If you’re skeptical of western power structures and you’ve ever engaged in online political debate for any length of time, the following has definitely happened to you.

You find yourself going back and forth with one of those high-confidence, low-information establishment types who’s promulgating a dubious mainstream narrative, whether that be about politics, war, Julian Assange, or whatever. At some point they make an assertion which you know to be false–publicly available information invalidates the claim they’re making.

“I’ve got them now!” you think to yourself, if you’re new to this sort of thing. Then you share a link to an article or video which makes a well-sourced, independently verifiable case for the point you are trying to make.

Then, the inevitable happens.

“LMAO! That outlet!” they scoff in response. “That outlet is propaganda/fake news/conspiracy theory trash!”

Or something to that effect. You’ll encounter this tactic over and over and over again if you continually engage in online political discourse with people who don’t agree with you. It doesn’t matter if you’re literally just linking to an interview featuring some public figure saying a thing you’d claimed they said. It doesn’t matter if you’re linking to a WikiLeaks publication of a verified authentic document. Unless you’re linking to CNN/Fox News (whichever fits the preferred ideology of the establishment loyalist you’re debating), they’ll bleat “fake news!” or “propaganda!” or “Russia!” as though that in and of itself magically invalidates the point you’re trying to make.

And of course it doesn’t. What they are doing is called attacking the source, also known as an ad hominem, and it’s a very basic logical fallacy.

Most people are familiar with the term “ad hominem”, but they usually think about it in terms of merely hurling verbal insults at people. What it actually means is attacking the source of the argument rather than attacking the argument itself in a way that avoids dealing with the question of whether or not the argument itself is true. It’s a logical fallacy because it’s used to deliberately obfuscate the goal of a logical conclusion to the debate.

“An ad hominem is more than just an insult,” explains David Ferrer for The Quad. “It’s an insult used as if it were an argument or evidence in support of a conclusion. Verbally attacking people proves nothing about the truth or falsity of their claims.”

This can take the form of saying “Claim X is false because the person making it is an idiot.” But it can also take the form of “Claim X is false because the person making it is a propagandist,” or “Claim X is false because the person making it is a conspiracy theorist.”

Someone being an idiot, a propagandist or a conspiracy theorist is irrelevant to the question of whether or not what they’re saying is true. In my last article debunking a spin job on the OPCW scandal by the narrative management firm Bellingcat, I pointed out that Bellingcat is funded by imperialist regime change operations like the National Endowment for Democracy, which was worth highlighting because it shows the readers where that organization is coming from. But if I’d left my argument there it would still be an ad hominem attack, because it wouldn’t address whether or not what Bellingcat wrote about the OPCW scandal is true. It would be a logical fallacy; proving that they are propagandists doesn’t prove that what they are saying in this particular instance is false.

What I had to do in order to actually refute Bellingcat’s spin job was show that they were making a bad argument using bad logic, which I did by highlighting the way they used pedantic wordplay to make it seem as though the explosive leaks which have been emerging from the OPCW’s investigation of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria were insignificant. I had to show how Bellingcat actually never came anywhere close to addressing the actual concerns about a leaked internal OPCW email, such as extremely low chlorinated organic chemical levels on the scene and patients’ symptoms not matching up with chlorine gas poisoning, as well as the fact that the OPCW investigators plainly don’t feel as though their concerns were met since they’re blowing the whistle on the organisation now.

And, for the record, Bellingcat’s lead trainer/researcher guy responded to my arguments by saying I’m a conspiracy theorist. I personally count that as a win.

The correct response to someone who attacks the outlet or individual you’re citing instead of attacking the actual argument being made is, “You’re attacking the source instead of the argument. That’s a logical fallacy, and it’s only ever employed by people who can’t attack the argument.”

The demand that you only ever use mainstream establishment media when arguing against establishment narratives is itself an inherently contradictory position, because establishment media by their very nature do not report facts against the establishment. It’s saying “You’re only allowed to criticise establishment power using outlets which never criticize establishment power.”

Good luck finding a compilation of Trump’s dangerous escalations against Moscow like the one I wrote the other day anywhere in the mainstream media, for example. Neither mainstream liberals nor mainstream conservatives are interested in promoting that narrative, so it simply doesn’t exist in the mainstream information bubble. Every item I listed in that article is independently verifiable and sourced from separate mainstream media reports, yet if you share that article in a debate with an establishment loyalist and they know who I am, nine times out of ten they’ll say something like “LOL Caitlin Johnstone?? She’s nuts!” With “nuts” of course meaning “Says things my TV doesn’t say”.

