As mere mortals, people have always reveled in the perceived superhuman feats of professional athletes. We begrudge their talents and dream of their rock star lifestyles, manifesting in a form of jealousy that we can only accept by living vicariously through these talented sports men and women. Such is the public’s obsession, the lives of today’s sporting stars are becoming increasingly cast into to the public eye under an intensifying media microscope. It seems nothing is off limits when it comes to documenting the private lives of the modern day athlete, and their lingers a certain unspoken expectation of how they are to behave as role models to so many. It comes as no surprise then that when professional athletes become shroud in controversy, as they so often do, the media reaction can be immense.

Tiger Woods, arguably the greatest golfer of all time, is one such high profile sportsman whose private life has become illuminated by the media.

“Tiger, the superhuman golfer, has been the focus of unprecedented media commentary. Woods has been the biggest story in golf.”                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                       (Barbie & Hackenberg 2012, p.2)

Like many generational sportsman, “one cannot simply summarize the full significance of the Tiger Woods phenomenon. Tiger Woods changed everything. Golf became a sport…and most importantly, the sport and the players were now cool” (Barbie 2012, p.1). “Tiger was the only player who took golf from the fourth or fifth page of the sports section not only to the front page, but also the front page of the newspaper” (Lavner 2015).

An analysis into his portrayal in the media is intriguing, depicting an on-going fixation that has seen Woods described as everything from a “cultural icon” (Barbie 2012, p.2) to a “disgraced celebrity who became the embodiment of entitlement and arrogance” (Massarotti 2015). Following on from his shock admission to extra marital affairs and sex addiction in 2009, Tiger’s career has been defined by his actions away from the course. “Although the everyman Tiger tried mightily to cordon off his ‘regular’ life, those efforts ultimately proved futile. Suddenly, the everyman was exposed” (Barbie 2012, p.3). Love him or hate him, Woods is now regarded as one of the most polarizing and controversial athletes of all time.

For the purpose of this media analysis, my aim is to showcase how Tiger’s personal struggles have plagued his characterization and representation in the media. Firstly, I will analyze two opinion pieces from 2009/2010, (the immediate aftermath of Tiger’s infidelity) “Tiger Woods will never recover from this scandal,” an opinion piece appearing on newsone.com (author not quoted), and “Letting Tiger off the hook with ‘sex addiction’ tale would be a cop out,” written by S.E Cupp of nydailynews.com. These two views journalism pieces are similar in their view in painting a negative picture of Tiger, largely indicative of the general media and public evaluation of Woods at the time. Both texts focus largely on the extreme fall from grace Wood’s experienced during this period, and how his image, an image that had taken decades to build, was suddenly in tatters.

In comparison, for the second phase of my analysis, I will dissect two current evaluative articles, “Tiger Wood’s 5 years of scandal and misery since infamous crash,” written by Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post, and “Tiger Woods is back – But still on the endangered list,” a piece by Eamon Lynch for newsweek.com. Looking at a current representation of Wood’s media profile reveals that he is still haunted by his mistakes, even though some seven years have passed since news first broke of his infidelity. Despite this, these texts also communicate how the contemporary media representation of Tiger has softened over the years. Vilified for some time, these two articles instead adopt a more concerning tone for the fallen star. Although it would be foolish to assume that this basic assumption is representative of the wider public opinion of Woods, it does nevertheless offer an insight into both articles assumed readerships. A readership that has seemingly forgotten or forgiven Woods for his misdemeanors, and above all else wishes to see him back on the course, performing in his ‘Sunday red.’


Tiger Wood’s cheating scandal first came to light on the 25th November 2009, when The National Enquirer published a story claiming Woods had had an extramarital affair with a New York City nightclub manager named Rachel Uchitel. Over the ensuing days, more than a dozen women claimed through various media outlets to have had affairs with Woods. For the first time, Woods’ squeaky-clean image had been severely tainted. With his own startling admission of infidelity, thus began a media frenzy that engulfed the world’s best golfer.

We can gauge this immediate and unfavorable media reception of Wood’s by firstly delving into the newsone.com article, entitled “Tiger Woods will never recover from this scandal.” From the outset, the author explicitly passes judgement on Woods by brandishing his actions as a ‘scandal.’ This label communicates a negative perception of Woods in it’s meaning, to which scandal denotes “any action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage” (Cambridge English Dictionary). For a reader who may have no preconceived notions about Tiger Wood’s or his transgressions, this use of scandal creates an instant negative connotation. The fact that the author states that it is a scandal he will never recover from, only serves to further its severity. “I think it (the cheating scandal) will always be with him” (Lapchick, quoted by newsone.com, 2009).

In addition, the author positions readers to perceive Wood’s negatively by describing his actions as “so far out of bounds of what anyone considers normal behavior” (Lapchick, quoted by newsone.com, 2009). The underlying assumption, or warrant used here assumes that a reader will have an understanding of what constitutes ‘normal behavior,’ and thus they will have the necessary foresight to deduce cheating as something that is rare or unacceptable. Instead, Tiger is portrayed as someone who lived his life outside the constraints of these acceptable ‘social norms,’ further distinguishing him as an ‘outsider.’ In this way, the author effectively employs the classic use of the Ad Populum argument, creating a view amongst readers that infidelity is a sin by in which the author knows would be a universally held opinion. This doubles as a clear appeal to both popular opinion and precedent, as again, the author expects a reader to view her assertions through a similar mindset, that being the traditional negative view of being unfaithful.

However, the author’s primary tool in constructing a negative representation of Wood’s is through their description of the number of people and parties Wood’s has let down by his actions. As the article states:

“In a lot of ways Tiger Woods has broken the hearts of a lot of people who looked at him as a role model who was above all those things. An African-American athlete who totally transcended race and dominated a sport like no one else seemed to have this perfect life. It turned out not to be true”

                                                       (Lapchick, quoted by newsone.com, 2009)

Such emotionally laden quotes allude to the notion that as Wood’s is such an inspirational and influential figure, not just in the sport of golf but also in they eyes of the general population, he should have known better. “It’s so far the opposite of what we thought that it makes it so much more dramatic” (Lapchick, quoted by newsone.com, 2009). In this way, the author expresses a clear appeal to precedent and customary practice. The sense of shock and surprise also expressed by the author, gives a reader the impression that Tiger had ‘duped them,’ as it seemed he lived a “perfect life.” Again, the underlying warrant at play here is that sport stars, celebrities, or anyone in the public eye, have a select way of behaving, a way in which Tiger Wood’s clearly did not uphold.


This negative representation of Wood’s is similarly shared in S.E. Cupp’s article for the New York Daily News, entitled, “Letting Tiger off the hook with ‘sex addiction’ tale would be a cop out.” As explicitly stated in her headline, Cupp approaches her article with consideration to the social and medical agents that ‘supposedly’ played a role in Wood’s extra marital affairs. As Cupp states, “ we can stop questioning his (Tiger Woods) character, for this (his infidelity) – we’re being told – is a medical issue” (Cupp 2009). Immediately, a reader would be able to detect Cupp’s use of sarcasm, effectively portraying her belief that sex addiction is an insufficient excuse used by Wood’s and his people to attempt to salvage his image. This is a clear use of the Non-Sequitur fallacy by Cupp, as she claims that there is no evidence to suggest that a link exists between sex addiction and infidelity. Cupp goes on to dismiss the legitimacy of sex addiction, stating “the affliction may be real, but it also keeps us from acknowledging the immorality of our actions” (Cupp, 2009). Instead, Cupp urges her readers to share in her attitudinal inferences through the factual implications (appeals to facts) of Wood’s scandal. She bluntly states that the “facts here are pretty simple. Woods made repeated and calculated decisions to deceive and hurt his family. For that he should get no sympathy” (Cupp, 2009). Cupp adapts emotive language in a bid to portray Tiger as ‘in control’ of his decisions, further dismissing the legitimacy of the ‘sex addiction ‘ argument. The use of “repeated” and “calculated,” position a reader to view Tiger as a deceitful husband who pulled the wool over the eyes of not only his family, but also the public. In communicating these subjective evaluations as fact, Cupp constructs the perception that Wood’s actions were indisputably unacceptable.

Thus, in assessing the myriad of media reaction to Wood’s startling admission of infidelity, the vast majority of commentators, including that of newsone.com and Cupp, looked down on the incident with a highly negative view. Many authors expressed shock and repugnance at the actions of Woods, a characterization typically shared by that of the broader society. These conclusions contribute to a universal stance on extra marital affairs that has existed for centuries, that “one thou shalt not commit adultery.” Both authors adopt this way of thinking through a strong use of appeals, primarily through precedent and facts. Both authors quite confidently assume their audience will be like-minded in negatively assessing Wood’s actions, such is the negative undertone associated with infidelity and cheating. As such, Woods’ image went from being extraordinary, to ordinary overnight, as “the media published every possible aspect of his all-too-human problems and weaknesses” (Barbie 2012, p.3). The 2009 media portrayal of Tiger Woods exposed him for what he really was, a “flawed human being” (Shipnuck 2016) who selfishly lied and deceived for so long in order to protect his own artificial identity.


Having established the meteoric capitulation of Tiger Wood’s public image after his extra marital affairs, a media analysis into the current characterization of Tiger Woods presents a number of interesting findings about the way the media continues to portray his struggles.

Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post, presents a post mortem of the life of Tiger Wood’s some five years after he admitted to extra marital affairs in his piece, “Tiger Wood’s 5 years of scandal and misery since infamous crash.” As we can see explicitly from the headline, Cyrgalis positions his readers to feel slightly sympathetic for Woods and the ‘misery’ he has endured for such a long time. This attitudinal positioning is maintained by Cyrgalis throughout his article, interestingly and most notably through the antagonist of Wood’s ex-wife, Elin Nordegren. Cyrgalis writes in such a way that he invites a reader to view Nordegren as equally responsible for the mental demons Tiger has faced since their divorce. Cyrgalis writes:

“He (Woods) went from having the public image of a loving husband and father of two adorable children, to that of a single dad having to carve time out of his globetrotting schedule. Of his reported $1 billion in career earnings, he had to give half to Elin, who has seemingly moved on with her life and managed to get on just fine.”

