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WikiLeaks paper reveals Congressional think tank specific techniques for 'persuading' audiences

This document was obtained by WikiLeaks from the United States Congressional Research Service. The CRS is a Congressional "think tank" with a staff of around 700. Reports are commissioned by members of Congress on topics relevant to current political events. Despite CRS costs to the tax payer of over $100M a year, its electronic archives are, as a matter of policy, not made available to the public. Individual members of Congress will release specific CRS reports if they believe it to assist them politically, but CRS archives as a whole are firewalled from public access. This report was obtained by WikiLeaks staff from CRS computers accessible only from Congressional offices.


A report from April 12, 2007, was "Prepared primarily for congressional staff members called upon to help prepare speeches for Members,” and “provides basic guidance on obtaining speech material, using it to prepare a speech draft, and presentation.”, as we read in the abstract. However, it seems that it is more than that. In the report we can find specific techniques aiming even to “change an audience's impressions, opinions, or most ambitiously, their convictions.”

Other parts simulate propaganda brainwash, like the one below:

           Complex sentences can be clarified by repeating key words and using simple connections. By numerous rhetorical techniques, the speaker states, restates, and states again in different ways, the central themes of the speech.

Under the headline "rhetorical questions" there is an example that could be used by the speaker to justify wars:

           “Is peace a rash system?” “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” The speaker leads the audience to the conclusion he hopes they will draw by asking a question that makes his point, and that he intends to answer himself, either immediately, with a flourish, or at greater length during his remarks, through patient exposition.

Under the headline "Imagery" we read that:

           Mere clarity is not enough for persuasive rhetoric, however. Indeed, there are times when clarity, brevity, and the like are not appropriate. The issues, because of their import and complexity, may preclude such treatment; similarly, the gravity or delicate political nature of the occasion may call for some measure of deliberate ambiguity.

Under the headline "Occasion and Purpose":

           Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day are among the most solemn public holidays in the calendar. For these two events, the speechwriter should focus on themes of commemoration, service, and sacrifice. The atmosphere should appropriately be both somber, and hopeful: “their sacrifice led to a better, more secure life for those who followed them.”

Under the headline “Persuasion” we find perhaps the most interesting part of the report because it describes techniques through which speakers could even change (and even reverse) the perception of entire audiences on specific issues:

           The persuasive speech is a two-edged sword: it can seek to instill in the listeners either the acceptance of, or at least a more favorable opinion toward, a particular condition, fact, or concept. This variant is described as advocacy. Conversely, a speech may also attempt to change an audience’s impressions, opinions, or most ambitiously, their convictions. Wiethoff calls this dissent, and asserts that it is more difficult than advocacy, since the speaker faces the burden of proving to the listeners that what they have heretofore accepted should be modified or rejected. In both cases, the writer must marshal the arguments that will convince the audience.

[...]

in order to convince an audience, a speaker often needs to combine persuasion with information. Similarly, while some types of remarks are intended purely for entertainment, such as a celebrity roast, the careful speechwriter will always seek to entertain audiences in order to capture and retain their attention.

But it's getting ‘better'. Under “Techniques of Persuasion” the examples being used are really impressive:

           There are many techniques available for the actual writing of a speech. Almost all speeches delivered by, or on behalf of, Members of Congress, even those for ceremonial or pro forma occasions, will have a certain political character because of the Member’s representative function, and also because of the way in which his or her office is perceived. In the rhetorical context, political means persuasive, including the expression of personal interest and concern, assuring and reassuring, conveying the Member’s identity with each audience, and so creating a community of interest and trust. Three kinds of persuasive techniques are usually distinguished:

the appeal to reasonableness: “Surely Democrats and Republicans alike can agree that there is no excuse today for hunger in the world’s richest nation....”

the appeal to emotion: “Can we, as a nation, close our eyes to the spectacle of millions of children going to bed hungry every night...?”

the ethical appeal (that is, to the character of the audience): “our historic traditions of decency and generosity demand that we face squarely the question of hunger in America....”

All three approaches may be used in any given speech.

This is quite astonishing. The examples being used (especially the latest ones) in this 'manual' provide a perfect proof that politicians speak in standardized terms, even when the refer to the most serious matters. It shows the complete emptiness and hypocrisy of the political establishment that has been bought by the big interests. Most politicians not only ignore the big problems of the society, but act against it while they pretend that they care.

We knew that. Now we have more evidence.

Full report:


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