It’s possible to just click on all the hyperlinks in my article and share them separately to make your point, but you can also simply point out that they are committing a logical fallacy, and that they are doing so because they can’t actually attack the argument.

This will make them very upset, because for the last few years establishment loyalists have been told that it is perfectly normal and acceptable to attack the source instead of the argument. The mass hysteria about “fake news” and “Russian propaganda” has left consumers of mainstream media with the unquestioned assumption that if they ever so much as glance at an RT article their faces will begin to melt like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. They’ve been trained to believe that it’s perfectly logical and acceptable to simply shriek “propaganda!” at a rational argument or well-sourced article which invalidates their position, or even to proactively go around calling people Russian agents who dissent from mainstream western power-serving narratives.

But it isn’t logical, and it isn’t acceptable. The best way to oppose their favorite logically fallacious tactic is to call it like it is, and let them deal with the cognitive dissonance that that brings up for them.

Of course some nuance is needed here. Remember that alternative media is just like anything else: there’s good and bad, even within the same outlet, so make sure what you’re sharing is solid and not just some schmuck making a baseless claim. You can’t just post a link to some Youtuber making an unsubstantiated assertion and then accuse the person you’re debating of attacking the source when they dismiss it. That which has been presented without evidence may be dismissed without evidence, and if the link you’re citing consists of nothing other than unproven assertions by someone they’ve got no reason to take at their word, they can rightly dismiss it.

If however the claims in the link you’re citing are logically coherent arguments or well-documented facts presented in a way that people can independently fact-check, it doesn’t matter if you’re citing CNN or Sputnik. The only advantage to using CNN when possible would be that it allows you to skip the part where they perform the online equivalent of putting their fingers in their ears and humming.

Don’t allow those who are still sleeping bully those who are not into silence. Insist on facts, evidence, and intellectually honest arguments, and if they refuse to provide them call it what it is: an admission that they have lost the debate.


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59 responses to “Attacking The Source: The Establishment Loyalist’s Favorite Online Tactic”

  1. Seems like you conflated a genetic fallacy with an ad hominem. The former has to do with attacking a source while the latter, a person. The latter is a type of the former. Nevertheless, attacking merely the source is a fallacy and worth pointing out:)

  2. Another way of stating what you did above: Calling out a source for where it gets its funding, who runs it, who supports it, etc. is important for figuring out WHY it is putting out bad arguments. To stick with the Bellingcat example, it’s worth pointing out they receive money from the NED, which itself is almost entirely funded by the US Government, because it explains why the content they put out is trash.

  3. Caitlin, I agree with everything you have said here, but it seems to me we face another problem that is much more severe than mere ad hominem attacks. There is a growing cohort of people who reject the entire idea of reason and evidence itself. They not only reject evidence from alternative sources, they reject evidence from the sources they claim to trust also, if it disagrees with the current narrative. Many of these people seem to derive their opinions entirely from emotion-based appeals and there are vast legions of them on the political left and on college campuses, though you can find them on the right as well.

    We are facing a groundswell of cult-like, absolutist thinking; unfortunately all of western society, from its political procedures to its academic process to legal systems, depends on the idea that truth and falsehood exists and can be known through rule-based systems with appropriate safeguards. I fear very much that if we step away from this, we will fall into an abyss with no easy recovery; maybe we are already there. As you have said so many times, the problem with allowing narratives to determine one’s opinions is that by so doing, one cedes one’s very mind and soul to the narrative engineers, whose motives are all too suspect, to put it very mildly.

    1. George Bellarious Avatar
      George Bellarious

      I have seen a lot of media showing this, probably the same ones as you, but I’m wondering if internet magnification is at work. You used words like “groundswell”, “many”, and “vast legions”. Do you have data indicating this is really the magnitude of the problem?

      1. George, I guess it depends on what you mean by internet magnification. If you mean that there isn’t an increase but there only appears to be because of overpublicizing isolated incidents on the Internet, I would disagree. We have extremist groups like Antifa and Proud Boys literally battling on the streets, and riots attempting to shut down controversial speakers on college campuses – these things essentially didn’t happen in the 1980s and 1990s.

