In which I consider the nature of ad hominem “arguments”, rather than reasoned debate, and the allegedly shifting views of a major Scottish organisation on free speech. Why did the Sun decide not to serialise the upcoming book by Phil Mac Giolla Bhain? What if anything will the Sun do about receiving “the kind of disgusting abuse that sadly infects some of Scottish football’s blogs and forums”? Finally, are the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act and the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act still in force, or have they been secretly repealed?
An ad hominem is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or unrelated belief of the person supporting it. There are various varieties of ad hominem argument, including the circumstantial, the tu quoque and the argument of guilt by association.
The most common is the abusive ad hominem. This normally usually involves insulting or belittling one’s opponents in order to attack their claims or invalidate their arguments. It can also involve pointing out true character flaws or actions that are irrelevant to the opponent’s argument. This is logically fallacious because it relates to the opponent’s personal character, which has nothing to do with the logical merit of the opponent’s argument.
An abusive ad hominem occurs when an attack on the character or other irrelevant personal qualities of the opposition is offered as evidence against their position. Such attacks are often effective distractions, or red herrings, because the opponents feel it necessary to defend themselves, thus being distracted from the topic of the debate.
The main thing to keep in mind in deciding if what is said constitutes an ad hominem is the distinction between argumentation and testimony. The whole point of logic is to develop techniques for evaluating the cogency of arguments independently of the arguer’s identity.
So, ask the question: is the person being criticised arguing or testifying? Are reasons being presented, or must we take the person’s word for something? If the person is arguing, the argument should be evaluated on its own merits; if testifying, then credibility is important.
So, if Bob tells us that, when he was out in the woods he saw a wolf, the fact that he is regularly drunk, prone to exaggeration and has claimed to have seen a wolf fifteen times in the last month, when no one else has seen any evidence of one, it is not an ad hominem to point this out. It goes to the credibility of the testimony.
However, if Bob claims to have seen a wolf, and has photos to show what appears to be a wolf, can lead us to what seem to be paw marks of a wolf in the mud and wolf droppings beside them, then the same criticisms of Bob do amount to an ad hominem.
Pointing out that the photo could be of a deer, that the paw marks could be from a large dog, and that the droppings are equally capable of being from a mule, for example, would not be ad hominem either. Instead they would be arguments on the merits of Bob’s position, dealing with the evidence.
As Brian Taylor, the BBC Scotland Political Editor, described it in a piece about the Scottish Labour leader’s attack on First Minister Alex Salmond:-
“In football, it would be known as playing the man, not the ball. Away from the beautiful game, it might be considered an ad hominem approach.
“Either way, it was plainly Johann Lamont’s tactic at Holyrood today to sustain a personal attack against First Minister Alex Salmond.
“To be fair, the Labour leader was intent on playing both the man and the ball. A form of sliding tackle, if you like.”
And it is to the world of football, or football related comment that I must go.
Phil Mac Giolla Bhain is a journalist, author, blogger and writer. He is an active member of the National Union of Journalists and the Irish representative on the NUJ‘s New Media Industrial Council. He also is the editor of the NUJ’s house magazine the Irish Journalist. An established print journalist for many years Phil’s online writing has gained him a vast following as well as recognition by the national press and in the Tartan Blog Awards in 2010 and 2011. Phil lives and works in Ireland.
Over the last few years, he has spent much, but by no means all, of his time writing about the decline and fall of Rangers. He has broken some of the stories to the public gaze, even where afterwards more Establishment journalists claimed to have known all along, but could not print because “the lawyers would not let them”.
He, along with the Orwell Prize wining blogger, RTC of RangersTaxCase.com, have helped to bring the story out of the dark and into the light. Along the way there have been various other writers, bloggers and rumourmongers who have got things spot on, and many more who have been hopelessly wrong. Now, with the trail having been blazed by RTC and Phil, Mark Daly of the BBC and Alex Thomson of Channel 4, amongst others, have put the issues on national television.
The saga of Rangers, the over spending under Sir David Murray, the long drawn-out attempts to sell the club, the arrival of Craig Whyte and the descent into administration and soon to be liquidation, not to mention the long running dispute with HMRC about millions of pounds of tax alleged to have been avoided illegally was a story which did not attract the attention it deserved. The most successful football club in the history of the world was descending into chaos, and the slightest alleged misdemeanour at other clubs received more coverage than the risks to the Ibrox edifice.
