Insinuation by questions

‘Insinuation by questions’ is a devious rhetorical tactic increasingly being used in political campaigns. It also a way of dog whistling to conspiracy theorists.

The aim of this tactic is to try to discredit popular political figures by undermining their trustworthiness. The method is to keep asking questions that have already been answered by the political figure under attack. These answers have often been corroborated by independent evidence. The theory is that if such questions keep being asked, voters will come to think that they must have some substance. This in turn will raise doubts and suspicions in the minds of some voters.

A notorious example of this tactic was the ‘birther movement‘ in the USA, before and during President Obama’s term of office. Questions were continually raised as to whether Obama was actually born in Hawaii rather than Kenya as alleged. These questions persisted despite Obama’s pre-election release of his official Hawaiian birth certificate in 2008, confirmation by the Hawaii Department of Health based on the original documents, the April 2011 release of a certified copy of Obama’s original long-form birth certificate, and contemporaneous birth announcements published in Hawaii newspapers. As usual, conspiracy theorists dismissed this convincing evidence as being part of the alleged conspiracy.

Closer to home, questions have recently been asked during the Victorian state election campaign about two incidents involving the Premier, Daniel Andrews. These were a car accident about 10 years ago, and his fall on some wet steps at his holiday accommodation in Sorrento. Both incidents were independently investigated, and Andrews’ account was corroborated. Yet questions continue to be asked via tabloid media such as the Herald-Sun newspaper. One of the world’s leading experts on the amplification of conspiracies, University of Oregon Assistant Prof Whitney Phillips, says mainstream coverage like the Herald Sun’s presents a ‘huge turning point’ in helping to legitimise conspiracy theories.

1 Comment

Filed under Logical fallacies

One response to “Insinuation by questions

  1. Dear Tim,

    How insidious ‘Insinuation by questions’ can be!

    It is far better to be loyal and true to the policies, not the people, so as to eliminate corruption, to the extent that policies are usually out in the open for all to examine and follow and therefore more reliable and consistent, whereas corruption tends to be insidious, stealthy, covert and conspiratorial (even to the point of being rampant or intractable), typically involving greed, malpractice, bribes, frauds, intrigues, collusions, specious claims, disingenuous proclamations, fallacious arguments or false narratives ranging from out-of-context or otherwise misleading images, altered photos or videos, and audiovisual contents digitally manipulated or artificially generated, to false rumours or insults and pranks, manufactured evidence, questionable assertions, fabricated statements, doctored documents, deceptive interpretations, biased accounts, falsified data, faulty statistics and even cybersecurity threats.

    The ease and frequency with which people commit formal fallacies (also called logical fallacies or deductive fallacies) as a result of their reliance on heuristics and their susceptibility to cognitive biases have rendered people highly vulnerable to the disinformation polemics or tactics of miscellaneous actors and agents ranging from antivaccinists, conspiracy theorists, science deniers and climate change sceptics to bigots, wrongdoers, miscreants, malefactors and reprobates (including unscrupulous reporters, influencers, politicians, profiteers, disinformers, obscurantists, hatemongers, extremists, plutocrats and despots), especially when people remain needlessly and steadfastly uncritical, illogical, irrational or intuitive to the point of being biased, misguided, fallacious, unjustified, unreasonable or untenable in their beliefs, expectations or conclusions even with respect to empirical data, factual evidence, verified information and universal truths as well as moral codes, civic duties and ethical behaviours that ultimately determine their own welfare, liberty or survival.

    To find out even more about these and other related issues and quagmires, you may peruse my extensive and analytical post entitled “Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity“, which has been revamped and which you can easily locate from the Home page of my blog.

    Today is World Kindness Day! Wishing you a productive November and a wonderful Sunday doing or enjoying whatever that satisfies you the most, whether intellectually, artistically, physically, spiritually or emotionally!

    Yours sincerely,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s