        On the other hand, if you mean that the Internet itself is promoting extremism of all types, I agree with this hypothesis. Other people have written on this idea, that fringe ideas prosper much more than before because it is so easy to find like-minded people on the Internet.

        I also agree that more data is needed, but IMHO there is overwhelming evidence of a secular increase in extreme ideology.

  4. Excellent work Caitlin. In the spirit of your article. There is a supranational perspective to events that is worthy of your review and consideration. Feel free to communicate should you have any questions or would enjoy expanded sourcing: http://mastersofdissent.com/fundingyourownenslavement.pdf Keep up the good work. – The Spitting Lyon

  5. To be a conspiracy theorist is to always be on the lookout for new information and consider it for what it is worth, because there are always predators in the bush. Those who don’t and just stick with the herd are herd animals and are going to follow the herd and whatever the herd says and you are not going to convince them otherwise. Safety in numbers.

    Simple facts of life.

  6. Violence has been the way of life for millennia.

    Directly or indirectly we have lived under violence.

    Our armies, our politicians, our police, our jails, our judges, our wars, our so-called great religions, all have lived in violence.

    And violence, reduced to its essentials, is irreverent towards life.

    Violence is a violation of both life and consciousness, it is destructive.

    Perhaps there does not exist a more dangerous disease than violence.

    The meaning of violence, is having such a mind which would remain restless without quarreling, which would not experience happiness without hurting somebody or making someone miserable.

    Naturally the mind which is eager to hurt others, or to which the only happiness is to make others miserable, can never become happy.

    The very structure of the mind is not made by you, and it is not made by existence.

    You bring a blank check, whatever is written on that blank check is by others.

    They teach you competitiveness, they teach you guilt, they teach you jealousy, they teach you fear.

    They prepare the whole ground for suffering and anguish and anxiety.

    If the whole society sows the seeds of violence, you cannot expect and hope that the flowers will not be affected by violence.

    Those flowers will come out of the seeds that have been sown.

    You have to go beyond the conditioning of others.

    Your mind is nothing but a by-product of the society in which you are born, it is the society speaking through you.

    Unless you are totally aware, you are the collective.

    The collective is a very dangerous word.

    In the name of the collective the individual, the real, has always been sacrificed.

    Nations have been sacrificing individuals in the name of the nation, and ‘nation’ is just a word, an idea.

    We have been hypnotized from birth into believing that continuous brutal wars are needed for the survival of our freedom and democracy, and that these imperialistic narratives of violence, killing and genocide are somehow acceptable.

    Whatever is programmed into our minds, through collective culture, education, and MSM, subconsciously begins to take shape and control what we imagine and think, teleologically appearing as our own ideas.

    These ideas become so authentically real we cannot believe them to be anything but our own thoughts, we could never conceive that we have been programmed to limit our intelligence, so that we never really see the true nature of our politicians criminality, or ever really dare question the status quo.

    The idea of the collective unconscious means that there is a point in your mind where you are connected with all the minds around you.

    This mind is collective, it is not just your own.

    And the collective mind is like a continent.

    Everybody else is involved in it, not only the present people, but centuries that have passed and the people who have lived, all have left impressions on the collective unconscious.

    This idea of the collective mind has to be destroyed completely, otherwise in some way or other we will continue sacrificing the individual.

    This inhibited, suppressed and unconscious collective mind is the basis of all insanity, all tensions, all conflicts, all disharmony in the world.

    But for centuries this has been going on.

    Politicians have used it, religious leaders have used it, perhaps not knowing what they are doing, how it is happening.

    They may not have any understanding of the collective mind, but that’s what has been happening, and this understanding has to be made known to everybody worldwide.

    We have been brought up and programmed by all the traditions in a schizophrenic way.

    It was helpful to divide humanity in every possible dimension, and create a conflict between the divisions.

    This way the individual becomes weak, shaky, fearful, ready to submit, surrender; ready to be enslaved by the priests, by the politicians, by anybody.

    They have made the whole of humanity schizophrenic.

    A schizophrenic person, a person with a split, fragmented mind cannot be one.

    Our whole vision has become schizophrenic.

    Through meditation schizophrenia will drop.

