As a Grad Project, I have analyzed three blog posts from both Michelle Malkin, a conservative blogger whose blog can be found here, and an unidentified blogger, Extreme Liberal, whose blog can be found here. These blogs have been analyzed for their techniques/tendencies in hedging and portraying their stances and opinions on political issues using Greg Myers' The Discourse of Blogs and Wikis Chapter 7 as a framework.

Michelle Malkin's Posts

"The Cop-Killing Cult of Larry Davis"
"Welcome to TotCare: Obama's Preschool Takeover
"Obama's Scandal Tainted BCBG (best chicago golfing buddy)

Extreme Liberal's Posts

"Glenn Greenwald Decries the Spying He Helped Enable When He Supported Bush!"
"How Many People Has Fox News Killed with Their Lies about Obamacare?"
"Why Does Fox News Hate America- Bundy Edition

Chapter 7- The Grammar of Stance-Taking

Myers mentions a number of the varied grammatical approaches rhetors make take in expressing their stance, from the more straightforward "proposition" followed by a "statement of relation" to the more subtle use of nouns and adverbials (100). The following are examples of stance organized by Myers' grammatical categories. Notes as to the effect of these grammatical choices are also included.

Verb Plus Clause Complement
In this case, at Myers' suggestion, I was looking for examples where the rhetor makes a statement with a verb which is then followed by a clause which provides the opinion covered by that verb.

Michelle Malkin does not use many examples of "verb plus clause complement," but here are a couple:

This is interesting, and seems to get to a characteristic point of the blog.

It is interesting to note that besides Michelle's lack of usage in this grammatical area, she also does not employ first person statements like "I think..." or "I suppose" which make up many of Myers' examples. In a blog where the rhetor has obvious strong opinions, it is interesting to observe her either dodging a direct connection (when she says "it seems" and "you see") or to observe her eliminating this aspect of stance taking altogether. There were many instances when she could have added a stance statement, but did not

That is exactly the kind of analytical move you want to make: the possibility is present, but the rhetor chose to do something else.

The three statements noted here could easily have begun with a Michelle "I think" or even an "I wonder" for the one question highlighted here, but Michelle chooses instead to portray her statements of opinion more like statements of indisputable fact with no hedging needed. It seems to be assumed on her part that her audience will adhere to her opinions in such a way that her stance can be a given.

Well seen. Consider, too, how these statements as fact work to place the rhetor as part of the group she's writing to and outside of the group she's writing about. There is more going on than persuasion here. To see it, ask yourself what to make of the fact that these statements are all common tropes in the debate? That the first one is a rhetorical question? That the second one includes a direct address? That the third one is a maxim? That is, none of these statements stands as a simple declarative statement: they are rhetorically loaded. As are those from EL below.

Extreme Liberal is more direct in his examples of this grammatical form, and he is more in conjunction with Myers' examples of first person usage:

As Myers notes, these sentences could stand alone without the bolded sections, but here EL is hedging his opinions, making sure the reader knows the opinions are his. At times, he does with confidence ("I knew" and "I'm sure") or sometimes with a certain flippancy. "I guess" becomes a way to show that he is mentioning Greenwald's TV appearances, but really couldn't care less what those appearances entailed.

Separate Sentence
In this case Myers points out that if a rhetor poses a statement with the stance coming afterward in a separate sentence, it changes the dynamic more than one might think (103).

Michelle makes more use of this kind of structure:
In the first case here, Michelle's stance on these policy ideas is clear from the start ("moldy-old Democratic policy chestnuts"), but her stance-expressing fragment at the end provides an even stronger stance- linking the policies to a return to feudalism. The other two sentences are also followed by a stance-forming sentence fragments. Michelle leaves the reader to take a stance first, before making hers deliberately clear.
You skim over this pretty fast. These examples warrant more attention: more analysis and more consideration of how they shift the dynamic.

Myers says an "an adverbial is a part of a sentence that gives an extra aspect of the meaning to the clause" (103). "The most frequent use of to weaken or strengthen the statement" (104). In the case of both Michelle Malkin and Extreme Liberal, this assessment holds true.

Some examples from Michelle:

The "too bad" here serves to strengthen Michelle's own assessment that Obama and his BCGB have not made wise choices, while the two adverbial clauses work to strengthen Michelle's stance with her audience's by using the second person to transport those ideas back to the reader.

There's space here to connect your consideration of M reassigning the ideas to the readers in these cases to your first consideration of using a lack of hedge to firm up a group, above.

EL has several examples as well, but in this case, the adverbial is not a major style choice for him either:

In the first case here, EL's adverbial seeks to assert the following statement as a stronger extension of the thought that had come before, and in the second, he provides an adverbial to further clarify the exception he believes himself to be in regards to the Iraq war.

EL may not use the adverbial often, but what is the rhetorical effect of using it here? That's the interpretive question you want to bring in.

Modal and Semi-Modal Verbs
Modal and semi-modal verbs are single word qualifiers that make up part of the verb phrase.

