Rodrigo Duterte vs. the World: What the Media Thinks of ‘The Punisher’

Known as ‘The Punisher’, Rodrigo Duterte – current President of the Philippines – is quite the colourful character to say the least. Following his election as President on 10th May this year, Duterte has garnered attention from international media outlets for his inflammatory comments and his controversial campaign against illegal drugs.

Human rights groups have previously expressed grave concerns about his connections with vigilante “death squads” and role in issuing extrajudicial killings during the 22 years he spent as Davao’s mayor to lower the city’s crime rates. Within his first week as President, Duterte publicly called for large-scale extrajudicial killings as part of his campaign against illegal drugs, putting himself under international media scrutiny in the process.

International media outlets have been accused for being biased against Duterte, particularly in their coverage of Duterte in relation to his drug crackdown. Here in Australia, the TV documentary ‘Licensed to Kill’ from 60 Minutes has been slammed by netizens for portraying Duterte as a ‘trigger happy human rights abuser’. On both occasions, it has been pointed out that international news outlets lack the context needed to understand the severity of Philippines’ drug problem, the value in Duterte’s approach, and therefore the appeal of Duterte himself. This argument can also be found in the comments section of articles about Duterte in both international and Philippine media:

Duterte supporters are quick to challenge media depictions of Duterte in relation to his crackdown on illegal drugs.

In order to investigate this claim, headlines, hard-news articles, and editorial cartoons published by international and Philippine news outlets will be analysed in terms of how they portray Duterte, and taking into account the different contexts and worldviews that underpin each representation.

A quick look at some international news headlines relating to Duterte published during 2016 show that their depictions of the President  remain fairly consistent over time:

  • Marcos set for return to power riding ‘The Punisher’ Duterte’ – The Australian, 7 May 2016
  • ‘The Punisher’ leads polls in Philippines votes’ – Reuters, 9 May 2016
  • ‘Philippines election: ‘Dictator-in-waiting’ Rodrigo Duterte secures huge victory’ – SMH, 10 May 2016
  • Ruthless Punisher puts blood on streets’ – The Daily Telegraph, 29 July 2016
  • ‘Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte revives memories of ex-dictator Marcos’ – The Wall Street Journal, 2 September 2016
  • The Punisher’ is popular: Bloodthirsty Philippines President Duterte boasts support of 84% of citizens as he bans smoking and death squads slaughter drug users in the streets’ – Daily Mail Australia, 13 October 2016

There appears to be a general trend in identifying Duterte as ‘The Punisher’, with the epithet usually coming before his name, and in some cases, replacing his name entirely, as if they were interchangeable. This reflects how the concept of Duterte as ‘The Punisher’ is central to how he is portrayed on international media. The frequency that ‘The Punisher’ appears alongside Duterte’s name in these headlines reflects the large extent to which his reputation as such influences the way international media outlets portray him.

Identifying Duterte as ‘The Punisher’ evokes an attitudinal assessment under which he is viewed as extreme, violent, and draconian, which largely informs the way he is portrayed across multiple headlines as shown above. The representational disposition of headlines referring to Duterte as ‘The Punisher’ works towards positioning audiences to view him negatively, and to favour the viewpoint that he is ill-suited to lead the Philippines, and poses a greater threat to the country than illegal drugs.

Headlines from international new outlets use ‘The Punisher’ in combination with other lexical items to evoke a negative response from audiences. The headline ‘Ruthless Punisher puts blood on streets’ overtly characterises Duterte as ‘ruthless’ and uses a metaphor of blood-splattered streets to suggest that Duterte has no qualms about hurting and killing others.

This is reinforced through the headline’s sentence structure, which assigns Duterte with an agentive role while deleting the affected, giving the impression that he doesn’t discriminate between criminal and civilian – so long as someone’s blood is shed. Using the terms ‘bloodthirsty’ and ‘slaughter’ also depicts Duterte in a negative light, as it positions his desire to curb drug-related crimes as secondary to the pleasure he finds in killing others as if they were animals.

Another emerging trend found in international news headlines was the depiction of Duterte as a budding dictator. This is shown through the use of overtly attitudinal inscription “dictator-in-waiting” and “strongman”, a term that is used interchangeably with dictator in Western contexts. The headline ‘Marcos set for return to power riding ‘The Punisher’ Duterte’ implicitly draws parallels between Duterte and the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose reign was marred by widespread corruption, economic stagnation, and widening socioeconomic inequalities. By suggesting that Duterte is a suitable ‘vessel’ for Marcos to resume his post, audiences are made to negatively assess Duterte due to his association with Marcos. This negative evaluation of Duterte is reinforced through the inclusion of ‘The Punisher’ in the headline, due to its associations with excessive violence and force.

