Inconvenient Truths Are Not Personal Attacks

I think defining what is a personal attack, and how it differs from a strong but fair statement is often not understood.

Today, on the Brattleboro Facebook Discussion page, Steve West accused me of having make a personal attack because I had written that a deceptive statement about the Rescue EMS response time was allowed to stand unchallenged by town department heads and the town manager at Tuesday’s EMS forum.

I think that reposting Steve’s accusation and my response, verbatim, can be instructive:

Steve West:
Steven K-Brooks – as is the term “deception” [a personal attack], suggesting intentional obscuring of the facts. That is a slam on the integrity and morals of these elected officials and is ad hominem.

Steven K-Brooks’s Response:
Steve West – An ad hominem attack is against the individual as a person. To say that someone made a deceptive statement is about the statement. To say that someone is a liar, is a personal (ad hominem) attack against a person. To say that they made an untrue statement is about what that person said. When I noticed the deceptive statement, I realized that my choice was either to get myself targeted for pointing it out, or else to keep quiet about something that important. As I have only recently made the acquaintance of the new town manager, how to speak the truth without slamming a person whom I really like was quite challenging. If you read what I actually wrote, you might appreciate the amount of thought that went into my message. This morning I sent an email to the town manager, which said the following:

[subject line] “A heads-up”
“Good morning, John.

“I had been meaning to write back to you to express my appreciation for what you said about my son’s essay. The last thing I anticipated would be that I would express an opinion publicly in any way critical of your conduct as town manager. But after the EMS forum, I saw no way to avoid that other than to keep silent. I could probably have avoided weighing in on any other controversy, but at 78, with medical issues including congestive heart failure and a clotting disorder, the Town’s EMS decision could affect my survival.

“Seeing no way to avoid expressing my concern with particularity, I wrote on ibrattleboro.

“I saw no way to blunt the full impact of the observation I wanted to express. The best I could do was to make it as clear as possible that I like you personally, but took issue with how the forum was run. In any case, I want to be sure that what I wrote does not slip past your attention, so that you have the opportunity to offer a refutation if you wish.

“With Fond Regards,

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