Monday, September 22, 2008

McCarthyism in the Toronto Star

Letter to the Toronto Star. unpublished obviously*

Re Uncommon wisdom on Morgentaler, Comment, July 22

Rob Mitchell's opinion piece should be compulsory reading for all students of political science and communication. It illustrates the many tactics of McCarthyism.

The first lesson is avoid the issue. To do this, Mitchell employs argumentum ad hominem --- attack the messenger, not the message. This appeal to feelings rather than intellect insults the reader.

He then drags out another rhetorical trick of McCarthyism --- the Big Smear. By pointing out defects in the Catholic Church, he implies that automatically the Church's pro-life advocacy is wrong. This is a variation of the Big Lie and Straw Man devices --- that by by implying defeat of a non-message, one has destroyed the real message.

Mitchell wants his readers to believe that only Catholics oppose abortion. This technique --- Isolate the Opposition, is another tool of McCarthyism. Yet, polls consistently indicate that a majority of Canadians favour at least some restriction on access to abortion. Mitchell belittles their right to express these views.

Using the Big Smear technique, Mitchell attempts to silence all opposition by the egregious allegation that anyone opposed Dr. Henry Morgentaler's Order of Canada is anti-Semitic. Lacking evidence for this calumny, as authority he cites (wait for it) a Montreal newspaper cartoonist. His style shows an inability to deal with differing yet honestly-held opinions.

To bolster the other side of the argument, Mitchell employs what every propagandist recognizes as the Rosy Glow. He tells us that Dr. Morgentaler is a tiny, frail, 85-year-old man, and a holocaust survivor. All this may be true, but quite irrelevant to the issue.

We continue to wonder if columnists, cartoonists, and selected letters to the editor provide the shield for the expression of the publisher's own opinions, while maintaining the pretense of journalistic objectivity.

* Obviously, because the Toronto Star censors comment that goes against any of its basic tenets, such as, in this case,