In contrast, news headlines relating to Duterte from the Philippines released throughout 2016 adopt a relatively more objective tone and display a wider range of attitudes towards Duterte:

  • ‘Miriam: Duterte a very dangerous candidate’ – The Philippine Star, 7 May 2016
  • ‘Duterte also trains guns at millionaires’ – The Manila Times, 9 August 2016
  • ‘Duterte slams De Lima’ – Philippine Daily Inquirer, 18 August 2016
  • ‘Lagman likens Duterte to Marcos in firing appointed officials’ –, 24 August 2016
  • ‘Duterte continues attacks, tells Obama to go to hell’ – The Manila Times, 5 October 2015
  • ‘Duterte seeks ‘everybody’s help’ in destroying 10,000 drug networks’ –, 25 October 2016

Unlike international news, Duterte’s name is not embellished with the epithet ‘The Punisher’ in Philippine headlines. This reflects how Duterte’s reputation as ‘The Punisher’ is not central to the Philippine media’s portrayal of the current president. It is also worth noting that headlines that either draw parallels between Duterte and Marcos is attributed to politicians who made the comparison, instead of being presented as an attribute that readers should take for granted, as seen with the international news headlines.

In direct contrast to international news headlines on Duterte, Philippines news headlines leave its attitudinal positioning somewhat more open, depending on the event they are reporting. So while Duterte is positioned as the active agent in almost all the headlines, different choices in verbs help soften the effect of Duterte’s actions and change the tone of the story.

For instance, Duterte is said to “slam” his political opponent De Lima rather than “attacking”, and “seeks” the general public’s assistance rather than “urging” them. This specific choice of words sets a more objective tone, which in turn depicts Duterte as less forward and aggressive. However, action phrases such as “trains guns” and “continues attacks” use terms associated with aggressive military action and indicate a target for Duterte to act upon, thus presenting him as audacious, confrontational, and dominating.

Unlike the international news headlines, which show trends that converge and guide audiences to evaluate Duterte negatively overall, audiences exposed to Philippine media are not positioned to make a clear-cut evaluation of Duterte. Instead, they are given various depictions of Duterte and are encouraged to piece together a multifaceted representation of the politician.

To support the initial conclusions founded from comparing international and Philippine headlines, hard new articles and editorial cartoons will be analysed in further depth. First, let’s take a look at the hard-news article, ‘Philippines election: ‘Dictator-in-waiting’ Rodrigo Duterte secures huge victory’, by Lindsay Murdoch published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 10th May 2016. The article opens with,

“A foul-mouthed, anti-establishment outsider has been elected president of the Philippines in an extraordinary political upset that will return the island-nation to authoritarian rule 30 years after a popular uprising ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.”

Murdoch attributes the Philippines’ return to a dictatorship to Duterte’s expletive-laden speech and anti-establishment rhetoric without argumentative support, indicating a negative evaluation of Duterte. Here, the word ‘extraordinary’ is used to duplicate the evaluative meaning conveyed by the phrase ‘political upset’, which describes the overturning of expectations when the underdog beats the popular or veteran candidates in an election. In doing this, Duterte’s success is characterised as especially unexpected, which positions audiences to believe that his abilities as mediocre or below average, and to attribute his success to external factors.

“Rodrigo Duterte, the 71-year-old mayor of the southern city of Davao, told supporters he accepted their mandate with “extreme humility” after crushing four rivals in a landslide victory.”

The use of quotation marks around the phrase ‘extreme humility’ indicate that Duterte wasn’t sincere with his supporters, and was anything but humbled by the election results. In fact, the disjoint between Duterte accepting his victory with ‘extreme humility’ and him ‘crushing’ his political opponents suggests that Duterte is arrogant, and is not tactful enough not to rub his success in their faces.

“Mr Duterte won almost 40 per cent of votes cast after an acrimonious campaign dominated by his profanity-laced vows to kill criminals.”

The use of the words ‘acrimonious’ and ‘profanity-laced’ when describing Duterte’s campaign implies that Duterte is driven by strong emotion, and whose solutions to which he expects to be enough to carry out his campaign’s objectives. However, this is depicted as naïve when Duterte is placed within the context of foreign affairs, as he would be expected to do as President.