                                                                                                         (Cyrgalis, 2014)

For an audience, this position taken by Cyrgalis asks them to consider the sacrifices that Wood’s has had to endure ever since news broke of his scandal in 2009. Cyrgalis positions a reader to view Wood’s sympathetically, portraying him as the only one who has been hurt following the divorce as his ex-wife Elin was “seemingly” able to “get on just fine.” Cyrgalis then uses an appeal to facts, stating that Tiger had to give up half of his career earnings, a reported “$1 billion,” in the divorce settlement. In this way, Cyrgalis positions the reader to view Nordegren as money-hungry, who never really loved Wood’s, such was her unemotional response to their divorce. Finally, Cyrgalis uses an appeal to emotion by describing Tiger as a “single dad” who now has to carve out his own time to see his children. This is a clear use of appeals to emotion from Cyrgalis, evoking sympathy for Wood’s for the fact that he struggles to see his children, a right of being a parent. Again, this evokes strong sympathy amongst readers for Woods, positioning them to consider all the things he has ‘lost’ out on because of the scandal. Thus, we can clearly see in Cyrgalis’s article a shift in the characterization of Tiger Wood’s in the media. Contrary to how he was represented in 2009, Wood’s is now viewed sympathetically for the hardships he has had to endure since the scandal.


“Tiger Woods is back – But still on the endangered list,” an article by Eamon Lynch of newsweek.com, is a similar evaluative piece that showcases this current ‘softened’ media representation of Woods following on from his scandal of extra marital affairs in 2009. The article by Lynch, published in October 2016, details Tiger’s announcement that he would be making a return to competitive golf in December following three years away from the game. Interestingly, Lynch’s article makes no direct reference to Wood’s infidelity, yet subtly alludes to Wood’s struggles in his time away from the game. We can first analyse this characterization by Lynch through his headline, “Tiger Woods is back – But still on the endangered list.” By choosing to evaluate Woods as “endangered,” positions the reader to view Wood’s as diminished and at risk of being lost forever. This innately, albeit in-explicitly communicates Lynch’s primary claim that Tiger is not fully ready to return to competitive golf, and that without doubt Wood’s is still battling with his demons.

Lynch reiterates this representation of Tiger, that he is still not yet up to the stresses of week-to-week competitive golf, through his use of subtle evaluative triggers. Lynch writes, “His (Wood’s) expectations are low,” “the notion of him winning seems fantastical,” and “returning is a physical and psychological gamble for Woods” (Lynch 2016). These quotes from Lynch clearly represent Wood’s as harboring both physical and emotional stresses in his life. For a reader, this undeniably positions them to feel a sense of concern for Wood’s, not just through his physical capacity to play golf, but also in his mental capacity to compete.

Lynch continues to represent Tiger in this way by noting how much the game has changed in his absence. As Lynch writes:

“The landscape has altered greatly in his absence. His most recent appearance came earlier this month, when he served as a non-playing assistant for the victorious U.S. Ryder Cup team. Yet at the post-match press conference he was an afterthought, the recipient of a single, flaccid question near the end of proceedings.”

                                                                                                       (Lynch 2016)

By citing just how much the game has changed in his absence, Lynch also points to the fact that Tiger has been somewhat forgotten. “Wood’s has been golf’s ghostly cipher – seldom seen, often spoken of, but ousted from headlines by a younger generation” (Lynch 2016). For a reader, this conjures a feeling of nostalgia, and again sympathy, for that fact that Wood’s has been away from the game he mastered so many years ago as a result of his hardships. However, Lynch plays on this nostalgia, attempting to create excitement for his readers by stating, “He (Woods) is back playing, and he’s the biggest story in sports. Again” (Lynch 2016). In this way, Lynch creates a sense of optimism amongst his readers for Tiger’s return.


Thus, having analyzed a more current representation of Tiger Wood’s in the media we can clearly see this shift in the way he has been characterized. In 2009, Wood’s was severely tainted by the media, represented as a cold and disgraced celebrity who abused his entitlement for individual self-worth. Some seven years later, it is clear that Tiger Wood’s will live with the scandal for the rest of his life, however it is slowly fading to the background. Without question, the media’s stance on Tiger in 2016 is far more concerned for his well-being and his struggles in attempting to reconfigure his life and damaged image. Ultimately, like any fan, the media wishes to see Tiger back to what he did best, awing crowds with his unbelievable golf game. One thing is for sure, one cannot see a time in the foreseeable future where Tiger will not attract headlines from the media, such is his human interest. “Because of his iconic status, Wood’ adherence to the rules (or lack thereof) is always on public display” (Barbie 2012, p.6).



Newsone Staff Writers – “Tiger Woods will never recover from this scandal.” – 2009. http://newsone.com/383542/opinion-tiger-woods-will-never-recover-from-this-scandal/

 S.E. Cupp –“Letting Tiger off the hook with ‘sex addiction’ tale would be a cop out.”– December 9th, 2009. http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/tiger-woods-hook-alleged-affairs-sex-addiction-defense-article-1.434969

Brett Cyrgalis – “Tiger Wood’s 5 years of scandal and misery since infamous crash.” – November 26th, 2014. http://nypost.com/2014/11/26/tiger-woods-5-years-of-scandal-and-misery-since-infamous-crash/

Eamon Lynch –“Tiger Woods is back – But still on the endangered list.” – October 10th, 2016. http://www.newsweek.com/tiger-woods-back-still-endangered-list-508006?utm_source=internal&utm_campaign=incontent&utm_medium=related2

Lorne Rubinstein – “Tiger’s Private Struggles.” http://time.com/tiger/?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=pubexchange

Mark Seal – “The Temptation of Tiger Woods.” – May 2nd, 2010. http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2010/06/tiger-woods-article-full-201006

Ryan Lavner – “Tiger at 40: Why Tiger Woods still matters.” December 16th, 2015. http://www.golfchannel.com/news/ryan-lavner/tiger-40-why-tiger-woods-still-matters/

Donna J. Barbie – “The Tiger Woods Phenomenon. Essays on the Cultural Impact of Golf’s Fallible Superman.” – McFarland and Company Inc. Publishers, North Carolina, 2012

Matthew Paul Neapolitan – “Athletes vs. the Media. Right to Privacy v. the Public Right to Know.” University of Tennessee (Knoxville), 1997.








The Debate over Caster Semenya

MDIA2002 Media Analysis Article 2

Kostas, Carolena z5061221 F10A


The Debate over Caster Semenya


Olympians are known to be celebrated by their nation and by their fans, however, issues often arise over the fairness of competition, be it doping or other means of cheating. This in particular has affected South African 800m Athlete, Caster Semenya who has hyperandrogenism, (a medical condition characterised by excessive levels of androgens, male sex hormones such as testosterone, in the body and the associated effects of the elevated androgen levels) and thus a global debate has occurred over how to treat hyperandrogenic athletes.


With an influx of current media representations surrounding hyperandrogenic athletes competing in the Rio 2016 Olympics, Caster Semenya is in a position of intense scrutiny following the debate whether it is fair to allow her to compete or to bar her. “South African Athlete Caster Semenya reportedly under armed guard at Rio Olympics following safety fears” by Benedict Brook for News.com.au and “Caster Semenya 800m Rio Olympics: Most sensitive race of Games as South African star runs” by Tony Harper for FoxSports, advance similar viewpoints and offer insight into the different perspectives and world views held by authority, athletes and sports fans alike regarding this ethical issue. The personal viewpoints are not advanced by each author, rather the reader’s need to conclude for themselves, after careful consideration of the evidence put forward through use of quotes from figures with relevance to athletics and the sporting world.


A myriad of opinions is portrayed through news stories and there is no conclusion yet on how to treat Semenya’s case in regards to her competing as a woman who is hyperandrogenic. Semenya’s athletic career has been put at stake since the IAAF launched an inquiry into her gender in 2009 after she won an international title at age 18. Semenya has been characterised as an athlete with extraordinary talent but the question remains, is she too fast for a woman? The general attitude represented by authority and sporting figures is that at the heart of the ethical debate, she has grown up and identifies as a women however further research needs to be made to determine if she has an unfair advantage over athletes who do not have her condition. Thus the sensitive issue of her competing at the Rio Olympics continues.


Author Benedict Brook from News.com.au provides a balance of quotes for those in favour of Caster Semenya competing and those who believe she has an unfair advantage, this positions the audience to better understand each side of the argument before making their own conclusions. Brook’s use of emotive language portrays the issue of the sensitivity of her competing, as displayed in the quote; “Fearful of disquiet from the fans of rival runners spilling over into physical violence they have beefed up Semenya’s security.” Whereby he insinuates that the events currently unfolding in Rio are very controversial. After introducing the current situation in Rio surrounding Semenya, Brook then appeals to authority and ethical social norms, by recounting facts that arose about Semenya’s gender. “A leaked medical report said the athlete has internal testes a condition called hyperandrogenism which naturally increases levels of testosterone. This, in turn, can aid in the building of muscle — essential for an elite athlete.” Through an appeal of emotive language coupled with facts, Brook’s argumentative support justifies the claim that Semenya may have an unfair advantage competing against other women which highlights the generalized attitude people hold when they first hear about Semenya. Generally, the media portrays hyperandrogenism in female athletes in a negative and unfair light and thus Brook argues against these presumed representations which can have a profound influence on the general sporting readership’s opinions of Semenya competing at the Rio Olympics. In this instance, Brook has characterized Semenya as a muscular athlete with uncertainty into her gender, however still implicitly evaluating the case that surrounds her in a justified manner.


