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The Ad Hominem Attack: If ya' can't lick 'em, smear 'em!

Reported by Marie Therese - July 6, 2004 -

Big Story with John Gibson. July 5, 2004. 5:05 PM EDT. David Asman, host.
Guests: Bob Beckel, Democratic Strategist, described by Asman as "straight from our Business Block on Saturday morning" and Sheri Annis, Republican Strategist

Now that Bush's ratings are dipping below 50% and the smell of fear is in the air, the conservatives are calling up the tried-and-true "family values" issues like abortion.

However, over the weekend John Kerry expressed his own personal rejection of abortion but reaffirmed his support for a woman's right to choose. This presents the right with a dilemma since Kerry's position accurately reflects the P.O.V. of a majority of Americans, including Catholics.

How did Asman and Annis "spin" Kerry's statements to weaken them?

By using the "ad hominem" attack.

This is an ancient technique which every human being has used at one time or another in his/her life. If you don't have a good answer, divert your opponent's attention by calling them a name or impugning their mother's sexual practices. Such personal attacks serve to deflect your opponent's attention away from the issue at hand.

Here's how it worked in yesterday's Big Story on FOX:

During this segment, Democrat Bob Beckel commented that "as much news as we make about abortion, it very rarely matters in the final analysis in a Presidential race".

Asman asked Republican Sheri Annis the following leading question: "Now, Sheri, life begins at conception. That means abortion is taking a human life. Does this put John Kerry in the camp of the anti-abortion crowd? "

In the following exchange we can see how Asman and Annis move from Kerry's statements to a personal attack:

ANNIS: Well, it shows that John Kerry feels he needs to drum up more support with traditional social conservatives. That's what it means.

ASMAN: Let me just stop you right there, Sheri. So, you're saying it's JUST a political strategy? This doesn't come from anything heartfelt from John Kerry?

ANNIS: That's my feeling...


The implication is that John Kerry is an insincere political hack saying anything he can to get elected. Asman and Annis diverted the viewer's attention away from the actual issue by, in essence, attacking Kerry's personal integrity.

There were a couple of "non sequiturs" in this interview as well. (More on "non sequiturs" in my posting The Nasty Nonsequitaurus)

Statement: John Kerry only recently expressed his views on abortion.
False Conclusion: Senator Kerry is posturing and does not truly believe what he is saying.

Nothing about "recently expressing one's views" implies a lack of belief in what one is saying.

Later, Annis continued her "spin" and went on to call Kerry a "flip-flopper", which is a curious statement. How can one flip-flop if one has never spoken about one's personal opinion before? Another non sequitur.

She ended by implying he's a loose cannon: "I don't think his staff is real thrilled right now 'cause they're gonna have to deal with this for a while." This was another "ad hominem" attack, by innuendo.