Victor Davis Hanson is a classics scholar writing such books as A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, and The Savior Generals: How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars That Were Lost – From Ancient Greece to Iraq.
He’s also a great contemporary political commentator. He most recently wrote The Case For Trump, a great read on Trump and how he won. He regularly writes at the blog American Greatness.
Hanson has recently written two great pieces at American Greatness titled All The Progressive Plotters and Colluders, Obstructionists, Leakers, and Other Projectionists.
It is these two political columns that I believe show Hanson borrowing techniques from the best cross examiners in the legal profession. Larry Pozner and Roger Dood are experienced trial lawyers who wrote Cross-Examination: Science and Techniques. Probably every aspiring trial lawyer owns this book or has read it at a law library. A technique for making sure jurors remember some point that has been entered into evidence is called “looping.” I don’t know if Pozner and Dodd invented it but they might have. They certainly are the main advocates for using it.
Here’s how it works, as explained in slight paraphrase of the writing of Elliott Wilcox at TrialTheater.
We all know that repetition can be boring. It can also be enlightening. It can also stimulate stronger memory. The trick is to use it effectively to help your audience remember something you really want them to remember, and to do it in a way that won’t become dull and tedious.
Let’s say a lawyer has a client who got into a bar fight. He’s accused smashing a beer bottle on someone’s head, knocking him unconscious. The downed man is a foot taller and outweighs the smaller man by 80 pounds. The lawyer’s client, defendant in the case, admits to hitting the larger man with a beer bottle, but claims that he was acting in self-defense.
Since we’re engaging in fantasy, let’s kick it up a notch. On direct examination by the prosecutor the witness, let’s say, answers the question as to what he saw this way, “As soon as I heard people yelling, I looked over and saw the big guy pounding on the little guy.”
The defense lawyer’s dream, that would be. Not likely to occur that easily in the real world, but if it did and the defense lawyer was paying attention he’d know it needed to be firmly planted in the mind of every juror. Well, they heard it but will they see its importance, will they remember it? How to guarantee it?
By something lawyers call “looping.” If you’re the defense lawyer you’d like to just stand there and say over and over, “He said he saw the big guy pounding on the little guy!” Well, that won’t work. Not only would the jury get bored and think you’re a dope, the prosecutor and the judge would be all over you and then that would be what jurors remember most.
There’s a better way.
You can ask new questions that elicit new information, all the while cleverly sneaking in the old information as part of the question. for example, you want to ask the witness:
- “Where were you standing?”
- “Where were they standing?”
- “Who else was there?”
- You can rephrase those questions this way:
“Where were you standing when you saw the big guy pounding on the little guy?”
“Who else was in the room where you saw the big guy pounding on the little guy?”
“Where were they standing when you saw the big guy pounding on the little guy?”
You’ve repeated the testimony you most want the jury to remember and you’ve done it in a way they will remember, they will think it’s important, and they weren’t bored because each question also introduced something new.
That’s exactly what Victor Davis Hanson did in the two political articles I’ve highlighted above. In All the Progressive Plotters Hanson tells us all the ways the plotters tried to get Trump and run him out of office. Everything they tried was a failure. After every failure they came up with a new strategy that also failed. Hanson sets sort forth every one of their schemes in a separate paragraph, and to further illustrate that the plotters failed in their every attempt, Hanson introduces each new plot by referring to the previous one that failed.
Hence, he begins each new failure with, “And when that did not work….” The reader may not go away with all the details of each failed plot, but the reader is sure to go away knowing that they tried a lot of crazy things hoping to get rid of Trump, but not a one of them worked.
In Colluders, Obstructionists, Leakers and Other Projectionists, Hanson wants his readers to understand that the real colluders were in the Hillary Campaign. None of the charges of obstruction stick to Trump, and the ankle biters are themselves engaging in projection, everything they try to pin on Trump is something they themselves have done or are doing.
He begins with the question, “…what exactly would real obstruction of justice look like?” Then he offers a series of things that are claimed to be obstruction. On further analysis they clearly are not obstruction. In other cases the colluders claim Trump did that are demonstrably shown to be false but are what the Hillary campaign did do, with Obama’s help.
Then Hanson begins each new paragraph “Or would obstruction be…” It works. It’s not boring, each new explanation of what obstruction would be is fresh and interesting. Readers go away having gotten the facts Hanson so craftily demonstrated.
Victor Davis Hanson would have made a great lawyer. I’m glad he chose to be a scholar instead, and that he’s a scholar who understands the importance of communication skills.