Mirrors for Mayors: The Press, Opinion, and Freelance Writers

PORT JERVIS, N.Y. — Less than a week after his hopeful State of the City Address for a Port Jervis “that still needs nurturing to succeed,” Mayor Kelly Decker has, as many in the city would characterize, came out of his face.

Monday, in a letter-made-public-rebuttal on his Facebook Page, to a Sunday piece by the Times Herald-Record under the editorial tagline “Our Opinion,” entitled “A methadone clinic is not a crime scene,” Decker not only calls out the Record’s editor, Barry Lewis but also calls the newspaper in.

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While plausible arguments are made by the Port Jervis Mayor, he goes on to completely flout arguments such as this one:

“Numbers, percentages, and statistics can be skewed in many different ways depending on the presenter’s angle.”

Mayor Kelly Decker

By leading with this aside before what should be the meat and potatoes staple of his argument, Decker builds up a strawman, an easy target to set ablaze. A simple reframing to make the dominoes fall easier, per se.

Nonetheless, those dominoes fall in both directions.

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As Decker goes on to “assert that [Lewis’s] math is wrong” he has already given readers contrary to his viewpoint an out. Whatever math he cited, became all methed up, when he cast doubt upon mathematics as a whole prior to playing the Texas sharpshooter. He lost those that he needed on his side as he attacked the publication.

Yes, the letter was “a response” to the editor of the Times Herald-Record, Lewis, regardless, here a few factors that make this more of a political attack:
  1. It was an opinion piece, and as such, didn’t necessarily merit such an official response as taking to the Elected Official Page that his Facebook is. Perhaps simply a letter-made-public-rebuttal on his personal page would have sufficed.
  2. Decker’s political, elected official position put him at a disadvantage for a fair fight against the editor of a counterbalance of government.
  3. Decker’s logical argumentation in his letter is riddled with fallacies.

Lewis, the editor of the Times Herald-Record deals in a world of changing opinions and changing headlines. It’ll be perceived as a political attack from the Mayor’s office not only because of these three factorss but most of all because of public opinion.

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One: Opinion

In the end, shouldn’t matter to the Mayor, as many who read opinion pieces have already made up their minds, they’ve already voiced their own opinions and they have already signed their positions’ petitions.

“Once formed,” the researchers observed dryly, “impressions are remarkably perseverant.”

The New Yorker, Feb. 27, 2017

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Two: Authority

Now the inseparable quality of their positions immediately puts Decker at a disadvantage: Mayor of Port Jervis versus Editor of the Times Herald-Record. Not a pretty fight. Nor a fair fight.

Though it didn’t have to be a bout.

The majority of Port Jervis constituents would likely agree, that Donald J. Trump as President could teach mayoral successors a thing or two about responding to the media:

  • When put into a defensive position, don’t show it:
    Deny, deny, deny.
  • When refuting statements, as there’s no option for denial: use keywords that fire up your base and monosyllabic words and arguments that are guaranteed to win public opinion.

 

Don’t do as Decker did. But don’t do any of the above either. The media is wise to it all. Readers, listeners, and viewers, too.

Not responding at all, would have been the denial. Yet, Decker chose to tear off his suit, snap his Port Pride singlet and dive headstrong into the muddied ring for a political King-of-the-Hill match.

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Three: Logic

Although the location has already been ruled out, there were, and still are, three positions available in the methadone clinic debate. As a reporter, here not discussing either of the former, being of the latter position: for the clinic, against the clinic, and neither for nor against the clinic.

This writer puts aside the journalist hat now and dons the hat that she studied in college: philosophy and linguistics. Mostly philosophy as logic is delved into here past the Texas Sharpshooter data cherrypicker argument. This is the writer’s playground, and those in politics could learn from this and avoid unnecessary future debate and compunction.

Editor of the Times Herald-Record, Barry Lewis: making positions for the cure of addiction, for the clinic.

Mayor of Port Jervis, Kelly Decker, coming from a position of the war on drugs: on record, against the clinic.

