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Personal Attack

In a personal attack (ad hominem), a person’s character is challenged instead of her opinions.

Politician: How can we trust my opponent to be true to the voters? He isn’t true to his wife!

This argument is weak because it attacks the opponent’s character, not his positions. Some people may consider fidelity a prerequisite for public office. History, however, shows no correlation between fidelity and great political leadership.

A reporter responded with the following to the charge that he resorted to tabloid journalism when he rummaged through and reported on the contents of garbage taken from the home of Henry Kissinger.
“Of all the printed commentary . . . only a few editorial writers thought to express the obvious point that when it comes to invasion of privacy, the man who as National Security Advisor helped to bug the home phones of his own staff members is one of our nation’s leading practitioners.”—Washington Monthly, October 1975
In defending his actions, the reporter does which one of the following?
  1. Attacks the character of Henry Kissinger.
  2. Claims Henry Kissinger caused the reporter to act as he did.
  3. Claims that “bugging” is not an invasion of privacy.
  4. Appeals to the authority of editorial writers.
  5. Claims that his actions were justified because no one was able to show otherwise.
The reporter justifies his actions by claiming that Kissinger is guilty of wrongdoing. So, instead of addressing the question, he attacks the character of Henry Kissinger. The answer is (A).

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