I am thankful to the RIAA‘s Cary Sherman for having provided a wonderful sample of writing, which may profitably be used by those teaching classes on rhetoric and critical thinking. I’m referring to Sherman’s screed in today’s New York Times, which alternates between self-pity and bluster in complaining about the failure of the passage of SOPA and PIPA, and which concludes with the line “We need reason, not rhetoric, in discussing how to achieve a ['safe and legal Internet'].” Do as I say, not as I do.
(Pardon me for merely taking potshots at Mr. Sherman below; on matters like these, I tend to write with a red cloud misting my eyes, and can barely type coherent sentences; pardon me too, for not addressing every single ‘point’ that Mr. Sherman attempts to make.)
We begin then, with:
The digital tsunami that swept over the Capitol last month, forcing Congress to set aside legislation to combat the online piracy of American music, movies, books and other creative works, raised questions about how the democratic process functions in the digital age.
“Tsunami”: Remember those aqueous beasts that killed hundreds of thousands and caused billions of dollars in damage? That’s what a concerted, organized political action against the RIAA’s attempt to clamp down on the ‘Net was like. It certainly raised questions for me about “how the democratic process functions in the digital age.” For instance, why doesn’t it happen more often in this nation? Note: I said “clamp down.” I am playing along.
Policy makers had recognized a constitutional (and economic) imperative to protect American property from theft…They knew that music sales in the United States are less than half of what they were in 1999, when the file-sharing site Napster emerged, and that direct employment in the industry had fallen by more than half since then, to less than 10,000.
“Constitutional” – the use of this term is an old-fashioned, well-worn American tactic to induce feelings of betrayal in a good citizen (ideally, one that hasn’t read the Constitution). I assume Mr. Sherman is equally concerned about another “constitutional imperative,” that of limited terms for copyright protection.
“Theft” – followed by two claims whose causes have yet to be traced to online music sharing. Note: I used “sharing.” I brought my bat and ball too.
At the 11th hour, a flood of e-mails and phone calls to Congress stopped the legislation in its tracks. Was this the result of democracy, or demagoguery?
“Demagoguery” – unfortunately, the line between this terrible thing and “democracy” is a hard one to draw and historically, has been so. Certainly, from the ramparts of the castle, the approaching “tsunami” of pitchforks may look like it was cobbled together by demagogues.
Misinformation may be a dirty trick, but it works. Consider, for example, the claim that SOPA and PIPA were “censorship,” a loaded and inflammatory term
“Loaded and inflammatory,” like “piracy,” “tsunami,” “theft,” and “misinformation” (which conjures up images of a Ministry of Information dishing out newspeak). The use of the latter terms is permitted only when the RIAAA and its minions are obeying “constitutional,” “economic,” and perhaps even moral imperatives. To resist them is “demagoguery.”
I might be mistaken in presenting Sherman’s Op-Ed as a piece of political rhetoric; its agonizingly self-pitying tone suggests a deeper, psychologically rooted dysfunction. I know pop-psychologizing is poor form, but really, what can you do with lines like the following?
The hyperbolic mistruths, presented on the home pages of some of the world’s most popular Web sites, amounted to an abuse of trust and a misuse of power….[These sites] are duping their users into accepting as truth what are merely self-serving political declarations.
So let me wrap up this shooting-fish-in-a-barrel episode and get back to work: Sherman’s “hyperbolic mistruth,” presented on the editorial page of one of the world’s most moneyed media outlets is a “self-serving political declaration.” Read it, ‘clip it’, keep it aside. You’ll see in in textbooks soon, mark my words.
And go read the Wikipedia articles linked to above.