In this online age, the speechwriter’s job has come to include the duty of “snark-proofing” speeches, in the memorable phrasing of former Clinton speechwriter David Kusnet. Kusnet was referring to the battalions of anonymous commentators, and squadrons of people on Twitter, ready to pounce on a text’s perceived weaknesses and gleefully highlight them via social media. These concealed snipers hope to elevate your boss’ ham-handed arguments, misstatements of fact, ad-libbed metaphors, incorrectly-remembered punch lines, etc., into a sarcastic super-nova of virtual humiliation.
Thanks to a recently-published book, we have a new ally in the fight to save our speech texts from online hammering once they’ve been posted – at least in terms of the arguments those texts present. I’m referring to data visualization expert Ali Almossawi’s Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments.
At less than 60 pages (including the humorous illustrations), this is not a long book, but a potentially very useful addition to your writer’s toolbox. Almossawi’s book presents 19 of the most “common errors in reasoning that plague a lot of our present discourse.” His goal is to help those are interested in avoiding these 19 errors the opportunity to read “about things that one should not do,” to give them the benefit of “a useful learning experience.”
Each entry in the book – logical fallacies, appeals to the bandwagon, hasty generalizations, appeals to irrelevant authority, etc. – are defined crisply in a few terse paragraphs, and accompanied by a cartoon intended to help the reader remember (and avoid making) the error.
Another author might have been tempted to fill the book with howlers and clangers drawn from actual speeches and public statements, with names of the guilty attached – but Almossawi has (commendably) not written this book as an exercise in snark. We can take him at his word that his goal is, as he says in the afterword, simply to provide readers “with a greater awareness of the dangers of flimsy arguments and how commonplace they are in our everyday lives.”
For speechwriters, this is a timely book and a valuable resource. It might even spare you and your principal some grief in future, and help you steer clear of some of those flimsy arguments that could get your online critics cackling.