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Jan 17, 2012

MTR Sues?

There has been a flurry of opinionating and

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There has been a flurry of opinionating and outrage on twitter and some websites as Australian blogger Jennifer Wilson claimed on the weekend that she was being threatened with legal action by Anti-porn campaigner Melinda Tankard Reist. Wilson’s post infers that Tankard Reist is threatening action because of a post that revealed her attendance at a Baptist Church, while it’s been reported in The Age that Tankard Reist

says it’s not being called Christian she objects to, but the claim that she is ”deceptive and duplicitous about her religious beliefs”.

There’s a few issues to look at here, and neither participant’s image is improved by the stoush.

There’s a question as to how Wilson’s comments about Tankard Reist can be seen as anything but an ad hominem attack on her character. To claim that Tankard Reist holds particular beliefs because she identifies with any particular Christian sect is a lazy argument and one potentially easily disproved. By Wilson’s standard it could be claimed that I am hostile to gay marriage and believe that climate change science is a fraud because I self identify as Roman Catholic, although in both cases that would be completely wrong.

Wilson’s argument essentially comes down to guilt by association, which is something that we would rightly ridicule if one of our regular targets tried to use it. Trying to prove someone else’s beliefs is impossible, and using that type of assertion as a basis for your argument is unconvincing, especially when there’s plenty of verifiable statements that can be argued against instead. An example of this is Wilson’s follow up post where she highlighted a link between Tankard Reist and Baptist preacher Bill Muehlenberg, pointing out some of the outrageous things that Muehlenberg had said, this tells us nothing about Tankard Reist or her personal beliefs, it’s just another ad hom.

Additionally – and we’re shocked that a Twitter hashtag could be completely wrong about something – according to The Age article, Tankard Reist hasn’t at this stage actually “sued” Wilson. She has apparently sent what’s referred to as a Concerns Notice under the Defamation Act 2005 of whichever state she chose, which gives the recipient the opportunity to apologise and withdraw the offending claim before it escalates to an actual action in a Court. (Sometimes there’s also a demand for compensation; we have no idea if this particular Concerns Notice included one.) The idea is to resolve the matter without involving the courts. A hostile reaction to a Concerns notice (particularly in public) can, unsurprisingly, itself be aggravating when, or if, a Court ultimately assesses damages.

None of this should be read as an endorsement of Melinda Tankard Reist’s public stances on any particular issue, but a call to make better arguments without resorting to logical fallacies.

There is also the question of why Tankard Reist decided that a Concerns Notice would be the best way to deal with Wilson’s claims when it was fairly easy to predict the Streisand Effect would kick in. Tankard Reist isn’t short of opportunities to engage with Wilson’s arguments publicly, and dealing with it privately rather than through a legal intermediary would certainly have avoided the accusation of attempting to stifle debate. When people with a public platform resort to using the legal system against a less powerful critic it usually appears heavy handed and ends up creating sympathy for the critic, whether deserved or otherwise.

The result of all of this is that rather than debate occurring over Melinda Tankard Reist’s arguments, a sideshow is developing over an ad-hominem attack, and the unexpected reaction to it. Hands up who feels better informed?

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97 comments

97 thoughts on “MTR Sues?

  1. Howard,B.

    Holden Back

    I’m sure all kinds of subjective arguments are put forth in many a public debate, my point was that, ideally, the judgement of the argument, not the argument itself, should be conducted in a manner of objective consideration which means excluding such prejudicial and superficial matters as the proponent’s motive’s and former posistions and focusing on the objective merits of the argument alone. As to if this is what actually happens in the world outside my head, I doubt it, humans, myself included, are naturally given to prejudice and superficial judgements.

    Catsy

    Fair enough to a point. I think it’s enough to say we were arguing at cross-purposes to a degree. I would still maintain that checking the veracity of evidence is part of judging the argument on its own merit and can occur effectively without introducing the prejudicial element of the proponent’s motivations et al. A thourough consideration of the argument in question would unturn all stones regardless of the proclivities of the advocate.

