Monday, September 27, 2004

Op-Ed News : Right-Wing Tactic: The Fallacy of Creating Doubts

by Michael Arvey

In recent weeks there's been a noticeable deluge of op-ed and letters to editors across the country from so-called conservatives --and even apparent liberals --dissing and smearing presidential candidate John Kerry. They accomplish their aim through a routine fallacy that's commonly known in argumentation and reasoning theory, which is the fallacy of creating doubts, as well as through a couple of other common ones.

Nearly everyone is familiar with the fallacy of simple diversion, or the red herring: Someone attempting to secure his own position by directing attention away from its undesirable aspects. The red herring practitioner changes the subject to avoid answering your question or assertion. Another argument uses the fallacy of abusing the man, otherwise known as an ad hominen attack. The defender and proponent of an issue is attacked instead of the issue itself as we have witnessed recently, e.g., by attacks on Michael Moore instead of his documentary Fahrenheit 911.

We should all recognize this one, which has gained much currency in the Bush administration: The fallacy of appealing to fear. This fallacy is committed when fear is used to persuade someone to accept some view or position. The entire Bush administration's campaign is based on this and on one other fallacy that relates directly to the propaganda war being waged on the American public throughout the mass media: The fallacy of creating doubts, which is committed when false rumors are spread about an issue or a person to infect people with apprehension.

For example, how many times this week have we read a column or a letter to the editor claiming that John Kerry is a flip-flopper, appeared in a treasonous photo with Jane Fonda, can't be trusted or has accomplished nothing in his 20-year tenure as a senator? Classic fallacy of creating doubts! Once the doubt burrows through bone and brain tissue, it takes on a life of its own. In Kerry's case, the smokey claims are fictitious. One prays in vain for what used to be editorial oversight.

Moreover, one suspects that many of these columns and letters are intentionally disinformational, and are mainly pure redux. There's something else at work in those letters from self-professed Democrats and liberals who claim that, in good conscience, they can't vote for Kerry, so they'll opt for the greater evil. Here's how this ploy works: If a fellow Democrat, assumingly astute and intelligent, harbors doubts and says he'll vote for Bush, then that might get you to question your own support for Kerry. The perpetrator of this fallacy hopes you'll switch your vote, or even decline to vote at all. Such letters are ludicrously suspect, and these "Democrats" are either terribly under-informed or misinformed, or they are propagandistic shills in league with the fascist Right that's running every dirty trick in the book and then some.

The best defenses against the fallacy of creating doubts are simple: One, clear discernment. Discern, discern, discern. Pretend you're listening to a used car salesmen. Two, research. Fact check the specific assertions these letters make. The fallacy of creating doubts is a political, black-ops stealth bomber--shoot them down with knowledge.

Michael Arvey ( writes from Colorado.


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