While most readers opposite to Decker’s view may stop at his first paragraph, they’re surprisingly not alone. Even those that agree that a methadone clinic is unnecessary in the city stop at the argument that he presents. It’s a no true Scotsman argument that precedes a genetic argument.

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Paragraph-by-paragraph

A genetic argument is one that means most of the following logic relies upon the first clause. That first clause here is an argument similar to an ad hominem, or an attack on one’s character rather than their argument: it’s a no true Scotsman argument. It’s an argument that focuses on the purity of one’s position, which sounds a lot like Nikki Minaj.

That’s not even including the child-human shield appeal to emotion argument ending the tu quoque “Let’s begin with this question” paragraph where the critique is turned 180 from Decker to Lewis.

“What do you know about Port Jervis? Clearly, you hardly know nothing about us at all! Except for one public forum about the opioid epidemic in our community, you have been non-existent in this community for at least the last 4 years. You didn’t even have the decency to respond to an email that I sent to you back on June 12, 2017 that said how dismayed I was with your paper and their lack of coverage for our Soap Box Derby. This is a kid-friendly event that brings thousands of people to our city each year and there was not one mention of it in your paper. However, now you feel compelled to write about a free or reduced pay clinic that wants come to our city? Your priorities are clearly miscued.”

Mayor Kelly Decker

To the point within the no true Scotsman argumentation by Decker, I have to insert my agreement. Indeed, the newspaper requires more coverage of the “city that is on the move.” If it’s of any solace to either party in this regard, I offer my services as a freelance writer and reporter.

Paragraph Two

Again, Nikki Minaj. Since she’s so relevant here, enjoy a video:

The following paragraph is the foremost example of the Texas Sharpshooter logical fallacy. The one referenced above is a muddled example to heat up the conversation about logic. Decker would have been better off simplifying this letter down to, or at least, leading with this second sentence in his fifth paragraph:

“I have never said ‘No.’ I said put it in a medical facility, especially one with detox and mental health.”

Mayor Kelly Decker

Decker may have also done very well leading with the knowledge that he personally has. Rather than trying to chop up the data that was served against him. For instance, without condescension:

“… your [claim] that I am making the situation more dangerous. […] it’s called Mens Rea, or the guilty mind of criminal intent, and then acting on that criminal intent is Actus Reus. The majority of Cornerstone’s clientele are heroin attacks. Heroin is illegal. [….] Therefore, these patients not only have Mens Rea but also Actus Reus and those are the people I don’t want invited to our city […]”

Mayor Kelly Decker

The next few paragraphs are called a bandwagon argument. It’s not that critical and really only acts as a public support rallying cry. Trump is great at using this, however, Decker should steer clear of it, and stick to the simplest of facts. He doesn’t need to reassert his position as an elected official in this way, especially not so deep into an already messy argument, but perhaps could have opened with some of his own facts rather than refuting those offered by Lewis.

Before his closing paragraph, he sets up a nice strawman argument against the Editor. The alcohol and criminality strawman. If the Mayor had used alcohol and criminality statistics, along with his own facts, in a second paragraph, he would have solidified a solid logical argument.

In closing, Decker uses another purity, or, no true Scotsman argument. He follows it with my favorite logical fallacy: the loaded question. This writer is going to do him a service, free of charge: reorganize and rescue what can be in a whole new letter:

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Letter to the Editor:
re: “A methadone clinic is not a crime scene.”

For starters, “I have never said ‘No.’ I said put [the methadone clinic] in a medical facility, especially one with detox and mental health.”

“Your [claim] that I am making the situation more dangerous [is unfounded…] It’s called Mens Rea, or the guilty mind of criminal intent, and [to then act] on that criminal intent is Actus Reus. The majority of Cornerstone’s clientele are heroin [addicts]. Heroin is illegal. [….] Therefore, these patients not only have Mens Rea but also Actus Reus[,] and those are the people I don’t want [to be] invited to our city[.]”

“[I invite you to hire more reporters for our growing city to see that there’s more than only an] opioid epidemic in our community[. For instance, there could be more coverage of city revenue-driving events, such as] our Soap Box Derby. This is a kid-friendly event that brings thousands of people to our city each year[.]”

Short and sweet.

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