  2. Catsidhe

    Howard,B.: basically, yes.

    The facts are the facts, but knowing about the background of the person who is presenting those facts tells you about the likelihood of that person misrepresenting them, or not informing you of relevant data if it is inconvenient.

    This does not negate their argument of itself, but it does raise the question of how much effort might be required to check and validate their argument. It raises the question of whether important contrary evidence has been ignored, or an important logical step has been skipped.

    Note also that these failures in argument do not have to be malicious… as I said, they are the reason for conflict of interest statements on academic papers (and why there is so much outrage if these statements turn out to be lies): the bias is very likely to be unconscious, and part of the point of including this data in academic work is to ask the readers to check more than usually hard for unconscious bias which might render the results useless, or at least misleading. If the statement of conflict of interest turns out to be a lie (especially a deliberate one), then the rest of the article is suspect on its face.

    But when one is speaking in Public Policy, then one’s background is an important part of the total package of information which includes one’s arguments and data. It tells the audience about the sort of assumptions you are likely to have made, the sort of data you are likely to have discarded or ignored, the specific jargon you are using. Whether you actually looked at the data impartially, or if you went in spelunking for the data which would prove the contention you went in looking to prove. Of course, the data is the data… but the data is not always presented correctly, or honestly.

    And part of the point of Policy debates of this type is that it’s not one expert and another having a discussion between peers, it’s two debaters pleading to public opinion. Rhetoric matters. Unearned perceptions of disinterest or a neutral starting point matter.

    Jeremy should be more on top of this than most of us: the facts of a case are the facts, but you can’t always trust the person who is telling you what the facts are. You have two witnesses, and they say different things: which is the unreliable witness? Or are both of them? In this sort of debate the data sources are not something which the average person can get their hands on, or would be able to make meaningful sense of if they did. In public policy debate, we rely on the experts to be witnesses for the data, and it really is relevant to have an idea if the witness might have (or even have a perception of) bias.

    It doesn’t mean the facts are wrong, but it does mean you have to be a lot more careful to ensure that they are — in their proper context — as they are presented to you.

  3. Holden Back

    So, Howard B what was the last controversial public policy proposal decided on objective merits, without any commercial, political or ideological motivations or emotional arguments muddying the waters? I’m sure you only ever decide on objective evidence, but you would allow yours is only one voice among many.

  4. Howard,B.

    Perhaps, at the heart of this thread’s debate is the conflation of two seperate issues: the question of a proponent’s motivations and the question of the merits of what they propose.

    Now, to use Catsidhe’s example of two people claiming that ice cream is carcinogenic, one a recognizable crank and the other cloaked in the mantle of respectable science, let’s assume both are making the same claim without substantiation. Whilst we may be given to making a prejudiced and superficial judgement based on who is making such claim, any thorough and objective treatment of the claims based on their own merit will come to the same conclusion regardless who made it. It does not matter how the parties came to their proposal, or even if they were hitherto vocal critics of the ice-cream-causes-cancer hypothesis: for the purposes of objective analysis, only the merits of the proposal itself are relevant.

    However, we should hold the motivations of a public advocate up to scrutiny, and this is important in many regards, but it is absolutely irrelevant in making an objective judgement of the merits of what it is they are advocating for. So, sure, question the motivations and consistency of our public advocates, but do not confuse this question with the the question of the objective merits of their proposals. To do so will only lead to prejudiced and superficial judgements thereof.

  5. Tom F

    So what we’re getting from this is that it’s wrong to challenge anyone trying to frame an argument, or ever criticise anyone’s (mis)appropriation of labels.

    In other news, Peter Reith, prominent marxist theorist, has called for government to stop getting in the way of greater control of the means of production by the people and repeal the Fair Work Act.

  6. dexitroboper

    The context of an argument for public policy matters. If it’s someone from the IPA arguing against climate change policy, then people know they are denialists and it is relevant. If its someone from the tobacco lobby arguing against plain packaging (it’ll never work, guv, honest!) then it is relevant. If someone from Clubs Australia is arguing against pokie reform (it’ll never work), then it matters where they’re arguing from. The conservative Christian lobby is ideologically opposed to feminism, so it the context that MTR is trying to hide where her ideology comes from is relevant.

