A Morning Joe guest gets smacked with facts when he attacks Chris Kyle.
“The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words.” – Phillip K. Dick
There is more power inside a single word than inside an entire armory. Words are used for communication, and as such, they are a tool–the use of which gets us what we need. If a teenager wants to go to a party that her parents wouldn’t approve of, she will use ambiguity, and language manipulation to convince her parents that the party is not actually so bad, when the reality may be quite different.
Similarly, if one is trying to engender hatred toward someone, they will use a variation of the same tactic. This tactic is being used to arouse hatred toward former Navy Seal Chris Kyle.
In an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Ayman Mohyeldin, an NBC foreign correspondent, claimed that Chris Kyle was nothing more than a racist, who enjoyed killing Iraqis:
“A lot of his stories when he was back home in Texas, a lot of his own personal opinions about what he was doing in Iraq, how he viewed Iraqis. Some of what people have described as his racist tendencies towards Iraqis and Muslims when he was going on some of these, you know, killing sprees in Iraq on assignment. So I think there are issues…A lot of the description that has come out from his book and some of the terminology that he has used, people have described as racist.”
Mohyeldin first builds a rather unusual straw man by claiming that the missions participated in by Chris Kyle were not targeted snipes, ordered by the military, but “killing sprees.” Calling Kyle’s job (defending his fellow men in arms via sniper rifle) a “killing spree” is a way to demean what Kyle did, and relegate it to the realm of random, senseless violence, the likes of which we might relate to gang shootings in Chicago. A killing spree is always senseless, and therefore, what Kyle did was senseless, and disgusting violence.
Mohyeldin does something a bit more clever next. He uses anonymous, and faceless “people” to imply that Kyle was really just a racist. When Mohyeldin says “what people have described as his racist tendencies,” and “some of the terminology that he has used, people have described as racist,” he is implying authority where there is none. Mohyeldin wants the audience to believe that because these “people” have “described” Kyle’s language as racist, then it must be true. This is an appeal to a broad, and invisible authority–one which has no credibility because it has no name. We are meant to assume that because Mohyeldin is appearing on TV, when he refers to these faceless “people,” he must be citing legitimate, and credible sources, when in fact, his sources could be as asinine as a Michael Moore tweet.
Luckily, co-host Willie Geist shot back:
“He was calling people who he thought had IEDs, who he thought were going to kill his buddies savages. He didn’t — some people have seized on that term that he thought all Iraqis or everyone in the Middle East is a savage. That’s just not what he said.“
With precision, unlike Mohyeldin, Geist seized upon the word that has caused “some people” to label Kyle a racist: savages. Geist makes clear that it was not the Iraqi people at large to whom Kyle was referring when using the term “savages,” but those who were fighting with the Taliban, those who were killing innocents.
While Mohyeldin used generalities to provoke hatred, Geist responded with actual terms, and pinpointed the meat of the argument–which is what Mohyeldin purposefully avoided. Had Mohyeldin critically dissected the issue at hand, he would not have been able to get people on his side. So, rather than speak in absolutes, he spoke using ambiguities.
This is a type of “appeal to emotion” fallacy, in which one uses ambiguous terms to create unfavorable emotions toward a person or thing. The equivocal language used by Mohyeldin was designed to take the place of actual facts, and in doing so, paint Chris Kyle as a racist mass-murderer.
Luckily for the viewers, Geist was on hand to take Mohyeldin down.