When 7-year-old Megan Kanka was raped and murdered by a neighbor who had prior sex convictions, the federal government responded by passing “Megan’s Law”, which required officials to make sex offender registries available to the public.Two articles were written in response to the effects of Megan’s Law. One of them appeared in the Economist 2009 and the other was written by Rick Schneider of the Eastern Arizona Courier on Feb. 7, 2011. Both articles addressed the same topic – America’s treatment of sex offenders and sex offender registries. The Economist suggests that America’s laws need to be changed, while Schneider suggests that more should be done to notify parents of the whereabouts of offenders. This article will examine both authors’ use of logos, pathos and ethos to determine which makes a more convincing argument. It will particularly focus on the emotional strength of Schneider’s argument and the logical strength of the article in the Economist. It will conclude that while both Schneider and the Economist make compelling emotional arguments, but the Economist’s argument is ultimately more persuasive.
The rhetoric situation of the Economist article makes it more persuasive than it might be if it were written by an American author. The Economist is based in the United Kingdom, so its 2009 article is written from the perspective of an outsider looking in on the American criminal justice system. The article is written after the adoption of Megan’s Law. Its purpose is to convince Americans to adopt more discriminating laws for sex offenders. It is aimed at American families — and voters in particular.
The Economist author’s use of pathos makes his argument appealing at a gut level. He appeals to readers’ emotions by suggesting that sex offenders are not the only people who suffer. Their children, the author says, suffer too when their father is not allowed to take them to playgrounds. The author also appeals to the reader’s sense of justice by observing that people convicted of relatively minor offenses such as teenage dalliances are listed on the same registries as dangerous rapists. To evoke even more empathy, the author observes that these “minor” offenders are often harassed and that they are sometimes fired because of their sex offender statuses. The reader is asked to sympathize with these offenders and to be moved by the injustice.
The Economist’s ethos strengthens the authors arguments. While this author does not make any claims about his own credibility, the fact that he is writing for the Economist makes his (or her) arguments seem as if they come from a reputable source. Since the Economist is a well-established authority on news, law and economics, the author automatically seems respectable. He or she speaks authoritatively about America’s harsh sex-offender laws and this authoritative tone leads the reader to put some trust in his claims.
The author’s use of logos make his arguments seem reasonable. He employs logos, for instance, when he appeals to reason, suggesting that America’s current laws are not effective. He then reasons that laws should treat minor offenders differently than major offenders, which will make it easier for law enforcement to catch major offenders. Suggests ignoring politics to focus on making laws that work. He also suggests that pedophiles can travel and that restrictive laws would not prevent this as much as ankle bracelets. These logical arguments appeal to the reader’s common sense. The Economist author uses statistics, “A state review of one sample in Georgia found that two-thirds of them posed little risk” – people on sex offender registries.
The rhetorical situation that Schneider is in affects his bias and his credibility. Schneider’s article is written in response to the effects of Megan’s law, but it is a defense of the status quo. His purpose in writing it is to justify the Courier’s decision to post the names and information of high risk sex offenders. Facing both backlash and praise for doing so, Schneider hopes to win over his critics by justifying his action. His intended audience consists of Courier readers and, perhaps, those with children in particular.
Perhaps the strongest element in Schneider’s argument is his use of pathos. Schneider appeals to his readers’ emotions by evoking their sympathy for the victims of sex offenders. “One woman,” he says, “explained how she’d been brutally beaten, knifed and raped.” He also appeals to his readers’ fears, noting, “She said she now sleeps with a pistol under her pillow.” He also tries to appeal to his readers fears by telling a story of one woman he had alerted to a friend’s sex offender status, saying, “It was only a matter of time before he ‘d have molested her children.”
Schneider’s ethos also effects the way his audience is likely to take his argument. He tries to show credibility by noting that he represents the courier. It he, he says, “the duty of this newspaper to alert the community about the whereabouts of high-risk sex offenders.” Readers who value patriotism and community loyalty may be swayed by this justification.
Logos does not play much of a role in Schneider’s argument. Most of Schneider’s arguments are emotional, rather than logical. However, he does argue that publicizing the names and addresses of sex offenders is a community services, because it will help parents keep their children safe from predators who strike again.
Both Schneider’s article and the article in the Economist make powerful emotional appeals. Both prompt the reader to empathize with the plight of sex offenders. Yet the article in The Economist is ultimately more effective. The reason for this is that its appeals to his readers’ logos are stronger. The author includes statistics which help him establish his point. His arguments are very reasonable. He suggests that rather than relying on harsh language, it would be better for Americans to tailor their laws to their problems to make them more effective. His observation that America could reform its laws by treating high risk offenders more harshly (using ankle bracelets, for instance) and easing up on low-risk offenders seems particularly sensible. Schneider’s argument is not supported by statistics. It is almost exclusively emotional.
Schneider’s argument is also weakened by the fact that he makes hasty generalizations. At one point, when he speaks of warning a woman of her friend’s status as a sex-offender, he claims that it was “only a matter of time before he’d have molested her children.” While it might have been likely for a high-risk offender to re-offend, Schneider does not provide any real evidence to demonstrate that it was a certainty that this particularly offender would have molested these particular children.
Because The Economist’s article is supported by logic and statistics, while Schneider’s argument is based almost solely on emotional appeal, The Economist’s article is far more compelling. The article in the Economist may not have the same emotional pull as Schneider’s article does, but it is more balanced and far easier to take seriously.
- Schneider, Rick. “Protect Yourself, Family From Sex Offenders.” Eastern Arizona Courier. 2011.
- The Economist. “America’s Injust Sex Laws.” The Economist. 2009.