The Sun’s “Hero of the week” is a straw man

The Guardian reports:

Nick Clegg has declined to back the campaign to ban page 3 girls from the Sun, on the grounds that the state should not dictate the content of newspapers. In an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live, the deputy prime minister said it would be “deeply illiberal” for the state to dictate what appears in newspapers…Clegg was asked by Shelagh Fogarty, the Radio 5 presenter, if he would support the page 3 ban during a live broadcast from Sheffield. “No, no, no,” he said. “I’ve got three little sons so I don’t have page 3 showing on my kitchen table. But I don’t think it is for the government to start telling the Sun editor what they put [there]. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it … you don’t want to have a moral policeman or woman in Whitehall telling people what they can and cannot see.”

The question of whether or not to ban things can be a litmus test of any liberal or Liberal. Some say you can’t be a liberal if you want to ban anything. But, then you get to practices where harm can be caused to others, and the debate gets complex.

But one thing I am clear on, and here I cheer Nick Clegg for his comments above, is that it is completely illiberal to call for a ban on The Sun’s Page 3 photos.

OK, try to influence society so that The Sun are embarrassed to continue to run it. Or influence the readers so they no longer want to see it. But don’t ban it.

However, I would point out, crucially, that those leading the campaign against Page 3 (“No more Page 3“) are emphatically not calling for it to be banned. They are calling on the editor of The Sun to voluntarily “drop” it. I support that. Indeed, the petition (which I have signed) actually says (with my bolding):

Take The Bare Boobs Out Of The Sun. We are asking Dominic Mohan to drop the bare boobs from The Sun newspaper. We are asking very nicely. Please, Dominic. No More Page 3.

So, maybe calling Nick Clegg “Hero of the Week” for saying that something shouldn’t be banned, when no one is actually calling for it to be banned, is a little suspect, to say the least. The Sun actually wrote:

On Radio Five Live today, the Deputy PM was asked to support a campaign – which is backed by his Lib Dem colleague Lynne Featherstone among others – to have The Sun’s Page 3 banned…But he didn’t.

I think that’s called a “straw man argument”, as defined by Wikipedia:

A straw man argument attempts to refute a given proposition by showing that a slightly different or inaccurate form of the proposition (the “straw man”) is absurd or ridiculous, relying on the audience not to notice that the argument does not actually apply to the original proposition.

Ho-hum.

(Lynne Featherstone’s blog makes clear her position. Lynne emphasised her views at the weekend on this very organ in comments under Stephen Tall’s article. Respected press commentator, Roy Greenslade has noted the important distinction between calling for a ban and making a request.)

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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29 Comments

  • The Sun, twisting something to suit their own agenda….. surely not !!!

    Keep up the good work Lynne. Clegg should come out and clarify to set a flame to the straw..

  • Hi Paul,

    I think you’ve misunderstood; this isn’t a straw man argument , as Lynne was calling for Page 3 to be banned on the left hand column of her website up until yesterday lunchtime – that would be enough to substantiate the Sun’s claim that there was “a campaign – which is backed by his Lib Dem colleague Lynne Featherstone among others – to have The Sun’s Page 3 banned”…it might not of been the campaign that you signed, it may of just involved Lynne and a few others that were calling for it to be banned; either way, what The Sun said was literally true (probably accidentally), even if it was misleading in other ways it was no straw man – it was probably a Gettier counterexample though. Whilst it’s true that the campaign itself was carefully worded, subsequent commentary on it was not. Lynnes position is far from clear, to me at least anyway. Many papers have covered this story in the terms The Sun has given, often seemingly from talking to Lynne, why didn’t you complain 3 weeks ago when The Independent ran this? http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/the-suns-page-3-pictures-cause-domestic-violence-8165987.html …or her Wikipedia entry, etc. The word banned has only been questioned in the past 2 days, since the Sun used it – I think this focus on The Sun is unhealthy and is mainly because these concepts won’t easily generalise (banning pictures of people with no clothes on is hard work – we’d have to start with the national galleries and work down).