EL has one example

EL goes on to list a number of questions, but his "might" in this case is a modal verb which helps suggest what he hopes would be the kinds of hard questions that would appear in an interview between Glenn G. and a hard-hitting interviewer, but he is aware they probably won't. The clause "I was amusing myself by thinking" also reinforces this hopeful, but realistic stance.

Pre-modifying Adverbs
In this case, Myers looks specifically at adverbs (not lengthier adverbials) which are linked to specific verbs, and which provide a hedging or qualifying of the statement at hand.

EL provides the bulk of examples here as well:
In the first case here, EL has taken a "verb+ complement" and inserted a "personally" which further qualifies his "I think" statement. In this case, he wants to make doubly sure his audience is aware that this is his opinion. The "quite" and the "clearly" serve to reinforce EL's stance that his opinions here are givens and can be noted as such.

You write, "In this case, he wants to make doubly sure his audience is aware that this is his opinion. The "quite" and the "clearly" serve to reinforce EL's stance that his opinions here are givens and can be noted as such." - What do you make of that? There seems to be a larger pattern emerging between rhetor and audience in the evidence you're calling up.

Chapter 7 Continued- Discourse of Stance-Taking

Rhetorical Questions
Myers- “Rhetorical questions, to which both writer and reader already know the answer, always convey a stance, if only by aligning writer and reader in this way” (109). This quote from Myers helps to categorize the stance-taking used by these two authors when using rhetorical questions, but it is worth noting the varied implementation of such questions in both blogs.

Consider these 5 rhetorical questions from Michelle Malkin:
  1. “President Obama this week condemned the “deeply rooted” racism of police officers. But what of the deeply rooted racism and violent hatred of those who glorify America’s Mumia Abu Jamals, Christopher Dorners and Larry Davises?”
  1. “How could anybody be against tax-subsidized Pre-K for all, you say?”
  1. “Think Obamacare is bad? Well, welcome to TotCare. The goal of the educational central planners, you see, is the elimination of competition.”
  1. “How close is Obama to the beleaguered doc?
  1. “Birds of a foul feather cover up together, eh, President Obama?”
In each case, Michelle is using the rhetorical question to reinforce her audience’s agreement with her conservative perspective on the topic at hand whether it be her interpretation of the actions of Larry Davis or her stance on Obama’s “Totcare” agendas. At times the rhetorical questions are directed at her audience (the first, third, and fourth), at another time, Michelle is planting the question as if asked by the reader (the second), and for the last question, she directs it at an individual who probably is not even part of her audience, but someone the audience is going to agree in questioning just as Michelle has (President Obama, here). In each case, the assumed unified stance of rhetor and audience is reinforced.

NOW you're seeing it! Here's your main interpretive statement: "Michelle is using the rhetorical question to reinforce her audience’s agreement with her conservative perspective on the topic at hand whether it be her interpretation of the actions of Larry Davis or her stance on Obama’s “Totcare” agendas."

For Extreme Liberal, the rhetorical questions work a little differently but have the same end goal. Whereas most of Michelle’s rhetorical questions appeared at the end of her posts to reinforce her stance after the fact, most of Extreme Liberal’s appear in the titles of his blog posts, serving to orient the reader to his stance before the evidence of the post is brought to light. //That's a well-seen distinction: "orient the reader to his stance before the evidence of the post is brought to light." Not sure what it means yet, but it's a well-seen one!//

In each case, EL’s rhetorical questions reinforce his stance on Fox News and its role in the American news landscape. In the “Bundy Edition” post, EL also ends with a couple rhetorical questions which border on actual questions (found below). Either way, the questions seek to reinforce his stance on Fox News and the other news outlets for their apparent lack of action against Fox News in defense of their own occupation. //Good.//

In a different post focused on EL’s perspectives on Glenn Greenwald, he uses a series of rhetorical questions to enforce his stance. He poses them as questions to Glenn himself- they are asked in conjunction with quotes of his, but they also serve as rhetorical questions here in the sense that both EL and his audience expect a similar response or lack of response from Glenn, but Glenn is not actually present to answer. The collective stance is, therefore, reinforced. Full exchange of these rhetorical questions:

EL does end with one rhetorical question asked directly of his audience which serves as a last unification of his stance on Greenwald with his audience’s stance. He says: “There is quite a contrast there, wouldn’t you say?”

You note in this use of rhetorical questions, "The collective stance is, therefore, reinforced." That's the pattern that was emerging in the analyses above. You're on it now.

Michelle provides many examples of statements that bely her stance through a kind of ironic overstatement. A few examples:
  • "Those Obama initiatives are knockoffs of moldy-old Democratic policy chestnuts,"
  • "Every one of these Big Babysitter boondoggles rests on “progressive” junk science. "
  • "For those outside of New York City who are not steeped in the social justice movement’s racially charged vigilantism against the police, and for those who may have forgotten, let me tell you about this homicidal 'hero.'"
  • "Social justice mobsters sucker punch cops in New York while “peaceniks” cheer. "

In all of these cases, an irony is creating through contrasting ideas. Comparing a childhood song (Wheels on the bus) to Obama's working toward passage of early childhood initiatives makes for one form of irony, but the real irony comes in Michelle's word choice. To call Obama's early childhood initiatives "big, bad government programs to federalize..." is a clear marker of Michelle's disdain for the subject at hand. Obama's initiatives take similar ironic hits many times over; here they are also moldy knockoffs and "Big Babysitter boondoggles." Proponents of social justice are "mobsters" who engage in "racially charged vigilantism." Obama's personal relationships are on the same plane as boy band tight pants. In all of these instances, Michelle's word choice ironically turns the subject on its head and, in doing so, provides a clear vision of her contempt for the other side of the coin in this particular subject matter.