I think it is worthwhile reprinting what RTC had to say in his inaugural post in March 2011:-
“This blog will provide details on Rangers FC’s appeals against tax bills which the club has received for underpayment of tax going back to 2001. The case centres around what HMRC believes is the illegal use of Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs) to avoid paying PAYE and National Insurance Contributions on payments made to players and members of the board of directors.
“My motivation to write is born out of the wilful ignorance of the Scottish media on this story. While they reprint unbelievable PR fiction related to Rangers as news, Scotland’s Fourth Estate has gone to great efforts to ignore the tax story. It is true that no one at Rangers is likely to be faxing this story to their pet journalists, so investigating this story would require more work than normal, but the story is there for the taking.
“In the coming weeks, I will be:
- Explaining what Rangers have been accused of doing
- Exploding many of the myths and falsehoods printed in the Scottish media
- Revealing why HMRC feel so confident about this case
- Discussing the implications of HMRC winning the case on Rangers FC
“I will declare at the outset that I am a Celtic supporter. However, this blog will endeavour to be dispassionate and factual. Where I am speculating, I will say so. When I am stating facts, it will also be clear. Not all of the implications of this case are negative for Rangers FC, and these will be discussed in as much depth as the other outcomes.
“Hopefully, this blog can help shed some light on the most important issue facing Scottish football currently and can help be a clearing-house to dispel the many myths which will likely grow exponentially as the First Tier Tribunal resumes.”
On awarding RTC the Orwell Prize, the judges Suzanne Moore, Hopi Sen and Sean Dodson said:-
‘The 2012 Blog Prize showed that not only could blogs comment on current events, they could drive stories forward. Rangers Tax-Case takes what might be a dry topic – the tax affairs of a sports team – and shows how a striving for transitory success has severely distorted sporting, legal and ethical boundaries. Displaying focused contempt for those who evade difficult truths, and beating almost every Scottish football journalist to the real story – Rangers Tax-Case shows how expertise and incisive writing can expose the hypocrisies the powerful use to protect themselves from the consequences of their actions. It is a worthy winner which not only proves that independent blogging is as healthy as it ever was, but also offers a mirror in which our times are reflected.’
RTC has remained anonymous. Rarely did criticism of what he wrote extend to the details of what was posted on the site. Instead, he was attacked as being a bitter “Rangers-hater” guilty of sectarian bile and bigotry.
Funny how that was not seen in the wider community. Maybe his critics have a unique insight!
Phil has written a book. “Downfall: How Rangers FC Self Destructed” is described as fundamental reading for anyone interested in the history of British football. It tells the story of what Duff and Phelps, the administrators of Rangers, describe on their global website as “the largest football club insolvency in UK history”.
David Conn, the best writer about the finances of football clubs in Britain, described Rangers’ plight in July 2012 as follows:-
“A deep breath is needed before summing up the state Rangers are in now. The Glasgow football institution collapsed into administration in February owing a possible £100m, nine months after a disastrous sale of the club for £1 by its former owner Sir David Murray to the now-disgraced Craig Whyte. That takeover is the subject of an investigation by Strathclyde Police, in conjunction with the Serious Fraud Office, to examine whether any criminal offences of dishonesty were committed.”
“The story stretches back four years. Mac Giolla Bhain was the first journalist, and, for much of the time, the only journalist, to chart the financial dramas that led to the demise of Rangers football club.
The fact that he worked outside the Scottish media establishment to tell the twists and turns of the tale in a blog is hugely relevant. Indeed, a crucial part of the story involves the initial failure of Scotland’s journalists to investigate the internal shenanigans at Rangers.
For his trouble, Mac Giolla Bhain suffered from persistent verbal threats from people calling themselves Rangers fans.”
There is no doubt now that the story is huge and has, since the descent into administration in February, has been covered in detail, in Scotland, England and around the world too.
It was publicised yesterday that Phil’s book was to be serialised in the Sun. This provoked an absolute tempest of ad hominem attacks from Rangers supporters, expressed via the Internet and Twitter.This seemed to focus on a satirical article written by Phil some months ago, which had led last week to a campaign of complaints about him to the NUJ. It also made numerous false and highly defamatory references to him, his history and his views.Today the Sun decided not to publish the serialisation. In a remarkable editorial piece the Editor sought to justify his paper’s change of tack.
