Looking for unethical speeches?
August 21, 2014 3:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm preparing an assignment for college freshmen in a public speaking class that involves analyzing speeches, particularly looking at how ethical the speaker is (i.e. Did she fairly represent the content of her cited sources? Do his arguments make sense, or does he use fallacious reasoning to lead his audience to false conclusions?)

My colleagues and I are still floating several possible angles, but now we are searching for speeches that most reasonable people would consider unethical or dishonest in some key ways. It could be in one section, or it could be a flaw present through the entire speech. Ideally, the speeches we use will have video or audio available, as well as transcripts. What unethical speeches do you know of that we might consider?

Thanks, gang!
posted by Pater Aletheias to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Do they have to be "speeches" in the classical sense? Cuz there's a lot of TV Cable News punditry selections (even just of a single speaker for a little while) that you could definitely use.
posted by brainmouse at 3:37 PM on August 21, 2014

How about Nixon's, "I am not a crook," speech?

More detail and background at the LOC.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:42 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I imagine George W. Bush's presidency will be a goldmine for you. I personally like his "Mission Accomplished" speech from May 2003. ("Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.")
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 3:42 PM on August 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

This sounds like a cool project! By unethical you mean someone who is taking a position they dont honestly support, or someone supporting something unethical?

I remember my freshman critical thinking professor showing something like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXLTQi7vVsI
posted by KeSetAffinityThread at 3:45 PM on August 21, 2014

Adolf Eichmann's final words before sentencing are perhaps one of the canonical displays of fallacious reasoning, in that abandonment of moral responsibility ("just following orders") is almost never taken as a valid excuse for serious crimes:

May I therefore ask that consideration be given to the fact that I obeyed, and not whom I obeyed... My life's principle, which I was taught very early on, was to desire and to strive to achieve ethical values. ...[H]owever, I was prevented by the State from living according to this principle. I had to switch from the unity of ethics to one of multiple morals. I had to yield to the inversion of values which was prescribed by the State.

But there are numerous logical flaws of the kind you seek throughout his speech. Where he doesn't pass on responsibility for his actions as a Nazi official, he accuses the judge, prosecutor and media of falsehoods and mischaracterizations about the rest. Obviously, it didn't work too well on his audience, but it's classic stuff.
posted by Mr. Six at 3:54 PM on August 21, 2014

I'm not sure what kind of public speaking class this is, but in the rhetoric class I took in undergrad Nixon's Checkers Speech was used as an example of an unethical speech. In that case it was not about citing sources, but about emotionally manipulating the listener which violates the principles of ethical rhetoric.

Even if you are just interested in sources, I would consider also using examples with sketchy truth-stretching, not just outright lying. Most people know that making things up whole cloth is unethical, but it's worth talking about selective use of evidence, hyperbole, and disingenuous also.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:59 PM on August 21, 2014

I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

I LOVE Clinton, but this....oh man, what an embarrassment. What he should have said was, "It's no one's business buy my own. Get that fucking camera out of my face."

I should be an adviser.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:03 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Does it need to be real life? If not, how about Gordon Gekko's "Greed is good" speech?
posted by mukade at 4:38 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

You might go with something by another noted war criminal, Arthur Harris.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:58 PM on August 21, 2014

Creationism / Intelligent Design speeches should provide you with hours of material. They're full of fallacious reasoning and deliberate misinterpretation of evidence.

If you want to go Full Godwin, you might look at, "People of Germany! Give us four years, and I swear that as I took office so shall I leave it."
posted by clawsoon at 5:08 PM on August 21, 2014

A speech from an unethical point of view....

Segragation now... Segregation tomorrow.... Segregation forever!
posted by chasles at 6:16 PM on August 21, 2014

You might look at the speeches Prof. Matsumoto at SFSU analyzed.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:10 PM on August 21, 2014

I would think anywhere you can get transcripts of any of the O'Reilly/Glenn Beck/Limbaugh, etc. monologs would be a gold mine for this.
posted by ctmf at 8:09 PM on August 21, 2014

The National Rifle Association excells at logical fallacies. I once read an article of theirs claiming:
1. It is natural for people to defend themselves.
2. People use guns to defend themselves.
3. Therefore, people who want to restrict gun use don't understand morality.
This was all hidden away in an article about Somali pirates. It's baffling.
posted by Comet Bug at 10:04 PM on August 21, 2014

Response by poster: Clarifications: Yes, we prefer speeches in a classical sense. And by unethical, I don't (necessarily) mean people taking positions they don't support themselves. More, I have in mind people taking shortcuts or using bad faith arguments to prop up their own position. The position itself could be a good one, but unethically argued.

And, thanks for these so far! Good suggestions!
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:50 AM on August 22, 2014

Brutus, Cassius, Mark Antony and Caesar himself (in Julius Caesar) are pretty much a text book on the use of rhetoric to persuade unethically - depending on where your ethics lie. Shakespeare gives them all a potentially winning argument. Brutus is the most honest and least successful.
posted by Hugobaron at 7:35 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

The speeches in Hollywood movies are often quite unethical. Frank Capra's movies are prototypical here.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:09 AM on August 22, 2014

Alec Baldwin's (character) speech in the movie, "Glengarry Glen Ross"
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 8:03 PM on August 22, 2014

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