Anatomy of an Op Ed

dukeellington-anatomyI authored an opinion piece in support of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court that was published in the June 28, 2009 edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  You can read the piece here (and you can read a “dueling” piece authored by Rick Esenberg here).

 What follows is a deconstruction of my own op ed piece.  The final product as it appeared in the newspaper has its origins in the fundamentals of logic and rhetoric.  Law students, in particular, may be interested in the way in which I employ several classic techniques of persuasive writing in order to make my case.     

 Believe in Your Argument: It is not necessary to have an angel for a client, but it helps.  The most accomplished persuasive writing techniques will not hide the fact that your argument is a stinker.  My task is to persuade the reader that my belief – that Judge Sotomayor is a moderate jurist who should be confirmed to the Supreme Court-is one that they should adopt as well.  If I do not believe my own argument, I will not succeed in convincing the reader.  

 Know Your Audience:  My language is directed towards the non-specialist, so I consciously avoided legal technicalities.  Also, I assume that the average newspaper reader will be skimming the text rather than fully engaged in my arguments.  Therefore, I utilize simple and direct sentences as opposed to rhetorical questions or complex syllogisms that require greater concentration to follow.

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International Media & Conflict Resolution Conference Update: Media Files Now Available

Our media files from the Conference, including pictures and webcasts of the presentations, are now available. Click here for access to the pictures, videotapes, and podcasts.  The written products of the Conference are expected to appear in the fall issue of the Marquette Law Review.  (My earlier post on Conference highlights is here.)

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Fame v. Accuracy in Persuasion

Columnists in both the New York Times and Newsweek in the last few weeks have discussed how often we tend to be persuaded by people who are just plain wrong.  And, as a follow-up to our media and conflict resolution conference last week, it was interesting to realize what part the media plays in helping the wrong people to continually have outlets for their mistaken predications.  As Sharon Begley wrote:

Pointing out how often pundits’ predictions are not only wrong but egregiously wrong — a 36,000 Dow! euphoric Iraqis welcoming American soldiers with flowers! — is like shooting fish in a barrel, except in this case the fish refuse to die. No matter how often they miss the mark, pundits just won’t shut up. . . . The fact that being chronically, 180-degrees wrong does not disqualify pundits is in large part the media’s fault: cable news, talk radio and the blogosphere need all the punditry they can rustle up, track records be damned. But while we can’t shut pundits up, we can identify those more likely to have an accurate crystal ball when it comes to forecasts from the effect of the stimulus bill to the likelihood of civil unrest in China. Knowing who’s likely to be right comes down to something psychologists call cognitive style, and with that in mind Philip Tetlock, a research psychologist at Stanford University, would like to introduce you to foxes and hedgehogs.

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