Dr. Facts

Aristotle’s (and Bill Clinton’s) Rhetorical Triangle

Here’s a seemingly innocuous but actually rather controversial subject: rhetoric.

Is rhetoric good or bad?

Bad if you’ve been victimized by a crafty rhetorician—either someone you bought a car from, or voted for in an election, or even dated or married, only to find out this man or woman was great with words, but the words were empty or deceitful or disingenuous. It’s also something to root out when performing dissertation editing, because scholarly writing demands the objective and formal use of language. But before we stereotype rhetoric, let’s define it. Starting with definitions is the first step in a careful, critical analysis. Always best to be sure we’re on the same page—definitionally anyway.

The 1st step in critical analysis: Define your terms

Rhetoric is the skilful use of language to persuade or argue. An early definition of to “argue” is to “clarify.” I love that because it implies that if I can just be clear enough, I should be able to persuade you to see things my way. Argumentation is, after all, a means of fulfilling desire.

Aristotle & Bill Clinton: Masters of Rhetoric

2350 years ago, Aristotle taught how to compose a convincing argument through his rhetorical triangle of logos, ethos, and pathos. Employing these three elements makes your case pretty compelling. President Clinton also was, and still is, a master of triangular argumentation. He never gave a major speech—perhaps not even a minor one or even an impromptu townhall reply to an audience member’s question—without triangulating his words. As he infamously replied to a Congressional inquiry regarding the stain on Monica’s blue dress: “It depends on what your definition of is is.” The funny thing is, he’s right.


Logos means the “word.” Quite simply, you have to use the right words. For example, our dissertation editing service examines the writer’s message for its internal consistency: your claim, contention, or thesis must be clear; your reasons must be logical; your supporting evidence must be factual. Aristotle designed a syllogistic structure to test the logic of an argument: from the premise, to the reasoning, and then the conclusion. It’s deductive; it makes sense.


Ethos refers to the character or credibility of the author or speaker. Ethos is conveyed through reputation, credentials, tone, and style. It’s the way the writer/speaker refers to opposing views that shapes his/her ethical image that appeals to the audience. A speaker or writer creates that ethos by being knowledgeable about the issue, demonstrating fairness, and building a bridge to his/her audience by stressing shared values, assumptions, and benefits.


Pathos refers to emotion—the impact of the message on the audience—its motivational appeal. A writer or speaker creates emotional appeal by using concrete language, specific detail, and personal experience. The issue is humanized through a moving, compelling anecdote, an actual example of how the topic impacts real people.

Face the facts: We are all rhetoricians

Tricky stuff or common sense? What salesmen and politicians do, or what you do when you want someone to agree with you? Both, obviously. We all do it, or wish we had the skill to do it. And what’s wrong with that? We should make our words and argument clear. We should demonstrate we’re credible authorities. We should show people what’s in it for them or how it affects them. Funny, though, isn’t it, how the word “rhetoric” has a negative connotation? Sheer hypocrisy, really. We condemn salesmen and politicians for their slick rhetorical skills while attempting to use those same tactics and strategies in our own daily communications. The fact is we’re all rhetoricians—to one degree or another.

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CNN & Slanted Journalism

CNN & Slanted Journalism: Bye Bye Blackbird

Let’s talk about how in today’s “news reporting” clever “journalists” work their own slant into a story.  Note that I’ve put quotation marks around “news reporting” and “journalist” to draw attention to their being highly dubious and debatable terms. True “news reporting” by true “journalists” is a thing of the past. Today’s news is fraught with ideological spin and slant, as it is written by today’s journalists, who are—for the most part—propagandists with a political bias to sell.

Let me be perfectly clear (as President Nixon oft put it): facts, honesty, truth, and integrity exist but rarely and sparingly in the vast majority of “news reporting” these days. I’ll recommend what I contend are some straight shooters in future blogs.