“The victory has rattled powerful dynastic families who have ruled the country for decades and alarmed diplomats who fear the foreign policy novice could upend diplomatic efforts to ease tensions over China’s aggressive claim to the South China Sea.”

Here, Murdoch explicitly states that Duterte is inexperienced, and will only cause trouble for the Philippines in the long run. The use of the words “rattled” and “alarmed” indicate government officials and political dynasties – who are positioned as respectable and experienced by mentioning time – view Duterte as a liability. Murdoch employs an appeal to negative consequence to cast Duterte in an unfavourable light by implying that his involvement in foreign relations will only worsen tensions with China and undermine Philippines’ credibility in international affairs. In summary, this article directs audiences to view Duterte negatively, under which he is well out of his depth and ill-prepared to fulfil his responsibilities as President properly.

Understanding Philippines’ political context largely influences how Duterte is portrayed in media. This is especially the case with the editorial cartoon ‘Duterte’s Accomplishments vs. Holy Trapos by Manuel Francisco, which was published in The Manila Times on 2nd December 2015 – back when Duterte was working at Davao. This cartoon positions Duterte as a antithesis to a trapo, a term for ‘traditional politicians’, members of powerful political families that form a national oligarchy in Philippine politics – in terms of affability and competence.

Pick your choice: a sheep in wolves’ clothing or a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Credits: Manuel Francisco/The Manila Times
Pick your choice: a sheep in wolves’ clothing or a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
Credits: Manuel Francisco/The Manila Times

The warrant of this editorial cartoon is that actions speak louder than words. On the surface level, ‘traditional politicians’ appear harmless despite being depicted as a crocodile due to its open body language and religious zeal. Meanwhile, Duterte appears intimidating due to his closed body language and extensive use of expletives in everyday speech. However, upon closer scrutiny, it is revealed that the crocodile is spewing religious rhetoric in an attempt to draw attention away from its stash of money, reflecting a personal agenda.

In contrast, Duterte is shown to be an active and accomplished politician irrespective of his expletive-laden speech, which is evident from the stand displaying a list of his achievements behind him. This positions audiences to evaluate Duterte positively despite his intimidating demeanour; unlike trapos, Duterte is shown to be competent in his job, and maintains professional and ethical standards.

For this cartoon to make sense, audiences must attest to the underlying assumption that all trapos are corrupt, power-hungry, and opportunistic, with no clear plan or direction to tackle socioeconomic issues and initiate change. Public attitudes towards ‘traditional politicians’ in the Philippines are predominantly negative, reflecting a wider trend of political disaffection and distrust in the government. This is understandable, considering that Philippine politics is characterised by powerful oligarchies, a weak institution, and systemic patronage.

Bearing this in mind, one could argue that in portraying Duterte as the better alternative to ‘traditional politicians’, Francisco is directing audiences towards a positive attitudinal assessment of Duterte as a non-traditional or ‘anti-establishment’ politician. This contrasts with Murdoch’s article, which evokes a negative evaluation of Duterte on the lines that his anti-establishment views are similar to Trump’s. The opposing attitudinal positions conveyed by media outlets regarding Duterte’s anti-establishment rhetoric demonstrates how differing levels of understanding Philippines’ political context influences the media’s portrayal of Duterte.

Now let’s take a look at Heng Kim Song’s editorial cartoon on Duterte and his campaign against illegal drugs, published in The New York Times on 21st August 2016 – just over 50 days since Duterte assumed presidency on 30th June. In this cartoon, Duterte is shown shouldering a missile launcher and taking aim at the rotten apple – emblematic of anyone suspected of being involved in the illegal drug trade – placed on the head of a man representing the Philippines.

Use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and a missile launcher to shoot a bad apple. Credits: Hung/The New York Times
Use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and a missile launcher to shoot a bad apple.
Credits: Hung/The New York Times

Heng encodes his negative evaluation of Duterte by alluding to the adage “Use a sledgehammer to crack a nut”. By making a missile launcher Duterte’s weapon of choice to shoot an apple, Duterte is implicitly shown as extreme and unnecessary violent for using disproportionate force and expense to accomplish the task at hand. In doing this, the audience is positioned to question Duterte’s leadership and decision-making capabilities.

There is also this: shooting a missile at anyone at point-blank range will result in his or her death no matter how careful the wielder is. This evokes the adage “The operation was successful, but the patient was dead”, under which Duterte believes that ensuring the destruction of the illegal drug trade is worth putting the civilian population at risk of being killed by accident. This in turn evokes negativity towards Duterte, as the warrant of this editorial cartoon is that the government have the responsibility to protect the public from situations that may cause them harm. Audiences are positioned to view Duterte to be negligent in this respect, opting to focus on ‘destroying’ the rotten apples residing in the Philippines, and thus causing many deaths that could otherwise been avoided.