In order to present a balanced argument to ensure his readers can come to an educated conclusion, Brook includes quotes to express the opinion of Semenya’s rivals and her supporters, and in this way does not not advance his own opinion on his readers. Drawing firstly upon the opinion of competitors; “Rivals say they would be labelled a drug cheat if they topped up their testosterone to the levels of Semenya and she has an unfair advantage,” he emphasizes the sensitivity of the debate through emotive language. In contrast, Brook immediately goes on to provide the alternate viewpoint; “But supporters say whatever condition she may have, she is still a woman and should be able to compete as one. They say the furore is more because she doesn’t fit the stereotype of what a female athlete should look like.” By providing this balance of arguments, Brook coaxes his audience to make their own opinions by appealing to a comparison, to influence how his audience is informed. Although the argument over whether it is fair to let Semenya compete is a slippery slope, Brook’s strategy is to appeal to different opinions to enable his readers to make their own conclusions and viewpoints. Authors often employ this technique throughout a multitude of media representations in order to not impose their own opinion on their readers. Brook deals with for and against arguments in a manner that suggests his readers have significant understanding of the controversy and that although Semenya may face potential harm, the benefit to society is that they can conclude in an informed manner, whilst respecting the rights of an individual. Although the media portrayal of Caster Semenya is varied and with a certain degree of indecision, as no conclusion has yet to be made by authority, they still afford the debate to be interpreted by their own audiences.


Furthermore, Brook again withholds imposing his own opinion on his readers by including quotes from athletes and authority to support the comparative argument he is attempting to portray. Sports fans have the capacity to respect the opinion of other Olympian’s, and thus Brook appeals to his audience in the quote, “In July, British Olympian Paula Radcliffe told the BBC: “When we talk about it in terms of fully expecting no other result than Caster Semenya to win that 800m, then it’s no longer sport. It’s not just Caster’s rights but all the women with elevated testosterone that need to be balanced with those that don’t.” Brook then goes on to support his argument that a unanimous decision across authority and sporting figures is yet to be made by appealing to facts in, “But a 2016 paper by the American Medical Association poured cold water on the suggestion testosterone would make enough of a difference on its own to support exclude those athletes. “Many factors, favourable genetics, height, muscle type… contribute to competitive success in sport.” This style is employed by authors in order to allow their readers to come to their own conclusions and to ensure their articles are free from their own bias. Through using an evaluative claim, Brook appeals to ethical and social norms as the readers are able to form their own understanding of the issue and then pass their own judgment. An appeal to authority and popular opinion, allows Brook to share the same underlying world view as his readers and supports the claim that a decision has not yet been made by authorities whether it is fair to continue to let Semenya run. As Semenya’s current position has been evaluated by athletes and authority, the readers can understand that Brook has implicitly demonstrated the representational effects of a controversy in sport that has spanned over many years.


Author Tony Harper from FoxSports provides more perspective into the debate over whether it is fair to let Caster Semenya run as a hyperandrogenic athlete. Harper’s article appears to be firstly centered around the fact that Semenya has a right to run and is in favour of her. This is exhibited in the large amount of quotes firstly in favour of Semenya before presenting the other side of the argument. This positions the audience to firstly take on the stance that Semenya is within her rights to run as she is, before allowing them to comprehend whether this ethical debate should result in her being barred from competition. Again the author offers alternate viewpoints to enable the audience to be educated in either side of the debate before coming to their own conclusions. Harper firstly appeals to emotion through an almost sarcastic tone in, “Semenya, the so called intersex athlete, has divided the sport’s fans between those who feel her biological make-up is merely the luck of the draw and those who feel her participation is unfair on her rivals,” by which the words “so called” and “those who feel” deliberately evoke an emotive response in the reader.

Furthermore, the word choice of ’those who feel’ is a direct appeal to the audiences’ emotion as they are subsequently called upon to reflect on their own emotions on the matter. Harper appeals to popular opinion through the inclusion of an athlete’s viewpoint; “It’s a hard situation … This goes beyond sport to the human being,” John Steffensen, an Australian Olympian born in South Africa, told Fox Sports Australia.” As the issue about Semenya translates into the sporting world, as well as being an ethical and moral debate, readers can respect John Steffensen’s opinion as a fellow athlete who has also competed at the Olympic Games. Authors who write about controversy in sport often provide a recommendation claim to appeal to their audience. In this instance, Harper has justified his principle claim that Semenya’s participation is a difficult argument to make conclusions on which creates a relationship between the reader and author. Although Harper does not mount his own argument into his article, he employs quotes that evaluate Semenya in order position his audience to respect the different opinions presented. Through inclusion of quotes from the public consensus against that of a respected athlete, Harper promotes the generalized view that after careful consideration of facts and ethics, one is able to form their own opinion of Caster Semenya.


Authors employ rhetorical questions to intentionally allow the readers to question their own viewpoints as well as the matter at hand that they are reading. Harper additionally appeals to consequence and emotion through the use of rhetorical question in, “This so clear cut and so decisive, she can win the Olympic Games and not run really well,” Bideau told the Herald Sun. “It’s ridiculous but that’s the rules, what can you do about it? It’s not her fault, it’s just unfortunate.” This quote is from Nic Bideau, a coach of Australia’s Rio track team and thus the readers are able to respect the opinion of a figure of importance in the sporting world. Rhetorical question is a device that directly appeals to the audience’s own emotions and displays that although the article endeavors to be fair by providing both sides of the argument, it plays on the readers’ emotions and piques their interest. By including quotes from authority, Harper is able to appeal to his readers and further their understanding of the legal matter on Semenya; “The IAAF are researching into this area to see if there are rules that will help women’s sport to remain fair, but hugely complicated and difficult subject, as you all know,” said Dr Richard Budgett.” By including quotes from figures of authority, including scientists and people responsible in research areas, authors are able to invoke attitudinal assessment by positioning the audience to believe facts coming from authority with relation to this ethical debate. Although as Harper writes for FoxSports and the articles from this media outlet are often very emotive and play on the readers’ feelings, he attempts to provide a balanced argument by offering facts and quotes from authoritative figures. Authors will employ an appeal to facts and authority, especially in the instance of an emotive piece, to further the belief of their readership and to sway them to the underlying world views that they or the publication hold. Harper has positioned his audience in a way that they are able to respect both stances on the Semenya debate as opinions from athletes and coaches with a stake in the issue are explicitly demonstrated, as well as the authority presenting their stance on the issue with careful consideration.


Through a journalistic analysis of two contrasting articles that delve into the controversy of Caster Semenya, it is apparent that although there is no general consensus or conclusion whether she should be allowed to compete, the sporting bodies have not been able to make a reasoned decision yet regarding hyperandrogenic women and thus journalists should tread lightly on this sensitive issue. The authors have also positioned their readers to enable an attitudinal assessment of the situation, which in turn results in the public feeling that they should treat the subject with sensitivity. Each article reaches the conclusion that how to treat Semenya is still up in the air, however the readers are invited to make their own assessment on the matter after being presented quotes and facts from both sides of the argument. Both authors position their audience to understand how this is an ethical debate over fairness of sport and the rights of an individual. Through the many appeals that the authors make to their readers, the authors interpret their audience as sports fans with a capacity for empathy and understanding over the controversy that surrounds Caster Semenya. Thus the conclusions that the audience are able to make are reliant upon personal opinion and how each article has affected the readers’ emotions and overall assessment of Semenya. As the readers are encouraged to come to an educated and informed opinion by the end of each article, this provides engagement as well as the influence each author has. Through a comparison of the linguistic devices of appeals to emotion, comparison, authority and facts, it becomes apparent that each text supports that there are varying opinions surrounding Semenya and her competing at the Rio Olympics. Although there is no general consensus held by both authority and sporting fans alike as to how to treat the ethical debate surrounding Semenya, the readers are invited to make their own opinions on the matter. Brook’s and Harper’s articles are both argumentative in their own right and both attempt to provide a balanced argument for their readers, despite the nuanced play on emotions that occurs. As her involvement in the games is imminent and her progression into the final of the women’s 800m remains, the debate will continue likely into the next Olympics in four years’ time. Being for or against Semenya is a real ethical debate that goes beyond the sporting world as it plays into the world view that everyone should be treated equally.





Brook, B (2016) ‘South African athlete Caster Semenya reportedly under armed guard at Rio Olympics following safety fears’, news.com.au



Harper, T (2016) ‘Caster Semenya 800m Rio Olympics: Most sensitive race of Games as South African star runs’ FoxSports Australia










Media Analysis 4 – Proposal on the debate over Caster Semenya in reference to the Rio Olympics

Drawing upon two comparative online articles, I intend on making the conclusion that although there are many sides to the debate over Caster Semenya (as a hyperandrogenic athlete), the authority has not yet made a decision and thus the public should treat the issue with sensitivity. 

I will be focusing on how each author positions their audience with regards to an ethical debate over fairness of sport and the rights of an individual.

I will be analysing the language techniques employed by each author to best persuade their readers into taking on the underlying worldview. Through the many appeals that the authors make to their readers, I will conclude that the authors interpret their audience as sports fans with a capacity to have empathy and understanding for the controversy that surrounds Caster Semenya. 

Carolena Kostas z5061221

MDIA2002 F10A

Challenges with graphic photojournalism

Without a doubt, pictures are worth 1,000 words, playing a vital part in communicating messages and changing history. But with influences from new media and backlash from consumers on publishing graphic content, present-day photojournalism is beginning to face increasingly more challenges than ever before. David Rohde’s ‘Pictures That Change History: Why the World Needs Photojournalists’, Shanifa Nasser’s ‘Puppies, selfies, corpses: How graphic images on social media can change your brain’, Julia Angwin and Matthew Rose’s ‘When News Is Gruesome, What’s Too Graphic’ and Fred Ritchin’s ‘Why Violent News Images Matter’ are a few views journalism or opinion articles with different perspectives on the positive or negative impacts photojournalism has on society. Together, they constitute a shared understanding of photojournalism in the 21st century, particularly in relation to graphic images portrayed in the media.

