Killing the Messenger

This occurs when we attack the person(s) giving us factual information, rather than the facts themselves.  It's considered to be a logical fallacy (an ad hominem fallacy), because it cannot and does not prove anything to be true, or false. 

All it does is attack the person who's saying it, sometimes with true statements about the messenger.  While it may be true that the messenger has some sort of unsavory motive for saying whatever he, or she says, that doesn't make it untrue.

Why kill the messenger?  Usually as a means to also kill the message. But it really doesn't matter why someone says something.  What matters is whether we can verify the truth or falsity of what they say.

We've already seen a prime example of this sort of thing in the story of the boy who cried wolf.  The owners of the sheep decided he was a liar, which as it happens was true.  So, since they knew he was a liar, they decided this last claim that a wolf was attaching the flock was a lie, when it wasn't.  But deciding to ignore him when he told the truth about the wolf attacking the sheep, was like killing the messenger.  And since they didn't check it out on their own, their sheep were devoured.

Often this sort of thing involves attacking the person's motive for saying something.  For example accusing the person of saying something for personal gain, like getting money, or getting us to do something they want us to do.  Here are a couple examples of how motives get attacked.

Scare tactics: Yep, this is a prime one.  It goes something like this: "They're just using scare tactics, when they say, 'The sky is falling,' because they want us to vote for them in order for them to keep it falling on us."  Well, okay, that might be true to some extent, but maybe the sky really is falling.  Maybe we should be scared.  The fact that someone is trying to scare us doesn't make what they say invalid.  We have to check it out on our own. 

Financial gain: This is another frequent attack.  "He's just trying to make money by saying that."  How?  Oh, by getting more listeners for his radio show.  Or by getting to fund her research project.  Again, the motive doesn't matter.  What matters is whether we can check it out on our own.

For those of you who'd like to know the technical term for this, it's called the "ad hominem fallacy" in logic.  It does nothing to refute factual information.  We have to ignore who provides the facts.  We have to check out the facts on our own, or look for others who checked them.

 To see a list of Logical Fallacies, including the "ad hominem fallacy"

 To see a related article, The Boy Who Cried Wolf - Another moral to the story

 To go to the brief introduction to intentional efforts to obstruct, or avoid reality

 To go to the Articles Page.

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