Student Sample 2
21 October 2022
A Rhetorical Analysis of Stossel’s Plea to Not Ban Straws
John Stossel, American libertarian TV presenter, author, and consumer journalist, published an article in July 2018 through Reason, a magazine for “free minds and free markets” that has been around for over 50 years (reason.com). In his article “Don’t Ban Straws,” Stossel focuses on reasons why banning straws would not accomplish anything. He discusses the bandwagon mentality environmental activists, celebrities, and politicians take on regarding bans, which ultimately lead to pointless recycling. Stossel sets the tone immediately with pathos and appeals to logos multiple times throughout the text while establishing a somewhat credible tone for his audience who are adults outside the left/right echo chamber. The effectiveness of his appeal to ethos, however, is weak due to the lack of citations from reliable sources.
Besides the obvious stance of the article’s title, Stossel establishes his tone in his first sentence. “If environmental zealots and sycophants get their way, you won’t be allowed to sip it through a plastic straw” (par. 1). By using these words to describe environmentalists, he makes it clear he views them negatively. He also paints a picture of crazed, uncompromising, advantageous people taking something away from you (his audience), which appeals to pathos. This move works well for the audience as they are libertarians who prefer the government to stay out of their business and likely agree with his stance. He goes on further to appeal to his audience by calling the people who are banning straws or taking action as “obedient” (Stossel par. 5). This again is a direct hit for his audience. Obedience is something this audience does not want to abide by when it comes to everyday living. His word choice and tone clearly indicate his position on the issue while also stirring the emotions of his audience.
After setting his tone, Stossel tackles the issue with reason. Appealing to logos, which can be defined as a statement, sentence, or argument used to convince or persuade the reader by employing reason or logic, Stossel states, “But before politicians ban things in the name of saving the world, I wish they’d take the trouble to actually study what good the ban would do” (par. 8). This is a logical and reasonable statement any audience could appreciate. Building on that, Stossel’s strongest move was demonstrating why banning the straws could be an unreasonable decision by stating that, “Plastic garbage in oceans is a genuine problem. But most of the pollution comes from Asia. A small amount does come from America, but only a tiny fraction of that is plastic straws” (par. 9). Stossel identifies the problem and immediately discredits any future claims against America being the largest polluter. The purpose of this move was to logically lift any personal connection from the reader to this issue. Now that the audience does not feel like they are a part of the problem, this takes off the pressure to make a change (ban straws).
Another strong appeal to logos is made when Stossel brings up the fact that bans and environmental policies impact business owners and customers financially. Stossel claims “This is what environmentalists say about every policy they put out—a few cents here, a few cents there (par. 22). By using precedent and pointing out the likely high price hikes his audience will have to endure, he enhances his claim. This is a valid connection as most – even beyond his primary audience – are aware of the high prices that come along with environmentally friendly products or costs to adapt to sustainable anything. He furthers this reasoning by mentioning, “But eventually, it begins to be a burden. Banning straws isn’t going to do anything for the environment. So what they’re trying to do is take away my freedom for nothing in return” (Stossel par. 22). This doubles down on his logical reasoning by bluntly stating a ban on straws won’t change anything, except the price, of course. Stossel knows his audience will not want the government to get more money from them with nothing to show. And since there is no evidence of the impact of banning straws, how can they reasonably jump on board with such a costly change.
Although the author set a strong foundation by using logos, his attempt to include ethos needs work. Referring back to the previous quote, “Banning straws isn’t going to do anything for the environment,” Stossel makes a bold and empty claim (par. 22). In addition to that, the previous quote from paragraph three, Stossel’s word choice such as “most,” “small amount,” and “tiny fraction” makes the entire sentence sound unprofessional and unreliable (par. 9). Including facts, statistics, and sources would have supported his claims directly and helped him build his credibility while having a stronger impact on the reader. Considering most of the audience has a higher-level education, the use of an authoritative tone and sufficient evidence is crucial to influence the reader.
Throughout the article, the reader will take notice of the casual yet persuasive tone that Stossel maintains. Allocating such a tone will make the author look more knowledgeable and attract/keep the reader’s attention. For example, Stossel features anecdotal evidence about a cute boy the media put on TV. “Now the media, environmental activists, and politicians (Is there a difference?) repeat “500 million straws used daily…many end up in oceans,” as if it were just fact. The real number is much lower” (Stossel par. 12). This move aims the reader to become more critical while disrupting environmentalists and politicians by showing that their decision to ban straws is hasty. However, he once again lacks to provide his own evidence for the “real number” and curtails his ethos.
Additionally, Stossel’s input “is there a difference” paints a negative picture in the reader’s mind by categorizing the previously mentioned groups of people in low and unreliable social standing (par. 12). This is echoing Stossel’s tone in the introduction by now using parentheses to include his side thought. This appeals to both pathos and ethos. His language choice will identify with the audience’s same emotional response regarding the media and government. This then appeals to his audience as someone who shares similar ideology, which then enhances his own ethos and argument.
Everything considered, John Stossel’s persuasive article on banning straws had a strong appeal to logos by demonstrating logical reasoning and authoritative statements. His appeal to ethos would have been more practical if he had provided direct facts, statistics, and data to support his claims. Nevertheless, his way of gaining credibility was effective in this case due to his target audience who knows who he is and trusts him. The rest of the article appealed to pathos, but mostly focused on establishing and supporting his initial claim; banning straws will not accomplish anything. Stossel was rhetorically aware which led to a persuasive text. This is important because writing anything, especially a news article, that is poorly laid out will lead to miscommunication of the central topic and simply ineffective writing. It is crucial to not just focus on the subject, but the audience as well. Considering who will be reading the text will drastically improve the response from the said audience. Stossel was rhetorically aware the entire time and fulfilled the purpose of his writing by understanding that its success was dependent on the needs of his audience.
Stossel, John. “Don’t Ban Straws.” Reason.com, July 2018, https://reason.com/archives/2018/07/18/dont-ban-straws/.