Historically, the art of photography has served as a crucial means of capturing places and events for future generations (Duncan 2015) and documenting what is presented in the facts. Yet, there continues to be a debate surrounding the exposure of such graphic images. The National Press Photographers Association’s (NPPA) Code of Ethics lays out in crystalised detail about the acceptable terms of professional photojournalism. It reads, in part:

“Photographic and video images can reveal great truths, expose wrongdoing and neglect, inspire hope and understanding and connect people around the globe through the language of visual understanding. Photographs can also cause great harm if they are callously intrusive or are manipulated.”

The big question is the extent to which media outlets should go or restrain from showing human tragedy. Nasser, a news reporter for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) News, claims that exposure to uncensored graphic images can change the brain, as explicitly stated in the title “Puppies, selfies, corpses: How graphic images on social media can change your brain”. With hundreds of thousands of atrocities taking place and photographs of them circulating on traditional and new media, constant flow and explicit exposure to these atrocities builds up unnecessary insecurity, tension and trauma. Nasser justifies this causal argument with an appeal to authority, quoting a Toronto psychologist, Dr. Oren Amitay, who calls it second hand trauma:

“‘With enough viewing, we are now coming to understand that somebody could be traumatized second-hand… If you’re always seeing it then you have the sense that this is the norm, then you have the sense that the world is far more dangerous than it is.’”

An unwarranted induction or hasty/over-generalisation lies in this justification however. It’s almost as if the justification is suggesting that when you are always seeing these graphic images, you will automatically be traumatized second-hand. With traditional and new mediums circulating violent photographs everyday from the television screen to the home screen on Facebook, the global population would be entirely traumatised based on this suggestion when in fact not every person exposed to these graphic images constantly is mentally affected by it.                     

To further support Nasser’s claim, Ritchin, a professor at New York University and co-director of the Photography & Human Rights program at the Tisch School of the Arts, wrote an opinion piece in 2014 for TIME Magainze taking a different approach to arguing and justifying the claim. The central claim is found in the second to last paragraph of the article:

“… they [graphic photographs] provide reference points for both the present and the longer view of history”

Yet, he spends a large portion of his article presenting counterarguments, offering justifications as to the immorality of violent images.

Ritchin offers four primary evaluative arguments explaining reasons why editors hold back graphic photographs from the audience. First, he argues that publications from mainstream outlets purposely withholds graphic imagery in “fear of offending, or even from a feat that readers will abandon the publication altogether.” He adds two quotes, one from a photographer Christoph Bangert who asks: “How can we refuse to acknowledge a mere representation— a picture— of a horrific event, while other people are forced to live through the horrific event itself?” and another from a photographer of an excruciating photo that went unpublished in American Photo magazine in 1991 who questioned: “If we’re big enough to fight a war, we should be big enough to look at it.” These two quotes from industry professions aim to argue against the first counterargument in support of Ritchin’s original claim.

The second argument coincides with Nasser’s warning of second-hand trauma. Ritchin believes editors are ethically taking into consideration of the children’s wellbeing before publishing “egregious imagery”. Then, Ritchin takes it further with his third argument by arguing that industry professions are at risk of being affected by constant exposure to these graphic images as well. He uses a study by Anthony Feinstein, MD, of the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto as a justification appealing to authority that “‘… frequent, repetitive viewing of violent news-related video and other media raises news professionals’ vulnerability to a range of psychological injuries, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.’” For documentary photographer and member of the VII Photo agency, Ed Kashi, it’s much more than that. In his article ‘The Unspoken Consequences of a Photojournalists Life’ published on his website but later in TIME Magazine, he discusses the aftermath of his 30 years as a photojournalist, spending his lifetime trying to fade into the background to achieve “candid intimacy” is his photographs. He describes:

“Losing myself in other people’s lives, whether in their dramas of joy, pain, or transition, has turned into not being able to find myself in my own life.”

There is an appeal to emotion as Kashi describes one the worst consequences is “… a deep sense of loneliness and abject certainty.” He doesn’t believe the profession is all bad because of the rare privilege to gain expansive knowledge of the world, cultures, the processes of technology and business as well as the small yet magical moments of daily life.” Yet it is very easy to lose yourself if you are fully consumed in your practice.

Finally, the last argument lies on the other side of the spectrum in which Ritchie says:

“… a fear by others that readers are seeing too many such images and, as a result, are losing their ability to empathise and evaluate what is going on in the avalanche of violence and destruction depicted.”

One of the most, if not the most, famous and influential graphic photograph shows 9-year-old girl Kim Phuc running down the road completely stripped of her burning clothes after South Vietnamese forces bombed her village with napalm (Media Watch 2016). Taken in 1972 by photographer Nick Ut for the Associated Press during the Vietnam War, this photograph splashed over front pages of magazine covers despite full front nudity and was the turning point in the War. This historical photograph proves the importance of publishing violent images. Ironically, it also justifies the argument above because without the ability to empathise with victims and evaluate the situation at hand, the US would not have received worldwide pressure and agree on a ceasefire.

For that reason, Ritchin provides a few recommendations when dealing with violent photographs for the media. Using photographs of families crying over graveyards as opposed to faces of fallen civilians covered in blood can address the subject matter without impacting the mentality of audiences (Angwin and Rose 2004). Another alternative is shifting the subject matter focus less on war but more on “…‘photography of peace’ … the beauties of ceasefires, and of healing, and of some of the horrors that were prevented from happening.” More happiness needs to be seen around the world rather than agony.
Despite the arguments in favour of limiting graphic imagery, it’s important to question why photojournalists and mainstream media outlets do publish violent images. To start with, Ritchin argues there is an obligation for photojournalists to be the messengers for the rest of the world, to turn the world’s attention to sights unknown. He says:

“The trauma of witnessing such devastation, and the powerlessness that may accompany it, can be more difficult to resolve if one is prevented from sharing what one has seen with others—the reason the photographer was there in the first place.”

Similar reasons explain why editors do not restrain from releasing violent photographs. Journalism is the fourth estate of society, which makes depictions of accurate truths and honest representations critical in bringing exposure to the intensity of the matter. Former News Corp editor Piers Akerman points out the need to set aside traditional media guidelines at times because there are just some photographs audiences have to witness (Media Watch 2016).

Social media has been changing the rules of acceptable pictures to be exposed online and still continues to till today. With less caution on the Internet, there is a ‘moral vacuum as the feeds go online’ and has ‘diluted somewhat the agenda-setting power o the mainstream media, according to Jonathan Zittrain, an assistant professor at Harvard Law School (Angwin and Rose, 2004). The article by Angwin and Rose, staff reporters of The Wall Street Journal, discusses the conflicting nature between broadcasting gruesome images across different media outlets. While mainstream media is capable of controlling what photographs go in and out of their filters, there is no control over what happens to these images when uploaded on the Internet. Despite this, Angwin and Rose take on a rather positive outlook towards social media’s influence on photojournalism. First, Web sites segregate information more effectively than traditional media such as newspapers or TV channels who see themselves as arbiters of taste. Second, social media’s algorithmic calculations such as hyperlinks allow audiences to see the photograph at their own discretion. On the Yahoo news Web site, photos are placed in a way that users need to actively search for the photographs with the most graphic content and each graphic footage and photos are marked with a warning when distributed. Lastly, social media’s proliferation of information sources attracts executives at traditional media companies to approach the sites. Social media’s immediacy with photos uploaded real-time allows a news story to be visually told without delay in present time.

In an era when anyone with a smartphone can upload a photo, how then is it possible to recognise the images that matter and legitimize what we see when more professional photojournalists are fired from prestigious editorial sources such as U.S. News, Newsweek, and Reuters? Rohde, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, the national-security investigations editor at Reuters and a former reporter for The New York Times, uses factual evidence from a report by Pew Research Centre stating more news photographers, artists and videographers have been laid off than any other type of journalist in 2012, decreasing in numbers by 43 percent. In his opinion, he has a pessimistic view towards the switch from mainstream media to new media. He argues:

“… technological change has irreversibly changed photojournalism. Professional photographers, they insist, will inevitably join the ranks of toll collectors, telephone switchboard operators, and other jobs rendered obsolete.”

This statement is an informal fallacy, a slippery slope/domino theory, because his article primarily focuses on the negative consequences, the corrupt nature of social media. Despite his pessimistic outlook of what the future holds for photographers, he remains certain that the work of photojournalists will dominate, for the vast majority of iconic photographs capturing historical moments are taken by professional photographers.

As for the photographs themselves, the plus side when photographs are uploaded online is an increasingly greater appreciation for photography, attracting new audiences over time. While graphic images might be difficult to “appreciate”, social media amplifies reach and recognition of such images to raise awareness to the issue depicted. Having said that, it is still uncertain whether these photographs are able to stand out for two reasons: one is the change in function of the nature of photographs in a general sense, from emphasising more on ourselves than others as the subject of the photograph and two is the torrent of images that makes it difficult for photographs to stick out longer than 24 hours (Rohde 2013).

The common theme found in the articles mentioned above is the inclusion of images that are all strikingly graphic. Surprisingly, even though Angwin and Rose (2004) claim that “technology permits us to say ‘Dear reader, you may not want to looks at this’”, only one of the four articles mentioned “WARNING: This story contains a graphic photograph” and it was the Website for a traditional medium, the CBC. Unlike Rohde, Nasser and Ritchin’s articles, the CBC article kept its images low-key with images not horrifically graphic but representative of horrific events. All of the photographs in the article are not staged, adding an element of candidness that makes viewers feel as if they are witnessing the scene. This happens to be the case for most of the graphic photographs in the other three articles— all candid and representational of the conflicts at the time but with less caution in showing graphic elements such as blood, dead bodies and people being hurt. The reason behind this is that the writers want to prove their point that violent photographs have impact on readers, whether it is in a good way or a bad way is for the reader to decide.

