Dissecting Daniel Ruth

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The following is a guest post from Tampa attorney Paul Phillips

One of our chief problems in the United States is the lack of meaningful rhetoric. Logic and reason are required for any debate to yield productive results, yet we continue to give individuals a microphone, or a block of newsprint, and allow them to corrupt our minds with useless, uncogent, and weak arguments.

For example, Daniel Ruth – Tampa’s own self-appointed “king-of-the-funny-quip” – is a journalist who often pens political-related diatribes that, upon careful analysis, contain little or no useful substance and ignore all fundamental rules of logic and reason – I assume for the sake of journalistic creativity.

After reading Mr. Ruth’s most recent work, I decided to use my lunch dissecting Mr. Ruth’s latest foray into political commentary. My comments to his article are in italics.

Mr. Ruth writes:

It would seem when it comes to understanding the full range of duties associated with the job that Rick Scott entered office knowing less about the details of governor stuff than Wile E. Coyote contemplating some-assembly-required Acme nuclear missile.Mr. Ruth begins his article with a common logical fallacy called the sweeping generalization, followed by an even more common logical fallacy: the ad hominem abusive, or personal attack. A sweeping generalization fallacy applies a statement too broadly; and, although Mr. Ruth uses the phrase “it would seem” as a preface, it hardly alleviates the logical errors in the comparison to Wile E. Coyote.

Last month, Scott acknowledged he was stunned to learn one of the things governors do from time to time is sign death warrants. That revelation didn’t occur to Scott until he was well into his campaign for governor. Here Mr. Ruth is setting the stage for a very poor syllogism with his first premise. Even worse, he is beginning to wander into the subjective claim fallacy. Over the next few paragraphs, as the argument begins to form, – albeit poorly – Mr. Ruth buries it with even more garbage. But, like it or not, Mr. Ruth has set forth the first premise of his “argument” – that Rick Scott did not know governors sign death warrants until he was campaigning for Governor of Florida.

How did Scott think these people wind up dead? Did he deduce the Black Spot Fairy suddenly shows up on death row? Did he believe the warden spins a Wheel of Misfortune to pick the unlucky inmate? Each statement is an example of arguing from ignorance – where one infers that a proposition is true from the fact that it is not known to be false. The statements are also a form of personal attacks, or ad hominem abusives, although thinly disguised.

Surely at some point over the course of his 57 years at the time he launched his campaign, Rick Scott had read about a governor signing the paperwork for some miscreant that it was time to order up the last meal? Arguing from ignorance again.

More recently, Scott noted he had only recently learned about Bob Graham’s well-known workdays toiling away as a janitor, or garbage man, or waiter and the like during both his time as governor and later as U.S. senator. Did he even know who Bob Graham was? Better not to go there. Here we have Mr. Ruth’s second premise. Using a bandwagon fallacy that because Bob Graham’s workdays were well-known, Gov. Scott should have known about them, followed by a hasty generalization – in the form of a question – that Gov. Scott may not know who Bob Graham was, his second premise is set forth: Governor Scott only recently learned about Bob Grahams workdays program.

It was such a bully idea that Scott has decided to adopt Graham’s workdays into his own schedule, which began this week when the governor spent time selling doughnuts to constituents in Tampa. Wow. An actual fact…

Next up, figuring out his own job. This might take a while. …Followed immediately by a questionable claim.

What all this suggests is that the body politic last year elected someone to the highest office in the state who had only been a resident since 2003 and had spent precious little time educating himself about Florida and the role of governor before dropping more than $70 million of his own money to buy the title. And here you have it. Mr. Ruth’s conclusion which he obviously feels is supported by the two premises noted above – since he penned the article and affixed his name. So, in a nutshell, here is Mr. Ruth’s argument, as gleaned from eight paragraphs or drivel:

“Rick Scott did not know governors sign death warrants until he was campaigning for Governor of Florida. Governor Scott only recently learned about Bob Grahams workdays program. Rick Scott spent little time educating himself about Florida.

