Service of Ad Hominem

March 18th, 2010

Categories: Blame, Guilt, Innuendo, Manipulation, Media, Suspicion


“Joe is not a communist.”

I first heard about ad hominem as a college freshman and that was the example. At the time, being a communist was as bad as being a terrorist is today. We now speak about identity theft, which we didn’t then, but with the flick of innuendo, a reputation can be stolen even faster and more easily than an identity.

I’ve been told countless times what a softie I am, how I try to squeeze out some good reason or rationale for someone’s bad moves. And so many times I am wrong-the person I try to protect or excuse turns out to be guilty in spades.

So this post isn’t as much about innocence or guilt as it is about perception and approach and inference-and how it can destroy someone.

I’ve been bothered by the way New York Governor Patterson has been treated by the press. I have the impression that people are out to get him and will pick and scratch and search for anything they can to ruin his reputation and credibility.

baseballstubTake his accepting free tickets to a baseball game. I mean really. There is a law or rule that says you can’t do that and I suppose you will find a politician somewhere who doesn’t accept so much as a stick of gum from a soul. But ruin a man’s chance of finishing his term with honor and accomplishing something in a state that sorely needs governance over a couple of tickets? Hmmmm. We’ve had leaders in our state who haven’t paid taxes on $millions and voters shrugged.

As for Patterson’s interference in a case of alleged abuse by an aide of his girlfriend, turns out the Governor spoke with her. He should not have. He broke the law. The New York Daily News reported that the girlfriend testified that their conversation didn’t influence her missing the court date resulting in the charges against her boyfriend, the Governor’s aide, being dismissed. Have you ever tried to diffuse an explosive situation between two people to help out a friend, family member or colleague?

The Governor’s communications director resigned yesterday and the implication in the news was that she was yet another rat leaving a sinking ship. When Patterson was interviewed on WOR-Radio this morning [March 18], he told John Gambling that because they are both under investigation in the same case, they are forbidden to speak with one another, which makes it impossible for her to do her job. He noted that they are personal friends.

Do details like this matter? The press and public have already decided. All these darts have been used to prove that he is unfit to govern without specifically saying so. Are they the hors d’oeuvres to something more, or is this like the preview of the scandalous story about the Governor that we heard would appear in The New York Times days before it did and when it ran, it was more about Patterson’s aide’s behavior than about him.

puttinginperspectiveWhat he’s done shows a lack of judgment inappropriate in a leader. Putting it in perspective, we’ve been involved in wars because of deliberate misinformation and life goes on, the perpetrators of misinformation have finished off their terms.

Comparing Patterson’s “sins” with those of politicians involved with drugs and worse, and who come back like face wrinkles a few months after injections of botox, is a head scratcher.

Is he being indicted for inadvertently leaping to the top of a leadership heap without paying his political dues and then not doing what his party orders him to do?

Am I being naïve or too easy on the Governor? Do you know of instances where colleagues, friends or public figures have been painted with negative ink or gossip that takes years, if ever, to wear off?


6 Responses to “Service of Ad Hominem”

  1. David Reich Said:

    Part of this situation has to do with the media’s obsession with being first to break a story, which has become even more intense in these times of 24-hour instant news. A few weeks ago, the fact that The New York Times was writing a story about some supposed impropriety involving Gov. Patterson became the story. When it turned out the story wasn’t about Patterson, but about one of his aides, the damage had already been done.

    There’s too much of this happening now. It seems to be especially bitter against Patterson, but so many others get painted with the broad brush of hasty and incomplete reporting.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree with what you say yet am puzzled why the public isn’t more discerning about what it hears and reads and more vocal about wanting the media to slow down and get news right.

    Speed combined with slipshod has not helped traditional news venues add readers and viewers. Perhaps they will soon realize it’s time for a different approach. Good reporters must cringe at this state of affairs.

  3. Simon Carr Said:

    I wish more people would read this post!

    I am a Republican who knows little about Governor Patterson, but I’ve listened to him answer questions asked him by a conservative on the radio, and liked what I heard. He seems to have common sense, a sound and relatively thorough knowledge of the State’s many problems and a quick mind. As he appears to be a vast improvement over most of the politicians in this state, whichever their party, for the life of me, I’d like to know why the Democrat bosses have it in for him.

    I can understand the “tarring and feathering” by most of the press in the state — that is to make money, but why is the usually fair NY Times so hostile? I would have expected them to inform me in calm, unbiased language why they think he is such a bad governor instead of pillerying him with, as you so rightly point out, ad hominem comments.

    Jeanne, as far as I can tell, you are the first one to suggest giving this man the benefit of the doubt. Good for you!

  4. Lissa Wyman Said:

    I couldn’t agree with you more about Gov. Patterson…this is a total smear campaign. And any time I get some Yankee tickets, I’ll certainly invite him to come along as my guest! It’s horrifying, really.

    Character assassination is a tool that should NEVER be used. And EVERY member of the fourth estate in NY has ganged up on the guy. I am no fan of any politician, but it is not the honorable thing to do to anyone.

  5. Martha Takayama Said:

    I am not a New Yorker. However, I do follow the news and agree entirely with the point of view of this post. It would seem to me that the treatment of Governor Patterson is on a par with the prevailing style of muckraking which is more concerned with innuendo and scandal related to personal and what used to be considered private matters than anything of general significance to those other than the person being hypocritically judged or, at most, his or her immediate circle.

    It seems that rather than address serious issues, of which we certainly have no shortage, the press tries to feed a distracting frenzy of trivia and non-news to a boundlessly indiscriminate public.

    The who, what, when, where, and why of responsible journalism seem to have been rendered obsolete, and instead we have a constant stream of rumors, conjecture, speculation and misinformation. Will it ever stop?

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    How well put! I think David pinpointed why this is happening–the 24 hour instant news syndrome where the pressure is on to write something, anything, right now.

    A story that would normally require incubation to hatch–or not–has a premature birth along with the subsequent drastic efforts to keep it alive. The story and the writer, not the subject, is where the emphasis has gone.

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