In conclusion, it is evident that photojournalism has a lasting impact in society, yet less and less companies are taking it seriously as more and more amateur photos circulating around the Internet receive more recognition. There continues to be a debate over the degree of violence allowed in photographs in different media outlets but for now, it is fair to say that whether audiences willingly see it or not, these graphic images will play a part in changing society.

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’ – Inquirer.net, 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’ – Inquirer.net, 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.


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Plebiscite – the over-politicised media mess of 2016.

Plebiscite – the over-politicised media mess of 2016.

Over the last few years’ gay marriage has been a hot button topic all over the world. In the last two years, both the USA and Ireland have delivered marriage equality, with major media outlets showing support for these decisions. We’re at a pivotal point on the gay marriage movement. Gay marriage has obtained overwhelming support from the Australian public, and has the backing from big businesses. Writing this article, I was even hard-pressed to find an article which was completely against marriage equality. However, the most interesting part about the whole debate, and probably most annoying, is how marriage equality seems to have taken a backseat to the political nightmare this is causing for both major parties.

Before examining some articles, and how they portray the politicization of marriage equality, it is worth looking at some of these headlines that have featured media over these last few months. The positivity to marriage equality is on show through all of these headlines, the negativity is pointed at the political process.

Apple joins companies backing same sex marriage as crack show in plebiscite plan – news.com.au – July 26 2016

Plebiscite looks set to fail, but push for same-sex marriage will not – The Conversation Sep 12, 2016

Not voting for plebiscite is parliamentary democracy – Dean Smith SMH Sep 13, 2016

“WTF Is Actually Going On With The Marriage Equality Plebiscite?” – Josh Butler – Huffington Post

“same-sex marriage plebiscite politics turns dangerous” – Paul Kelly – The Australian

“The Marriage equality plebiscite message: our parliament can’t do it’s job” – Alan Joyce

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby wrote a piece for The Australian titled ‘Same-sex marriage: Parliament is the proper place for enacting laws’. Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where he’s heading with this one. Michael Kirby, an openly gay man, asks readers by way of an evaluative argument, to consider his ten reasons as to why the Australian public should reject the plebiscite.

Kirby was a judge for over 40 years, so it is no surprise his article mostly deals in facts over baseless opinion.

“Complex, sensitive, issues are better decided after debate in parliament, not in the heat of public division and emotional campaigns in the community. If a plebiscite is held, it could become a bad precedent to be copied when other controversial questions come before parliament. This would further weaken our governmental institutions at a time when they need strengthening, not weakening.”

Kirby’s use of “complex” and “sensitive” in his description of marriage equality is a recurring theme in media’s depiction of the plebiscite. This is to appeal to people’s emotions as he continues to call it an “emotional campaign” spurring “public division”.

Although Kirby strays from fact throughout some of his points with mentions about how parliament might “weaken” if a plebiscite were used to decide this issue. He also furthers this point by saying that this could lead to more plebiscites in the future about any sensitive issue. This is a slippery slope argument and isn’t justified by any reasonable fact but is used to have the reader question the legitimacy of holding a plebiscite when the decision should be made by politicians in parliament following an election.

Statements the plebiscite on marriage equality is “sure to be carried” are doubtful in light of Brexit and Australia’s record on national constitutional referendums when these are required.

Another statement made by Kirby, brings about the same idea that came up quite a bit in my research of other articles. Namely, its comparison to the Brexit result and the false analogy associated with how both could carry the same verdict. The media seems to be obsessed with comparing any public vote with Brexit at the moment, while similar in the fact that they are both public votes, neither hold the same context and different variations of public support.

Where Kirby is successful in convincing the reader to come on board is how he effectively breaks down every argument against the plebiscite. He quotes how Ireland is often noted as a healthy comparison to us also having a similar vote on the issue. Although reinforces how Ireland actually had to legally hold a referendum to change their constitution whereas Australia does not legally have to have one.

He also notes how plebiscites have proven to be difficult for other countries, with “23 countries whose legal systems approximate that of Australia” have been defeated in marriage equality. Kirby believes this would delay marriage equality reform for decades.

Kirby ends the article where he began, with his central claim, stating ‘there is no constitutional reason for a plebiscite.’

While Kirby spoke about why the plebiscite shouldn’t be used, news journalism seems to have moved away from the actual issue of the plebiscite and more onto how politicized this whole situation has become.

Josh Butler, in his piece in the Huffington post “WTF Is Actually Going On With The Marriage Equality Plebiscite?” is written to a younger demographic, calling out the Prime Minister for shifting the blame of the failed plebiscite over to the Labor Party. Butler seems to be writing this to a left-leaning demographic who are Greens/Labor swing voters.

In the image Butler included of Turnbull, it depicts him as confused and paints a Prime Minister who is in turmoil. This is in contrast to the photo he shows of Shorten who is seems resolute and strong.




The CEO of QANTAS, Alan Joyce wrote an article in September for the Guardian titled “The Marriage equality plebiscite message: our parliament can’t do it’s job”. Joyce isn’t a human rights activist, nor a politician, nor a journalist for that matter, but his position on gay marriage reflects a longstanding support for marriage equality from QANTAS.

“From giving women the vote to repealing the White Australia Policy, the Australian parliament has an amazing history of taking the transformative decisions that make this country so great today.
On issues like economic reform and gun control, Australia was well ahead of its time and we’re still seen as a global leader.”

Like Kirby, Joyce is attempting to convince the reader that the vote should be held in parliament because decisions as controversial such as the White Australia policy and giving women the vote have not needed to go to such extreme lengths such as a plebiscite.

Joyce represents big business in Australia, as the CEO of QANTAS, his opinion echoes many other business’ in Australia coming out in support of marriage equality. QANTAS have been involved in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for years, so for him to go against the popular opinion would be unwise. He has also been highly commented on in mainstream media on this issue with SMH, The Daily Telegraph, The Australian and other major media outlets quoting the CEO on his views.

Josh Butler, writing for the Huffington Post delivered the most thought provoking opening line to an article “Australia is the last English-speaking developed country in the world to not allow same-sex marriage” this was presented in his piece titled “WTF Is Actually Going On With The Marriage Equality Plebiscite?”. This is an alarming yet factual piece of information, Butler makes this weighted statement at the beginning of his article to define the ridiculousness of why the discussion is still going on. Butlers aim is to appeal to younger readers with his ‘text speak’ title in “WTF” and the title is presented similar to that of ‘Buzzfeed’ like journalism.

He then continues in the article to speak about the ‘blame game’ that is being played in Australian politics over this issue. He is well balanced in both his quotes of Turnbull and Shorten and provides an understanding of how politicized this issue has become.

Turnbull has put the pressure back on Labor. “What we’ve said is if you have something to put to us, we’ll listen carefully and consider it,” he said on Monday, of the Brisbane meeting.

“The ball is in Labor’s court on this issue. We’ve set out a plan.” Shorten has, in turn, taken aim at Turnbull, and said he will be pushing for significant changes to the plebiscite before agreeing to it. “We want to see if the Government is prepared to make concessions at all in the process. They want Labor to vote in the measure but they present a take it or leave it approach. It is the height of arrogance,” Shorten said on Monday.

This piece is a clear reflection on how politicized the issue of marriage equality has become. Both leaders pointing the finger at each other for halting the process.

Paul Kelly for his piece for The Australian “same-sex marriage plebiscite politics turns dangerous” believes the politics of “same-sex is marriage is now dangerous and unpredictable” if the Labor government doesn’t support the plebiscite. Kelly also states that Malcolm Turnbull and the LNP won the mandate at the election so should be able to dictate how the issue is presented to the public. While this is in part true, it is overlooking the nature of parliament and the slim majority that the LNP holds. Kelly is showing bias to the Liberal Party here by overlooking the actual issue of gay marriage and focusing on how the process should play out.

“If the same-sex marriage champions kill off the plebiscite then they are responsible for the consequences, not Turnbull, not the Coalition.”

Kelly’s political bias is on display here as he ridicules same-sex marriage supporters as being responsible for their own defeat on the issue that they support. Kelly’s political bias is extremely apparent in this quote as he contradicts himself, he suggests that same-sex marriage supporters will be to blame if the plebiscite is not realized although earlier in the article he supports the view that the government won the mandate to control the way in which this issue is presented to the public. He either supports that the government is responsible for all decisions made or not, it can’t be both ways.

Kelly then presents opinions from Former High Court judge Michael Kirby, he summises that opinions by Kirby are a “minority position”. There is no factual basis to this claim and is only seen to sway the reader to discredit Kirby’s opinion.

“Claims the plebiscite is useless because Turnbull has not got iron clad pledges from all his MPs to honour the vote are pure propaganda and media fabrication. The entire cabinet knows the plebiscite will be honoured and the ideological conservatives cannot summon the numbers to halt that.”

Kelly attempts to counter-claim that the plebiscite, even though not legally binding, will be honoured by the cabinet to appease the Australian public. While this may be true, this is too much of an assumption and if the Brexit comparisons are to be taken seriously it would evolve into more of a political mess if given the time to grow.

Lastly, the images that are depicted throughout all of these articles are that of what the public have become accustomed to when discussing gay marriage. The pride flag. Two men kissing. A rainbow.. etc.. These images are overused stereotypical images of how we perceive the gay community.

Marriage Equality in the media in 2016 has seemed to lose sight of the foundations of the movement. At the very heart of the campaign is two people of the same-sex who would like to have equal rights, just as two people of the opposing sex have with each other. The fact that politicians have over politicised the issue devalues the core message and is why it is portrayed in the media in this way.



Kim Kardashian and the Madonna – Whore complex


Is Kim Kardashian a positive role model for women, or a disgrace to the feminist movement?

Representations of Kim Kardashian in the media are usually presented like two sides of a coin – she either sets an empowering example for women by embodying unapologetic confidence, or she sends a negative message to her millions of followers.