    Don’t make any split within yourself, you are one, and take yourself as one.

    In reality each individual is a totality, they have no division at all.

    Existence is one.

    Know yourself, be yourself.

    In India for ten thousand years, thousands of people have entered into self-realization and have found that Intelligence does not come from the mind, it comes from the whole, from consciousness.

    Consciousness is always here-now.

    We are life itself.

  7. Ms. Johnstone, I do not know if you have noticed but I supported you with $$$$$, yet I have not seen you read any of my posts on Word Press; alaskamansluckgeorget, yet I am sometimes just above or below you, I think you will see if you can spare a moment to read one, that we both desire the same thing: Peace and Harmony on our one Planet capable of supporting life as we know it, my last post was all about the lies and propaganda we are subjected to on a daily basis, I have people all over this world reading me, this is not a Brag, it is just that what I have say rings the bell of Truth to the lies…….

  8. Ilya G Poimandres Avatar
    Ilya G Poimandres

    There’s who’s talking and what they are talking about.. There is also the who is being talked about, ‘Assad is an animal anyways’.

    I tell people that talk about who and their conceptions of their intentions, that we can talk about that or the facts, and let them choose.

    Just engage them on their ground of “highly likely”. It’s not quite a fallacy, but it is a detour!

  9. The MSM – CNN, ABC, MSNBC, NYT, WaPo… – broke cover with the two plus years of Russiagate and demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are mouthpieces for the Deep State and are thus less than worthless as “reliable sources”.

  10. Brainwashed: watches flat earth videos on youtube and believes it watches news on youtube dismisses it as fake news

  11. This should be no surprise to anyone, yet many/most swallow the MSM bs and will continue to do so
    no matter what.
    “A mainstream media and academic expert this week issued a rare admission: that pretty much everything the establishment has fed the public on Syria is false or distorted; ”

  12. George Bellarious Avatar
    George Bellarious

    Sometimes people attack the source not as a logical argument/refutation, but as an indication that they don’t trust that source.

    Now that clever editing, context manipulation, outright propaganda, and even deep fakes can make us see or hear almost anything, people don’t know who/what they can trust.

    Eliminating certain sources from consideration is probably a reasonable survival tactic.

  13. There’s also the routine (almost obligatory) ad hominem prior to a relatively positive statement. I hear it a lot, even from alternative media show hosts and commenters:

    I can’t stand/I’m not a fan of Putin but …
    Julian Assange might be obnoxious but that’s not the point …
    Assad is a brutal dictator but …

  14. Thank you. You put words to why I have been losing all arguments with my well-meaning family members who have more affinity with numbers than with narratives.
    I have been feeling a little lost and questioned if my consumption of the products of alternative media (that happen to be in this article’s banner) was right.
    Now you have given me tools to verbally challenge the ideas.

    Earlier today I was looking for a media-critical game to play with them during the holidays. I found The Propaganda Game (1966), which has been reworked into a website. Few games start by listing propaganda techniques, so it caught my interest.

    Yours is one of my favourite blogs to read. This was another good text. Thank you.

  15. technically, you’re right, Caitln.
    in real world, source tells more than enough about whether the content/argument is worth reading or considering or analyzing.
    that’s why Bernie lost most of his political credibility as a self-proclaimed socialist when he joined the Damn party, which has nothing to do with real socialism.
    and amy goodman became badman when she hooked up with george soros for funding.
    and intercept lost their credibility with obey-something paypal guy as their sugar daddy.
    and wp has no credibility with bezos as their boss.
    i never trust a word on those rags.

    1. choose your friends wisely, and your enemies will reveal themselves.

      1. “If I have or suspect I am about to have an enemy, Icultivate his friendship and poison him.”

    2. You’re doing what Caity is instructing us not to do- throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Truth nuggets are out there- even in MSM and co-opted “alternative” sources. It’s upon us to sift through it all- a task less daunting as we build up our collective savvy.

      1. of course i do. remember “analyze the reality we created yesterday while we create 10 more realities today, which you will labor on analyzing tomorrow..” cheney?

        you think you will win the debate (and achive something useful), by punking their narratives, that they have no intention to win against you??????

  16. USA-ma Bin Laden Avatar
    USA-ma Bin Laden

    Mr. Bellingcat, Eliot Higgins, and his ilk should be careful to engage in ad hominem attacks.