“THE Scottish Sun has never been afraid of controversy. Throughout the years, we have never shied away from tackling difficult subjects. We have never taken the soft option, the easy route, the quiet life.
Yesterday, we ran an interview with Phil Mac Giolla Bhain in which we described how he’d been given death threats for his role in uncovering the financial scandal that was to engulf Rangers. We knew he was a controversial figure, but it was clear from the book he had written that he had a story to tell.
And we felt it was a story that needed to be told to you, so that you could make your own minds up. So that you had a chance to read the behind-the-scenes details about the downfall of Rangers. So that you had a chance to see where the blame lay for the collapse of the club.
On Sunday, many Rangers fans contacted the paper.
Most were reasonable, and wanted to point out some of the other material that the author carries on his website. Others, many of whom had clearly not read the interview, immediately engaged in the kind of disgusting abuse that sadly infects some of Scottish football’s blogs and forums.
Let’s make one thing absolutely clear. We will never be bullied into not publishing stories simply because they upset some people.
We pride ourselves on having the finest journalists in the country who are totally and unequivocally impartial.
But Phil Mac Giolla Bhain is not one of our journalists and his blog undermines the entire industry.
THAT is why we have decided not to carry the serialisation of the book.
NOT because of the social media backlash.
NOT because of the internet bullies.
But because the author — previously unbeknown to us — is tarred with a sickening sectarian brush.
We believed Phil Mac Giolla Bhain to be a proper and sound journalist. Channel 4 News chief correspondent Alex Thomson obviously agreed and wrote the foreword in the book.
He was wrong and so were we.
The Rangers story has gripped the entire nation and it is one we will continue to tell. We will tell it truthfully, honestly and without fear or favour.
That is a promise to every football fan and to every one of our army of loyal readers.”
What does that story tell us? Has the Sun decided not to serialise Phil’s book because it is wrong about the “behind-the-scenes details about the downfall of Rangers”. Were the Rangers fans, both the reasonable ones and those engaging in “disgusting abuse”, telling the Sun that Phil’s evidence and conclusions about “where the blame lay for the collapse of the club” were wrong?
The only expressed reason for stopping the agreed serialisation is that, in some way, Phil’s blog “blog undermines the entire industry“. I saw a tweet earlier today which commented that this was rich coming from the editor of a publication whose former editors and other executives face criminal charges of allegedly hacking hundreds of phones, including that of a murdered child. That however would fall into the category of a tu quoque argument, so I will not pursue it.
Rangers fans, or those masquerading as Rangers fans, engaged in detailed analysis of the book on fans’ websites, finding the factual errors and logical flaws in Phil’s arguments…
Well, actually they did not – as the book has not yet been published, we haven’t seen what he has to say in it. Alex Thomson, the award winning Channel 4 journalist, and Professor of Journalism Roy Greenslade were both happy enough with the product to endorse it, Mr Thomson in fact having written the foreword.
As Professor Greenslade puts it in his piece which I have referred to already:-
The general consensus is that Harries (Editor of the Scottish Sun and author of the Editorial) made a bad call initially by agreeing to serialise a book that was bound to upset Rangers fans. I understand that he still believes in the book’s authenticity.
But two experienced non-Sun journalists … believe Harries was shocked by the hostility of Rangers fans and feared a possible sales boycott not unlike the one that the paper suffered after its infamous accusation against Liverpool fans following the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy.
He was therefore relieved to find an excuse – the blog posting – in order to effect a change of direction. That view is strenuously denied by Harries’s senior colleagues. They say he is genuinely heartbroken at the turn of events. He felt he couldn’t “defend the indefensible” (Mac Giolla Bhain’s blog) by facing down complaints from Rangers’ fans.
“He found himself in an impossible position,” said one. “He just felt he couldn’t justify going ahead.”
Nothing about the book itself, and indeed according to Professor Greenslade, Mr Harries still believes in the book’s authenticity.
This is the classic example of an ad hominem attack, taking the man rather than the ball.
I have spoken frequently to Phil. I have met him face to face on a handful of occasions. I find his company pleasant, and his chat entertaining. Is he universally popular across all football teams and their fans? No. There are many fans of Rangers who do not like Phil, and some at Parkhead too.
