OPINION: How not to be fooled by grandstanders we watch on TV

Robert Labayen

Posted at Aug 05 2020 10:50 PM

They know they have five minutes to influence your mind. They hope that before you switch the channel, they have sold you their "truth", or have earned your vote.

Here are just a few of the techniques they may use:

Lying. Nazi propaganda god Joseph Goebbels said that a lie repeatedly told can become the truth in the minds of people. So, even if the speaker knows that what he’s saying is a lie, he hopes that a sound bite of that will be captured, circulated and believed until exposed to be false, if at all. For example, a politician can keep on saying “what you did is against the Constitution” even though he knows he's merely interpreting the constitution in a twisted way. They may also say things like “a very reliable source said…” or “someone was bribing me.” These may be total inventions but they can demolish a target.

An experiment at Vanderbilt University in the United States proved that repetition indeed made some false statements believed. But reviewing the research, psychologist Tom Stafford commented that prior knowledge and plausibility can protect us from the “illusion of truth.” If we have a solid knowledge of facts, we can easily spot and resist untruths. Without prior knowledge on the other hand, the human mind takes short cuts to form an opinion and may, therefore, accept fake news or false information as truth.

I also believe that our tendency to believe falsehood depends on prior bias. It will be easier for us to believe good things said about a person we already like, and bad things about a person we already hate.

Argumentum ad hominem. It is an attack on the person. The speaker may attack a person’s looks, character traits, habits, vices or any exploitable background info not directly related to the issue of debate. Such defamation may ruin the opponent’s popularity or cast doubt on his intentions. For example, the speaker may exaggerate a technicality on an opponent’s citizenship or inability to recite the national creed just to make people question this person’s patriotism and sincerity.

When Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim criticized the government, he was charged with sodomy, the only Malaysian ever charged with such crime. The accusing government knew that such a sexual act was scandalous in their conservative society.

Browbeating. This is the use of a domineering voice and body language to make it appear, in the viewer’s short attention window, that the speaker has the moral high ground. The intimidating approach also denies the opponent the chance to reply.

Casual Fallacy. This is a major breakdown in logic. Just to create buzz, they use a fact that has no actual connection to the issue. For example: “The name of your company is Big Basket. So, your company is like a big basket that hauls a lot of money but you don’t pay the right taxes.” That image of a big basket may now conjure images of greed in the minds of the public.

Whataboutism. This is a technique to deflect an accusation by citing a similar criticism applicable to the other side. Example: “You say Hitler was evil for killing six million Jews? What about the instant deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when America dropped those atom bombs?” 

Answering the question they wish they were asked. Robert McNamara was the US Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968. He advised that when interviewed, “Do not answer the questions that is asked of you. Answer the question you wish had been asked of you.” The advice is for us to control the narrative. For example, we are asked, “Is it true that you bulldozed the slums because the squatters did not vote for you?” Our evasive answer can be “We want the city to be free from disease and, so far, we have reduced health cases by 60%. This we achieved by relocating people from overcrowded neighborhoods where viruses can spread rapidly."

Ambiguity. Many politicians deliver speeches that sound like fence-sitting on an issue. Listeners end up confused. Actually, these politicians are ensuring some flexibility for a future possibility to go anywhere the votes are. Those are politicians who don’t have a conviction for the people but only a desire for personal gain.

There are many more but we will discuss the others in the next article.

Going back to Tom Stafford, we are told to sharpen our minds by keeping ourselves informed. That’s our best protection from fallacious arguments. He also asked us to do the world a favor: Stafford suggested we do not share any info whose truthfulness and accuracy we have not ascertained.


Read:

15 Logical Fallacies You Should Know Before Going Into a Debate by the TBS Staff in The Best Schools website.

How Liars Create the Illusion of Truth by Tom Stafford in the BBC website

Persuasion Tactics by Patrick King

Tyrannical Minds: Psychological Profiling, Narcissism, and Dictatorship by Dean A. Haycock, PhD

Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril by Margaret Hefferman


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Robert Labayen spent 22 years in advertising prior to joining ABS-CBN in 2004. He was VP-Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Executive Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson, two of the country's leading ad agencies. He is currently the Head of Creative Communications Management at ABS-CBN. His job involves inspiring people to be their best. He is a writer, painter and songwriter.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.