Kellyanne Conway, Anderson Cooper and journalism’s dearth of critical thinking

During a recent interview, to defend President Trump’s firing of FBI Director Comey, Kellyanne Conway demonstrated the death of critical thinking. What is surprising, though, is how the journalist, Anderson Cooper, failed to discuss it. Before we consider that point, let’s understand the flaw in Conway’s argument.

“Let me repeat that the president has been told by the FBI director that he is not under FBI investigation, that is right in the president’s letter,” Conway said.

Anderson Cooper, incredulous, replied with, “This White House is under investigation, the people around the president are around investigation — you would agree with that, yes?

“No I don’t, I know that some are obsessed with the word Russia — the president is not under investigation, I’m around the president, I’m not under investigation,” Conway said. “I can name many people in that same situation.”[1]

Conway argues that because she is not under investigation she disproves Anderson’s conclusion that people around the president are under investigation. All that she has demonstrated is that she is not under investigation. For her argument to be true, she would have to be the only person around the president who could be under investigation. Moreover, that she knows she is not under investigation does not prove that others are not under investigation. She only knows about herself yet she has transferred the knowledge about herself, as a person around the president, to be the case for all people around the president.

Conway’s argument is called denying the antecedent. What this means is that she inferred the inverse from the original statement.

    If P, then Q.

    Therefore, if not P, then not Q.

We can see why Conway’s argument is nonsensical with the following example.

    If you are a ski instructor, then you have a job.

    You are not a ski instructor

    Therefore, you have no job [1][2]

What Conway has done is try to deny the premise so as to refute the argument. However, this is different from denying the antecedent. Denying or ignoring the premise is when you refuse to accept the premise of a question and thereby avoid it.

She may want to review the West Wing episode where it is demonstrated. She might pick up some tips.

ANNABETH

Press is here for the Q&A. Now remember, you control the conversation. You

don’t like what the ask, don’t accept the premise of the question.

LEO

That’s my line, you know. You’re quoting me.

ANNABETH

I thought it was Toby.

LEO

Where do you think he got it? I’ve been rejecting the premises of questions

since the Hoover Administration.

They have reached the place where the press is waiting.

REPORTER CHRISTINE

Mr. McGarry, are you still in AA?

LEO

Good to see you, Christine.

CHRISTINE

When was the last time you went to a meeting?

LEO

I’ve made statements about that before. You should take a look at them.[3]

 

What is also disappointing, but not surprising, is that Anderson Cooper did not pick up on this fallacy. In part, this shows why Conway is able to get away with such fallacies. It also shows that journalist fail to grasp the logical argument, which means they have to rely on eye-rolls instead of the more rigorous approach to show the speaker is logically flawed and thus contradicted.

More to the point, Cooper failed to note that Conway did not prove that Trump or his associates were not under investigation only that she did not know.

Perhaps this exchange shows the paucity of critical thinking which has allowed Trump administration to thrive.

 

[1] https://thinkprogress.org/james-clapper-destroys-trump-talking-point-on-russia-c399dc0f8e15

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denying_the_antecedent

[3]This is taken from season 7 episode 1. http://www.westwingtranscripts.com/search.php?flag=getTranscript&id=135

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About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
This entry was posted in democracy, journalism, politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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