Do I find everything that he writes to be Pulitzer Prize winning? No, but I am not a journalist or literary critic. Has every story he has broken turned out to be accurate? No, but he seems to have a higher strike rate by far than many of the household names of Scottish journalism. Do I agree with all he espouses politically? No, but then there is an enormous spectrum of views in the world. Is his beloved football team the same as my favourite? No. Does he offer his thoughts and opinions in good faith? Yes, I have no doubt of that.
Does he deserve to have his views silenced by a campaign which seems, according to Professor Greenslade, to have involved an official approach from Rangers FC itself?
I would like to quote the Chairman of one of Scotland’s most prominent companies, when members of his staff were taken to task for making public comments which were seen by some as inappropriate.
“IN KEEPING WITH THE PRINCIPLES OF FREE SPEECH WE WILL DEFEND THE RIGHT FOR PEOPLE TO EXPRESS THEIR OPINIONS IN GOOD FAITH.”
I will repeat that:-
“IN KEEPING WITH THE PRINCIPLES OF FREE SPEECH WE WILL DEFEND THE RIGHT FOR PEOPLE TO EXPRESS THEIR OPINIONS IN GOOD FAITH.”
(I think capitals and bold face are justified here.)
The speaker? Malcolm Murray, Chairman of the Rangers FC Ltd, quoted on the official Rangers website on 10th August 2012.
Phil Mac Giolla Bhain is expressing his opinions, in good faith, in exercise of his principles of free speech. No one is forcing anyone who does not want to do so to read his book. However, as detailed above, the story is of such importance that there is likely to be significant interest in it, whether from people interested in the machinations of football financiers, or fans of other teams who want to enjoy the re-telling of the story of the demise of a rival.
Here we have a book which has not seen the public light of day yet. Should, in the twenty first century, we have people demanding it be kept from publication simply because those making a noise about it do not like the writer?
How many people were able to discredit the arguments put forward by RTC regarding the mess at Ibrox? How much better could the Rangers situation have been today if only the Rangers fanbase had paid attention to Phil and to RTC and had not been blinded by their mild dislike of what they were perceived to be!
As a friend to whom I was speaking today said, how many of the people who threatened Salman Rushdie with death had read the Satanic Verses?
(Before anyone gets excited, I am not saying that the Rangers fans protesting about this book want to do to Phil what those protesting about Mr Rushdie’s book wanted to do to him … however, if you scroll to the bottom of this piece you will find a selection of comments from only one thread from one Rangers fans website last week referring to Phil. These would appear to those engaging in “disgusting abuse” as the Sun has it, rather than the reasonable fans. I do not intend to tar all Rangers fans with the one brush – that would be wrong. However one did suggest that threatening death to someone whose views were not liked was rather extreme – he was accused of being a “Taig sympathiser”. )
So what has today shown us?
Firstly, the fans of a football team can unite and seek to use this power, for good or ill.
Secondly, as Professor Greenslade says, some of the press will take its decisions on nothing other than commercial grounds.
Thirdly, the Sun can say this:- “Others, many of whom had clearly not read the interview, immediately engaged in the kind of disgusting abuse that sadly infects some of Scottish football’s blogs and forums” – but not seem to see that as noteworthy!
Fourthly, if one piece of satire, whether or not you agree about its effectiveness, can “undermine the entire industry” then the industry is in dire straits indeed. Even the greatest of satirists, like Swift, could not do that with only a few hundred words!
Fifthly, if it is correct that Rangers FC threatened action against the Sun if it went ahead and serialised the book, where does that leave Mr Murray’s proud declaration that “IN KEEPING WITH THE PRINCIPLES OF FREE SPEECH WE WILL DEFEND THE RIGHT FOR PEOPLE TO EXPRESS THEIR OPINIONS IN GOOD FAITH”?
Sixthly, do we recall the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act? Section 6 reads in part as follows:-
(1)A person commits an offence if—
(a)the person communicates material to another person, and
(b)either Condition A or Condition B is satisfied.
(2)Condition A is that—
(a)the material consists of, contains or implies a threat, or an incitement, to carry out a seriously violent act against a person or against persons of a particular description,
(b)the material or the communication of it would be likely to cause a reasonable person to suffer fear or alarm, and
(c)the person communicating the material—
(i)intends by doing so to cause fear or alarm, or
(ii)is reckless as to whether the communication of the material would cause fear or alarm.
