“How stupid do you think we are?” Erin Burnett, from Erin Burnett Out Front
One of CNN’s promotional videos, a compilation of short clips of many of its hosts still being used to this day, includes a clip of Erin Burnett, evidentially quite exercised about some great injustice, asking: “How stupid do you think we are?”
The promotional video does not provide the context for this great social justice warrior’s impassioned words but it is in fact in reference to remarks by several GOP senators’ remarks about Donald Trump’s alleged description in a private Oval Office meeting of certain African countries and Haiti as “s**thole” countries. Although these events took place long ago, it is useful to dissect Burnett’s remarks in some detail because they provide a representative example of the kind of deceptive sophistry regularly practiced by the “Democrats” and the “news” media.
Burnett begins by stating as fact that “The president [Trump] called African countries S-hole countries and it was racist and trumps allies are trying to pull a fast one on the American people. … Trump’s allies in D.C. were covering for him and they shouldn’t get away with it.”
The “allies” to which she is referring are Sen. Purdue who stated that “I am telling you he [Trump] did not use that word. It’s a gross misrepresentation” and Sen. Cotton’s remark that “I certainly didn’t hear” Trump use those words.
Despite those quite strong denials, one of them categorical that it simply did not happen, Burnett instructs the peasants that she does not believe them. These two senators, she claims, are “playing semantics” because, and I quote, “A senior GOP senator source familiar with the matter said to CNN that instead of hearing Trump say ‘S-hole’ he said ‘S-house’”. Note first that Burnett does not identify this “GOP senator”. The source is anonymous and, therefore, insignificant. Second, and even more telling, note that Burnett does not say that this GOP senator was present at the meeting but only that they are “familiar with the matter”. That is what is known in critical reasoning texts as “weasel words.” The expression “familiar with the matter” is vague enough to include people with no direct knowledge of the events. That is, this anonymous alleged GOP senator may be relaying a conversation they had in a hallway, not something they witnessed themselves.
Even though Burnett has no identifiable source for her assertions, she sanctimoniously asks, “Why would two sitting GOP senators ‘cover’ for the President when so many people know the truth. All we can say is this, they’re not alone in lying and yes we can use that word.”
Burnett is right that she can use the word “lying” but she has not shown that she can justifiably use it. The word “can” has that useful, for sophists, ambiguity or equivocation. It can mean that one can in fact do it and it can also mean that one can justifiably to do it.
Burnett accuses two GOP senators of lying on the basis of an alleged anonymous source who, according to her own words, may not even have been present at the meeting. Thus, Burnett is committing another textbook reasoning fallacy when she accuses Perdue and Cotton of “covering for” Trump. The fallacy of “begging the question” occurs when one assumes what one is purporting to prove. Since Burnett has no real evidence that Trump said those words she is begging the question when she accuses Perdue and Cotton of “covering for” him.
If Burnett were to be honest, she should describe the remark as an “alleged” S-hole remark because it is not at all certain that Trump actually made it. Both Trump and several people at that meeting have denied that he made it. Burnett has just decided to believe the people who say he did make that remark and not believe the people who say he didn’t – and that is not “journalism”. It is “Democrat” Party propaganda under the guise of journalism.
Burnett also criticizes Kirsten Nielsen’s claim, made under oath in the same senate meeting, that she cannot remember the exact words Trump said. Burnett claims that this is not believable because Nielsen can remember the exact words said by other people in the meeting. Indeed, Nielsen said, “I remember specific cuss words used by a variety of members.” However, why Burnett believes that someone can remember certain things from a meeting but cannot remember other words from the meeting is not clear since that is an extremely common phenomenon. Burnett has not, apparently, ever discussed last year’s Thanksgiving dinner with anyone. It may well be that Nielsen simply does not want to go into what Trump said, and there might be multiple reasons for that, but that hardly convicts Trump of any specific remarks.
Since Burnett’s argument is so lame, she brings out the big guns by asking: “So who does this administration think it’s fooling at this point? Well, certainly not senator Cory Booker.” She then plays a clip of a highly distressed Cory Booker (aka Spartacus) in the same Senate meeting:
The Commander in Chief in an oval office meeting referring to people from African countries and Haitians with the vilest and vulgar language. Boat language festers when ignorance and bigotry are allied with power it is a dangerous force in our country. Your silence and your amnesia is complicity.
Unfortunately, Booker, despite providing some excellent theatre, is simply following Burnett’s lead and describing as fact what is only an allegation.
It used to be in the United States that one was considered innocent until proven guilty but that principle no longer applies when some media personality or “Democrat” senator needs to get some time on camera to show how much they care for a “good” (“Democrat”) cause and their own career.
Curiously, Burnett later goes on to give other examples of alleged GOP liars. Her first example is a clip of Sean Spicer claiming that the crowd that watched Trump’s inauguration was the largest in history. Burnett says, “It wasn’t.”
What is curious about this case is that even if Burnett, and many other media figures who have harped on this same point, are right, this is hardly a consequential lie. Indeed, it is more like bragging, a “fish tale,” than lying: “I caught a bigger fish than any you ever caught”. But it is certainly not as consequential as lying about the current humanitarian crisis at our southern border, lying about the COVID facts, lying about the nuclear deal with Iran, lying about the four Americans murdered in Benghazi, or Obama’s 2013 Politifact “lie of the year” that, under Obamacare, “if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor, period.” Indeed, what is actually telling about this particular case is the fact that the media is so determined to convict Trump of lying that they will harp on something as entirely inconsequential as a crowd size.
The problem is that Burnett’s deceptive discussion is not an isolated case. It is in fact representative of the numerous virtue-signaling hosts pushing their own political agenda under the guise of journalism” in many alleged “news” sources. In the case at hand, despite Burnett’s virtue-signaling sanctimony and theatre, she has literally proved nothing about Trump’s alleged “s**thole” remark. She has simply, in service of her own (or, perhaps, her bosses’) political agenda, decided to believe some people and not others. She has used multiple textbook sophomore-level critical reasoning fallacies to advance her partisan narrative.
But the American people are on to her and the rest of the “fake news” media. This illustrates why trust in the “news” media has fallen to a new low. On 6/27/18 Jake Concha of The Hill reports an Axios/Survey Monkey poll, one of many similar polls, reveals that 72% of all surveyed think that news” sources report “news” that they know to be false or purposely misleading. Significantly, 79% of independents think the same. 92% of all Republicans think that as well (which shows which way the dishonest media tilts). Even 54% of Democrats agree that the “news” media deliberately presents false or misleading “news”.
When, therefore, Burnett asks, “How stupid do you think we are?” one can turn the question back on her? How stupid do you in the “news” media think “we the people” are? You have put your thumb on the scales far too often. We simply don’t trust you anymore.
By Richard McDonough
Richard Michael McDonough, American philosophy educator. Achievements include production of original interpretation of Wittgenstein’s logical-metaphysical system, original application Kantian Copernican Revolution to philosophy of language; significant interdisciplinary work logic, linguistics, psychology & philosophy. Member Australasian Debating Federation (honorary life, adjudicator since 1991), Phi Kappa Phi. Richard is a regular contributor to The Blue State Conservative.
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Featured photo is a screengrab from YouTube and has been cropped