  7. Catsidhe

    No, I don’t think the substance of an argument changes depending on who makes it: how much you can weight you can meaningfully apply to an argument changes depending on the person making it.

    It is not that an argument is wrong because the person is Christian, Irish, Schizophrenic, whatever; that is ad hominem.

    But if a person is making an argument which you would a priori expect them to have a personal interest in making, then you would need for them to make a better case for their argument to have the same information content as if someone actually disinterested (or originally hostile to the idea) made it. If someone has a history of making biased arguments, or comes from an environment where this is the norm, then this is relevant information when it comes to the question of evaluating that argument (you might need to ask different questions of it, for example, or start with different assumptions).

    More the point, you really don’t get how the human brain works, either, do you. If you are told that ice cream causes cancer, you process that information differently depending on whether it’s a guy in the street with a tinfoil hat or a doctor in a lab who tells you. That’s why they have actors in white coats on ads with the Sciency Bit. It doesn’t of itself make the statements any more or less true, but the white coat leads you to give undeserved credence to the statement. If it didn’t work, advertisers wouldn’t do it.

    That is why there are conflict of interest statements on academic papers. That’s not ad hominem, that’s a flag that the statements therein may need to be investigated more closely for a bias which the author themselves is probably not aware of.

    No argument is made in a vacuum. The argument is perforce affected by the arguer.

    I posit that, like “irony”, “ad hominem” is most often used by people who think they know what it means, but are wrong.

  8. Nick the Hippy

    Congratulations Howard. I think you have finally ended a thread that had gone on too long rather than prolong it. A point well made.

  9. fred p

    Well said, Howard B.

    catsidhe, if you think that the substance of an argument changes depending on who is making it, you clearly don’t get the concept of ad hominem.

  10. Howard,B.

    Catsy,
    Determining the veracity of evidence is all part of judging a proposal on its own merits. If the evidence has been distorted, it will soon become apparent upon examination. How or why the evidence became distorted is not relevant for the sole purpose of judging the weight of the argument itself, but it is if you wish to prejudice said judgement.
    Either way, the motivation of the proponent is irrelevant in judging the proposal itself. The proponent may have come to said proposal in the most irrational or self-serving of manners, but the idea may yet be found to be largely meritorious: there is no conditional relationship between motivation of the proponent and the merit of their proposal, and the former is hence irrelevant in judging the latter.
    As for the ‘concept of information content’, I take that to mean judging a proposal on the ‘content’ of its ‘information’ alone, rather than prejudicing the process with value judgements about people’s motivations.

    Specifically regarding Ms Tankard-Riest’s opinions on pornography, whether such a proposal is coming from a secular feminist or a christian fundamentalist, it’ll still cut little ice with my goodself as, after examining the proposal on it’s on own merits, I’ll be enjoying the latest installment of Asian High-School Girls in Trouble, that is Volume 27: Oral Examinations.

  11. Catsidhe

    Is it not enough to judge an opinion, sentiment or proposal on its own merits alone?

    When you can’t trust that the person doesn’t have an incentive to manipulate the evidence, no, it’s not enough. Obviously, it’s not a guarantee that they have done any such manipulation either, but people have a habit of seeing what they want to see, and if what you are saying just happens to agree with your most dearly cherished prejudices, then you really do have to make you case that much more watertight, otherwise you may as well just get a degree in theology and be done with it.

    And besides, you really don’t get the concept of information content, do you. Yes, it really matters who is making a statement.

  12. Howard,B.

    Is it not enough to judge an opinion, sentiment or proposal on its own merits alone? Whether said sentiment is the result of long contemplation, religious dogma or a drug-fuelled epithany, does that change the substance of what is being propounded? Clearly not. To claim that a person’s religion is relevant in debating the merits of their ideas is to abandon objective analysis of what is being proposed and introduce prejudice.

