Logical fallacies in an editorial piece: A case study

Print journalism has a long and rich tradition, reaching back more than two centuries.  The content disseminated by newspapers can be divided into two classes: reports and opinion.  While reports are expected to adhere to objectivity and neutrality, opinion editorials have no such restrictions.  As a result, the latter can at times come across as ideologically biased as they reflect personal views of the editor.  This essay will look into an editorial essay of recent times and will scrutinize if the author had committed logical errors.  The editorial chosen for this analysis is “Base drilling halt on results, not an arbitrary timeline”, published in USA Today on the 8th of July, 2010.  Since the author’s name is not disclosed, the views expressed therein can be attributed to the Editorial Board of USA Today.

In the immediate aftermath of the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama Adminstration issued a moratorium banning all drilling activity in the region for the next six months.  This meant that all 33 oil rigs in the Gulf will remain idle, along with tens of thousands of oil-rig workers.  The moratorium elicited mixed reactions from different sections of society and body politic.  The republicans accuse President Obama of pandering to the insecurities and fears of the masses, whereas public opinion is fairly supportive of this decision.

The editorial’s central argument is that the moratorium is too arbitrary a measure; and that the Obama Adminstration could have drawn up more specific set of criteria for the reopening of rigs.  The author goes one step ahead and enlists three specific criterions for the eventual reopening of rigs.  These are: “Is it safe to drill?, Is there a credible plan for plugging a blowout?, and Is the industry capable of cleaning up a catastrophic spill?”.  He further explains the rationale behind these questions.  To this extent there seems to be no editorial bias one way or the other.    Major newspapers in the United States are classified as either liberal or conservative; and it appears that the author takes up neither position in the article.  Hence it is easy to come to the conclusion that the editorial is not ideologically slanted, and that it espouses neither the right-wing nor the left-wing perspective.

But a closer examination reveals more fundamental deficiencies.  Beneath the veneer of being objective and critical, one could detect the soft stance toward major oil corporations.  Given the sheer scale of the oil-spill catastrophe, one would expect a major newspaper such as the USA Today to demand answers of major oil corporations such as BP.  But instead, the author seems to fake ignorance when he writes “either BP was exceptionally reckless, or the risks are far greater than was widely believed. It’s crucial to know which is true before drilling is allowed to resume, perhaps on a rig-by-rig basis”.  Anybody who knows the history of oil corporations and their contribution to environmental degradation would also know their complete apathy toward the latter.  Moreover, business corporations have a reputation for giving priority to profits in the immediate future over sustained well-being of people and the environment.  Hence, the tone of neutrality in the editorial does not imply objectivity, but instead it betrays ignorance on part of the author (faked or otherwise).

Conspicuous by its absence is any reference to renewable sources of energy.  With the aid of technological advancements already achieved, the whole planet could gradually switch over to renewable sources of energy such as hydro-electric, wind and solar.  The three point criteria that the author presents is at best a quick-fix for what is a deep-rooted problem, namely the influence wielded by oil corporations over government policy matters.  It is a well-known fact that political campaigns are heavily funded by large business corporations, including those in non-renewable energy industry.  Hence President Obama is constrained in acting against them.  A similar sort of relation exists between the media and business corporations as well.  In the case of USA Today, a significant part of advertisement revenue comes from large oil corporations; and the editors will not jeopardize revenues by attacking their advertisers.  In this context, one could see why the author has no problems with the continued existence of non-renewable energy companies and their detrimental effect on the environment.

Hence, in conclusion, by studying the editorial in question carefully, one could see certain fundamental flaws.  These flaws will not be clear by reading what is printed, but at looking at what is missing.  In other words, the flaws are of omission and not of commission.  General parameters of logical fallacies such as faulty analogy, name calling, post hoc ergo propter hoc, two extremes fallacy, argumentum ad hominem, stroking and bandwagon are almost nearly absent in the printed text.  The total lack of reference to the damage done by energy companies to the environment, the lack of allusion to vested political interests and the refusal to talk about renewable energy sources, will together constitute its failure.


“Base drilling halt on results, not an arbitrary timeline”, published in USA Today on the 8th of July, 2010, retrieved from <http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2010-07-08-editorial08_ST_N.htm>