The cartoon also creates a narrative where the Philippines is at the mercy of Duterte, who is seen as a grave threat to people’s lives and to Filipino society at large. This is demonstrated by how the man with the apple – representative of the Philippines – is visibly scared, but unable to escape Duterte’s aim. This depiction of Duterte is reinforced by the cartoon’s caption, which says,

More than 800 people have been killed since the May election of Rodrigo Duterte, who has repeatedly called for killing drug dealers and users.

The caption’s sentence structure attributes the high number of deaths since the May election to Duterte, rather than the Filipino police who shot alleged suspects and drug smugglers. This positions the audience to regard Duterte negatively, which is further augmented by the inclusion of the adverb “repeatedly” as it indicates that Duterte doesn’t care about how his actions are affecting the civilian population.

Last of all, let us take a look at the hard news article ‘Filipinos seen backing Duterte despite rising drug killings’ by Teresa Cerejano from The Philippine Star, published on 27th August. The article evokes a negative assessment of Duterte’s crackdown on illegal drugs using factual content regarding the body count:

“Two months later, nearly 2,000 suspected drug pushers and users lay dead as morgues continue to fill up.” 

“…Duterte has stuck to his guns and threatened to declare martial law if the Supreme Court meddles in his work.”

Here, the mention of the words ‘threatened’ and ‘meddle’ in relation to Duterte’s conflict with the Supreme Court suggests that Duterte may be developing a overly controlling attitude towards how his campaign is handled, and is overly sensitive to criticism – both of which are indicators of dictator-like behaviour.

However, within the context of the Philippines’ traditional, oligarchic political system, any action is better than no action, and that is precisely what Duterte offers to the general public. Ultimately, Duterte is depicted as a pro-poor President who shares the same frustrations as the people living in the country he is serving, and whose straightforward, confronting approach to certain issues is considered refreshing:

“Duterte’s death threats against criminals, his promise to battle corruption, his anti-establishment rhetoric and gutter humour have enamoured Filipinos living on the margins of society. He overwhelmingly won the election, mirroring public exasperation over the social ills he condemns.”

On the whole, it seems like media depictions of Duterte vary depending on where you are getting your content. International media consistently depict Duterte like his namesake ‘The Punisher’ or as a budding dictator a la Ferdinand Marcos, while Philippine media shifts away from any sensationalised media representations of Duterte and simply focus on what and how he plans on leading the country. This reflects the priorities of each region, with the Philippines media being more grounded with their portrayal of Duterte. By comparing and analysing media coverage relating to Duterte released from international and Philippine news outlets through 2016, we have been able to gain a better insight into how different contexts and modes of understanding Philippines’ political landscape play a role in shaping media representations of controversial figures.


Bolton, T 2016, ‘Aussie slams 60 Minutes Australia, portrays Duterte, PNP chief, local police as trigger happy, human rights abusers’, Pinoy Trending News, August 22, accessed 1 November 2016,

Francisco, M 2015, Duterte’s Accomplishments vs. Holy Trapos’, political cartoon by Manuel Francisco, The Manila Times, accessed 30 October 2016,

Heng, KM 2016, Heng on the Philippines’ President and His War on Drugs, political cartoon by Heng Kim Song, The New York Times, accessed 26 October 2016, <>

Kine, P 2015, ‘Rodrigo Duterte: The Rise of Philippines’ Death Squad Mayor’, Human Rights Watch, July 17, accessed 23 October 2016,

Murdoch, L 2016, ‘Philippines election: ‘Dictator-in-waiting Rodrigo Duterte secure huge victory’, Sydney Morning Herald, May 10, accessed 24 October 2016,

‘Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte urges people to kill drug addicts’ 2016, The Guardian, 1 July, accessed 23 October 2016,

Ploeg, JVR 2011, ‘A Cultural History of Crocodiles in the Philippines: Towards a New Peace Pact?’, Environment and History, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 229 – 264, DOI: 10.3197/096734011X12997574043008

Romero, A 2016, ‘Duterte on negative in international media: I don’t care’, The Philippine Star, 29 August, accessed 25 October 2016,

The Philippine Star 2010, ‘How would you define a ‘traditional politician’?’, The Philippine Star, 1 March, accessed 30 October 2016,






Media Assignment Task 4 Proposal, z5054488, Claudia Chiu, H12A

For my final assignment, I will address how Rodrigo Duterte is portrayed in media. Due to his controversial statements and inappropriate, crude remarks, Duterte has been compared to Donald Trump by media outlets. I will be using this comparison as a starting point for my analysis.