  13. fred p

    if someone had been speaking, as a doctor, for years about the need to legalize drugs, and it came out that he had been a heavy marijuana user for all that time, what would that do, retrospectively and going forward, to your perception of their trustworthiness?

    Nothing. There’s nothing inherently untrustworthy involved in advocating legalisation of drug use while simultaneously being a user. Besides, even if he’s not trustworthy, the issue is his argument in favour of legalisation and the merits or lack thereof.

    If someone had been advocating, as an economist, that an industry should be deregulated, and it turned out that their best friend owned a business in that industry the whole time, what would that do, retrospectively and going forward, to your perception of their trustworthiness?

    Again, nothing. If he himself stood to gain financially, he would have a vested interest that he was bound to declare. However, if other people stood to gain, so what? You’re not suggesting we need to know not only that MTR is a Christian, but whether her best friend is as well, surely? In any case, as with the other example, the fact that the advocate may be untrustworthy is neither here nor there if he makes a good argument for whatever he’s proposing.

    You say it’s not about the ad hom, but your examples establish the exact opposite.

  14. Catsidhe

    Right, so it is about the ad hom.

    No, it’s about the Bayesian value of the information. Fundamentalist Baptist says “Abortions are bad” == information of low interest. It’s not surprising, as from the Fundy Baptist part, the “Abortions are Bad” part is far more likely than not.

    Fundamentalist Baptist says “Abortions aren’t always bad” is surprising, it is not trivially predictable, and is of higher information content.

    Same goes for the putative case of Germaine Greer declaring her support for withdrawing female sufferage.

    It’s not saying “lookit the fundie moron”, it’s saying “yes, if she’s a Baptist Fundamentalist, then it would be surprising if she didn’t make a fuss about Abortions being bad, so for her statements to this effect to have as much informational force, she needs to back it up with more rigour than she otherwise might.”

    It’s not only about human perception, there are elements of Information Theory involved here in how much weight her statements should be granted.

    Or, to put it another way: if someone had been speaking, as a doctor, for years about the need to legalize drugs, and it came out that he had been a heavy marijuana user for all that time, what would that do, retrospectively and going forward, to your perception of their trustworthiness? If someone had been advocating, as an economist, that an industry should be deregulated, and it turned out that their best friend owned a business in that industry the whole time, what would that do, retrospectively and going forward, to your perception of their trustworthiness?

  15. fred p

    Ben Pobjie at 79:
    If you read a story saying an academic feminist has determined that porn is everywhere and abortion is terrible for women, you’re quite likely to go, hmm, there may be something in that, if someone who’s really studied the issue has found evidence to support it.

    If you read a story saying a fundamentalist Baptist says there’s porn everywhere and abortion is terrible for women, you’ll yawn and turn to the sports pages.

    Right, so it is about the ad hom. She’s a fundie moron, so we should automatically discount whatever she says. But if she wasn’t one, but made the exact same point, we ought to give her argument some proper consideration. Please let me know if I’m misreading you.

  16. monkeytypist

    “The arguments either stand or fall on their merits. If you can’t topple them by taking them as they are, and have to resort to digging up dirt on the person expressing them, then you have failed to rebut them.”

    It’s not about ‘resorting’ to things, it’s about putting advocacy in its proper context. When you’re arguing with a public figure, we can and probably should ask: does their private life reflect something different to what they are saying they support publicly: for example have they treated workers fairly while calling for better wages? To mention these things is to put their public behaviour in its proper context.

    Since Ancient Greece we’ve recognised the three main avenues of argument are logos (the facts of the matter), pathos (an emotional appeal: are we displaying compassion, justice, righteousness?) and ethos (character). The ethos aspect is crucial and is why we always talk about people’s “credibility” to argue what they do.

    If MTR is a believing Christian and believes that (e.g.) women shouldn’t have sex outside of marriage it is a *highly relevant fact* when we consider whether her public “no sex outside of marriage” position is motivated by say, evidence and data, or other factors like the idea that God commands you not to have sex outside of marriage.