    Also, you’ve created your own straw man here, because you’ve ignored the actual interview and quoted The Guardian! The actual question asked was if Nick thought it should be “scrapped” – not banned; exactly the sort of distinction you’re trying to assert here. Whilst the meaning is pretty similar, it’s worded differently to what you’ve quoted : http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/pienaar#playepisode2 .

    I suspect many of the people (Lynne included) calling for Page 3 to be “no more” (as it was worded in the petition), would not make any distinction between banned, scrapped or simply “no more”, and that your position is more exception than rule. I think all involved parties have used these soft distinctions to reinforce their argument; you surely can’t hold The Sun to a higher standard than your politicians, other papers or yourself? I personally think that asking someone to stop something very nicely is pretty similar to asking them to ban it – the outcome you want is the same, the influence you have on the outcome is the same, you’re just softening the language a bit. There was never an argument for politicians banning it via legislation in Parliament as far as I’m aware, so you’ve created your own recursive series/russian doll of straw men!

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 15th Oct '12 - 1:02pm

    Here’s a snapshot of her blog from June 15th. I can’t even see a left hand side bar, let alone anything saying “Ban Page three”:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20110615132110/http://www.lynnefeatherstone.org/category/blog

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 15th Oct '12 - 1:09pm

    Also her main site as at July 24th:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20110724193908/http://www.lynnefeatherstone.org/
    No left hand bar and not a sign of anything saying “Ban Page Three” which I can see….

  • Richard Dean 15th Oct '12 - 1:39pm

    I see a left column and a right column on http://www.lynnefeatherstone.org/category/blog . An item about the Sun’s page 3 appears a little way down in the left column.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 15th Oct '12 - 2:17pm

    My snapshots are from 2011, as that was the last time archive.org recorded them. The point is that even then Lynne Featherstone’s website did not have a left hand sidebar. Just a main column with the bulk of the text and a narrow right hand column.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 15th Oct '12 - 2:26pm

    Here is a Google cached version of Lynne’s blog on October 2nd 2012 at 01.08 GMT. No left hand column. No “ban page three”.

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.lynnefeatherstone.org/2012/08/mp-lynne-featherstone-behind-the-counter-at-independent-chemists.htm

    I have a snapshot available if needed.

  • “My snapshots are from 2011, as that was the last time archive.org recorded them. The point is that even then Lynne Featherstone’s website did not have a left hand sidebar. Just a main column with the bulk of the text and a narrow right hand column.”

    Well, clearly you didn’t realise those archived copies were from 2011, or you would scarcely have pointed out the absence of anything saying “Ban Page Three”!

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 15th Oct '12 - 2:27pm

    @richard dean
    Thanks. That’s the main text column.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 15th Oct '12 - 2:57pm

    So asking for an editor to do something and calling for something to be banned are the same thing…and to say that they are not is disingenuous/using weasel words…

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…………………………………..

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 15th Oct '12 - 3:14pm

    Mark, maybe I still abide by dictionary definitions too much. You can still sign a petition asking for something to be dropped voluntarily by the editor, while having no intention of indicating that you want something stopped through ‘force’. How am I or the “No to Page Three” petition organisers going to stop the Sun printing Page three, actually go into their printing factory and forcibly stop the presses? But, as I say above influencing or embarrassing the editor and the public is another matter. Influencing or embarrassing does not equal force.

  • Sorry, I meant right-hand column. I looked at her site a couple of days ago and was pretty sure it had a link to the campaign on the right hand side which said “Support The Campaign To Ban Page 3”, or something very similar – after reading the articles here I went back and looked for it, and it was nowhere to be seen. I remember it distinctly because it made me think about many of the things you’ve written about. I already tried the Wayback Machine, but it’s not caching the content – Paul, the link you’ve provided gives a snapshot from Jun 15 2011 (look at the backwards date/timestamp in the URL you’ve given – 20110615). I think the link had only been on there for a week or so.