Duterte as the ‘Trump of the East’ (subjective; news satire) (published on 9th May, one day before the Presidential election)

Duterte as a ‘Dictator in Waiting’ (objective; news report) (published on 10th May, the day of the Presidential election)

Duterte worse than Trump (subjective; op-ed) (published 11th May, first day of Duterte’s presidency)

Duterte =/= Trump: a more sympathetic take (subjective; op ed) (published on 16th May, first week of Duterte’s presidency)

Duterte as a sinister threat to the Philippines (subjective; op-ed) (published on 16th August, roughly a month since Duterte was elected)

Other hard news articles to consider: 


The Privilege of Safety – Media Analysis Article 1 – AlexanneThurs12.00

The Privilege of Safety

By Claudia Chiu

Just last week, the University of Chicago released a letter informing new freshmen that the institution will neither accommodate nor tolerate demands for trigger warnings and safe spaces, so to maintain and respect free speech and academic freedom. The movement pushing for safe spaces on campuses across the U.S. is often derided as political correctness gone “too far”, and framed as the rise of dogmatic, censorious liberalism among oversensitive millennials. Predictably, the Chicago letter invited both praise for and outrage against the institution, with some circles commending the alma mater for taking a stand against “political correctness” and defending intellectual freedom, and others arguing that it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of safe spaces. The op-ed pieces ‘Why Free Speech Matters on Campus’ by Michael Bloomberg and Charles Koch in The Wall Street Journal, and ‘The Seduction of Safety, on Campus and Beyond’ by Roxanne Gay in The New York Times both take distinct, if not opposing, positions in the safe spaces debate. A comparative analysis of the two articles reveals that despite espousing different arguments and worldviews, both authors operate on the assumption that their readership believes safe spaces inherently stifle free speech, and that its supporters are intolerant of opinions different from their own, demanding to be “coddled” instead.

Bloomberg and Koch’s article ‘Why Free Speech Matters on Campus’ operates under the central claim that universities should take a principled stand for free speech and reject safe spaces. The authors’ rejection of safe spaces is made most apparent when they share “the most urgent advice [they] can offer” to academic and teaching staff in light of the movement:

“Our advice is this: stop stifling free speech and coddling intolerance for controversial ideas, which are crucial to a college education – as well as to human happiness and progress.”

As shown, Bloomberg and Koch put forth a recommendatory argument. By way of their “urgent advice” and appeal to negative consequences, the authors implicitly suggest that safe spaces threaten freedom of speech, and by extension, the key capabilities of universities to foster the next generation of American pioneers.

Later in the article, they write:

“The purpose of a college education isn’t to reaffirm students’ beliefs, it is to challenge, expand and refine them — and to send students into the world with minds that are open and questioning, not closed and self-righteous. This helps young people discover their talents and prepare them for citizenship in a diverse, pluralistic democratic society. American society is not always a comfortable place to be; the college campus shouldn’t be, either.”

Here, Bloomberg and Koch appeal to “facts”, in the sense that universities help prepare students to understand and navigate through the “real world”. They paint the “real world” as a free-speech zone where everyone is expected to fend for themselves. By encouraging direct comparisons between universities and American society, the authors implicitly suggest that universities do not have the responsibility to protect all students’ right to feel safe. Bloomberg and Koch imply that it is the students’ personal responsibility to seek safety, which links back to their depiction of the “real world” as uncaring for the individual’s right to feel safe. Following this line of reasoning, students advocating for safe spaces on campus are characterised as childish and naïve, in their refusal to face the “real world” as what it is, and for demanding what appears to be special treatment.

Evidently, Bloomberg and Koch create a clear distinction between a presumably like-minded audience and safe space advocates who can’t handle the “real world”. The underlying assumption here is that their readership believe safe spaces are simply political correctness at its most ‘extreme’. This argumentative support employed by the Bloomberg and Koch will only seem logical to an audience whose views on safe spaces align with them—that is, an aversion to safe spaces, and a dismissal of its supporters as being querulous and demanding. In assuming their audience are in alignment with their worldview, Bloomberg and Koch aim to mobilise existing biases regarding freedom of speech to invalidate safe spaces and its supporters altogether, which reflects on their frequent use of appeals to negative consequences and “facts”.