    If you rebut the arguments without mentioning the broader context, you are failing to deal with the problem correctly. It’s as if we were having an argument on asylum seekers where nobody mentioned the fact that asylum seekers in the public mind principally come from Muslim countries. We could certainly rebut any anti-refugee arguments but if we don’t question our opponent on whether they are simply opposing these arrivals because of prejudice, we are leaving a pretty big stone unturned.

    People like Hanson and other public figures are adept at the “I’m just saying, wink wink, nod nod” artifice that can allow them to say “but I wasn’t really saying that at all!!” That’s why we go to some length to test their sincerity.

    “The implied ad hominem is ‘She is a Christian, and therefore we can discount her views'”

    >No, the question is: is she arguing what she’s arguing because she has a concern for women and girls independent of religious beliefs, or are they interlinked? It’s still in no way an unfair question. And if she’s arguing on the basis of religious belief rather than evidence, then yes, we can discount her views. . .

  17. bell

    Ben, but your academic feminist might be a fundamentalist baptist as well – you really wouldn’t know though because researchers are usually not judged or condemned on the basis of their religion. We don’t put labels on their foreheads identifying their religion. And a feminist academic may have other bias that we don’t know about, everyone has some form of bias. If someone is being paid to hold a particular view, that’s an issue we need to know about. But I would always look at the evidence and methodology of any research, regardless of whether it was conducted by a baptist or an academic, before I took it as gospel, and I would look more widely than one person’s opinion. If MTR is lying about factual information and manufacturing evidence then I would be concerned about that but I don’t think anyone has suggested that. Equally, she is not presenting herself as a scientific researcher, she describes herself as a blogger, social commentator, writer, advocate. So I guess if you want to give social commentators and bloggers that much credibility for their opinions therein lies the problem. I don’t agree with much of what she says, but not because of her religion, because I don’t agree with what she says. There has been an obsession with her religious beliefs and is it any wonder she doesn’t want to talk about them? It’s like a witch hunt or McCarthyism – she is not on trial and there are such double standards on display in some of the debate about this, especially when people are condemning her from the position of anonymity where they don’t reveal anything about themselves. I’m switching off now..

  18. Jeremy Sear

    Ben –

    OK, so let’s say Germaine Greer writes an article tomorrow in which she says, “As a feminist, I have come to the conclusion that women should not be allowed to drive”.

    Or let’s say Germaine Greer writes an article tomorrow in which she says, “As a newly converted Muslim, I have come to the conclusion that women should not be allowed to drive”.

    If Germaine’s prominent soapbox arises from things she’s previously written, then it is relevant to point out the inconsistency between her now views and the views which helped her obtain that soapbox.

    But her private views? Irrelevant.

    Incidentally, an ad hominem argument would be “She is a Christian, therefore she cannot possibly be right”; not “the fact she is a Christian is relevant”.

    The implied ad hominem is “She is a Christian, and therefore we can discount her views”. It’s being made as part of a criticism, and it’s being used as an attack. Did you read the piece in question?

    you haven’t made clear why they are not, despite many people making examples of how they easily could be. Why exactly is a religious belief different to any other form of personally-held belief?

    It isn’t.

    The distinction I’m making is not between religious belief and other belief, it’s between publicly-expressed views and private views. The former are relevant to a debate about ideas, the latter aren’t. They do not in any way help us evaluate the arguments in question. The arguments either stand or fall on their merits. If you can’t topple them by taking them as they are, and have to resort to digging up dirt on the person expressing them, then you have failed to rebut them.

  19. Ben Pobjie

    Oh no, not all, Bell. But the point is, most people don’t have the time or inclination to sift carefully through the intricacies of every argument – including journalists. If you read a story saying an academic feminist has determined that porn is everywhere and abortion is terrible for women, you’re quite likely to go, hmm, there may be something in that, if someone who’s really studied the issue has found evidence to support it.

