In my previous reviews of David Kelley’s “The Art of Reasoning,” I covered the types of reasoning fallacies and listed three basic types: (1) subjectivist fallacy – nonobjective factors are used to support a conclusion, (2) Fallacies of context – jumping to conclusions without an adequate adequate body of evidence for the conclusion, and (3) Credibility fallacies – ignoring evidence or testimonials to the contrary when individuals are considered to be specialists or experts on a subject.
A textbook example of a fallacy of credibility is illustrated by Victor Davis Hanson and his review of the Robert Mueller investigation of the Trump campaign of 2016 (“Russianism,” National Review, 7/24/2018.) In his step-by-step demonstration showing Mueller’s lack of credibility, Hanson first focuses on the positive statements concerning foreign relations with Russia by both Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton prior to the 2016 presidential campaign:
“We believe that there are a lot of challenges and threats that we have inherited that we have to address. But there are also opportunities, and we are being extremely vigorous in our outreach. Because we’re testing waters, we’re determining what is possible. We’re turning new pages and resetting buttons.” – Hillary Clinton
Obama went even further in October 2016 just one month before the election that brought Donald Trump to the White House:
“There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America’s elections, there’s no evidence that has happened in the past or that it will happen this time.”
However, after Hillary Clinton’s election defeat, everything changed with charges of collusion being suggested between Russia and the Trump campaign. Robert Mueller was then tasked with investigating Russian collusion in the 2016 election. After focusing for 1-1/2 years on the Trump campaign he has found essentially nothing of consequence while “inconvenient” facts that have seriously damaged his credibility have been subsequently glossed over. Inconvenient facts such as a $500,000 honorarium for a single speech by Bill Clinton in Moscow that followed shortly after Russia announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One and made multimillion dollar donations to the Clinton Foundation. In addition, discredited FBI officials lied to investigators and leaked confidential memos. These facts should have caused Mueller to vigorously investigate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but thus far no action has been taken on his part. Casting further doubt on Mueller’s credibility was Mueller investigatory team member, Peter Strozok, and his text to Lisa Page concerning the investigation into the Trump campaign where he admitted: “There’s no big there there.”
Due to faulty development of basic reasoning skills today, there are too many people like Robert Mueller who are “seeing what they want to see” and ignoring important evidence to the contrary. A rational skepticism toward the media and individuals on the public stage is sorely needed in today’s world. In addition to Hanson’s efforts, serious cases of media bias have been brought to light by organizations such as Project Veritas. (See: “American Pravda: My Fight for Truth in the Era of Fake News,” by James O’Keefe for details on media bias at CNN, Twitter, Washington Post, New York Times, and other mainstream media outlets.)
Here are some important questions to ask when trying to identify potential reasoning fallacies from media sources:
(1) Does this commentator have a record of objectivity?
(2) Is it possible they’re jumping to conclusions on this?
(3) Is there important information they seem to be unaware of?
(4) Is there evidence to prove the statement is true?
(5) Do they provide a good reason to accept the conclusion?
(6) Could their conclusions involve any errors of reasoning?
(7) Do they have the capacity to deceive us?