It is worth noting how Bloomberg and Koch interpret freedom of speech to influence their readership. Their article understands free speech as absolute, where it cannot exist without the freedom to offend. Attempts to manage, or at least mitigate, hate speech, the article suggests, stifles free speech as a whole:

“…[W]ithout the freedom to offend, freedom of expression, as author Salman Rushdie once observed, “ceases to exist.””

Here, Bloomberg and Koch employ an appeal to authority to emphasise that hate speech and freedom of speech are inseparable. The authors justify hate speech towards specific individuals or groups by suggesting that it is a necessary, inevitable condition for maintaining freedom of speech. In other words, in order to enjoy freedom of expression, we must be prepared to endure hateful slurs directed at us by others without complaint. Bloomberg and Koch assume their audience only understand freedom of speech in the abstract, and view it as absolute. For this argument to work, the audience must take this binary understanding of free speech as “fact”, and make no attempt to address the unequal power relations at play when freedom of speech is taken out from the abstract and applied in the real world. These specific attitudes fall under the umbrella of people who believe in accepting reality “as it is” and disparage safe spaces for demanding more. Bloomberg and Koch mobilise these assumed opinions on safe spaces in defence of free speech.

What is most telling about this article is how Bloomberg and Koch choose to ignore that freedom of speech is both flawed and not absolute. Underpinning their ideal vision of universities as a “market place of ideas where individuals need not fear reprisal, harassment or intimidation for airing controversial opinions”, is that the idea that all speech have equal value, and that wanting to minimise certain kinds of speech, namely hateful slurs and uninformed, unwarranted opinions, is essentially censorship. This reflects a flawed worldview on equality, which requires sameness, instead of accommodating differences and treating individual with rights. Bloomberg and Koch insist on practicing the value of equality in defending all kinds of speech, but are actually shifting attention away from the content in hate speech, and towards a broader discussion on the value of free expression—a value we all share. In doing this, they engage in what is tantamount to defending bigoted speech. This demonstrates how the authors only care about maintaining the status quo, or reality “as it is” now, where some people simply have more rights than others. In this case, Bloomberg and Koch value bigoted and uninformed opinions over those from marginalised and underrepresented communities, hence suggesting that wanting to be safe is a privilege, not an inalienable right. This flawed view on equality and absolutist view on freedom of speech combine to inform Bloomberg and Koch’s worldview, and by extension, the mindset of their assumed readership.

A deconstruction of the ideas Bloomberg and Koch take for granted can be found in Roxanne Gay’s piece ‘The Seduction of Safety, on Campus and Beyond’. Her article revolves around the central recommendatory claim that universities should strive to provide a safe space for all students, where they can trust to be challenged but not subject to hateful slurs and ridicule. She begins her piece with a personal anecdote:

“I experienced a brutal assault when I was young and in that terrible moment, I learned I was vulnerable in unimaginable ways. I have come to crave safety, the idea that I can live free from physical or emotional harm. As an adult, I understand that there is no such thing as safety, that safety is promised to no one, but oh the idea of it remains so lovely, so elusive.”

Here, Gay creates an intimate relationship with her readers by allowing them to be privy to her own emotional experiences. She employs an appeal to emotion, emphasising on the shared experience of getting hurt and seeking safety afterwards. In doing this, Gay is presenting her assumed readership with an alternative portrayal of safe space advocates: sympathetic, relatable, and understanding of the fact that the “real world” promises no one safety. All this counteracts the assumed readership’s unsympathetic, caricature-like portrayal of people who support safe spaces, which hinge on the idea that they are unaccepting of reality. Gay understands that while her assumed readership may not necessarily support safe spaces, it is not from a place of malicious intent. She believes all her assumed readership needs is a new context, one that is grounded and covers the broader issue of unequal power relations that shadow free speech and safe spaces, to have a change in heart.

Gay makes it explicit that while freedom of speech is sacred, it does not exist in a vacuum and is rife of contradictions that undermine the democratic and progressive values it represents in American society. This is in direct opposition to Bloomberg and Koch, who view freedom of speech as the be all and end all of American society, and make no attempt to address how it can be abused in the real world. She writes:

“…[T]he beauty of the freedom of speech is that it protects us from subjectivity. We protect someone’s right to shout hateful slurs the same way we protect someone’s right to, say, criticize the government, or discuss her religious beliefs.”

