by Yvette Alt Miller
Common tricks the media uses in obfuscating the truth about the
Writers and speakers often employ hidden rhetorical devices when discussing charged political issues — especially when it comes to
One way of subtly influencing the conversation is to excuse behavior by describing it in softer language than it might otherwise merit.
Example: when is a terrorist a terrorist? Many media organizations have no trouble calling groups like Al Qaeda "terrorists," but balk when describing those who kill innocent civilians in
The opposite of "euphemism" is "dysphemism," calling something by a name that carries a negative connotation.
Example: Those who can't bear to say the name "
Stereotyping is another sneaky way to subtly load a conversation. Animal-like words like "overrunning" or "breeding" when referred to people works to downplay their humanity.
Example: British Member of Parliament Martin Linton has recently described pro-Israeli Britons as "the long tentacles of
A trend may be downward, overall, but one can mislead by pointing to a brief uptick as evidence that things are, in fact, going up, even when the opposite is true.
Example: In its April 3, 2010 edition, The Economist magazine ran an article about the terrorist organization Hamas, which controls
This occurs when writers rely on shadowy or manufactured "experts" to give gravitas to an otherwise wild claim.
Example: look at The Economist quote above: "some economists say..." Who are these economists? And if "some" economists say this, does it mean that many more economists say the opposite? Use of proof surrogates is a clear red flag that a statement might be highly contentious, if not outright misleading.
Advertisers have found that when they add the word "fantastic" to packaging, consumers rate products more highly.
One can do something similar in political discourse, assigning either positive or negative traits to political groups or ideas.
Example: in April of 2010, the emeritus Italian Bishop Giacomo Babini asserted that "Zionists" are behind the many reports of abuse by priests bedeviling the Catholic Church, because Jews are "God killers." The remarks are bizarre, but can nonetheless -- especially when they are repeated -- subtly color people's impressions of Jews and
If you can reduce a view or arguments you oppose to a ridiculously simplistic caricature, it becomes easy to dismiss.
Example: in Carol Churchill's infamous (and very critical of
In Churchill's hands, all she can do is say that once -- she doesn't know how long ago -- an ancestor lived there. It's a hilarious moment for most audiences, and effectively (but misleadingly) ridicules millenniums of Jewish devotion to the Land of Israel, making it seem silly, but ignoring the fact of continuous Jewish residency in Israel for thousands of years, obscuring the fact that most land in modern Israel was actually purchased by Jewish residents in the years leading up to the founding of the state, and dismisses the political reality of Israel today.
Caricature is the hallmark of someone seeking to mislead, not debate.
Follow the Money
Who is paying for what you're reading and to whom you're listening?
Another example: a few years ago, participants in a
Analogies provide us with mental shorthand. There are some ideas that are so closely associated with evil, like Nazism and Apartheid, that comparing a contemporary political group to them taints them with guilt by association. Unfortunately, these two odious regimes are routinely invoked when discussing
Example: recently, thousands of students across the world have participated in annual "Israeli Apartheid Week" activities. These events do not foster inquiry, but obfuscation.
If students were to truly learn, they would find that it is a vibrant, modern democracy that extends full political rights to all its citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity. How many participants in "Israeli Apartheid Week" know that
Outright Lies and Distortions
Finally, perhaps the most difficult rhetorical device to counter is the bald-faced lie.
Example: in September, 2000, French television broadcast a video of terrified boy being shot by unseen Israeli soldiers. The boy, Mohammed al-Dura, immediately become an icon. There are terrorists (including those who murdered Daniel Pearl) who have specifically cited Mohammed al-Dura as their motivation for murdering Jews.
Yet, it emerged years later that the al-Dura video was a hoax, staged by local activists, and carefully edited by France's Channel-2 television station, which to this day has refused to release the full, un-doctored video, despite a French judge's requests.
In the face of a brazen lie like this, what can we do? Fortunately, a number of resources counter some of the most common slanders of
Ultimately, we are responsible to educate ourselves. The more we read about
1. See "Terrorist or Militant"
2. For a lighthearted take on these names, check out "American Friends of the Zionist Entity" on Facbook.
4. http://www.economist.com/world/middle-east/display story.cfm?story_id=15824034"
5. Bishop 'blames Jews' for criticism of Catholic church record on Abuse.
6. The text of this play is available at "Seven Jewish Children"
7. See the report "Trojan Horse: the Impact of European Government Funding for Israeli NGOs"
8. "Non-Political" Event Has Anti-Israel Crafts, Literature"
9. "Muslims seek a haven in
10. "CAMERA BACKGROUNDER: Mohammed Al Dura. Anatomy of a French Media Scandal"
Yvette Alt Miller is a mother and an adjunct professor of Political Science living in
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.