    This same tactic can be applied to them as well–with more devastating effect.

    After all, who the hell is Eliot Higgins and what credibility does he have to pose as one of the Anglo-American Empire’s anointed Narrative Managers… I mean … unimpeachable experts on Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Middle East, or geopolitics in general?

    Even according to pro-establishment media sources like Wikipedia, Higgins “has no background or training in weapons and is entirely self-taught, saying that ‘Before the Arab spring I knew no more about weapons than the average Xbox owner. I had no knowledge beyond what I’d learned from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rambo.'[2] Higgins does not speak or read Arabic.”


    And before Higgins landed this gig as a “citizen journalist,” he worked at a women’s lingerie company, who spent “hundreds of hours playing various online role-playing games like World of Warcraft.”

    The rise of Brown Moses: How an unemployed British man has become a poster boy for citizen journalism

    But then again, perhaps Higgins is actually a modern-day Leonardo DaVinci, a Renaissance Man who is a weapons expert, World of Warcraft video geek, geopolitical analyst, citizen narrative manager, and women’s underwear specialist–all done from his flat in Great Britain!


    1. USA-ma Bin Laden Avatar
      USA-ma Bin Laden

      I must offer a formal apologize to Mr. Higgins.

      I neglected to mention another significant talent that Mr. Higgins possesses in addition to his unsurpassed abilities as a social media & digital forensic researcher: Minimalist Poet.

      As evidenced by some of more “colorful” social media posts, Higgins displays an obvious literary talent for short, but powerful, expressive verse:

      ‘Suck my balls’: NATO-funded blogger Eliot Higgins checkmates critics with watertight argument

  17. Everyone should remember one thing. Your task is not to ‘win’ an argument with a Propaganda Pusher. That is impossible. The excellent First Great Depression era novelist accurately said “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
    When you are arguing with a Propaganda Pusher, you are arguing with someone who gets paid a salary for pushing their propaganda and smearing anyone who dares to disagree. In this modern world, they probably have a boss and computers tracking all sorts of ‘metrics’ (aka quotas) about how much propaganda they have to push a day to keep their job. If they ever actually said “You know, you’re right” to you in reply, they’d be quickly fired from that job and someone else would appear as the Propaganda Pusher.
    Just remember, your audience is the other people reading the thread. You’ll never ‘win’ over the Propaganda Pusher. But you might be able to convince a few of the others viewing the argument to see the truth. That’s the goal. You won’t convince all of the people every day, but all we need to do is to convince a few. That adds to the others who think the government is lying, and that mass of people keeps growing. When its big enough, that’s when we succeed.
    And remember, every revolt appears to surprise even the vanguard types who’ve been trying to push for the revolt. When that mass of people who don’t believe and who know they are being shafted grows large enough, stuff starts to happen. Which really just means, that on any given day, you might be a lot closer to getting the needed mass of people on our side, and not realize it.

    1. The quote is from Upton Sinclair, one of a group of writers of that age known as ‘The Muckrakers”, because they were bringing to light the things in society that the Oligarchs of that day wanted to keep buried in the muck.

      “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

      ― Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

      1. we can beat the ghouls in their own game more easily than winning a debate contest.

  18. Apt it is, in a heinous way, that as the United States celebrates its annual Thanksgiving Day this week, the indigenous people of Bolivia are being slaughtered by a United States-backed coup unfolding in the Andean nation. Peruse this great article here:

  19. I wonder if the name of Bellingcat isn’t hidden in plain sight. Latin “bellicosus” is where we get our words “antebellum” (the time prior to the Civil War) and “bellicose” (aggressive and ready to fight.)

    Bellingcat – warringcat? Certainly, they are propagandists for the warmonger ruling class.

    As my friend John put it – “it’s either a deliberate choice or a cosmic ‘outing’ of their intentions.”

    1. In Italian, “bella” means beautiful (feminine). But in Latin, it mean “wars”, “war” being “bellum”. So “bellum” is straight from Latin. Latin has some nice related words, “bellicrepus”, “rattle of war/arms”. When Trump send missiles to attack Syria after now questioned conclusion about chemical attack, our media were full of belicrepus.

