This week we introduced ethos, pathos, and logos as basic rhetorical concepts and talked about how each of these tools works to help develop a persuasive argument.

  • Ethos is about trust and credibility: How do you convince people that you are someone they should take seriously and listen to on this topic?
  • Pathos is about the emotional appeal of your argument.
  • Logos is the logic of your argument—how do you use reason in making your case?

We then looked at a few different types of persuasive communication and talked about how they use each of these tools:

First, we considered this ad trying to get people to give money to a fund that helps abused animals. We noted the obvious emotional appeal of the ad—pictures of abused animals, a slow, emotional song played in the background, the good-looking woman at home with her dog, etc.

Second, we noted that the ad doesn’t have a very strong use of ethos or logos, but that this is kind of by design: Short forms of persuasive communication don’t have the time to develop ethos or logos as much and so they tend to default to pathos because that sort of appeal can be made very quickly and can be extremely powerful.

Next we looked at the famous Daisy Ad from the 1964 presidential campaign:

This video also trades heavily in pathos, but whereas the first ad is mostly about triggering feelings of grief, sadness, and perhaps a bit of guilt that you aren’t doing anything, this ad is straight fear: Do you want your children to have a world to grow up in? What will you do if nuclear war starts? The ethos and logos here is implied but never made explicit: Lyndon Johnson is the sitting president. He was the Vice President during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is the closest the world has ever come to full-on nuclear war. You want him handling this issue. But the overall appeal of the ad is focused around fear.

Next we looked at two more formal types of political speech. First, this one from Congressman Jeff Fortenberry given on the floor of the House of Representatives:

In this speech, we noted that there are a number of things going on here that give Fortenberry instant credibility (ethos): He is himself a member of Congress. He’s speaking from the floor of the House. But we also noted that his appearance gives him further credibility—he’s got the suit on, he looks middle-aged which says “experienced but not old,”, etc. We noted that a speech like this will lean heavily on ethos and logos due to the audience, the time he has to communicate with them, etc.

Finally, we considered one other clip, this short one from a media appearance by Senator Ben Sasse on MSNBC:

In this one, we note that Sasse is dressed very differently than Fortenberry. Fortenberry is speaking in the House so he is wearing a suit and takes a much more formal approach to his speech. Sasse, meanwhile, is appearing on cable news and is wearing a light Nebraska Cornhuskers jacket. I noted that he often wears that jacket during media appearances because he is very much wanting to play up the fact that he is from Middle America and that he is a relatable, normal guy—even if he does have a very different resume than most normal, relatable Nebraksan men.

We did not have an assignment due to the Thanksgiving holiday.