What Is Fear? Rhetoric and the News

By Don Allen – Senior Editorial Columnist

In the classical system of rhetoric, there are three principals: public speech; the legal or forensic speech, and the political of deliberative speech (p.3). Using these principals, I respond in my own words to rhetoric.

Recent Examples on the Web

When allowed to dominate rhetoric and drive policy, fear can have immediate consequences.

— Henry Gass, The Christian Science Monitor, “Why do Americans think more immigration means more crime? (audio),” 17 Aug. 2020

Bush, who served as president from 2001-2009, has often praised the contributions of immigrants, a notable contrast to President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies.

— Hillel Italie, chicagotribune.com, “Former President Bush pays tribute to immigrants in new book,” 6 Aug. 2020

These example sentences are selected from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word ‘rhetoric.’ When we talk about rhetoric and the news, we speak of a politically charged arena of ‘style’ that have no objectivity whatsoever. Just recently in Minneapolis, MN. A young man who earlier in the day had shot and killed a man was being closed in on by the police. The man, homeless – a resident of the local Salvation Army put a loaded weapon (9mm) in his mouth and blew the back of his head and spine. The police supplied the local media with the unedited video (I’ve seen it several times, it’s sickening), and the media sat on it for more than 30-minutes, just enough time. As a long-time media activist, I felt local media wanted to see what would happen using speculation about the youth that committed suicide might have possibly been killed by a police officer. It seems like there’s a challenge when it comes to the News and how news rhetoric especially in the last 90-days with the killing of George Floyd (locally) and others shapes the narrative about these killings. First off, if the person killed is Black, the focus goes to if he/she has a criminal record as if that it’s okay to shot and kill someone with a criminal record; rhetoric in the news has an advanced decision-making construct driven by fear and capitalism. 

The re-criminalization of some American people only needs a small local or national incident to push the ill-assumed stereotypes (especially Black men) and rhetoric to being the most feared and criminalized caste of people in the United States. What troubles me is the hypocrisy and quickness of Americans and the mainstream media to forget the past and in this instance take advantage and use the agency of a minority body to push their fear.  Malcolm X was right when he said, “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.

Of course the mechanism of news. So far, it is highly unlikely to separate news and its sensationalism-rhetoric from a possible normal social construct of how delivery of broadcast news is supposed to work. To even begin to talk about the norm, we would have to start our research well before television existed and start where the meaning of rhetoric and objectivity were abandoned. The shameful part of the process is that some castes of people are strained into a culture that is not our own by simply turning on the news.

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