It's been a while. Let's jump back in with a very special kind of non causa fallacy. Longtime Fox News fans are going to feel right at home here.

Like emotionally-healthy former President Richard Nixon, Bill O'Reilly has an "enemies list" of sorts. He calls it the "Coward List." It contains more than two dozen names across the political spectrum, including Dick Cheney, "the heads of oil companies," Howard Dean, "NPR" and Jane Fonda. This list of people – and entities, I suppose – share one thing in common. They all refuse Bill's generous invitations to appear on The Factor. They refuse to do this because they are afraid, of course, to expose themselves to the superior intellect and rhetorical powers of Bill O'Reilly.

Early in this presidential primary season, nearly every Democratic candidate refused to appear on a Fox News-sponsored debate. Their motive, of course, is that they were too afraid to expose their indefensible, hysterical politics to the light of truth and fairness that is a Chris Wallace/John Gibson moderated debate.

There is a subset of people in the world with very high opinions of themselves, opinions as high as their rhetorical skills are shitty, who interpret your refusal to have anything to do with them as an endorsement of their beliefs. You don't want to debate Bill O'Reilly because, goddammit, you just know he's right. Your refusal is enough evidence to prove that you are wrong. If you're right, why wouldn't you go on the show? Makes sense to me!

Like all non causa fallacies, this statement could potentially be true. Maybe Jane Fonda really is afraid to be proven wrong and she knows BillO will do it. Yeah, that's one possibility. I guess. Or maybe she doesn't want to debate him for the same reason that she doesn't want to debate the homeless guy who drops his pants for nickels at the bus station.

Declining to debate a person or group probably has a lot more to do with your maturity level and tolerance for stupidity than the validity of your argument. Maybe you don't like arguing with people who aren't intelligent enough to realize when they are proven wrong. Maybe you don't enjoy people who refuse to admit being wrong no matter how obvious you make it. Maybe you're not out to change the mind of every retard you meet on the internet or in a bar. Maybe you can detect situations in which another person simply wants to yell at you rather than have a real discussion. These are all valid reasons, all of which are more plausible than fear.

When someone makes him- or herself a rhetorical pariah, refusing to play the game makes perfect sense. What makes no sense at all is drawing a conclusions about an argument based on how willing people are to argue with their drunk, ranting uncle or the guy talking to himself on the bus.


  • This reminds me of a comment that's stuck with me for almost 10 years. In early college I attended a talk by a famous Holocaust historian. He was notable (besides his years of research and analysis) for refusing many offers to debate holocaust-deniers on tv and radio. His reasoning follows (as paraphrased by me):

    "If I attend one of these debates, maybe only 1 out 1,000 will leave the debate agreeing with the Holocaust deniers. But 1,000 out of 1,000 will think that it is a subject that is up for debate."


  • 'What makes no sense at all is drawing a conclusions about an argument based on how willing people are to argue with their drunk, ranting uncle or the guy talking to himself on the bus.'

    This is what Barney Frank made famous with his remark about not wishing to have 'a discussion with a dining-room table' in August 2009.

    Ed, you're way ahead of your time!

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