Rhetorical analysis of a New York Times’ article and commentary

Thesis statement: Even when we believe that we are telling the truth, the “truth” is not always exactly how we tell it. [Relate to the readings. How do the authors use the rhetorical triangle to convince the reader and how do they support their arguments?] 

[Analyze rather than summarize.] “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything,” a quote by literary author Mark Twain. A statement that is easier said than done for most especially if what we “remember” might not be the exact truth. Does that make us liars, or is normal memory failures a part of our faults as imperfect humans? Christopher Chabris and David Simons, challenge our memories in an article published by The New York Times in 2014 titled “Why Our Memory Fails Us.”

[Analyze rather than summarize.] The authors begin with the case of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who misquoted President Bush and merged two different memories into one new one. When questioned on the non-factual quote, Tyson wholeheartedly believed that what he remembered was fact.

Chabris and Simon use several sources to appeal to logos and ethos with a few studies and facts on overconfidence in memory. The sources include “the cognitive psychologist Henry L. Roediger III and K. Andrew DeSoto,” who studied and measured people on how well they could bring to mind words on lists and how confident they were in their ability to remember these words.  They found that higher confidence was associated with lower accuracy. They also illustrated a study by psychologist Sir Frederic Charles where he shows that our memory can easily become distorted over time “with some elements remaining, others vanishing, and entirely new details appearing.” [Analyze rather than summarize.]

I believe [Analyze rather than express personal opinion.] that the authors’ tone is formal and understanding which also appeals to pathos. Even though Tyson made a mistake on his memory of the event and then proceeded to be smug about it by saying that it is “odd that nobody seems to be able to find the quote anywhere,” the authors praise Tyson for admitting his error and apologizing for it.

[How do the commenters use the rhetorical triangle to make their points?] Tyson was voted the top comment by the readers in the comment section of The New York Times. In Tyson’s comments, he says that there are two types of failures of memory. One is to remember moments or events that never happened and the second is forgetting what actually happened. As humans, we don’t have perfect memory and as we age, our memory begins to deteriorate. Tyson uses reasoning to defend himself and make his point effective. He also apologized [use of pathos] for his misquote of President Bush reminding us that even one of the smartest brains isn’t exempt from making mistakes.

The third top comment by Jacob Sommer in readers’ picks makes a nice appeal to our faults as humans. He states, “I’ve seen mistaken memory enough times to know that people make honest mistakes.” We all have made mistakes when it comes to our memory of how something might have taken place so this honest remark shows us that not everyone has malice behind their mistruth. [use of pathos]

I think that the Times has an appropriate approach to ranking their comments. In the top three comments, they chose different viewpoints that all brought out arguments that enhance the conversation. I believe the ranking system is needed since the top second comment from the reader’s picks was just a comment stating how President Bush is not an intelligent person and quotes to justify their remarks. Without the Times’ top picks, readers won’t be able to see different thought-provoking perspectives among the gibberish of substandard comments.


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