    2. Probably from the story about mice musing about warding off the threat from a cat by putting a bell around the cat’s neck – a difficult task given the advantage of a cat over a mouse. So, in other words, a David and Goliath story with poor little babe-in-the-woods Mr Higgins standing up to alternative media.

  20. We are simply doing what they did through history. Shoot the messenger. It is human nature. Only during times of honor and chivalry was it otherwise.

    1. Yep, we all must just kill each other immediately …. its tradition.

  21. Caitlin, you are very right. Rather than verifying facts with multiple sources (now especially necessary given the current war on truth), there is a wishful thinking tendency to blindly believe everything from our favorite source, usually corporate TV.
    As an example, a recent online conversation I’ve had (editing our names):
    – Fact checking:
    https://i.imgur.com/lXGkMiF.jpg [Quotes on truth by Julian Assange]
    – Ad hominem:
    A Russian asset.
    – Fact checking:
    Not a Russian asset at all. See Smear 4: “He’s a Russian agent.” at https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2019/04/20/debunking-all-the-assange-smears
    – Ad hominem:
    Who 5he @#$% is Caitlin Johnstone?
    – Fact checking:
    Johnstone is well-known for being one of the best informed independent journalists, more accurate and verifiable than most corporate media.
    – Ad hominem:
    Oh, a random blogger with no editor and no organization to enforce journalistic process and ethics. No thanks.
    – Fact checking:
    Facts are facts. WikiLeaks has published literally millions of documents from whistleblowers on wrongdoing all around the world, also Russia
    – Ad hominem:
    [GIF of Jesus saying “Nope”, with link to MSM disinformation article]
    – Fact checking:
    See the links, that’s covered in The Revelations of WikiLeaks: No. 5 Busting the Myth WikiLeaks Never Published Damaging Material on Russia https://consortiumnews.com/2019/09/23/the-revelations-of-wikileaks-no-5-busting-the-myth-wikileaks-never-published-damaging-material-on-russia/
    – Ad hominem:
    [GIF of Jack Nicholson nodding with manic smile like “Yeah, of course, of course”]
    – Fact checking:
    “In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story” — Walter Cronkite, most trusted journalist in long-gone America
    “What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite” — Bertrand Russell
    (No reply)

  22. It is profoundly grim that the great mass of United States of Americans is leash-trained to embrace creeds as hollow, cruel, and false as those of the parties. It is the Charlie Brown Syndrome raised to the nth power in scope and cynicism. This Bait and Switch is run on both camps-the hostile, alienated, stupidly phobic, untermenschen Trumpetariat, and the credulous, myopic, witlessly hopeful, myth-addled, exceptionalist Democratic cadre-so effectively that both deathgrip their manky dogmas as they are herded into the abbatoir, butchered, and fed to our ravenous Minotaur, the Capitalist War Machine.-Paul Edwards

  23. We are inundated with such an avalanche of information, good and bad, that one must use one’s reason to sort through it for the truth, an effort considered far to laborious for most. Besides, my cell phone, and my video games.

    1. ‘reason’ is the one thing the Oligarch’s schools deliberately don’t teach.

      1. an educated guess, hazzarded by a critical mind, is infinitely more likely to be closer to the truth than any “facts” that are yet to be put together into a complete empirical (or experiential) picture based on a non-existant blueprint.

  24. I agree with your article. But that is not the problem.

    While it is true that ad hominem and reductio in absurdum are grouped among the most common logical fallacies (to name just two), does not mean they are always fallacies. They are considered as fallacies because many have been taught that they are by a few who want them to be perceived that way, because it saves on making the effort to teach them to think.

    If someone is always making ad hominem arguments, it really doesn’t mean that the arguments do not have any truth. For example, if a commentator said that a policy favoured by a Chinese government official was suspected of being detrimental to the introduction of democratic reforms, because the Chinese government official was invariably never in favour of democratic reforms, the argument can be classified as ad hominem

    But there us a good probability that this supposition will be proven right. Since proving a supposition wrong is logically impossible (” You can’t prove a negative”), we are in a quandary.

    I think that the most successful way of fighting against ad hominem arguments is to also use them, but just add some verifiable evidence. Basically, use the same rules against your opponents, but with stronger arguments, that they use against you. One of the many reasons given for the loss of the Vietnam War was that the US was using a different rule to measure success than was North Vietnam. The US was measuring success by body count, while North Vietnam was measuring success by the amount of territory controlled (by any means). But North Vietnam had no shortage of bodies, while the US (actually South Vietnam) had a finite resource that eventually was exhausted.

