By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) "These liars warn't no kings nor dukes, at all, but just low-down humbugs and frauds." –Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
I've watched John Ziegler from afar for a while now. As one of his Twitter followers (hey, follow back, dude!) I've seen him retweet every person that praises him and bully dissenters on a daily basis. I follow him because he's a fantastic light attracting moths that refuse to bow to the evils of logic and admit that their demigod, Joe Paterno, was culpable to any degree in Jerry Sandusky's sex crimes at Penn State.
It's important to keep that stuff on your, the sane person's radar—always have some idea what the lunatic fringe is doing in case it gets formidable. Ziegler has never been someone I've interacted with while he praised himself on social media mostly because I never considered him a serious factor in the Penn State discussion. He was always seemingly an opportunist who was taking advantage of a group of idiots.
He still is that opportunist, though now the national media is taking more of a notice, and he's getting booked on programs to discuss his recent interaction with Sandusky. That same national media, mind you, that Ziegler constantly discredits, calls names, and treats as out to get all that is good and true in the conspiracy theorists ideal he says should be reality. He calls what he did with Sandusky an interview, but it's not. It's two unsavory people scratching each other's scaly backs. Regardless, America is fascinated with high profile criminals, so hearing Sandusky talk gets gobbled up. So since Ziegler's no longer just a tiny figure in all this, I feel it's best if many of you got to know him a bit better because his face might be on your TV more unfortunately.
That quote up top is from the point in Twain's novel where the young Huck figures out that two people he's traveling with are con men. Like all con men, the King and the Duke make hay by taking advantage of stupid people. John Ziegler is no different. Now, I understand that he's reading this right now and already forming a counterargument decrying me, but, John, bubbee, I'm giving you a compliment here.
He's a hell of a lot smarter than the people who slobber all over him because he's their last glimmer of hope twinkling off of Coke-bottle glasses that JoePa Claus is real. In taking an argument concerning a dead guy, he's found an angle in which he can't exactly lose, and that's how many arguments, nefarious as they may be, are "won." See, logically Paterno deserves blame, but Ziegler's is an emotional appeal to the slackjaws, and reason always loses to makin' the willfully ignorant feel good. He knows this, just as any televangelist knows this. Now go on and hand over your money for the Lord… I mean, help fund his documentary, Framing Paterno. The film is in perpetual infancy due to people not forking over money (can't imagine why), but certainly it will crack open the truth that the bad people are keeping from those who really believe Paterno pooped jellybeans and sunshine. I mean, the mini film has moving words. Not moving like emotionally. Words that are actual moving around the screen. That's a sure sign of legitimacy on a high school PowerPoint presentation.
So Ziegs needs your money. Not convinced you should pony up? Try reading what the late, great David Foster Wallace chronicled about him for The Atlantic in 2004, or, as Ziegler referred to it shortly after Wallace's suicide, "The 23-page cover story that Wallace did on me was a classic example of the smoke and mirrors Wallace resorted to in order to maintain the illusion of his brilliance."
That Ziegler quote is just one in a pattern of attempts to discredit the very credible who dare speak anything but the best about him. See, that's one of the main ways he gets by in his "arguments"—insulting opponents. Because remember how in high school name-calling trumped trying to understand something? Take Monday night's sit down with CNN's Piers Morgan, for example. When Ziegler realizes he has no chance to convince Morgan (that damn limey), he resorts to "I know you won Celebrity Apprentice, so you must be really smart." Later in the piece he poo-poos Sara Ganim's Pulitzer Prize won for the incredible reporting done in the Sandusky case. Ziegler no like lady who point out his flaws.
Consider, though, why he's fighting this fight. He claims he is in it for no profit, but logic would tell us that's impossible lest he be on some pilgrimage, sacrificing himself and his well-being for a perceived greater good—that being "finding the truth" about Paterno. Who does that?
Even if his potential documentary were to operate in the red instead of the black (and if it were to make money, where would that go, noble sir?), at the very least Ziegler is selling Ziegler, which is what the blind followers don't understand. He's no hero. There's no chivalry here. (Hell, chivalry with Ziegler goes out the window when you see HOLY CRAP HE WAS ON A DATING SHOW. Start about the 3:10 mark and drink in all that is this Casanova.)
