Tag Archives: Mika Brzezinski


A longstanding way to think of straw man argumentation is to misinterpret or misrepresent what people said or what their arguments were.  That’s a version of the representational straw man. John and I have also identified the selectional version of the straw man, or the weak man.  That’s a case of finding a member of the opposition that has a badly stated version of the view or a poorly constructed version of their argument and go after that.

There’s nothing wrong with criticizing a bad argument, but what gets communicated with it is that you, in investing time and energy in replying to that bad argument, you’re not spending time on the better ones.  That would be bad use of your time, so if you’re doing the work of criticizing the bad arguments, they must be as good as they get.

Another weak man instance is that you take imperfectly phrased versions of an opponent’s posiiton and interpret them mercilously.  When we’re speaking off the cuff, extemporaneously, we may not say everything just right.  And so we, except when in full-attack mode, give each other some slack.  That’s a difference between spoken and written communication.  And to interpret your interlocutor in the worst lights when they are speaking informally (and so, imprecisely) is a kind of selectional straw man.

Well, so here’s what happened. Mika Brzezinski said on Morning Joe today that the media’s “job” is to “actually control exactly what people think.”  Here’s the clip:

Now, the context is that Brzezinski’s line is a contrastive — that Trump is trying to control what people think by pushing out the media.  By “speaking directly to the people,” as we’d seen in a previous post.

So conservative media has gone straight up bonkers about the line.  Tyler Durden says she’s “let slip the awesome unspoken truth” about what the media thinks they should be doing.  The folks at Breitbart have made it a front page story, with the implication that the imperfect wording is really a Freudian slip.

Real Clear Politics has a follow-up to it, and Brzezinski has gone into Twitter cleanup mode

It’s pretty clear that when folks have what Walton calls “dark side interpretation” already cued, they’ll take something like this as evidence of letting a mask slip instead of a poorly phrased bit of intellectual pushback.  So this makes it an interesting case of a mix between selectional and representational straw man — it’s selectional, since they go after what she’s said, but it’s representational, since we need an interpretive attitude to take this as seriously a representation of her sincere position.

So, in a way, a lesson about straw manning.  If your picture of the opposition, after interpretation, fits the worst kind of picture you may have of them, you may be a straw-manner.


There is a debate about whether everything that can be debated ought to.  The thought goes something like this: just because something can be known or discovered, does not entail that it ought to be (or it does mean it ought to be, or some variation on this thought).  A corollary to this argument involves Poe's law considerations: just because there are people who will argue for abhorrent view x, does not entail that either (a) their view deserves consideration or (b) the matter is open for debate.  We have moved beyond the KKK, the Nazis, the young-earth creationists.  They still exist, of course.  Their views no longer merit debate, but rather explanation: why in the face of so much evidence, does this person continue to believe x?  That's the issue now. 

MSNBC fired Pat Buchanan for being what he has always been: an unrepetent racist.  Good, I say.  There are things we need to get done around here, and we no longer have the time, and never should have had the time, to sit around and wonder whether some of us were genetically or culturally up to the challenge. 

Buchanan's MSNBC friends, however, thought he still had a place in the debate.  They write:

"Everyone at Morning Joe considers Pat Buchanan to be a friend and a member of the family. Even though we strongly disagree with the contents of Pat's latest book, Mika and I believe those differences should have been debated in public. An open dialogue with Morning Joe regulars like Al Sharpton and Harold Ford, Jr. could have developed into an important debate on the future of race relations in America.

Because we believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, Mika and I strongly disagree with this outcome. We understand that the parting was amicable. Still, we will miss Pat." 

Sunlight hasn't disinfected anything, obviously.  It was time for an amputation.

Get back on board the f*cking boat

Some fun iron-manning.  The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, compared Barack Obama to Francesco Schettino, the tripping-onto-the-lifeboat captain of the doomed Carnival Cruise Liner, Costa ConcordiaHe said:

In a few months, this is all going to be ancient history and we're going to talk about our own little Captain Schettino, which is President Obama who's abandoning the ship here in the United States and is more interested in campaigning than doing his job as president," Priebus said on CBS' "Face the Nation.

The analogy doesn't make any sense (remember this is the party of Sarah Palin, someone who actually fits Schettino's profile much more closely) even as puerile name-calling.  Enter now the iron men:

BRZEZINSKI: That was disgusting. I'm sorry — take it back. You all screwed up in a big way. You sat in a room and said, "Oh, this would be so cool to say. Ha, ha, ha." You slapped your knees and then you went out on the air and you spit that you, you vomited that out, and you made a fool of yourself. Does anyone want to add anything?

KINGSTON: I don't know that you can say that was anything but an independent contractor using his own words and his own writing.

KINGSTON: There is name-calling there, and I don't appreciate the name-calling anymore than you do. However, there is also a point under it. The president does, in the State of the Union address, kind of revert back to kind of a lot of small ball items and isn't really handling the big issues of the day. Right now on the payroll tax cut, which isn't a huge deal, seems to be his biggest focus

Of course there's a point under it.  There always is.  But that's not the issue here in this discussion at all.  Now also notice what the point was: the President's State of the Union contained actual policy proposals, much like Schettino had actual command of the ship.  What was the analogy again?