Like Bloomberg and Koch, Gay operates on the assumption that her readers hold an absolutist view on free speech, and see any form of intervention as an infringement on their rights. Hence, she employs an appeal to comparison to highlight how free speech can be abused to allow discrimination against others for being different. In doing so, Gay pushes her audience to re-evaluate how they understand free speech, and whether they are being hypocrites for decrying advocators of safe spaces as being narrow-minded and intolerant when they are defending hypothetical bigoted people in the name of free speech.

Gay often puts forth interpretative claims in regards to our understanding of safety, and thus a ‘safe space’. This is in contrast to Bloomberg and Koch, who mostly present their claims as “facts” or “common sense” which they take for granted. She states:

“Those who take safety for granted disparage safety because it is, like so many other rights, one that has always been inalienable to them. They wrongly assume we all enjoy such luxury and are blindly seeking something even more extravagant. They assume that we should simply accept hate without wanting something better.”

Here, Gay challenges the assumption that individuals are expected to accept hate directed at them without wanting something better for themselves. Her use of the pronouns “we” and “they” creates a distinction between those with privilege, and those without, and how the absolutist view of free speech benefits the privileged more than it does to the non-privileged. Again, she forces her assumed readership to re-evaluate their position in the safe space debate, in regards to their privilege and how they may be unknowingly using their privilege to silence the marginalised and underrepresented in denouncing safe spaces. Using the rule of three and accumulation, Gay builds up feelings of indignation amongst her assumed readership, so to emphasise why wanting a safe space is not only understandable, but also an inalienable right to all. This emotive approach reflects Gay’s worldview, which is informed by her experiences as a women and as a person of colour in the U.S, which is understood to be beyond “uncomfortable” and better described as demoralising.

Comparing the articles by Bloomberg and Koch, and Gay, reveal that all three authors are writing for an audience that is skeptical of safe spaces. The different persuasive strategies and line of thinking each article operates on reflect how its respective author intend on influencing their audience, which they both assume possess an anti-safe space mentality. While Bloomberg and Koch focus on mobilising the opinions they share with their like-minded audience to effectively deliver their argument, Gat works on changing that mindset by being explicit, providing clarification in the issues, and forcing her audience to re-evaluate. It is worth noting that the authors’ different approaches to their assumed readership are also informed by the level of privilege they possess to navigate through the “real world”, with Bloomberg and Koch both being white men, and Gay being a women of Haitian descent. The shared assumptions of the readership’s pre-existing opinions on safe spaces may point to a broader problem of how safe spaces are often misrepresented in the media, and how freedom of speech is often used as a vehicle for ideological intervention that in fact reproduce existing power relations at a micro level.


MDIA2002 – Tute Prep 4: Claudia, Ruby, Luke

  1. What is the nature of the text’s central argumentative point? Is it a claim of fact, causality, evaluation, interpretation or recommendation, or some combination of two or more of these – or something entirely different? 

McPhedran provides an evaluative argument.

  1. How much simple opinion is there is the text? Would you classify the text as being more opinion or more argumentation? 

This text provides significantly more argumentation than opinion.

  1. Does the author offer an explicitly asserted statement of the text’s principal argumentative point? Discuss briefly.

McPhedran does not explicitly state his principal claim. The line that is closest to the principal claim is: “Interrogation is an important tool in the fight, but politicians shouldn’t try to justify torture and therefore lower us to the level of our enemies”. This statement serves as a justification, which is why we think McPhedran doesn’t offer an explicit assertion of his principal claim.

  1. Are there any contentious terms in the text and, if so, does the author offer any stipulative definitions of these? To what extent are any such definitions supported with their own justification? Answer in a few sentences.

Torture is a contentious term. In this text, McPhedran proposes a stipulative definition of torture where sleep deprivation—which only inflicts excessive stress on the body, not serious physical or mental harm—qualifies. The author presents argumentative support for his stipulative definition, employing an appeal to authority, namely the United Nations Committee Against Torture by way of his principal claim.

