The job of a pundit is to express positions in ways that persuade or reinforce. The good ones do it with evidence. The really good ones can get away with literary slight of hand.
One important method of textual trickery is to make assertions, analyze them, and build on them. This reinforces your premise, no matter how shaky it may be. Expounding on your own theories is perhaps the cleverest technique of punditry, and if you can pull this off you truly are a master pundit.
Here’s how you do it: you declare a fact, or predict a foregone conclusion. Immediately thereafter, you analyze, build on it, or critique it in order to further your case.
Here are some simple examples:
It’s so dark outside [initial premise] that you have to be careful where you walk. Otherwise you will trip and fall, and you know how slowly emergency services come to this neighborhood [prediction based on premise].
Or a slightly different take, where the author will put an assertion in someone else’s mouth, only to challenge it:
Why the mayor said it will be dark [telling you the opponent’s premise] is beyond me. Everything points to it remaining light [easily destroying what I told you my opponent’s premise is].
All good, except it’s 2:00 in the afternoon, and the mayor never said it would get dark.
But the reader is already swept along by the quick and confident statement of “fact,” and may already be feeling the seeds of fear. He has already moved into the analysis faze (I could trip and fall, or the mayor is a fool) without even catching his breath to think about the writer’s initial assertion of darkness.
Let’s see how our friend Peter Beinart fares.
In a skillful piece of writing, Beinart twins two accusations of incitement: Bibi accuses Abbas of inciting Palestinians to violence, and various New York Republicans (Rudi Giuliani, George Pataki, and others) accuse NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio (and others) of inciting people against the police. Now, obviously the two accusations have nothing to do with each other, and the word “incitement” has far different meanings given the widely incongruent contexts: the NYPD has very little in common with the question of the Palestinians. Bibi is referring to Palestinian culture (as he has been doing for years) while Republicans are referring to some utterances of various government officials.
In Peter’s own words:
“If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu loses his reelection bid next spring, he should move to New York. He’d fit in perfectly with the state GOP. Like him, top New York Republicans are obsessed with “incitement.””
Right, because NY Republicans use the term “incitement” about De Blasio in the exact same way Bibi uses “incitement” about Abbas.
Notice that, apart from the odd connection of his own making, Beinart snuck in the idea that both Bibi and the Republicans are “obsessed” with incitement. A fabrication on top of an artificial association. But we are so caught up in following Peter’s association we don’t even notice that Peter is calling some very reasonable men, “obsessed.”
Be that as it may, Beinart then studies this comparison of his own manufacture, telling us that Bibi’s accusation of incitement is far less justified than Rudi Giuliani’s:
“After all, what [has] De Blasio actually said? That police too often use disproportionate and unaccountable force against African Americans. What has Abbas actually said? He’s mostly railed against a system of Israeli oppression in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that denies Palestinians basic rights.”
So Beinart, in examining his own artificial comparison between the accusations of incitement in the Middle East and that of NYC, finds his own comparison flawed!
And why? Because all Abbas has ever done is rail against Israeli oppression and denial of Palestinians’ basic rights.
Now, Peter knows this is not true. As if encouraging a culture which heroizes and supports terrorists is not incitement to violence. Furthermore, no one in the PA has limited Palestinian human rights more than Abbas himself.
But look what Beinart has done: we already assume Bibi’s incitement accusation is over the top, and here’s why: Bibi is even more obsessed than NY Republicans!
By building on his own house of cards Beinart has gained legitimacy for his half baked assertions!
In another example of building on his own odd assertions, Beinart interprets the words he puts in others’ mouth:
“So what Giuliani, Pataki and Netanyahu are actually claiming is that Americans and Palestinians go merrily about their lives until a politician or activist tells them they are oppressed. At which point the African Americans begin randomly killing police and the Palestinians begin randomly killing Jews. It’s a highly unconvincing account of the way human beings actually behave.”
Beinart tells us – as fact – what Giuliani, Bibi, and co. are saying. There should be no reason to doubt the veracity of Beinart’s claim that these men all claimed that life was grand for African Americans and Palestinians until the various forces incited them to violence.
When of course they said no such thing.
But by this time we are already nodding along with Beinart that this is a “highly unconvincing account of the way human beings behave.” So we now think NY Republicans and Bibi, who essentially say the same thing, are obsessed, or stupid, or think we are stupid. Peter Beinart has created his own straw man, and destroyed it, all to his aims! Genius!
Peter Beinart, pundit extraordinaire!