In last week’s Daily Republic, we saw how a false equivalence can be used to make you think that two things, like Fox News and MSNBC, are the same, when they are very different. We also saw how editorial cartoonist, Mike Rodriquez, took part of Hillary Clinton’s sentence out of context and made it seem as though she was saying one thing, when in fact, she was saying something completely different.
Today, let’s talk about men made of straw. Like the Scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz,” straw men have no brain. In order to convince you something is true, when it is not, propagandists will create an opposing proposition out of straw and then show you how weak and brainless it is.
For example, a couple of weeks ago, Murray Bass wrote a letter to the editor about “my” plan to mint a trillion-dollar coin. Mr. Bass wrote: “What are the consequences of giving valueless coins to foreign and domestic investors in place of interest payments? The same as default. Giving a worthless coin in place of interest payments would damage the dollar beyond repair in world markets. To deny domestic investors would create havoc and would cause widespread business failures and personal financial disasters.”
I totally agree with Murray’s assessment, however, that was not my proposition.
In my column, I wrote: “Economists have proposed that the U.S. Treasury mint several platinum coins, each with a face value of $1 trillion. These coins would then be exchanged, as needed, with the Federal Reserve Banks for $1 trillion worth of their bank notes or bank credits, which the government then spends.” There was never any plan to flip China a trillion-dollar coin as if to say, “Here you go, kid.”
While it may not have been intentional, Murray created his whole scenario entirely out of “straw,” so he could easily knock it down.
Closely related to the straw man fallacy is the ad hominem hit piece or personal attack. Whenever someone has no answer to an opposing proposition, or lacks the mental capacity to formulate one, they can simply “shoot the messenger” or attack the person who put it forth. Calling someone a “pinhead,” for example, instead of refuting his point, is the last station as your mental train of thought runs out of track.
As you can imagine, I’ve been called every name in the book, from a communist to a fascist and usually in the same sentence. It really doesn’t matter that those two terms are at polar ends of the political spectrum, the attackers’ true purpose is to somehow discredit something I’ve written, when they lack factual counterpoints. Professional political propagandists rarely use this form of attack because they quickly learn that it only works on the most gullible audience members and, for everyone else, it reflects worse on the writer then on their intended victim.
Growing up in Fairfield, I would have really appreciated it if my teachers at Armijo and Fairview had shown me how to spot propaganda in the media. I realize it’s difficult to change class plans, but perhaps a few Fairfield teachers could explain how propaganda works, have their classes read the Daily Republic, clip some opinion page articles that use propaganda techniques, and discuss them in class. Please examine my columns for tricks, too. They’re always available on the Daily Republic website.
Do I use facts or propaganda? Also, examine how MSNBC and Fox cover the same news items and compare the two networks. Are they really both the same, or does one use facts and the other propaganda?
Mike Kirchubel grew up in Fairfield and is the author of “Vile Acts of Evil – Banking in America.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.