Screed Kills – Happy Hour Todcast

by Tony Russo

I got a letter from Chuck Norris yesterday. It wasn’t addressed to me but rather was sent on his behalf by a syndicate that distributes columns to newspapers. That’s correct; Chuck Norris has a newspaper column. It is a political newspaper column. Feel free to begin stockpiling. In addition to being famous for being an action star and, in the recent hit “The Expendables II”, a washed-up action star, Norris rose to prominence as one of the world’s first living memes.

What I’ve done here, kids, is begun an ad hominem attack — distracting from the point I have yet to make by trying to undermine someone with whom I disagree. In college, they teach you not to do this if you want people to take you seriously. Unfortunately, this not only means you have to have been to college, but also that you paid attention during the English 101 classes. For what it’s worth, I drop the ad hominem about halfway through, so stay tuned.

A brief history, for those of you unfamiliar with Chuck Norris’ meteoric resurgence :

One time a bunch of frat boys (I imagine) got really drunk and started making jokes along these lines:

“Chuck Norris can squeeze orange juice from a banana.” and “When Chuck Norris hits the road, it dies.”

Eventually they founded chucknorrisfacts.com and thousands of people began contributing. At first Chuck sued, but then he capitalized on the notoriety. In 2008 he started shilling for full-time wing nut and occasional Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, essentially telling the same jokes he just finished suing over.

The Huckabee ad became enough of an Internet sensation that legitimate journalists had to interview Huckabee as if he were a legitimate candidate. Worse, Chuck Norris became a political impressario.

There is no problem, really, with Chuck Norris being a political impresario. But because he’s an easy target and because he gets paid to write, I chose him.

Contrary to the term’s popular usage, as well as to his appearance, Chuck Norris is not a straw man

Chuck Norris is the perfect example of how general acceptance of bad arguments has led to general acceptance of fact as argument. It is easily the worst thing that’s happened in public life since the coining of the phrase “liberal media.”

And here’s why:

The kind of column Chuck writes isn’t bad rhetoric (which a person could argue against) but rather factual innuendo. In his columns, he lists facts that appeal to Libertarians and other weirdos.

Don’t be mad at me if you’re a “libertarian”. I’m not slighting you. “Libertarians” are like “Communists” — people who picked up on a superficially good idea but never thought it through. Also like Communists, Libertarians can afford to be openly devout about how well their system works because it will never be put to the test. They’re smugger than Prius drivers.

Contrary to popular belief, a list of facts isn’t an argument. An argument has the following form:

I think “X” for “Y” reasons.

My “Y” reasons are supported by my extrapolations from “Z” facts.

It is very easy to compile a list of facts. And to be honest, if they are the correct facts listed in the correct order they could conceivably count as a rebuttal (which is a kind of argument). But Chuck’s facts (and many blogger- and talking-head-type facts) are more along these lines:

“Someone who shares my point of view said something I believe is salient”

Without getting too political, here is an example from Chuck’s Voter Fraud is the Way to America’s Destruction:

“As WorldNetDaily reported, the Advancement Project — a powerful group with leaders who have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Obama campaign and DNC — also has been waging a war against voter ID law…”

That is, one of his facts is that a blog he found summarized another blog’s summary.

Mostly, I don’t care how or why famous people or millionaires slander one another. But what makes this a good example is that the new standard for rhetoric is listing “facts” with no point except the innuendo of malice.

“The innuendo of malice” is a term I just coined and am mildly proud of. It is meant to represent faux arguments that begin by disparaging something and never listing any explicit reasons for the slight.

A way of saying, “I don’t like this. Also, here are some negative statements.”

This is what history will say passed for debate at the beginning of the 21st century.

Because karate movie stars of the 1980s have so much more to teach us than our freshman English teacher things like this get printed in the paper. This is one of the most depressing letters to the editor I’ve read in some time. On this week’s Todcast, we talk about what makes this such a depressing read. {{5}} [[5]]Hint: It’s the subject of this post.[[5]] The author is mad about something. But rather than write “Boy, I’m unhappy that the Berlin Fire Company’s sexism and racism hasn’t been thoroughly researched” the author uses the innuendo of malice to take up the readers time, patience and faith in humanity.

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Tony Russo
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Tony Russo has worked as a print and digital journalist for the better part of the 21st century, writing for and editing regional weeklies, dailies and destination websites including OceanCity.com and ShoreCraftBeer.com. Tony has written two books on beer for the History Press. Eastern Shore Beer (2014) and Delaware Beer (2016). He lives in Delmar, Md. with his wife Kelly and the only of his four daughters who hasn't moved out. Together they keep their dog and cat comfortable.