It is hard to believe that Mr. Ruth, a professional journalist and adjunct professor at USF, would publish such a poor argument. And unfortunately, what follows if more of the same. The problems with the following paragraphs should be obvious, so I will save additional commentary…for now.

Since Scott is going to be around for at least another three years, unless he sells the state to Georgia, as a public service here are a few things the governor probably ought to know about Florida and his job.

Over in St. Augustine, there’s a big old thing called Castillo de San Marcos. Please do not tear it down to make way for a walk-in clinic. It is the oldest masonry fortification in the United States, dating back to 1672. And, no, those people who built it were not speaking a funny language. It’s called Spanish.

There is more to Florida than Naples and swooning tea party acolytes of the Villages, who regard Scott as the Lady Gaga of budget cuts. If Scott thinks high-speed rail is such a lousy idea, he should try driving himself from Orlando to Tampa. Let’s throw in some whining tots in the back seat just for fun.

Those annoying creatures who show up en masse on leashes held by lobbyists in Tallahassee every year should not be confused with Pomeranians. It’s the Florida Legislature, although it is hard to tell the difference. Much as you would like, you can’t ignore them. But you can rent them.

A bit of political history. Claude Pepper is not the name of a soft drink. Reubin Askew is not a sandwich. LeRoy Collins is not a cocktail. And George Smathers is not a jelly. Just a note: stating that people are not inanimate objects is neither political, nor history.

That large wet thing in South Florida is Lake Okeechobee. And no, you can’t drill for oil in it. That would interfere with all the agricultural chemical pollution. This entire stream of occasional truisms in the six paragraphs above, paired with unrelated and unsupportable claims of what Gov. Scott may do to state landmarks, is a fallacy of relevance, specifically a Red Herring. In other words, in an attempt to point out that Gov. Scott has not lived in Florida for very long Mr. Ruth has set forth a stream of initial statements that are true, supposedly attempting to educate Gov. Scott. However, these statements are wholly unrelated to, and do not support, his aforementioned conclusion. Each initial statement is then paired with a slippery slope fallacy, in that Mr. Ruth infers that dire consequences lie on the horizon as the result of Gov. Scott’s possible actions. 

As governor, when you sign a bill you can’t treat the event as something out of a secret fellow traveler Skull and Bones Society moment. Not everybody in the state is a right-wing conspiracy theorist. Well, most everybody. Bandwagon fallacy, false appeal to popularity. Still, a governor should at least pretend that he cares what people who didn’t vote for him might think. Bandwagon fallacy, false appeal to popularity, false appeal to emotion,

Governors need to take in the social flavor of the state. To that end, Scott should participate in Tampa’s annual randy Gasparilla festival honoring a fictional pirate who pillages and plunders. It’s similar to being an executive of Columbia HCA, only withoutColumbia’s Medicare fraud charges. This is a straw man logical fallacy. Although the conclusion, which seems to be in the first sentence, is fine – in that Governors should understand their state’s “social flavor”- the problems arise when Mr. Ruth uses an event with a pirate theme, and Gov. Scott’s time at Columbia HCA as premises. Although Mr. Ruth’s first premise about the Gasparilla festival is fine in itself; using the second sentence tie in Mr. Scott’s HCA Columbia employment to Piracy destroys the argument. Also, the HCAColumbia reference is, itself, a false appeal to popularity – holding something true only because the idea is widely held.

As for the next workday, can we make it happy hour? Mr. Ruth, please do. And retirement will offer you that opportunity.

The bottom line is that the State of Florida is facing problems and we need to address these problems with logic and reason – not political commentary more aptly suited for the restaurant review section. So, if I may, let me offer Mr. Ruth a syllogism of my own:

Fallacious reasoning by journalists keeps many of their readers, who depend on journalists for information, from knowing the truth. The inability to think critically makes individuals vulnerable to manipulation by others who are skilled in the art of rhetoric. Mr. Ruth’s article misinforms individuals and leaves them vulnerable to manipulation.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.