Monday, March 10, 2008

Rhetoric: Burden of Proof

Accusations and allegations of wrongdoing made by one person against another is par for the course in the political arena, but little care is give to how we should respond to them.

For instance, suppose A accuses B of wrongdoing of some kind: who should we demand defend their position? Is it the responsibility of B to prove that the accusation is false? Or is it the responsibility of A to prove that it is true?

Likely it depends on the circumstances; sometimes it is the accused who should defend themselves against what has been said, and sometimes it is the accuser who should prove what they have said against the other. Generally, B should only be expected to refute the allegation if A has provided some good reason for thinking that it is true.

Unfortunately, it seems that we too quickly assume that the accused must respond to any allegation whatsoever -- and do so immediately -- no matter how little is offered to support it.

In the justice system, it is frequently admonished that we are "innocent until proven guilty", which is an appeal to the moral consideration of culpability. We should keep this moral impulse in mind when accusations are made, in order to guard against believing false or unfounded accusations.

COSTELLO: Why does Mr. Trump keep doubling down on Judge Curiel? What's the purpose?

PALADINO: Well, answer the question for me as to why the press keeps doubling down on this Judge Curiel thing. The press has created this issue.

COSTELLO: Erick Erickson, who's a conservative blogger, he's an anti-Trump conservative, he does not like the media, either. He wrote this, this morning, of Donald Trump and his continued attacks on Judge Curiel, quote: "So the Party of Lincoln will entertain a racist as its leader in the name of winning? What good does it profit a party to win the White House and lose its soul? Because the odds are the party will not win the White House and will forfeit future victories as it sees Hispanic voters, black voters, and a solid number of evangelicals flee the party of racists." What would you say to Erick Erickson?

PALADINO: Erick Erickson just likes to use the term, "racist". He's not a racist. By far he's not a racist. This is incredible that you want to pull this word out and use it, because it always pushes back on the white guy. It’s not fair. And it's not a fair description of Donald Trump. Donald Trump might have some anxiety about this particular judge because he lives in the same real world that I do, where this type of thing does go on, where the ethnicity means something, in a court case or someplace else.
-- Carl Paladino, honorary co-chair for the campaign of Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, June 6, 2016, during an interview with Carol Costello of CNN. His remarks concerned Trump's demand that U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel recuse himself from a civil case concerning Trump University, given that Curiel was of Mexican heritage, was a member of a Latino lawyers' association, and that Trump had pledged to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border to stop illegal immigration from Mexico.

Comment: First of all, Paladino is using "media incitement" rhetoric. There are legitimate questions about what Trump has said, and the media are asking those questions. Second, while Paladino is right that the term "racist" has been used unfairly in the past, that doesn't mean it's being used unfairly against Trump. When Paladino says he and Trump live in the "real world", he's implying that others don't, which is a form of "stupid" name-calling. Lastly, while it's true there are cases where people (likely even judges) act on racial prejudice, there are also cases where they don't. The burden of proof is on Trump (and Paladino) to show that Curiel is doing so; they can't just speculate that he might. Otherwise, the case couldn't be given to a white judge either, because a white judge might favor Trump based on ethnicity.

Donald Trump is a pathological liar, Ted Cruz said Tuesday in a forceful and passionate rebuke of the Republican presidential front-runner. Phoning into Fox News on Tuesday, the real-estate mogul parroted a National Enquirer report alleging that Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, was with John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, suggesting that the elder Cruz was somehow involved in JFK’s murder.

“This morning, Donald Trump went on national television and attacked my father. Donald Trump alleges that my dad was involved in assassinating JFK,” Cruz told reporters during a news conference in Evansville, Indiana. “Now, let’s be clear, this is nuts. This is not a reasonable position. This is just kooky.”

“And while I’m at it, I guess I should go ahead and admit, yes, my dad killed JFK, he is secretly Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa is buried in his backyard,” Cruz continued sarcastically.

Cruz defended his father, recalling the story of how came to America with just $100, and slammed the National Enquirer as “tabloid trash” that published an “idiotic story.” Cruz said the tabloid, which recently published a story alleging that the Texas senator has had multiple extramarital affairs, has become Trump’s hit piece to smear his targets.

“I’m gonna tell you what I really think of Donald Trump: This man is a pathological liar,” Cruz said. “He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth, and in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying.”

Trump floated the conspiracy between the Cuban immigrant and Oswald in retaliation for Rafael Cruz using his pulpit to encourage evangelicals to support Cruz. “I mean, what was he doing — what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting?” Trump said on Fox News. “It’s horrible.”
-- Republican presidential contenders Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Donald Trump, as related in a May 3, 2016, story by Nolan D. McCaskill of Politico.

Comment: First, Trump is suggesting Rafael Cruz may have conspired with Oswald to kill JFK largely based on a picture in which Oswald appears with someone resembling Cruz. Even if the person is, in fact, Cruz, this is flimsy evidence at best; many other people appeared in the picture, are they therefore ALL conspirators? Trump's accusation against Cruz is derisive, and the burden of proof is on Trump to prove that it's true. Second, even if it were true that Rafael Cruz had played a role in assassinating JFK, what bearing would that have on his son, Ted Cruz? Is Trump accusing the younger Cruz of guilt by association? Last, Ted Cruz is accusing Trump of not caring about the truth. Granted, Trump is saying (or at least, has said) things that are false; is that enough to reach the conclusion that he's a pathological liar who doesn't care about facts? If we discover that Cruz has said things that are false, can we conclude the same about him?

"When we're talking about trust, we need to look no farther than the person Mitt Romney wants to -- my friend the Republican Leader wants to be president of the United States. He's refused to release his tax returns, as we know. … So the word's out that he hasn't paid any taxes for ten years. Let him prove that he has paid taxes, because he hasn't."
-- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), August 2, 2012.

Comment: First, if Reid knows that Romney hasn't paid taxes, then he should prove it using whatever evidence he has that is the basis for his claim that Romney hasn't paid taxes. The burden of proof is on Reid. Second, Reid says that "the word is out" that Romney hasn't paid taxes, leaving it unspecified who (other than Reid himself) has made the accusation (and, more to the point, based on what evidence), which is unnamed antagonist rhetoric.

(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples.)

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