It took me four minutes at CNN online to find an example of slanting. It took that long because I got sidetracked reading about the latest heartwarming attack on our military by the ACLU. They’re such lovely guardians of our glory. Then I wept terribly over Keith Olbermann’s departure from MSNBC. How we’ll miss his charming delusions. After drying my eyes, I clicked the “politics” page where I found some delectably fine fare there for my illustration on slanting the news. Check this out, my friends: http://bit.ly/dT29lM.

In his article entitled “Justice Scalia set to address Tea Party Caucus on Capitol Hill,” Bill Mears manages to a) disparage Scalia, conservatives, the Tea Party movement, and all those Americans who are like-minded, while b) never once directly or explicitly doing so. It’s a virtuoso performance of slanting the news in your political direction, which in Mears’ case is left, as in liberal/progressive—in lock step with CNN’s own corporate “culture” and mission. [For the record, readers, it matters not my position on these issues. Frankly, I’m leaning apolitical anymore. Too damn much rhetorical nonsense from all parties in the public conflicts. Thus, I readily admit that the same analysis could be performed on a conservative’s writing.]

So, let’s get to the foundation and fundamental task of critical thinking and analytical writing: supporting your base opinions with golden facts. By the way, all the editors on the staff of my dissertation editing service look for and note for our clients such slanting in the work they’re editing.

I’ve pasted a couple of passages from Mears’ article and commented [IN BRACKETED CAPS] below:

Justice Antonin Scalia, a popular and entertaining speaker at various forums around the world, has one of the busiest schedules off the bench. [WHAT A LEAD SENTENCE. NOTE THE SARCASTIC TONE AND IMPLIED CRITICISM OF HIS ADJECTIVES “POPULAR AND ENTERTAINING,” AS IF A SUPREME COURT JUSTICE IS NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE A LIFE “OFF THE BENCH.”] But a closed-door address [“CLOSED-DOOR” SOUNDS NEFARIOUS AND SNEAKY, WHEREAS “CLOSED-DOOR” ADDRESSES AND MEETINGS ARE THE NORM IN WASHINGTON AND EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD OF POLITICS, BUSINESS, AND PERSONAL LIVES. DON’T YOU CLOSE YOUR OWN DOOR WHEN YOU WANT TO TALK PRIVATELY WITH YOUR FRIENDS?] the conservative justice is scheduled to give Monday afternoon has attracted controversy, partly because of who is sponsoring the event….


…The event was designed as a “teaching event” only for members of Congress, and no cameras or reporters would be allowed to cover it. [AGAIN, THIS IS COMMON PRACTICE, BUT MEARS MAKES IT SOUND SOMEHOW WRONG TO DO.] Scalia’s scheduled one-hour topic will be “separation of powers.”…


…The Tea Party movement, a populist grass-roots coalition with mostly politically conservative members, has [GRAMMATICAL ERROR: OBVIOUSLY THERE SHOULD BE A “BEEN” IN HERE] growing in popularity in the past few years. The various affiliated groups had some success electing members of Congress in the November midterms [“…HAD SOME SUCCESS…”?! THAT’S QUITE A LIBERAL SLANT ON IMMEDIATE HISTORY. FOR THE TEA PARTY SUPPORTERS, THE ELECTION WAS A LANDSLIDE, WHICH IS SIGNIFICANTLY MORE THAN “SOME SUCCESSS.”] who shared many of the positions on taxation, budget deficits and constitutional interpretation.

And so it goes.

You might be thinking, so what? What’s wrong with Mears being a bit opinionated, sarcastic, or critical? Here’s what’s wrong with it: there’s a big difference between reporting the front page news and slanting that news.

  • It’s the difference between journalism and commentary, between straight news stories and opinionated columns, between clinically objective studies and blogs.
  • It’s the difference between informing and disinforming; between teaching people to think and teaching them what to think.
  • It’s the difference between most blogs and this blog. Here I stick to the facts.

Alas, many people hate facts that disprove their precious opinions. And then they transfer that hate to the one who stated the facts. So I might not be too popular right now.

So it goes.

There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.

But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.

— Bob Dylan, “All Along the Watchtower”

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