All of this noble pursuit is calculated. Not very well, at least not to people like me who know snake oil peddlers when I see them. But to pull wool over the eyes of people starving for an excuse to justify their very wrong beliefs, what he does works. The simple playbook is such: first, take a very unpopular stance on an issue—actually, create a controversial stance that didn't deal with the main issue in the first place. This gets desperate people to say, "Well, he raises some interesting questions. Let's hear him out." There's the hook. Now you at least have listeners and an established ethos because people think you're thinking outside the box. Think Lyle Lanley of The Simpsons fame.
Next, tell everyone you're undertaking a quest to get answers. Use the word "truth," though, because it's rhetorically sexier and makes people on your side feel better about themselves. Don't define what the truth is, though, because that makes you less vague and, thus, easier to call BS on. Now, in order to complete this valiant effort, funding is needed, and you're only one man, ladies and gentlemen. You're not in this for you—you're in this for the truth. Who wouldn't pay to uncover the truth? The evil anti-truth people like the media. You're not evil, right, people who agree with me? Wait, what are we agreeing on again? Nevermind, that's not important. What's important is money. I mean truth. So…
While people are helping fund your quest, you'll have to take on the awful people who would dare keep you from the truth. Those people putting up roadblocks such as inviting you on their programs. Bastards! But you know how to handle them. Be sure to immediately plug your website and/or film and/or book. If it's on the Internet or on a screen or in a book, you gotta be believable. Evade all the interviewers questions as much as possible by giving answers that further your agenda instead of, you know, being interviewed—the truth agenda. That will only work for so long, though, because the evil media has built up a tolerance to not answering its questions—satanic, I know. To establish superiority, talk loud, interrupt others, and appear aghast and out of breath and utterly annoyed you were even invited on this program. Insult the interviewer and/or organization that has invited you on to promote yourself and products, too. This all evokes alpha dog status and doesn't make you look insane or like a complete jerk whatsoever. Continue to do this, fighting facts with emotion when possible, until the interviewer tires of you and ends the interview. Good job, buddy. You kicked that interview's ass.
Be sure not to give your followers any of your background if it could hurt your credibility. Belittle anyone who dares bring it up while claiming your life is an open book. Should the very people you claim to be fighting for—Sarah Palin, the Paterno family, tinfoil hat aficionados—decide to distance themselves from you, take a dump on them. Now nobody knows what they're agreeing with you on, but they know you're right if only because admitting that they themselves might be wrong is so unfathomable and would be so shattering to their own senses of self worth, that it's best just to keep heads in the sand.
See how that works? And in the end, what has been accomplished? A bunch of derpy derps high-fiving the hero for "telling it how it is" and "not bowing to them" and feeling like their cause isn't completely laughable. Ziegler's supporters aren't any more informed after all this. They just feel better. Good feelings from people who inaccurately feel they've been wronged butter his bread, though.
The problem is that questions a swindler like Ziegler poses aren't interesting in the first place. There's a reason the vast majority hasn't sided with Ziegler's "theories." But cults have always found a way to get just enough air to survive in the exact same way. And no cult ends up being productive.
But there are lots of John Ziegler's out there in all walks of life. A few are reading this right now and very angry this teacher of Rhetoric knows how to dissect a bad argument. Ziegler? He might tweet me with insults (or what he calls "questions"), then attempt to bully me (though, it's hard to yell on the Internet). He'll say that I'm irresponsible and just another cog in the awful lying media machine, perhaps challenge me to some debate or strain to find cracks in my argument, all the while also loving that I'm writing this and being secretly appreciative of me giving him sunlight and linking to his nonsense.
Zieglers are the kings and dukes on our little rafts looking to stop wherever they can to swindle simpletons. In Huck Finn the charlatans got tarred and feathered eventually. It would be entertaining to see that happen to Ziegler, but I'll take him fading away until he finds his next Ogdenville or North Haverbrook looking to buy a monorail or The Royal Nonesuch.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America's youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim's inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don't follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago's Beverly To read more of Tim's blogs click here.
for more features.