A well structured sound-bite is guaranteed to win you headlines.
TransCanada president and chief executive, Russ Girling, knows this. Here’s what he had to say about last week’s decision not to go ahead with the Keystone XL Pipeline:
“Today, misplaced symbolism was chosen over merit and science — rhetoric won out over reason,”
Take a quick scan of the resulting coverage and you’ll notice that most articles not only reference this line, but lead on it.
And that’s because this line is a carefully constructed piece of rhetoric specifically designed to generate a sound-bite. So well crafted in fact, it could have come straight from our very own Dirty Rhetoric toolkit!
Hang-on a moment though, because the quote itself is attacking rhetoric as being the evil that doomed the pipeline!
So – Russ Girling…. J’accuse! And the crime is that of skullduggerously attempting to shift the blame by blaming rhetoric, while using – rhetoric!
Here’s my evidence before the jury:
Item: Use of Opposites
Misplaced versus merit. Symbolism over science. Communicators call this antithesis, and it’s a guaranteed tool of the sound-bite.
Item: Use of the sound-pattern ‘FunPhrase’
It’s no coincidence that we’ve got those double ‘M’s, repeated ‘S’s and finally that lovely triple-play on ‘rhetoric…won…reason’.
Technical term – ‘Consonance’, but we call it FunPhrase. Yet another sound-bite technique.
Item: Use of Analogy
Here’s where it all gets just a little bit clever, because when we look at the whole phrase, there’s a hidden logic-structure at play. A is to B, as C is to D:
Misplaced symbolism is to science, as rhetoric is to reason
Having lost the argument, Russ Girling now blames defeat on his opponents’ unfair use of this evil thing called rhetoric — while freely using rhetoric himself.
Rhetoric is an essential human tool. It’s the tool that allows us to create everything from structured logic through to poetry of the highest art. It is also, admittedly, the first refuge of the scoundrel when seeking to shift the focus.
So – today’s top-tip – whenever you hear a public figure laying the blame on ‘rhetoric’, be suspicious.
Be very suspicious.