    If you read a story saying a fundamentalist Baptist says there’s porn everywhere and abortion is terrible for women, you’ll yawn and turn to the sports pages.

    And therein lies the crux: MTR is VERY determined that you do NOT turn to the sports pages. She’s built a nice profile for herself, and a lucrative career, off the back of being truth-seeking feminist who has studied the issues carefully and come to her conclusions based on the evidence. And she knows full well that it is a lot harder to sustain that reputation if you’re widely known as a devout bible-following Christian who started from the point of opposing abortion and public displays of sexuality and then sought evidence to back your preconceived views. She knows her status in society depends on the public not perceiving her as a fundie – that’s why she’ll use lawyers to try to shut up anyone who talks about it.

  20. monkeytypist

    “Maybe she didn’t feel like a public debate on her religious beliefs. Maybe she didn’t think they were any of your – or my – business. And maybe she wouldn’t be wrong in that.”

    Jeremy you’ve asserted this point a few times now, but you haven’t made clear why they are not, despite many people making examples of how they easily could be. Why exactly is a religious belief different to any other form of personally-held belief?

  21. Matt

    @Dave,

    Ta fanx.

    I still don’t see where Wilson has committed an ad hominem calumny against Tankard Reist. It would seem that MTR’s religious affiliations are pertinent in the context of her railings against porn, abortion and other allied issues.

    It could be argued that Wilson has been less than gallant in her treatment of MTR. Melinda herself is no angel when it comes to laying on the invective in furtherance of the cause and runs the risk of seeming more than a bit thin skinned in this case.

  22. bell

    Ben, I’m not sure what your view is from that… But should you be forced to reveal your religion so that we can judge you based on that rather than what you say? Because you will be received differently based on your beliefs, whether or not they are the basis for what you are writing. I think that is the problem with modern discourse, we are much more interested in the personalities and personal intricacies, and judging people from within the framework of our own prejudice, than in what someone is saying. I think women should be allowed to drive, and it wouldn’t change my view if a Muslim or a feminist told me otherwise. But obviously it would change the way that person was percieved, that is by some people who hated or loved feminists or Muslims and wanted only to adopt views that fit with their own religion or ideology. It’s really an excuse to fuel our prejudice. Imagine if we agreed with someone and then found out they were actually a communist or a vegetarian, or a Hindu. Would we then need to disagree with what they have written on any particular subject?

  23. Ben Pobjie

    Incidentally, an ad hominem argument would be “She is a Christian, therefore she cannot possibly be right”; not “the fact she is a Christian is relevant”.

  24. Ben Pobjie

    OK, so let’s say Germaine Greer writes an article tomorrow in which she says, “As a feminist, I have come to the conclusion that women should not be allowed to drive”.

    Or let’s say Germaine Greer writes an article tomorrow in which she says, “As a newly converted Muslim, I have come to the conclusion that women should not be allowed to drive”.

    Are we saying that, since one’s religious beliefs are irrelevant, that these two statements would be received by the public in exactly the same way?

  25. Dave Gaukroger

    Matt, it’s because in real life we say “playing the man not the ball” and “that’s bullshit”, but we all like to look smarter when we’re writing.

  26. Matt

    Apropos of nothing, why are terms like “ad hom” and “strawman” only ever bandied around on teh intertoobz?

  27. Tom F

    Yay, a straw man! I love those. You know who else wanted your full personal history…

    To restate again: If you want to change public policy, you have to explain why. To explain why, you have to set out your reasoning and assumptions. This would generally include your ideology, including those parts of your ideology that have to do with God(s). It doesn’t include your shopping list or sexual proclivities.

