The Way Of The Wordsmith Analysis

The Way of the Wordsmith
By Keenan D. Davis

Nicholas Lemann’s interview; and subsequent critique of Frank Luntz’s methodology, highlighted both the simplicity and complexity of finding the right words to effectively persuade individuals not of a similar mindset. The ultimate assumption being the naivety of the individual targeted for persuasion. If one has an informed opinion on a subject it is harder to manipulate their understanding of it with empty rhetoric. Too often the general public will elect officials who implement policies based on their presentation rather than effectiveness or benefit. However history has shown us repeatedly that the vast majority of potential constituents rarely truly grasp the magnitude of the policies
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Luntz’s focus groups the participants are asked to give their opinion on inheritance taxes, many of them didn’t have a good understanding of what it was. Even after having it explained to them, because it was presented as a “Death” tax they wanted it abolished. Despite the fact that they themselves would not likely be affected either way, the presentation of the tax lead them to lean in a direction that didn’t necessarily benefit them. To further expand on his theory that presentation is key to persuasion, Luntz rearranges the order of Ross Perot’s political ads. A man who was viewed as an inspirational rag-to-riches success story is now viewed in an unfavorable light. Which in turn inspires Luntz to opine “the order in which you give information determines how people think”. This would seem to support Mr. Lemann’s opinion that “if you introduce a subject using language that will produce a strong opinion no subsequent information will get people to change their minds.” Mr. Luntz appears to echo this same sentiment, as evidenced by his affinity for “1984” author George Orwell. Who in the words of Lemann “presented the manipulation of language as one of the scariest features of a totalitarian society.” Which is to say that feelings, being a stronger influence in relation to perception than fact or logic, can be manipulated by those with a greater understanding of language and the emotions they

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