There’s a good article in today’s Salon analyzing why conservative pundits so often turn to attacking individuals as opposed to attacking their ideas. The short answer is that conservatives resort to ad hominem attacks because their arguments against issues like climate change, feminism, gun control and many others are so obviously weak they have no other choice but to try and redirect attention by crucifying the messenger.
The author goes into detail about why this approach is on the one hand illogical and offensive, yet on the other hand has proven effective, especially in areas where the average person has little real knowledge, like climate change.
Anyone who has seen clips of FOX anchors in action has been exposed to this nauseating tactic. Bill O’Reilly is a black belt in personal attacks. But I recently saw a video where attacking the messenger was ratcheted up to new levels of absurdity.
A documentary filmmaker brought his camera to a street fair sponsored by the Church of Scientology. Security guards prevented him from entering, even though the event was open to the public. Soon, however, three “civilians,” obviously members of the Church, approached the man and began verbally harassing him. Their tactic was interesting. Instead of simply telling the man to get the hell out of there, they tried incessantly to turn the conversation from questions about Scientology to an indictment of the cameraman.
“I think you look like a pedophile,” said one thug.
“You have problems, Mike. Let us help you with your problems,” said another.
“This is all about you, Mike. Not us.”
This attack went on for probably fifteen minutes and the cameraman proved a worthy adversary, meeting the verbal assaults with specific questions about the Church, to which the thugs never responded. One of the desired goals of these kinds of attacks is to make the recipient so angry he loses control and looks like a shrill lunatic. The cameraman never fell victim to this ploy, and the thugs eventually figured out they weren’t going to get the results they wanted and left.
Attacking the messenger is always a loser’s tactic, yet it continues because it can, unfortunately, be effective.