Fake because Fake

The Friday presser (NYT’s transcript here) was too much to let get by with just one post on it.  Trump had been railing that the leaks about Russia ties with General Flynn were “Fake news.”  He was then asked the question:

And on the leaks, is it fake news or are these real leaks?

His reply was interesting.

Well the leaks are real. You’re the one that wrote about them and reported them, I mean the leaks are real. You know what they said, you saw it and the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake. So one thing that I felt it was very important to do — and I hope we can correct it. Because there’s nobody I have more respect for — well, maybe a little bit but the reporters, good reporters.

First, it’s not much of a clarification.  But that’s not the  point here.  My point is about Trump’s argument for why the news is fake.  From what we have here, it looks blatantly circular.  Or, perhaps, it’s a weaker induction.  Perhaps it’s something of this form of inductive inference:

So much news is fake

Therefore, it’s reasonable to take this news as fake.

That’s not a form of circular reasoning, but it certainly has a greater burden of proof on it.  Showing that X is fake news requires only refuting X, but showing that there is so much fake news requires a lot more — you need to refute X, Y, Z and so on.  Here’s what was Trump’s case for the premise:

It’s very important. I don’t mind bad stories. I can handle a bad story better than anybody as long as it’s true and, you know, over a course of time, I’ll make mistakes and you’ll write badly and I’m OK with that. But I’m not OK when it is fake. I mean, I watch CNN, it’s so much anger and hatred and just the hatred.

So in this case, the argument that so much news is fake is dependent on his sample from CNN and how angry they are with him.  That may mean it’s less a news show and more an opinion piece or a panel discussion, but how is that a case that it’s fake news?

A short note on what argumentative burdens one takes on when charging an other with an error.  A point about dialectical points in argument.  We are reasoning about how we are reasoning together, and in these cases, the argumentative burdens, when charging another with an error, is to demonstrate to them in manners they can see what the error is.  Failing to do that fails a dialectical burden in argument.  But here, I think, Trump’s not interested in whether his argument moves media-types or academic professors, he’s interested in taking this message “to the American people”.  The point, then, is that he’s playing to an onlooking audience with these arguments — he doesn’t take it that he really needs to fix the premise that so much of the news is fake… that premise has been established by the right wingers for ages.  Trump’s just reaping what’s been sown by the culture of aggression toward the media.

3 thoughts on “Fake because Fake”

  1. The role of the onlooking audience in the argument dialogue is really crucial here (and in many other places). Approaching arguments as dialogues between two or more interlocutors ignores the fact that the other participant actors can often be irrelevant to one’s dialectical strategy. I don’t offer critiques for the sake of my opponent, but rather for the sake of people listening, who likely already agree with me. It’s not a dialogue, in that case. Question is at this point–is the audience an accidental feature of the dialogue form?

  2. Hi Sebastian, thanks for the link to that scene. It’s a perfect representation of the ‘onlooking audience’ element necessary for us to properly theorize these sorts of argumentative errors.

    John, to your question, “is audience an accidental feature of the dialogue form?” In a minimal sense, I’d say yes, since if it is dialogical, there needs to be at least one interlocutor to whom one’s arguments must meet the dialectical requirements. But in the robust sense (in that we’d want to have third parties as necessary parts of the theory as onlooking audiences) I am unsure. There’s surely the sense that it should be, like with Platonic dialogues with only two speakers, in principle possible for other audiences to assess arguments and to be what the rhetoricians call ‘preferred audiences’ or ‘universal audiences’ for these arguments. But that’s a pretty thin reed, isn’t it? Im not sure what more to say could play that role.

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