  28. bell

    Tom, you are engaging in an argument now and I have no intention of telling you about my religious beliefs or my personal life – it’s just none of your business. And I think you will find that most of the opinions you read don’t have a personal CV attached or a description of the beliefs of each person. Thank god, otherwise we would be judging people so unfairly. And if your reasoning were taken up in the case of Jennifer and Melinda, then we should be offered Jennifer’s full personal history, her religious history, etc, which doesn’t seem to have been publicly dissected. Why is she focused on criticising Melinda, is there something in her religious belief system that drives her? Is she being dishonest by not giving us more information about herself? Who knows, who cares – it’s just not our business. From reading the link to the website it sounds like more of a personaity clash than a contest of ideas.

    steve, the rich and powerful may be in a better position to use defamation laws but i think it is the same in many other areas of life. Going through any complaints process is for those who have time and resources and are capable of articulating and understanding the process. There are many laws and systems that better serve the wealthy, white or the educated. The defamation laws also support people without money to attack others – if someone sues them they have nothing to lose anyway, so they just don’t care.

  29. Aliar Jones

    [until the legislation has been altered]

    Ok and in the real world…

  30. Tom F

    What a beautiful Cartesian world of value-free argumentation some people live in. No, Bell, if all I do is consider my own views, I’m hardly engaging in an argument. My interlocutor and I would walk up to one another, express our opinion, and walk away again. However, if MTR wants to convince me of her position, she needs to persuade me, and that means explaining why I should think the same way as her. That’s what I do when I try and persuade other people.

    And Jeremy, are you honestly saying here:

    “Not the ideas we’re debating, no. If they don’t include them in their argument, then they’re not part of the ideas under discussion or in any way relevant.”

    that when someone frames an argument, it’s unethical to reject their frame? Even when you think that frame is a cynical attempt to rebrand long-rejected ideas with the competition’s trademark? If Teresa Gambaro just wants to talk about “hygiene”, wouldn’t it be wrong to bring up racism?

  31. Aliar Jones

    [I can tell more about you from your sarcasm than from anything you would tell me about your religion.]

    Oh wise swami, then guess my star sign!…following your logic anyone who you sounds sane for a minute (kinda like a stopped clock) means you should lend them your support.

  32. Aliar Jones

    [So please explain your springboard and who are the gullible people who would believe everything she says from reading one article?]

    Whatever planet you’re on, it ain’t the one News Ltd know they profit from.

  33. Steve777

    Defamation laws are there to protect the interests of the rich and powerful, especially those who are incompetent, venal or indiscrete. The average person cannot afford to launch a defamation suit, so the laws are don’t help most of us. And few can afford to defend, let alone lose, a defamation action. Threatening defamation to silence a critic just should not happen. The whole idea that one is entitled to a good reputation is a fiction. We are all entitled to the truth, nothing more, nothing less. If anyone wants to enjoy a good reputation, then they should not say or do anything to damage it. If they want to engage in controversy, that’s fine. They should be ready to defend themselves with facts and logic, not threats.

  34. Matthew of Canberra

    “imagine an illness”

    I’d blame the cat, but it’s not really her fault.

  35. Matthew of Canberra

    “that’s precisely why we need to not give in to it, “

    Who’s this “we”? I once read a description of being involved in a serious court case: Imaging in illness that consumes all of your energy, with constant worry ruining your life and consuming all your resources. This can go on for a year or more. Even if you win, the quantity of money that NEWS has to throw at it means you’ll lose anyway. If you have a simple way to avoid that prospect, take it.

    until the legislation has been altered so to not give the rich bullies an advantage and a simple tool to stifle dissent.

    Yeah. That’ll happen.

  36. zoot

    It’s slightly off topic, but have any of the usual suspects decried how Jennifer is “being silenced” by MTR?

  37. rhwombat

    Actually Dave, I think that the Streisand effect wins. Having been tweaked by this thread, I followed the links to see what all the fuss was about, added Jennifer Wilson’s blog to my should read list and came back here a convert. I cannot see how Wilson can be castigated for calling MTR’s bullying for what it is, or for asking the relevant questions of the Hill’s article about MTR and receiving a very telling reply ( http://noplaceforsheep.com/2012/01/10/the-questions-rachel-hills-didnt-ask-melinda-tankard-reist/ ). I feel much better informed about Tankard Reist than I was an hour or so ago. I suspect that this information will become even more useful in the future. Can anyone challenge the proposition that all religion is politics?

