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September 21, 2005


In a September 16 comment on your main thread about Eric Alterman, I attempted to provide a careful analysis of why your rhetorical criticism practices are in some sense problematic. I hope you will now choose to review my argument there and respond (or ask for clarification), because in my view you appear to have made two similar errors in this post.

First, as in the 'in order to' controversy, you treat the primary understanding of a particular usage as the *only* legitimate interpretation, rather than acknowledging that the usage can be understood in other ways. (In the 'in order to' case, you were validated by the dictionary -- but that validation is itself problematic because the choice to rely on the dictionary is itself a manifestation of a literalism that causes you to find fault with styles of discourse that are more rhetorically effective but that require the interpolation of context by engaged, informed readers.) In the quotation case, again, your interpretation of what is implied by placing a phrase in quotation marks is understandable but you stretch that interpretation into a dogmatic posture. There is another way of using quotation marks that is perfectly legitimate, that I believe Eric was using here -- namely, to summarize a prevalent concept (here, Bush's popularity), distinguish a point of view from his own, and, especially, to highlight the questionable validity of the concept being placed in quotation marks. It would probably be far more misleading for Eric to have used quotation marks in reference to a discrete piece where the passage or phrase quoted did not appear, but in the blog entry you are criticizing he is referring to media criticism generally. Your agreement with his main point about the media in your own previous entry, in your view, renders his claim that you took issue with his implication about the media's treatment of Bush disingenuous, but you agreed only in passing and did apparently rely on individual words and phrases in your Nexis search, leaving you with a conclusion that Chris Matthews alone was to blame for the kinds of things you showed him to have done wrong. Perhaps this literalism -- maybe you didn't think of all the relevant phrases -- lessened the number of examples at your disposal and led you toward conclusions overly lenient to the media, and perhaps this approach was what drew Eric's disagreement in his new post.

Second, you impute to him a lack of courage, when his own e-mail to you explains another reason -- pertaining Eric's notion of generosity -- that likely accounts for the choice he has made in not linking. Further, he obviously may have been trying to set the record straight on an issue of substance while de-escalating the conflict between you and him by not naming you. The fact that his choice not to link means others cannot as easily review the evidence for themselves based on Eric's use of anonymity is a valid point, although not necessarily a dispositive one, but in any case your imputation to him of a lack of courage is not warranted for the reasons I've given and seems simply to be an ad hominem attack. Anyone can get angry in these kinds of arguments, but I think you made a mistake in this particular, if understandable from your point of view, way of expressing yourself.

Hello Brendan, well as a whole you are correct about the unpopularity of Bush as a president, however, where I am...in the heart of Texas views are drastically different. This is a big state with a big media market and you can be sure that people here in the lone star state do view him as "well liked" and a "popular president". I guess its just because they view him as a local, eventhough he really isn't a native Texan. I've never felt more like an out-sider more than I do now in Texas, and I've lived most of my life in the south. I don't get it.

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