    It is entirely possible that I saw the link on another site and conflated the two, that’s why I made sure my argument didn’t hinge on this single factor; but I still feel that pretty unlikely.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 15th Oct '12 - 3:26pm

    Thanks Dave. You will see that I link to a cache of the site from 2nd October. In the right hand column it says under “Latest on this site”: “Page 3 of the Sun”. Maybe that’s what you are confusing?

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.lynnefeatherstone.org/2012/08/mp-lynne-featherstone-behind-the-counter-at-independent-chemists.htm

    The Wikipedia statement, again, is not a direct quote from Lynne. It is someone paraphrasing her.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 15th Oct '12 - 3:42pm

    What happened to 2?

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 15th Oct '12 - 3:49pm

    I really think you’re being rather over-wrought on this Mark. I simply signed that petition because I thought it was a good idea to ask the editor to drop Page Three. I certainly would not support any ban or any degree of duress or “force” (neither of which I think are likely) to make News International drop it. But as I said in the article – and perhaps it is a simple matter of semantics here – I am comfortable with influencing the editor or influencing the public and/or embarrassing the editor into dropping it.

    So, I am being disingeuous by following the dictionary definitions of words? OK. Fine.

  • No, I’m pretty certain she had a link to the campaign (that I clicked on), and it had the word banned in it…and it was there 10am Sunday morning (which got me thinking about the word banned), but wasn’t there 4pm Sunday afternoon (when I found the LDV thread). I think it had been added in the past 7 days because I didn’t notice it when I first read the article, which would of been within 48 hours of her posting. Sadly, I can’t prove it, so I’ll have to back down with that claim.

    The fact remains, the Independent interview she cites on her blog states “Lynne Featherstone, the international development minister, said she would sign a petition to ban Page 3 because it had a “deleterious effect” on women.”. If they misquoted her and she minded, you’d think she’d of picked up on that prior to yesterday, no? What about all of the other articles that do the same? She didn’t declare a fortnight ago “I don’t support a ban on Page 3, despite what everyone is saying about me, I’m just asking them nicely to refrain”. I don’t think this distinction mattered until Nick said what he did.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 15th Oct '12 - 4:01pm

    Dave, fair point but how do you know Lynne didn’t pick up the Indpendent on that point and that they decided not to print a correction? If Lynne or any other politician picked up every newspaper on everything inaccurate they attribute to them, they wouldn’t have time to do anything else.

  • Hey Paul – she cited that article herself. Would you cite an article that you thought misrepresented your position?

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 15th Oct '12 - 4:11pm

    No I wouldn’t.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 15th Oct '12 - 4:41pm

    Fair point Mark

  • The point is that Nick Clegg’s reply to the question he received was entirely liberal and entirely correct. For heaven’s sake let’s stop this picking on our leader at every cut and turn. Do we not think his many detractors (in the main our bitter enemies) are belabouring him enough?

    What a waste of space and effort this thread is – why the heck am I bothering to contribute to it?

  • Stuart Mitchell 16th Oct '12 - 7:16pm

    Lynne Featherstone has certainly said that she would “love to ban page 3” so Dave3000 has a point.

    http://www.facebook.com/notes/turn-your-back-on-page-3/a-glimmer-of-hope-in-a-letter-from-our-equalities-minister-lynne-featherstone/244214842305128

  • Tony Dawson 16th Oct '12 - 7:26pm

    @Cllr Mark Wright :

    “I think this confusion shows quite clearly how “Campaign to stop X” and “Campaign to ban X” blur into each other. ”

    Among the unthinking, maybe. The difference between the two is the whole point of being a Liberal.

    Chris Davies MEP, like me, is a doctor’s son who has never taken recreational drugs in his life and wants people to not take them. He is also campaigning against having them banned. He wants them stopped, not banned.

  • Thanks Stuart! I knew that it couldn’t all of been wiped out in an afternoon (now you’ve mentioned it I wonder how long it will remain). That’ll learn ’em from trusting MP’s over anonymous internet entities! 😉

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