Vanessa De Largie is an Australian actor, author, writer and sex- columnist based in Melbourne. Her article titled, “I wanted Kim Kardashian to die” for the Rendeview section in the Daily Telegraph shows her opinion very explicitly.

De Largie is referring to Kim Kardashian’s robbing last month, where the celebrity was held at gunpoint and robbed of around $14 million worth of jewels.

Her article opens up with a short statement, “I’m a feminist,” which suggests that she knows her audience may disagree with her argument that this is a feminist perspective.

De Largie’s central claim is that Kim Kardashian sets a bad example for women and she justifies this by highlighting how much influence the celebrity has on social media:

“Kim Kardashian West has 48.3 million followers on Twitter and the late Nelson Mandala has 1.35 million. Welcome to the state of the world in 2016, ladies and gentlemen.”

Here the author is appealing to analogy to compare the difference between the two personalities. Her tone is sarcastic, expressing the author’s worldview that contemporary society is shallow and materialistic.

Throughout her article, De Largie constantly acknowledges the opposing perspective that defends and supports Kim Kardashian. This reflects that the author is aware of the polarising debates regarding Kim, and is cautious to explicitly mention it, in case her audience doesn’t share this viewpoint and needs to be persuaded otherwise.

“There were those who rushed to defend and empathise with Kardashian West – the wife, the mother, and the daughter.”

It can be argued that De Largie has used the relevance of Kim Kardashian’s robbery to express her distaste with Kim Kardashian’s contribution to society.

“But while Kardashian West had $14 million of diamonds and her sense of safety stolen that night, what about all the girls who have been robbed of their innocence and sense of self in the quest to emulate their idol?”

Here, De Largie compares Kim’s theft to young women who have been robbed of their innocence as they strive to look and live like the celebrity.

This can be considered a false analogy because there is little similarity between the two situations.

The author then appeals to authority and facts by referencing a survey conducted by Mission Australia of 50, 000 young people aged 11- 14 whose number one concern was body image. De Largie is claiming that Kim Kardashian is the main reasons why young people are self-conscious of their bodies.

This is an example over generalisation. Perhaps Kim Kardashian does influence many young women to aspire to look like her, however, there are considerably more factors in the media that contribute to the concern of body image – Kim Kardashian is not the only cause.

It is important to consider the debates in the media around Kim Kardashian’s body image. Opinions in the media are divided with those who applaud her for embracing a curvier, ‘healthier’ figure, and others who claim Kim’s body is anything but natural due to heavily filtered photographs and cosmetic procedures. De Largie obviously holds the latter perspective.

Vanessa De Largie mentions how many people have also shared her opinion of wanting Kim Kardashian dead. This can be considered ad populem fallacy because she is using popular opinion to justify that her hate of Kim Kardashian is valid and a shared sentiment:

“I was not surprised when I went on social media and read thousands of comments echoing my initial thoughts on the robbery. The masses wanted her blown away. When you offer so little to the world, is it any wonder that people react viciously to when something tragic occurs?”

De Largie brings in different voices into her article, the most notable being actress Kate Winslet. She quotes Winslet praising herself and her daughter for their natural curves:

“ ‘We’re so lucky we have a shape. We’re so lucky we’re curvy. We’re so lucky that we’ve got good bums.’ And she’ll say, ‘Mummy, I know, thank God.’ It’s paying off.”

By doing so, the author is appealing to analogy and drawing a comparison between the two females and the messages they send about body image. She is also appealing to authority by bringing in the voice of a famous and celebrated actress.

Other feminism perspectives are also voiced in the article such as Andrea Peyser, a columnist for New York Post. Peyser’s claim that “Kim Kardashian West has risen from being the co-star of a sex tape to one of the world’s leading post-feminist icons” is used only so De Largie can immediately refute it:

“Umm, no. Definitely not. Feminist-Icon-Land only reserves places foro women like Camille Paglia, Germaine Greer, and Gloria Steinem. Oiling up your butt – implants for a glossy doesn’t get you a Guernsey. Sorry, Kim!”

Here, de Largie is appealing to authority again by listing renowned advocates for the feminism movement and arguing that Kim Kardashian’s ‘contribution’ to feminism should not be celebrated.

Kim Kardashian is portrayed as a narcissistic, and self – centred and hollow. The author does not mention any details about her entrepreneurship or success, which is usually a common argument taken by those who support Kim.

The images used to support the author’s claim that Kim is materialistic and superficial are snaps from Kim’s Instagram account of her luxe lifestyle.

The article is largely opinion rather argument, as most of the points made by De Largie are ad hominem fallacies, attacking Kim Kardashian’s character instead of putting forward arguments as to why the celebrity should not be famous.

“The only thing I care about is whether a woman is REAL. I can’t connect to cookie-cutter celebrities, Botox, and reality TV…Give me real people. Give me people who can move their faces. Give me people that have views and opinions.”

Here, the author attacks Kim’s appearances, career, and lifestyle. However, it is important to note that other opinions in the media actually praise the Kardashians for building up a television show successful enough to air for 12 seasons. As previously mentioned, many also commend her for promoting positive body image for women and for being unapologetically feminine.

In September, Kim Kardashian was also been commended for using her influence to pen an open letter condemning the Wall Street Journal’s decision to run an advertisement from a group of Armenian Genocide deniers. Kim Kardashian is of Armenian descent and was publically thanked by the Armenian Educational Foundation, a non-profit organisation which offers financial help to Armenian students around the world.

So does Kim Kardashian really have no opinions and no contribution to society, as De Largie argues?

It can be concluded that De Largie positions her readers to agree with her sentiment that Kim Kardashian is superficial with no positive attributes. The author acknowledges opinions regarding Kim’s appearance but ignores others about her success as a businesswoman or her advocacy against the Armenian genocide.

Similarly to De Large, controversial personality Piers Morgan directed a public letter to Kim Kardashian; “That robbery was a wake up call Kim. Time to decide if you want to be the smart, warm woman you really are or the trash talking monster you were becoming.”

Like the first article, Piers Morgan uses the timeliness of the incident to criticise Kim Kardashian’s lifestyle and public image. Piers Morgan’s argument is recommendatory, as he suggests Kim should use the attack as a wake up call to reassess her life and her contribution to society.

His opinion echoes De Largie’s, and represents those who believe that Kim Kardashian is a negative role model for young girls.

“Do you seriously want to encourage them to think the only pathway to success for women is getting their kit off and middle fingers out? For better or worse, these girls relate to you, look up to you, admire and respect you. Why contaminate their impressionable minds with such a bulls**t message?”

Morgan is referring to Kim Kardashian’s notoriously famous nude selfies, which have sparked a lot of controversy, usually dividing the public population into feeling empowered or disgusted.

Morgan also compares Kim Kardashian to an activist personality. The television host claims that he interviewed the Dalai Lama and when asked if he minded that Kim Kardashian had more followers than he does on Twitter, the Dalai Lama responded that he did not know who she was. The author agrees that Kim Kardashian cannot compete with the preacher’s wisdom.

This is considered false analogy because the Kardashian and the Dalai Lama arguably do not represent the same values. They have two completely different ways of life.

Throughout the article, Morgan’s tone is quite condescending and scolding. He portrays Kim Kardashian as immature and selfish – almost like a teenage daughter gone rouge. And he positions his readers to do the same.

By outlining her positive attributes followed by her ‘less admirable’ traits, Piers positions the audience to feel sorry for Kim but also argues that her attack should teach her a valuable lesson.

“It’s a change to re-calibrate, to take a pause and work out if you just want to be known as a topless, bird-flipping, trash talking sex tape celebrity – or something more meaningful and influential.”

Piers Morgan attacks Kim for her vulgar selfies. Image: The Daily Mirror
Piers Morgan attacks Kim for her vulgar selfies. Image: The Daily Mirror

Morgan’s language is very negatively loaded and reprimanding. He uses a combination of evaluative presumption and either –or fallacy. He paints a very two-dimensional portrait of Kim’s character and offers her only two options of how she should live her life.

Musicians Taylor Swift and Kanye West’s feud, which was all over social media and celebrity news – is also mentioned by the author. The author assumes his audience has knowledge of this controversy and summarises Kim’s participation in the dispute:

“…you began trash-talking Taylor Swift after she took exception to your husband Kanye West writing a song in which he called her a b*tch and said he wanted to have sex with her. You even encouraged his appalling piece of waxwork ‘orgy art’ …it was exploitative, distasteful and frankly, revolting”

Here Piers Morgan’s disgust is explicitly clear, and he is positioning his readers to view Kim Kardashian and Kanye West as celebrities who use their influence to bully others.

The images Morgan uses to follow his belief that Kim Kardashian has transformed from a warm and successful woman to a vulgar and shallow celebrity. The photographs begin with her laughing with her husband Kanye West, to a still from an interview with Kim smiling happily and dressed appropriately, to photos of her posing naked and sticking her middle finger up, and laughing over a wax figure of Taylor swift.

Overall Piers Morgan’s article is a combination of opinion and argument. His language is very explicitly biased and evaluative; however, he does support his claims with justifications of why he thinks Kim Kardashian is a becoming a negative influence on younger girls. For example, posing vulgarly in photos using her influence to turn social media against Taylor Swift. Morgan also acknowledges that Kim has spoken out publically about gun laws, gay rights and the Armenian genocide, which perhaps gives the feel that he is more balanced than De Large. Both articles portray Kim as a negative influence on society and a bad role model for feminism.

On the flip side of the coin – other media representations of Kim Kardashian applaud her for being unapologetic about her body and sexuality and applaud her for being a successful entrepreneur, as previously mentioned.

Amy Buswell’s article “Why Kim Kardashian is one of my Feminist Icons,” portrays the author’s views that Kim is a successful businesswoman and great example for confidence and sexuality.

Similarly to De Largie, Buswell acknowledges that the opinions about the Kardashian are divided, she even writes a disclaimer at the beginning of her article acknowledging these different arguments. She agrees that Kim is not the ‘perfect’ feminist icon because she does not use her platform enough to speak for marginalised groups and the difficulties women face.

