Rhetoric of the Moment: William Kristol v. Juan Williams

It is almost always interesting to observe instances when tightly controlled punditry shows become spontaneous and unpredictable arguments (in the rhetorical sense of argument) occur.

If you have a few moment, please visit the following link, scroll down, and play the short video featuring William Kristol arguing with Juan Williams about Goldman Sachs’ behavior and Senator Carl Levin’s staff having released emails sent between G.S. employees.

A few observations about the rhetoric:

1. Chris Wallace refers to the release of the emails, which, he says, “fairly or unfairly,” portray G.S. in a bad light.  Fairly or unfairly?  The emails either do or do not portray G.S. in a bad light.  How can the emails be fair or unfair in this context?

2.  Before Kristol goes to the predictable noun, “outrage,” he tells the truth and describes the emails as “embarrassing.”  The embarrassment of G.S. is of more concern to him than the behavior of G.S. fascinating–I mean, truly fascinating.

3. Now we get to a nice argument with slippery maneuvers: Kristol claims that now “any business” must worry about their emails becoming public. Let us pause to note that such businesses must worry about same no matter what; emails ARE public.   Then he moves from the shibboleth, “outrage,” to the shibboleth, “rule of law.” Let us pause to ask, what law did Senator Levin’s staff break? Then Kristol claims that the real issue is expansion of executive authority.  Given who’s making the argument, we really must pause for a hypocrisy-break and note that Kristol fully supported the Bush-Cheney administration, which, most political scientists agree, expanded executive authority in an extraordinary way.

Finally, Juan Williams weighs in, but notice that Kristol feels authorized to interrupt him, whereas Williams did not feel authorized to interrupt Kristol. Power-dynamics.  Williams argues that the content of the emails is the crux.  Kristol shifts the argument the “rule of law” but now, in a slippery move, applies it not to executive authority but to Levin’s having released the emails.  Williams falls for the trick of having to respond to an argument he did not make, and he makes the sensible point that business emails are never private.  Having trapped Williams, Kristol again attacks an argument that Williams didn’t make: that Carl Levin is “the boss” of G.S.  In fact, Williams point went to the issue of whether the emails were private, and that is all.

An expert at slippery moves, Kristol managed to make G.S. the victim, attack assertions Williams never made, interrupt Williams, and make to “the bell” of the “round,” at which point Wallace steps in and says they can settle it off-camera. But at least Williams landed one good left hook, as it were, telling Kristol he’s “out in the weeds on this one.”

I wonder how many Fox viewers saw Kristol’s slipperiness for what it was and agreed with Williams’ point: the content of the emails, sir, the content.

A final hypocrisy-break: Kristo is worried about business emails being released to the public (transparently, by the way), but raised no objections to the warrantless wire-tapping?  In Kristol’s view of the world, large financial institutions sit at the top of the pyramid, apparent, and must never be–horrors!–embarrassed.

Rhetoric of the moment: great stuff to analyze.


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