and wants everyone to “give it straight.” Do you see the irony? The hypocrisy? More important, do you see her rhetorical device? Here it is, broken down:

  1. The mainstream media isn’t fair.
  2. Therefore, when the media reports on anything negative about Donald Trump, you can disregard it.
  3. But when Fox reports on something negative about Hillary Clinton, you can take it to the bank!

As a strategy, it’s laughable and insulting to thinking people; and, fortunately, it isn’t working. For the past week, fivethirtyeight has continually upped Hillary’s chances of winning; as I write this (Sunday evening), they’re nearly 67 percent. They wouldn’t be that high if the media weren’t telling the American public about Miss Universe, about the bizarre 3 a.m. tweets, about Trump’s obsession with Bill Clinton’s sex life (which is curiously reminiscent of Kenneth Starr’s), about Trump’s insult of Gold Star families, about Trump’s tax evasions, his bilking small vendors, his numerous affairs and his ex-wives and girlfriends. But the media are telling us about these things, and rightfully so. And people are listening. Which drives Peggy Noonan simply, utterly mad, as she sees her nemesis, Hillary Clinton, inching ever closer towards the White House.

  1. Bob Henry says:

    From Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column titled “The Politics of ‘The Shallows'”

    “As to Monday’s debate, Hillary Clinton won. The story leading up to it was that she was frail, her health bad. Instead she was vibrant, confident, smiling and present. Sometimes when Mrs. Clinton speaks you sense she’s operating at a level of distraction, reviewing her performance in real time or thinking about dinner. Here her mind was on the mission. She did not fall into the hectoring cadence that is a harassment to the ear. She said nothing remotely interesting.

    “Mr. Trump’s job was to leave you able to imagine him as president. You could have, but it would be a grumpy, grouchy president with thin skin.”

    Has any other Fox News or Wall Street Journal “opinion” page columnist conceded that Trump lost the first presidential debate?

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