Selling to the Public

Delta Winds cover 2014Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Selling to the Public: Thoughts on Advertising Political Agendas

Luke Flaig-Brummett

After the terrorist attacks of the 11th of September 2001, Americans were struck with fear and uncertainty about the future. This fear spurred the government of these United States to take action against the people responsible for these attacks and to broaden security measures to prevent another attack akin to what came to be known as 9/11. While natural, this fear caused the public to be malleable-to be swayed easily by pleas of logos, pathos and ethos, though the latter two would be emphasized. The past decade has been be ripe with campaigns aimed at justifying the broadening of the role of agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). At the time, I bought the justifications and believed the logic provided by speakers and commentators on TV; however, looking back, I now question my initial reaction. Recently, I identified the pathos and ethos appeals and since then have been contemplating the criticisms of these government agencies.

The pathos, or emotional, justification for the broadening of intelligence gathering has been effective, mainly through its consistent use of fear. This fear is not unfounded, since it is natural to fear an attack. But the constant reinforcement of that fear by those who have an agenda, however pure and noble it may be, defuses any debate on the subject since those who oppose broadening of intelligence gathering can be viewed as accepting more attacks. A notable example of this would be Senator Diane Feinstein and Representative Michael Rogers stating on December 2nd that the United States "is less safe, that bombs are being made en masse, that violence is on the rise," and the only solution is our intelligence gathering (YouTube/CBS). While this may be substantiated with evidence, the delivery and phrasing primarily uses pathos for the end goal: to persuade public opinion.

Ethos-the appeal to the viewer's respect of the speaker-is also used to convey the message. Regardless of one's opinion of her politics, Diane Feinstein has been a United States Senator for over two decades and is the Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. She arguably knows more than any of us about what our intelligence community has gathered. Other senior Senators, such as Lindsey Graham, have voiced their approval of the policies and actions taken by the NSA and other agencies. This presence of authority figures and those who have more information available to them does help persuade the audience, and it did for me.

This summer, however, is when my confidence in the message wavered. The reporting of the leaks provided by Edward Snowden has revealed aspects of intelligence gathering that have contradicted the express purpose and policy by which the government has claimed it has conducted itself. Acts such as gathering over 5 billion phone record data a day on people, including Americans, to track them and map out relationships (Gellman), and a program that cached most of the Internet to parse and store for later use (Greenwald) have almost no obvious relevance to foreign terrorists. These revelations coupled with the glaring use of pathos and lack of logos in the justifications of these acts has brought me to reconsider my stance and to further investigate.

This example of media has made use of advertising practices, such as the use of pathos, ethos, and a conspicuous lack of logos to persuade and compel the public to support the institutions in question. One must be careful, however, to not take any dissenter's opinions and accusations as immutable evidence; one must conduct research and investigation for oneself. Pathos and ethos can not only market consumer products, but also advertise political stances and agendas, and the prominence of pathos and the lack of logos in the conveying and delivery of said agenda warrants an objective investigation by the audience to ascertain the truth.

Works Cited

"Feinstein and Rogers: Terror Threat Is on the Rise." YouTube. CBS, 02 Dec. 2013. Web. 31 Jan. 2014. <>

Gellman, Barton, and Ashkan Soltani. "NSA Tracking Cellphone Locations Worldwide, Snowden Documents Show." Washington Post, 4 Dec. 2013. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.

Greenwald, Glenn. "XKeyscore: NSA tool collects 'nearly everything a user does on the internet'" Guardian News and Media, 31 July 2013. Web. 31 Jan. 2014.