  1. What types of justificatory support (secondary claims) does the author employ and does he seem to favour one type of these? See if you can classify each of the justifications as involving one or more of the following justification types.
[Principal claim/primary position]
Sleep deprivation and those who support this technique is wrong because…
Justification 1: The United Nations Committee Against Torture specifically ruled that extended sleep deprivation constitutes as torture.
Type of Justification = appeal to authority (the UN Committee Against Torture), appeal to ethics (torture is wrong)
Justification 2: Sleep deprivation hinders the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen to the brain, causing fatigue, lapses in memory, lethargy, muscular pain and, in severe cases, loss of consciousness.
Type of Justification = appeal to “facts”, appeal to negative consequences (lack of oxygen in the brain puts excessive stress on the body, which may eventually lead to bodily harm)
Justification 3: The Australian Federal Police (AFP) deems the use of sleep deprivation as “unfair”.
Type of Justification = appeal to authority (the AFP), appeal to ethics (unfair tactics are unethical)
Justification 4: The Japanese subjected Australian gold diggers to sleep deprivation during World War II.
Type of Justification = appeal to precedent/customary practice
Justification 5: People (politicians) who support the use of sleep deprivation and don’t consider it as a form of torture have never experienced it.
Type of Justification = appeal to (a lack of) authority (those who support the use of sleep deprivation in interrogations but have not experienced it first-hand lack credibility)
Justification 6: We should not justify torture and therefore lower ourselves to the likes of our enemies.
Type of Justification = appeal to ethics (it’s wrong to resort to torture), appeal to emotions (we should be ashamed of ourselves if we stooped down to the level of our enemies)

McPhedran uses a range of appeals to support his principal claim. Due to the nature of the text’s principal claim and subject matter, the author favours appeals to authority and ethics.

  1. Take the list you have just presented as to the text’s justifications, and then state the warrant by which each justification supports or lead to the primary claim of the article. Indicate if any of these are explicitly stated.  
[Principal claim/primary position]
Sleep deprivation and those who support this technique is wrong because…
Justification 1: The United Nations Committee Against Torture specifically ruled that extended sleep deprivation constitutes as torture.
Type of Justification = appeal to authority (the UN Committee Against Torture), appeal to ethics (torture is wrong)
Warrant: Torture is wrong and should not condoned.
Justification 2: Sleep deprivation hinders the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen to the brain, causing fatigue, lapses in memory, lethargy, muscular pain and, in severe cases, loss of consciousness.
Type of Justification = appeal to “facts”, appeal to negative consequences (lack of oxygen in the brain puts excessive stress on the body, which may eventually lead to bodily harm)
Warrant: It’s bad to put someone under great physical and mental stress.
Justification 3: The Australian Federal Police (AFP) deems the use of sleep deprivation as “unfair”.
Type of Justification = appeal to authority (the AFP), appeal to ethics (unfair tactics are unethical)
Warrant: Unfair tactics should not be used regardless of circumstance.
Justification 4: The Japanese subjected Australian gold diggers to sleep deprivation during World War II.
Type of Justification = appeal to precedent/customary practice
Warrant: What the Japanese did during World War II was wrong and unethical.
Justification 5: People (politicians) who support the use of sleep deprivation and don’t consider it as a form of torture have never experienced it.
Type of Justification = appeal to (a lack of) authority (those who support the use of sleep deprivation in interrogations but have not experienced it first-hand lack credibility)
Warrant: It’s rude and disrespectful to talk about something you haven’t experienced.
Justification 6: We should not justify torture and therefore lower ourselves to the likes of our enemies.
Type of Justification = appeal to ethics (it’s wrong to resort to torture), appeal to emotion (we should be ashamed of ourselves if we stooped down to the level of our enemies)
Warrant: Our enemies are immoral.
  1. Does the text contain any informal fallacies? If so, list these and present your justification for negatively characterising them in this way.

The text contained the following informal fallacies:

  • Ad Hominem Argument: McPhedran attacka Ruddock on a personal level, rather than analysing and critiquing his policies – “He has presumably enjoyed a comfortable night’s sleep, many of them at taxpayer expense, most nights for the past 33 years.”
  • Circular Argument: John Howard is quoted: “Prime Minister John Howard, also an expert, adopted a more wary stance than his tough-guy attorney, leaving the door open to the use of sleep deprivation to “some degree.” This complete quote is then reiterated again, the same argument is repeated.
  • Evaluative Presumption: There is a lot of value laden language in this article, particularly expressed here: “Understandably, war veterans get pretty hot under the collar when politicians leave their ivory towers and speak out on matters of which they have no experience. Mr Gilbert and his mates suffered terrible torture, including sleep deprivation, at the hands of their captors.” This sentence presumes that politicians all have an extremely removed perspective to any of these experiences, and that war-veterans have had horrific experiences.
  • Also: “The war against terrorism is about defending a way of life and a set of values that we argue sets us apart from the Islamist fundamentalists we are fighting. Interrogation is an important tool in the fight, but politicians shouldn’t try to justify torture and therefore lower us to the level of our enemies.”
  • Phrases such as ‘enemies’, ‘set of values’ and ‘lower us to the level of our enemies’ is all extremely emotive and evaluative language.