    1. _Reductio ad absurdum_ is not a fallacy; it’s a legitimate (per Aristotle) method in logic: to argue against a proposition, you show that accepting the proposition leads to an absurd conclusion.

      In the case of _ad hominem_, while it is true that arguing against a proposition by disparaging the character of its proponent is (logically) invalid, the fact that almost none of us arguing about politics have direct access to the material we are arguing about means that we have to argue from authorities (another fallacy) or at least sources, of whom most of us also have very little knowledge. But of course most people judge sources by the extent to which the source conforms to their already-existing ideological framework.

      If we are merely playing debating games, the neatest tricks are (1) to get control of the terms of the discussion, in which the things one wants to prove are hidden; and (2) to use opponents’ axioms or evidence against the opponents’ propositions. However, these moves do not convince most people of anything; they know they’ve been tricked by a player. ‘People convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.’

      However, if we want to get people to think, we can’t beat them with a logic pipe; we have to inspire them to question their own beliefs on their own. A little evidence, a little fact, rightly picked, can go a long way, once the thought-processes of one’s interlocutors have been started and engaged. And here we must trust to Truth; for, while she is slow to appear, she plays a long game and has very deep pockets.

  25. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/free-the-truth-tickets-78881130585
    Share! For those lucky enough to be in London and free tonight…

  26. Did you happen to notice the clip on Twitter of Chris Hedges presenting an Emmy to Bellingcat for Truthy documentary something something? What was up with that? Chris Hedges on mainstream media presenting a tv award? What????

    1. What’s Twitter?
      Oh, its that thing that Borat just called the Greatest Propaganda Machine in History.
      The best thing to do is to turn if off.

      1. twitter is just another medium, a tool. it’s up to you what you achieve with it, until a better tool comes allong… a tool is not the enemy. “the medium is the message” is just another bullshit catchphrase the prostitutes in academia throw around without a clue what that even means, because it sounds cool.

  27. Caitlin, Facebook isn’t progressing your link to make a post “Sorry Something Went Wrong” they say. Can I post this via Medium yet?

    1. It will work if you just copy/paste the URL. You can also use Medium if you prefer; I always publish on Medium immediately after publishing here.

  28. If you think that Wikipedia is reliable, especially on political issues, you need to watch this interview between Eva Karene Bartlett and Dirk Pohlmann: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pshngHuAKs&feature=emb_title

    Another good reporter, after his self rehabilitation, is the sadly departed Udo Ulfkotte https://www.lewrockwell.com/2019/10/paul-craig-roberts/journalists-are-prostitutes/

    1. The human rights activist, Ambassador Craig Murray, has pointed out the way ‘edits’ are done on wikipedia. There is one name, Phillip Cross I believe, who ‘edits’ 24 hours a day and at a tremendous rate of an edit every few seconds. They all of course take the pro-war, pro-death, pro-destruction perspective. They even go so far as to edit the pages of popular musicians and bands to remove any mention of them taking an ‘anti-war’ stance.

  29. John Pilger: Julian Assange is what journalists should be and rarely are: he is a tireless, fearless truth-teller. He has exposed, on a vast scale, the secret, criminal life of great power: of “our” governments, their lying and violence in our name. Ten years ago, WikiLeaks leaked a British Ministry of Defense document that described investigative journalism as the greatest threat to secretive power. Investigative journalists were rated higher on the threat scale than “Russian spies” and “terrorists”. Assange and WikiLeaks can claim that laurel. If the Americans come for him and incarcerate him in a hell hole, they will come for others, including those journalists who simply do their job. And they will come for their editors and publishers too.
    You can peruse this entire article here:

  30. Heck, I guess I am guilty of this myself.
    My eyes roll if someone sources CNN, ABC, MSNBC, NYT, WaPo…
    “You have got to be kidding!”
    A friend asked me if I get the NYT. With a smile and in a friendly jest I asked, “are you selling subscriptions (chuckle)?”. Then after the *honey* I added some *vinegar*:
    “Why would I pay for my own indoctrination?”