But central claim of the article is that Kim Kardashian is a feminist icon because of her success and unapologetic confidence. Throughout the article it is clear that the author admires Kim Kardashian, “The Kardashians are women who have built an empire on the power of women.”

Buswell discusses the controversial sex tape that arguably brought Kim Kardashian to the spotlight. She appeals to ethics in her justification that Kim was a victim of a privacy breach and that the hate she received for it is misdirected.

“However, as I’m sure you know, the public reacted to the leak by holding Kardashian to blame for…having consensual sex? I’m still unclear about that part.”

Buswell claims that Kim was able to make the best of a bad situation, which is impressive and requires talent. She appeals to popular opinion in her justification by saying many porn stars are penniless but Kim Kardashian was able to “turn the sex tape into a fortune.”

Buswell acknowledges that Kim Kardashian and her family are not relatable, reflecting that she understands that her readers may not like the celebrity. But she compliments qualities of Kim that she believes are admirable, such as her confidence and marketing skills:

“Kim Kardashian is a mother unembarrassed of her sexuality, a successful entrepreneur, and a human strong enough to withstand a decade of victim-blaming. And if that does not impress you, I can not wait to meet your dinner guests because they must be phenomenal.”

Amy Buswell presents a more balanced and less critical perspective towards Kim Kardashian. Her article was written before the robbing in Paris, which is why there is no mention of it. This article is written online and the images that accompany it are photographs of Kim holding her daughter, North and a naked selfie of her pregnant body from her Instagram account. These images portray Kim Kardashian as more human and therefore more relatable. There are also images of memes that make fun of Kim’s superficiality and lack of talent, but the author has used them to highlight and discredit the nature hate that Kim Kardashian receives.

Source: Instagram
Kim Kardashian cradles baby North. Source: Instragram

“The Kardashian lifestyle might be ridiculously decadent and unattainable, but I for one would love to unapologetically take selfies, be proud of the way I look without being embarrassed by acting vain, and not base my actions on the expectations of others. In short, I would like to incorporate a little Kim Kardashian in my daily life.”

Overall, Amy Buswell represents the arguments in the media that support and defend Kim Kardashian. The author understands why her readers find Kim hard to relate to but provides justifications of why the hate directed to Kim is unnecessary. Throughout the article, Buswell’s tone is sympathetic and admiring of Kim. She believes Kim Kardashian West is a positive role model for women’s confidence and femineity.

In conclusion, it is clear that most representations of Kim Kardashian in the media portray her as either a role model for women – for being successful and unashamed of her sexuality, or as a vulgar and superficial celebrity who represents a hollow brand and creates unrealistic expectations for women. The articles analysed represent a few of these debates surrounding Kim Kardashian.

Where do you stand?




Susan Chen z3462543


The Brock Turner Effect

It’s the case that took the internet by storm, raising questions about the conviction of sexual assault offenders, rape-culture and white-privilege. The Brock Turner case garnered a significant amount of public criticism, represented by a vast selection of media outlets including an official Wikipedia page. and Sydney Morning Herald’s Clementine Ford, Buzzfeed’s Katie Baker, The Independent’s Susan Svrluga have produced varying representations of the case through their ‘views’ journalism or opinion pieces that outline different aspects of each party—the judge, the victim and the convicted. Each piece however brings forward the underlying issues of reporting and sentencing sexual assault that have been scrutinised by the public.

The issue that garnered so much attention to this case is highlighted in Ford’s article that Brock Turner’s charges were lightly punished because he didn’t look like society’s stereotypical rapist. His mugshots were reportedly impossible to find, and all there was of Turner were yearbook photos and content snapshots of his pro-athlete life (Ford, 2016). What the public noticed, was that the ‘sex offender’ under investigation was as a young, promising swimmer on a scholarship at the prestigious Stanford University, with his supportive parents to provide his privileged white background. His dream of being an Olympian which he worked so hard for was apparently tarnished after a scandal with a half-naked girl at a frat party, unleashing the public criticism that Turner’s sentence was a condescending representation of rape-culture (Sklar, 2016).

Brock Turner’s sentence would become a characterisation of the white-privilege society that dominates the justice system, represented by the vast majority of publications slamming Turner’s allegations as offensive, myopic and tone-deaf whilst the victim’s personal letter was moving, powerful and searing (Miller, 2016; Sklar, 2016). The victim herself made it clear that his background and circumstances had significant control over a case which should have been treated like any other rape case—her argument stating that a campus environment, alcohol, lack of criminal history and future prospects shouldn’t alter the grounds of his conviction (Svrluga, 2016).

Source: The Independent [Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in jail in controversial circumstances]
Source: The Independent [Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in jail in controversial circumstances]
Although just one of the hundreds and thousands of opinions written on the case, most authors were quick to present Turner as a convicted felon who received special privileges, through their language and image choices. The Independent’s article in discussion placed Turner’s mugshot before their written piece, the image that was so hard to find amongst all his athletics and yearbook photos.

 Source: The Independent [Brock Turner (Dan Honda/Associated Press)]
Source: The Independent [Brock Turner (Dan Honda/Associated Press)]
The representational meaning of Turner is evident with this powerful image— the low quality, serious facial expression, bloodshot-eyes, grey background, sweatshirt attire, dishevelled hair and image frame that is all so common with mugshots. If this isn’t clear enough, the next photo of him below also represented the circumstances of a guilty defendant—the candid mid-shot moment of him from an odd angle, out in the public in Sunday clothes avoiding eye-contact with what is presumed to be the mass number of journalists and activists trying to capture a reaction.

Evidently, Svrluga wants us to see Brock Turner as a guilty criminal from these aspects of the included images. Where the author wants us to develop a particular viewpoint of Turner and the conviction, there are a few linguistic patterns, similarly identified by Montgomery (1995, p. 245). Svrluga places respectable terms such as “fair”, “smart”, “well respected in the legal community”, “believed” “genuine remorse” in regards to Turner, to “shocked ”and “appalled” by the sentence that shows “guilt”, “shame” causing “hardship” on the victim. What was even more interesting, is that the author began referring to Turner as a “Stanford University varsity swimmer”, “freshman” and even just “Brock Turner” in the lead up to sentencing that caused the scrutiny. The victim, was first described as “a woman”.

To contrast on this, the author then placed statements which led on to refer to him as “assailant”, “perpetrator”, “defendant” or “Turner”, and referred to the “woman” mentioned in the beginning as a “victim”, a “she” and “her” who had family and friends later on. The shift in the vocabulary pattern demonstrates that the author is passively constructing the victimisation of the woman and a shift in blame on Turner (Montgomery 1995, p. 247).

Svrluga uses the appeal to ethics and morality to shift the audience’s attitude from a neutral stance of innocent-until-proven-guilty towards a sex-offender who shocked a nation because of the light conviction he got for the devastating effect he had on another life. She includes a passage from a juror’s letter to Judge Persky that proves the jury did not agree stating “justice has not been served”, and even refers to a letter written by Vice President Joe Biden expressing his anger towards Turner’s sentence, a highly credible source that represents a negative perspective.

By focusing on a sexual assault case as a “what Turner (the convicted) had to lose than what the victim had already lost”, it portrays the idea that circumstances like campus-parties, alcohol, and young elite athletes with bright futures are not rapists, but people who have made a mistake. This in hand reduces the power that women have over their own bodies if what the rapist looks like represents the severity of the situation. Svrluga emphasises this again, utilising vocabulary such as “nice guys” and “the guy next door” to be unsuspicious of committing such a heinous crime.

The article that moved the public so significantly was the 12-page statement read in court by the victim, released on Buzzfeed by Katie Baker. The most profound part for the readers who accessed the article was the page background of the article—a stark block of red space highlighting the intimate details interrogated from the victim to levels that could be considered irrelevant and insensitive. The readers are immediately drawn to the emphases that the case was a constant battle proving the validity of the assault.

Source: Buzzfeed News
Source: Buzzfeed News

Baker’s piece headlined “Here Is The Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker” is aimed to position the readers to feel empathy towards the affected individual in the title, in which case is the “victim”. Through transitivity analysis, we can see that the linguistic choice here is evident already that the victim is the ‘affected’ party set in a passive tone, focusing on the “attacker” as the actor in the article (Montgomery 2005, p. 247).

Before delving into the actual transcript of the victim’s letter, Baker provides a background summary and again emphasises the position of Turner versus the victim through her linguistic choices.

“The judge said he feared a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner, a champion swimmer who once aspired to compete in the Olympics – a point repeatedly brought up during the trial” (Baker, 2016).

Here, Baker proposes the idea that has garnered this case so much attention—the trial focused on this particular representation of Turner, a “champion” swimmer who “aspired”, because the judge “feared” of the outcome. This brief but positive representation of Turner through emotional and social appeal is constantly discussed by Baker and the majority of authors in the media. Although it represents Turner in a light that is an insult to rape culture and idealises white-privilege, it also highlights how much influence the positioning of a perpetrator based on their background has on the public, which captures the reader’s attention. In a way, the social constructs which cause the gray areas in rape culture and victim-blaming is the same reason why it is also scrutinised and brought to attention in a case like this.

Through the statement told directly to Turner, the victim illustrates the noticeable difference in the allegations of the assault, placing herself from an active actor and agent, to the affected in passive tone. “I liked it because I rubbed his back”, “I was awake”, “I permitted it” and “I wanted it”, she said in active tone, describing what Turner claims happened that night. When she provided her description of the story, she used terms like “my ass and vagina were completely exposed”, “fingers had been jabbed inside me”, “you took away my worth” and “you made me a victim”.