Or what about the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, section 38 which reads, in part:-
(1)A person (“A”) commits an offence if—
(a)A behaves in a threatening or abusive manner,
(b)the behaviour would be likely to cause a reasonable person to suffer fear or alarm, and
(c)A intends by the behaviour to cause fear or alarm or is reckless as to whether the behaviour would cause fear or alarm.Now read the extracts at the foot of the page. I understand that these sorts of reaction are the norm for Phil, and for others perceived as being “Rangers-haters” on these sites. Does anyone think that they could constitute an offence under either pieces of legislation?
I am sure that the police would be delighted to have this reported to them!
I am aware of one police force to which allegations were made that certain writings on the web were in breach of Section 38. The force in question at first, so I understand, denied having received the complaint which had been submitted by fax. However, some time later the sender discovered the fax receipt, at which time the force advised that it had received the complaint after all, and had analysed it and decided no offence had been committed, even though it had failed to notify anyone of that decision.
Policing the internet is an impossible job. However when we are likely to have had people expressing views of Phil similar to those below to a national newspaper, and where it is alleged the reporter involved in the story was threatened, surely this is worthy of inquiry?
I will leave the last words to Phil, as quoted in the Guardian.
He said: “I think this is a dark day for journalism in Scotland when a major title can be forced into self-censoring in this fashion.
“The most worrying aspect of this are the threats aimed at Simon Houston who interviewed me. An attack on a journalist is an attack on journalism and, ipso facto, an attack on democracy.”
Posted by Paul McConville
I reproduce below some of the comments from only one thread on the Rangers Media website. I have used asterisks in the swear words, and have refrained from including the worst comments, as a line of uninterrupted asterisks would make little sense. I have left spelling and punctuation as it is.
I do not think that what is below qualifies as ad hominem. Instead it is “the kind of disgusting abuse that sadly infects some of Scottish football’s blogs and forums”. Will there be stuff equally as bad, or even worse, on the websites of fans of other teams? It is possible but, to be frank, I do not think that would operate in any way to mitigate what is below.
(F*** him and his terrorist loving friends for WE ARE THE PEOPLE and they never will be
funny words from the man whose surname sounds like spitting out phlegm
I hope a lone gunman gives this p***** daughter something to really cry about!
Phil the bheast is a deserving recipient of a bullet
I really really despise this fenian f***
we all know the Phillis-wotever-yer-real-name-is is a w***** of the highest order…………f*** the republic and all who sail in her
why stop at only one bullet???
Damn right……………it should be a battalion of gunmen.
Firing squad is the way to go
Exception to this B******, Firing squad is correct.
Have to disagree…..That would be far too quick.
his blog is straight out of the Nazi Sympathisers PR handbook, as are all of his actions. Disgusting stuff that we have, as a support, ignored for too long. He is now in a position of respectability where he can influence things.
Well said, disgusting cretin that he is….a bullet is too good for that c*** of a man.
Phil 3names is a vile c*** and it would be a small mercy to the rest of the world if he died in a violent horrible painfull way. Getting chewed to death by fireants sounds good.
should be dragged behind the Rangers team bus to Elgin and just have a camera crew behind recording as he is scraped off the road till only his heed is left as we get to the ground and then use that as the match-ball
So is violence never acceptable? I posted in another place, that McGillivan wants to turn Glasgow into Belfast thirty years ago. I truly believe he has that much bitterness and hatred in his heart. So, we are dealing with a man who would quite happily see Protestant Rangers supporters blown to pieces. As in, body parts scattered all over the place – and no amount of handwringing appeasement will change his view, it never does with zealots. I personally, yearn for the news that he has been dealt with, in the most violent manner possible. F*** him and his.
Disgusting piece their from the murderous ex social worker im glad our bloggers like Chris Graham, Bill McMurdo and Leggo dont lower themselves to that sort of filth. More evidence for Charles of bigotry against Rangers, at this rate hes going to need a fleet of Eddie Stobart trucks to transport all the examples of anti-Rangers bigotry to Hampden tommorow.
Correct. The guy is a bloody loon ball the sooner he’s gone, the better.
Garote the p**** with his own intestine.
a good water boarding would sort this f***** right out)