    1. Fact: If you swallowed without discernment what you were fed by CNN, ABC, MSNBC, NYT, WaPo…then you believed, in 2003, that Saddam was involved in 9/11, that the Iraq invasion was legal, that Saddam was on his way to sprouting “mushroom clouds” across the USofA, and bio and chemical weapons- those are Facts! about CNN, ABC, MSNBC, NYT, WaPo…And after swallowing the Big Lie you continued to believe in CNN, ABC, MSNBC, NYT, WaPo… and belived their Big Excuse – “everyone thought he had them”. CNN, ABC, MSNBC, NYT, WaPo… never told you that most of the world cried “bull sheet” after Colin Powell’s UN speech
      [Germany, France, Russia signed and China supported a memorandum they publicly released saying (approximately and from memory) “you have shown no proof that Iraq maintains capabilities…”]
      The credibility of CNN, ABC, MSNBC, NYT, WaPo…was shot to pieces but you continued to swallow their indoctrination.
      More present time, Fact: for over two years CNN, ABC, MSNBC, NYT, WaPo…told you that the President of the US was a Russian agent! They, CNN, ABC, MSNBC, NYT, WaPo…, broke cover and demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are less than worthless as reliable sources.

      … enough rant, it is Thanksgiving morning and I am ready to enjoy the day and good people.
      Happy Thanksgiving, Y’all !

      1. Wish I had written that next to last sentence this way:

        “They, CNN, ABC, MSNBC, NYT, WaPo…, broke cover and demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are mouthpieces for the Deep State and are less than worthless as reliable sources.

  31. I love your social psychology pieces. I have to bookmark these because they provide such a supportive reference for when these “attacking the source” situations happen. Finally, someone has named these irritating instances and provided me with helpful tips on how to to understand them and respond to them.

    1. Ahh good! That’s exactly what I’m trying to give people.

      1. I enjoyed this typically informative and insightful commentary, Caitlin. I do think it’s appropriate to give dishonorable mention to a special case, or variety, of the dismissive ad hominem argument:

        “That’s a right-wing talking point!” This would-be rebuttal is equivalent to the supercilious, self-righteous dismissal of a specific source, but in a way it’s even more insidious because it’s so generic.

        I admit that I was shocked in 2017 when some self-identified “leftist” commenters bitterly decried the “Consortium News” articles debunking the “Wikileaks hacked DNC servers” bugaboo for “disseminating right-wing talking points”. Jesus wept!

        Oh, and happy birthday, if it ain’t out o’ keepin’ with the situation! 😉

        1. George Bellarious Avatar
          George Bellarious

          Would an appropriate response be “yes, and what do you think about it?” In other words, ideology seems to have been elevated above facts and logic, and that question might just bring the conversation back on topic?

  32. The Oligarchs have decreed that only the ‘news’ provided by the Oligarchs is acceptable. Anyone who’s not in the employ of the Oligarchs can’t be trusted not to say bad things about a world of the Oligarchs, by the Oligarchs, and for the Oligarchs. Therefore any persons who can’t be disciplined by the Oligarchs as part of their contract of their employment is not to be trusted, listened to, or ever even mentioned as anything but a “Russian Asset”.

  33. Hmmm

    Attacking the messenger in order to deflect attention away from and/or simply to discredit the message is one of those worn-out logical fallacies that never seems to go out of style. Each new generation inevitably falls under its spell all over again. As they say; nothing succeeds like success…….Until it doesn’t, shooting the messenger will remain one of the most effective rhetorical weapons in the propagandist’s arsenal.

    1. Gee, I wonder why it never goes out of style?
      Perhaps because its a favorite tactic of almost every parent towards every child? “Would you jump off a cliff if [fill-in-the-blank] told you to?” Every parent smears everyone else and demands that the child only listen to them. Teachers of course do exactly the same thing to any student who dares to contradict the official textbooks. And don’t even think about mentioning any other sources or developments in thinking to a religious leader!
      A young adult has to completely break with everyone who’s been a leader in their childhood in order to become a free-thinking and logical-thinking adult. Its the law!

  34. It’s unlikely you’ll ever get the propagandists to admit to their unshakeable recalcitrance and willful stupidity/ignorance. Nevertheless, it is more important than ever to challenge them at every turn, in just the way you describe. Being a constant thorn in their collective ass is what they deserve at the very least.

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