|Ethos, Pathos, and Logos Applied:
George W. Bush Speaking at 'Ground Zero'
In Aristotle's Rhetoric, he identifies three artistic proofs
that make up the art of rhetoric. These proofs include ethos
(character), pathos (emotion), and logos (logic or words), which
provide resources of communication that are available to the
public speaker or persuader (Simons, H. W., 2001). In essence,
these are ways in which things are proven to us. When these
proofs are applied to a modern day scenario, their true nature
of helping us understand public speaking and persuasion stands
out. One of George W. Bush's speeches after the terrorist
attacks on September 11, 2001, will draw more light to
Aristotle's proofs. This essay will define and apply ethos,
pathos, and logos to President Bush's speech at 'Ground Zero' on
September 14, 2001. I will provide a background, main analysis,
and a discussion on the artistic proofs.
George W. Bush has become notorious for being a poor orator.
Many critics of Bush have bashed him for his verbal mistakes and
for his choice of wording (Lowry, R., 2001; Lumpkin, B., 2002).
He was even criticized for not speaking to the nation soon
enough after the terrorist attacks on September 11. However, on
September 14, he gave one of the best speeches of his life. He
spoke only thirteen sentences and did so in only three minutes.
On September 14, Bush took a short helicopter tour of the
devastated New York area and then walked between the piles of
rubble. He talked with volunteers, firefighters, and police
officers. Hearing chants of "USA! USA!" from the workers, Bush
took hold of a bullhorn, climbed to the top of a small pile of
rubble, and put his arm around a fire fighter. Here is a
transcript of what happened:
CROWD: U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. I want you all to know --
Q: Can't hear you.
THE PRESIDENT: I can't talk any louder. (Laughter.) I
want you all to know that America today -- that America
today is on bended knee in prayer for the people whose lives
were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the
families who mourn. This nation stands with the good people
of New York City, and New Jersey and Connecticut, as we
mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens.
Q: I can't hear you.
THE PRESIDENT: I can hear you. (Applause.) I can hear
you. The rest of the world hears you. (Applause.) And the
people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us
CROWD: U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
THE PRESIDENT: The nation sends its love and compassion
to everybody who is here. Thank you for your hard work.
Thank you for making the nation proud. And may God bless
CROWD: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! (The President waves small
American flag.) (Applause.) (nando.net, 2001).
Applying Aristotle's proofs to this situation will (1)
clarify their definitions, (2) expose their utility, and (3)
draw insight to Bush's speech.
Ethos refers to "the study of human character" and "the
persuasive potential of the speaker's character and personal
credibility" (Herrick, J. A., 2001). According to Aristotle,
this proof was potentially the most persuasive, although, logos
or logic may be considered most important today. When one's
character is seen as positive, we especially trust or have
confidence in the person trying to persuade us (Andrews, P. H.,
Andrews, J. A., & Williams, G., 2002). When the speaker is seen
as trustworthy, knowledgeable, and interested in the audience,
the audience will likely accept what the speaker says as true.
Bush's display of ethos during this speech was ubiquitous.
Being a president that is willing to come to the heart of the
tragedy that had just occurred, automatically lifted his
character to that of a person who is caring, compassionate, and
interested. His sense of eunoia or goodwill was seen throughout
Bush's slight nonverbal actions also bolstered his sense of
character. Throughout most of his speech, he kept his arm
wrapped around a lead firefighter working at the scene. The two
men, standing in front of onlookers and millions of Americans
watching television, looked as if they were good friends,
glancing and nodding at one another. Interestingly, Bush's three
minute speech was completely audience centered, which has been
known to affect ethos (Andrews, P. H., Andrews, J. A., &
Williams, G., 2002). In all, his character and personhood came
across as that of a conscientious, concerned person. His
character shinned when he eloquently stated, "And the people who
knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon." Bush was
persuading the workers and the nation that our country is in
safe hands and that we will find whoever did these terrible
Pathos refers to the study of human emotion, emotional
appeals, and the act of "putting the audience in the right frame
of mind" (Herrick, J. A., 2001). This emotional side of the
speech usually influences our beliefs and has the potential to
influence our actions. According to Aristotle, pathos is evident
when the audience is "roused to emotion by speech" (Aristotle,
trans. 1982). The issues of morality also come into play.
Aristotle felt that there is a moral imperative for correct
Before Bush even spoke a word, emotions were at large. The
crowd was chanting, "USA! USA!" A feel of patriotism and pride
mixed with an odd sense of defeat and disgust surrounded the
area and nation. When a man shouted that he could not hear Bush
speak, and Bush replied, "I can't talk any louder," the crowd
laughed, putting them in a state of emotional happiness. When
Bush thanked the workers for their treacherous labor, a sense of
pride and heroism was felt.
Within pathos, Aristotle makes a distinction between fear
appeals and pity appeals. He classifies fear appeals as the fear
of physical harm or death, fear of loss, or deprivation of
freedom (Herrick, J. A., 2001). When Bush yelled, "And the
people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us
soon," he was not creating fear in American lives, but he was
appealing to the fears of whoever knocked down the buildings. In
addition, he used this fear appeal (aimed at the opposers) to
motivate, inspire, and persuade Americans that we will
retaliate. Aristotle also classified pity appeals, which suggest
or state "that someone or something helpless is being harmed"
(Herrick, J. A., 2001). Bush's numerous statements, such as,
"The nation sends its love and compassion to everybody who is
here", bring out emotions of pity and sympathy, placing America
as the "helpless and harmed." In addition, the war torn
environment in which the speech took place added to the
emotional situation. Pathos was probably more influential than
any of the other proofs in this speech.
Logos has numerous definitions, but usually refers to the
words used, logical content or reasoning, or thought expressed
in words (Herrick, J. A., 2001). Logos also means logical sense
and may suggest intellect or rationality. It is also the study
of "the arguments typical of the reasoning employed in practical
decision making" (Herrick, J. A., 2001).
The concept of logos in Bush's speech may be the hardest of
the proofs to understand at first sight when looking at the
speech. Looking at specific word use, Bush used an immense
amount of religious jargon. Phrases such as, "On bended knee in
prayer" and "May God bless America," appealed to both emotions
(pathos) and to ways of thought (logos) and religion.
Logos took place on another level as well. There was an
argument that the country is united, still alive, and ready to
'be heard.' When Bush commented that "The nation stands with the
good people of New York City, and New Jersey and Connecticut,"
he used logic to create an imaginary link of unification between
the people devastated around the county. On another side, he
also made a subtle argument by his threat to those who
highjacked the planes and created such massive destruction.
Bush did not just use logos, pathos, or ethos alone. He used
them in unison. He used them to create a wholesome speech that
was successful. Pathos was used expertly: the audience's
feelings, needs, and emotions connected with the speech. Logos,
or logical sense was displayed to the listeners throughout the
nation. Ethos, or character and credibility, was also eloquently
displayed by Bush.
Aristotle's artistic proofs are thousands of years old,
however, they still have practical uses. They (1) allow the
audience to understand public speeches at a greater depth and
(2) allow the speaker to shape and mold her or his speech to one
of success. In addition, according to Aristotle, they define the
study of rhetoric. I find Aristotle's artistic proofs to be one
of the most useful contributions to the study of rhetoric.