At the beginning of this section, you write that the irony "belies" her stance. That's a curious interpretation of her use of ironic statements. Why "bely"? Why not "make clear"? You write at the end that the irony "provides a clear vision of her contempt for the other side". To note here is that you're suggesting this use of irony is more complex than it seems at first blush; you're suggesting it goes back to ethos in some way - or that it shows a complication in what it means to articulate contempt. This use of irony as comtempt warrants more consideration.

When Myers uses the term concessions as a part of the discourse of stance-taking, he is referring mostly to coordinating conjunctions that rhetors use to contrast their opinions with other ideas.

Michelle does this here:

She is looking to contrast the acceptable stance (even in her eyes) of President Obama on the racist behaviors of some officers with another perspective that she does not feel is given enough credence, that of racist protesters.

For Extreme Liberal, his concessions can be less direct (as in the "but" in his first example here), conceding the lack of correlation between his fantasy and what he feels is present journalistic reality.

But, as in the second example here, he can concede a very direct sort of stance. Myers says "The adversative conjunction (but) signals the beginning of the view one holds and wants to emphasize." This is certainly true for EL in the second case here. His true feelings on Fox News, if not clear in other places, are clear here.

Hmmm ... in rhetorical work, as in literary work, the critic cannot assign "true feelings" as in "His true feelings on Fox News, if not clear in other places, are clear here." When you start to move towards this type of analysis, go back to the other patterns you see to see if you're seeing a variation or a continuation.


By way of concluding these observations, it may be useful to note some of the things not present in these posts. Myers devotes some time to the technique of using "reported speech" as a stance marker. In both cases, the rhetors here choose to be specific about the parts of their posts that are quoted and which parts are their own. In doing so, they let quoted materials stand on their own in providing information and supporting stance. Though, it may be noted, that Michelle Malkin is more likely to provide quotes without specifically referencing the source in the body of her posts.

This may fit with the general presentation of her stance in her posts. She is more likely to be ironic and more likely to use rhetorical questions in conveying her stance and less likely to use grammatical cues to trigger the reader as to which thoughts are hers. This is working - but "bely" again? This seems to bely a general confidence in her readership. The bond between her and her audience seems to include a very similar stance on most of the issues discussed. Her readers, therefore, enjoy a kind of direct connection with Michelle. As she uses ironic overstatement and biting rhetorical questions, her readers are on board. They do not need statements hedged with verbs, or adverbs, and when Michelle includes some of the grammatical markers of stance that Myers discusses, they are often turned back on the reader (her second person adverbials, for instance). In all, Michelle posts her perspectives with a great deal of confidence that her stance does not need to be qualified or hedged.

Well stated. Keep in mind - importantly - that this "confidence" doesn't necessarily go back to the actual rhetor: What Michelle does is present a rhetor to which her audience will assign confidence in her speech. It's possible to assign "pig-headedness" to the same rhetorical moves but here audience is defined as those who read this as "confidence."

Extreme Liberal has a certain confidence as well, but he is generally a lot more careful. He uses rhetorical questions (often in his titles) which often provide strong insights into his stance without any hedging, but within his posts he much more likely to use the grammatical markers noted by Myers. He'll use adverbs like "personally" or adverbials like "for the record" to chisel out a stance that pertains to him alone. The readers are welcome to join him, but his stance markers are often more like an invitation than an assumption. His modal "might" and repeated use of "verb plus clause complements" (I guess..., I'm sure..., I knew...,) further reinforce this idea of Extreme Liberal seeking to hedge his thoughts in a way that marks them as his own, but welcomes his readers to agree with him.

What you've sketched out in comparing these two is a distinction in rhetor-audience relations, and what might be a politically- or ideologically-aligned distinction in ethos. You suggest this in the idea of "confidence": M's rhetoric suggests, "this is how a conservative who is confident in her stance writes about things," and EL suggests the same from the left. What's interesting is your suggestion that the implied audience for each rhetor is also assigned a position by the use of modals, hedges, rhetorical questions ...: on the left, "welcome to join," on the right a "direct connection." Interesting that it's these features and not necessarily the statements of ideology that align the rhetor and audience. Thanks. You've given us all something to think about. mcm.

Myers says "The pleasure in reading not just in getting the opinions--I certainly don't agree with all of them. It is also in seeing how cleverly they manage that interaction and keep it going (112)." In this case, "that interaction" is exactly what I took interest in here. Both bloggers shared opinions I do not agree with as well as others with which I heartily agreed. It was interesting to see each rhetor navigate the relationship with me and the rest of the audience as readers.
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