In rhetoric, there’s an ancient concept called “argument from authority.” In Latin, it’s called argumentum ad verecundiam. The idea is that the person making an argument invokes a big name, saying, in effect, “So-and-so agrees with me, so I must be right!”
Of course, an argument from authority can be false. One of the many possible fallacies is, most obviously, that the cited authority might not be an authority on the subject at all. So the fallacy could be the mixing of apples and oranges; the authority might simply not be relevant. As with any tool, it can be used, or misused.
And as we shall see, argument from authority is a particularly favored rhetorical tactic of the Mainstream Media: The MSM introduces an authority figure, builds him or her up, and then, having created a giant, uses that giant to smack down its foes, usually, a Republican.
And what if the exemplars of authority are fallacious? In the minds of the MSM, of course, the duty to oppose Donald Trump and the GOP is the prime imperative. So to that end, in pursuit of this higher truth, any rhetorical sleight-of-hand is not only allowed, but admired.
We can cite three recent examples:
First, in the January 6 Washington Post, we were presented with a headline, “I knew Gov. Schwarzenegger. Mr. Trump, you’re no Gov. Schwarzenegger.” We can immediately note that this wording, of course, is a play on the famous jibe of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX)–“I knew Jack Kennedy . . . ”—aimed at Dan Quayle during the 1988 presidential campaign. So that’s an example of argument from authority, right there.
In the piece itself, writer Abby Lunardini, a former aide to Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was governor of California, seeks to contrast her former boss with Donald Trump. In Lunardini’s telling, Schwarzenegger, now back in the news for his new role on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, becomes the authority on executive leadership by which Trump should be judged. And, of course, this being the MSM, Trump is deemed to come up short.
Indeed, in making her argument, Lunardini describes virtues in Schwarzenegger that many observers had failed to notice. In office in Sacramento, he was, she assures us, “a dedicated student of policy and government,” adding, “Schwarzenegger prided himself on being the best-briefed person in the room.”