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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/9/16

Paul Moses' View of Why the Mainstream Media Missed on Trump

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) December 9, 2016: Like most practicing Catholics, the practicing Catholics at Commonweal Magazine tend to be tainted by their church's anti-abortion zealotry against legalized abortion in the first trimester. But the Commonweal Catholics also tend not to be single-issue voters who vote against candidates who favor legalized abortion in the first trimester, as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential candidate does.

In contrast to her, Donald J. Trump, the Republican Party's 2016 presidential candidate spoke strongly against abortion. Reportedly 60% of white Catholics who voted, voted for Trump. His decisive electoral victory has inspired a ripple of articles about it at Commonweal.

In his Commonweal article "Humility Would Have Helped: Why the Media Missed on Trump," Paul Moses, a former full-time journalist who is now a professor of journalism at Brooklyn college/CUNY, reflect thoughtfully on why journalists missed on Trump.

For the record, in more than one OEN piece before the election, I wrote that it was not unthinkable that Trump could be elected. Years ago, when I was in graduate school, I took a series of graduate courses on statistics and research design. As a result, I am well aware that polls come equipped with margins of errors.

As Moses' title leads us to expect, Moses mentions something St. Thomas Aquinas says about humility. Perhaps Commonweal contributor Lisa Fullam's book The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (2009) should be required reading for journalists. But humility is not a widespread virtue among Americans.

Arguably St. Thomas Aquinas is the most notable medieval Catholic Aristotelian philosopher and theologian. However, despite Aquinas' enormous respect for Aristotle, Aquinas did not, as far as I know, compose a commentary on Aristotle's famous treatise on civic rhetoric.

In it, Aristotle discusses three kinds of civic rhetoric: (1) deliberative rhetoric (involved in pro-and-con debates in legislative assemblies), (2) forensic rhetoric (involved in pro-and-con debate in courts of law), and (3) epideictic rhetoric (involved in espousing public and perhaps also personal values and dis-values).

In our American experiment in representative democracy, our presidential campaigns involve espousing values and dis-values. Abortion is a hot-button issue because it involves values. The charges "racist" and "sexist" and "homophobe" and "xenophobe" also call attention to certain value issues. But these various charges are not likely to win the hearts and minds of the people who are accused of these flaws.

Aristotle also discusses three kinds of appeals that civic orators use: (1) logos, (2) pathos, and (3) ethos.

The American Jesuit classicist William M. A. Grimaldi of Fordham University discusses Aristotle's understanding of ethos in the essay "The Auditors' Role in Aristotelian Rhetoric" in the book Oral and Written Communication: Historical Approaches, edited by the classicist Richard Leo Enos (Sage Publications, 1990, pages 65-81).

Moses says that "Trump the celebrity entrepreneur knew his audience better than anyone [in the news media], and he ran his show accordingly."

No doubt there is a performance dimension involved in civic rhetoric -- a show, so to speak.

No doubt civic rhetoric involves appealing to the audience through logos-appeals, pathos-appeals, and ethos-appeals.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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