  38. Rorschach

    There’s no defamation here, and no ad hominem, that’s kind of the point of it all ! You are altering your behaviour based on a perceived threat to your bank account. That’s how the Damocles sword of defamation action works, and that’s precisely why we need to not give in to it, until the legislation has been altered so to not give the rich bullies an advantage and a simple tool to stifle dissent.

  39. bell

    aliar, unless you are blindly following someone, as an adult you should be able to decide which of their opinions to agree with. Everyone speaking in the media doesn’t have to give their personal CV every time they have an opinion.
    How exactly would someone like MTR implement views that you are opposed to when she doesn’t have any power? How would she sneak anything past you when she is just expressing her opinion?
    Every time I have seen her in the media, she has been with other people with opposing views. So please explain your springboard and who are the gullible people who would believe everything she says from reading one article?
    I can tell more about you from your sarcasm than from anything you would tell me about your religion.

  40. Jeremy Sear

    Well, when you’re publishing potentially defamatory comments on your own site under your own name with your own property etc at risk, then let’s revisit the issue, eh?

  41. Rorschach

    Dave, I’ve responded on my blog to this nonsense. The fact that you guys frantically edit out anything that could possibly be used to SLAPP you in the comments tells me all I need to know about your idea of how to defend freedom of speech and fight the frivolous attempts by the likes of MTR to silence fellow bloggers. Very disappointed.

  42. rubiginosa

    As was the lack of any attempt at serious analysis of the intellectual contradictions inherent in simultaneous identification as a feminist and subscriber to patriarchal religious structures.

    Word.

  43. Aliar Jones

    [aliar, a couple of good arts policies and they’re ok to lead a nation? No i don’t get it.]

    Well that much is obvious…

    listen you don’t seem to grasp that if someone is going to garner support in the media over a particular issue, I can’t see any problem with making sure they’re not going to abuse that by using it as springboard for related issues that you feel diametrically opposed on.

    Just because she might sound like a worthy voice on one issue doesn’t mean she is.

  44. Wilson Jennifer

    You can’t publish certain matters at Crikey, they are published here http://noplaceforsheep.com/2012/01/17/some-thoughts-on-being-threatened-with-defamation-by-melinda-tankard-reist/

    I think further discussion with you is futile, Jeremy, as we differ on the necessity for people who earn their living pre/proscribing sexual behaviours and morality to disclose their belief systems.

    To tell me that I may not have an abortion because God doesn’t want me to and expect me to accept that is to my mind insane. To tell me I may not have an abortion because it isn’t good for me, while all along you believe it’s really wrong because God doesn’t want me to, is deceiving me. It is pretending you are acting in my own interests, when in fact you are acting in God’s.

  45. Wilson Jennifer

    Tankard Reist stated in the Age this morning that she doesn’t mind being called a Christian.

  46. Jeremy Sear

    And Jeremy – to talk abot someones religious beliefs IS to talk about their ideas

    Not the ideas we’re debating, no. If they don’t include them in their argument, then they’re not part of the ideas under discussion or in any way relevant.

    Jennifer –

    She could have just issued a statement. At any time over the last few years and as many times as she wanted to.

    Maybe she didn’t feel like a public debate on her religious beliefs. Maybe she didn’t think they were any of your – or my – business. And maybe she wouldn’t be wrong in that.

  47. bell

    Jennifer, the whole defamation issue is problematic. I have been defamed numerous times but couldn’t afford to sue someone and wouldn’t want to go through it. I guess it will continue and I’m not going to spend my time arguing with personal attacks. But it is harmful when people write things about you that are not true.

    We all know when we are writing that there are defamation laws that we have to be careful of. But I do think there is something very strange about the approach she has taken towards you, and as you say she has a large platform on which to respond to claims and if you are correct she has made no effort to do this. But then again, silencing what someone may see as personal attacks, does allow the focus to be on issues rather than people. I think we would all be better served if everyone focused on ideas and not the people. Having said all that I hope you don’t go broke – it shouldn’t be about that at all…