The linguistic changes identified above highlights the significant contrast between the account evident of victim-blaming, versus the account describing the victim’s story. The difference in active and passive tone told from whichever party demonstrates just how effective language tools are in shaping social constructs and our comprehension of them. Language choice itself mirrors ideological choices; the ideology that the victim who deserved it took action herself, and the ideology that the victim was assaulted is described by the processes occurring on the affected (Perccei et al 2011, p. 12).

In comparison to the two articles previously discussed, the Sydney Morning Herald piece written by Clementine Ford emphasised the positive representation of Turner in the media, to demonstrate how social image should not be relevant to criminal conviction. How so? The headline for this article is “Clementine Ford: This is what a rapist really looks like”. Ford’s juxtaposition of the negative connotation of the term “rapist” and the emphasis on “really” against the yearbook photo of Turner builds upon the preconceived idea of what society expects a rapist to look like—social image being a key factor in how justice is served.

Unlike the previous articles, Ford starts off her piece by actively positioning Turner as the agent (in this case, a rapist) rather than the champion swimmer so frequently emphasised by numerous authors. By doing this, Ford positions the readers from the beginning that the assailant is already guilty of being a rapist, playing on the familiarity that society has with seeing a rapist and their assault charges explained. The familiarity of “rapist” and “attacker” to the “survivor” is so strongly constructed that we wouldn’t find anything peculiar if we saw otherwise (Peccei et al 2011, p. 11).

But delving into the analysis of visual tools, it is evident that this photo represents positive interactional meaning and a choreographed modality—this person is a happy chap, and represents himself as so. This is when Ford alternatively draws attention to rape culture, when readers are stunned by the image of the so-called “rapist”.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald
Source: Sydney Morning Herald

She utilises further linguistic tools in her phrases “The person you’re picturing is almost certainly male, aged somewhere between 25 and 40”, “he might seem quietly angry, with a discernible air of violence about him”, “a ‘scary type’”, “you’re probably not imagining him as wealthy”, “reflected in the way you’ve chosen to imagine his choice of dress”.

The negative representation of her selection of words which is familiar with the representation of a rapist is emphasised as she places the reader as the active audience who are “likely to” and “not imagining him as a wealthy”. The reader is positioned to be the powerful agent, establishing the idea that the audience were more than likely to be doing those exact things (Montgomery 2005, p. 245). This is how ford emphasises the fault in rape culture and privilege from social background, making her perspective clear that what we think looks like a rapist is not always the case—hence why the way you look has nothing to do with being a rapist.

She further asserts her point saying that the people who perpetrate are not usually like Brock Turner. Additionally, the image of a rapist that we constructed is so embedded into our culture that it is difficult to see otherwise (Ford, 2016). As much as we don’t want to have these negative constructs and generalisation dominate our culture, it unfortunately does, and cannot be more clearly emphasised than through the case of Brock Turner.

These articles which portray vastly different angles of the case provide only a small fraction of evidence that society has constructed the image of a rapist to be a scary-looking violent man from a low socio-economic background. Brock Turner’s youthful face and grinning pride represents just how misjudged a rapist can be, when no one suspects people like him, like your neighbour or your brother to be capable of such behaviour. The swarm of media that have brought this to the public’s attention have helped voice the issue of rape culture, campus violence and victim-blaming where justice is often served based on the social image of the perpetrator and the intimate details of a victim’s personal life.

 By Alissa Shin z5087997 PingTian10.30


Baker, J 2016, ‘Here Is The Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker’, Buzzfeed, 4 June, accessed 30 October 2016, <https://www.buzzfeed.com/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra?utm_term=.im61DXMa9#.ueJkJpKBy>

Ford, C 2016, ‘Clementine Ford: This is what a rapist really looks like’, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 June, accessed 30 October 2016 <http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/news-and-views/clementine-ford-this-is-what-a-rapist-really-looks-like-20160605-gpc8p6.html>

Miller, M 2016, ‘A steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action’: Dad defends Stanford sex offender’, The Washington Post, 6 June, accessed 30 October 2016, <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/06/06/a-steep-price-to-pay-for-20-minutes-of-action-dad-defends-stanford-sex-offender>

Montgomery, M 1995, An Introduction to Language and Society, 2nd ed, Routledge, London.

Peccei, J, Mooney, A, LaBelle, S, Henriksen, B, Eppler, A, Irwin, A, Pichler, P, Preece, S, Soden, S, Thomas, L, Wareing, S 2011, Language, Society and Power: An Introduction, 3rd ed, Taylor & Francis, London.

The People, Parliament and a Plebiscite: How Should Australia Legalise Same-Sex Marriage?

By Helena Ladomatos

The plebiscite for same-sex marriage has proven to be a contentious issue as it has constantly been debated throughout Australian society for the past few years.  From the moment that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull changed his initial plan from pursuing a conscience vote in parliament to legalise same-sex marriage to backing a plebiscite, the debate surrounding the suitability of a plebiscite augmented drastically.

An opinion poll taken by the ABC’s Vote Compass, based on more than 350,000 responses, reflected that the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage.  This survey, amongst others, shows that the legalising same-sex marriage is generally supported by Australians.  However, the division in opinion regarding this issue lies in the process.  The two options that Australia currently have are a national vote via a plebiscite or a free conscience vote by politicians in parliament.  Turnbull’s attempt at passing a plebiscite, planned for February 2017, was blocked in October due to opposition from the Labor Party, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon.  Ultimately, this is what is being debated in the media, as writers try to persuade the Australian public of what they believe is the most appropriate process for legalising same-sex marriage.

A pattern that emerges when looking at views journalism regarding the plebiscite for same-sex marriage is that it is not only journalists putting forward their opinion in traditional media outlets.  Instead, there are a large amount of public figures and politicians discussing and arguing their specific views on the situation.  Of the articles that I will be examining, no author is simply a journalist.  The author of ‘Same-sex marriage: Parliament is the proper place for enacting laws’, Michael Kirby put forward his views regarding the plebiscite.  Michael Kirby is a former Justice of the High Court of Australia, and has held other positions within the industry for more than forty years.  Tim Wilson, who wrote ‘Blocking the plebiscite on same-sex marriage would be no victory’ in the Sydney Morning Herald, is the Federal Liberal member for Goldstein, and was also formerly the Australian Human Rights commissioner.  Author of ‘Plebiscite looks set to fail, but the push for same-sex marriage will not’ in The Conversation, Dennis Altman, is Professorial Fellow in Human Security at La Trobe University, and a prominent gay rights activist.  Whilst holding different positions and jobs, each author holds a relatively prominent role in Australian society.  Hence, this illustrates that it is not simply journalists contributing to the debate regarding the plebiscite for same-sex marriage in Australian media.

The examined articles represent the pattern that the majority of opinion articles surrounding the plebiscite express very explicit claims either for or against the plebiscite.  This demonstrates that same-sex marriage is indeed a contentious issue, as authors take a clear side.  A quick search in google for views journalism regarding the plebiscite demonstrates this.  The majority of headlines illustrate the contentiousness of the issue, with explicit headlines that clearly outline the authors view, whether that be for or against.  For example, Frank Brennan’s headline ‘Same-sex marriage plebiscite the only choice left’ from the Australian, explicitly implies that he believes Australians should support the plebiscite.  Tim Wilson argues a similar point that is explicitly evident in his headline ‘Blocking the plebiscite on same-sex marriage would be no victory’. The same explicitness is evident in views journalism with the opposing view.  One example of this is Peter Van Onselen’s headline “Same-sex marriage: parliament could vote yes without plebiscite,” in which it is clear that he does not believe the plebiscite is appropriate. Similarly, Michael Kirby’s headline ‘Same-sex marriage: Parliament is the proper place for enacting laws” overtly articulates his opinion that parliament can decide in a free vote and therefore the plebiscite is unnecessary.  Each article mentioned above uses different persuasive and argumentative mechanisms in order to their argument across, and use different combinations of appeals to legal norms, appeals to facts and appeals to emotion.  Despite these varying styles, they all make very explicit evaluations of the plebiscite, illustrating that in views journalism it is an issue that requires a side to be chosen.  This is reflective of the nature of the issue to the Australian public.  Each author argues strongly for their explicit and respective opinions, insinuating that their audience, as individual Australian citizens, must do the same.

The examination of three articles in particular illustrate the contentious nature of the debate surrounding the plebiscite.  Michael Kirby and Dennis Altman both present their view opposing the plebiscite.  On the other hand, Tim Wilson expresses his argument that Australians should support the plebiscite. Whilst these three examples explicitly hold opposing viewpoints regarding the efficiency and effectiveness of holding a plebiscite, they also differentiate from each other through the means of argumentation.  Michael Kirby’s “Same-sex marriage: Parliament is the proper place for enacting laws” relies on an appeal to facts and legal norms to support his arguments.  He uses clear and direct language to create a structured article with formal tone. In contrast, Tim Wilson’s “Blocking the plebiscite on same-sex marriage would be no victory” relies on appeals to emotion to support his opinion that Australians should support the plebiscite in order to quicken the process of legalising same-sex marriage.  The argumentative style of Dennis Altman in “Plebiscite looks set to fail, but the push for same-sex marriage will not,” lies somewhere in the middle of the previous two articles.  He utilises a greater variety of justifications, including appeals to precedent, facts and emotion.

Published in The Australian, Michael Kirby’s article “Same-sex marriage: Parliament is the proper place for enacting laws” expresses his explicit central claim that parliament should make the decision regarding legalising same-sex marriage via a free vote.  Accordingly, Kirby does not support the plebiscite.  He makes an evaluative argument that relies on legal norms and facts to justify this claim. This reliance on legal norms and facts create a formal tone throughout the article, indicating the contentious nature of the issue because Kirby resorts to facts to present his argument as the ‘logical’ conclusion to come to. He makes his point of clear consistently throughout the article, and it is very clearly set out from the first paragraph:

 “Australians should reject the proposal to hold a plebiscite as a precondition to the enactment of same-sex marriage legislation by the federal parliament.  The elected politicians should get to work on what we the people elected them to do – to decide on the law, one way or the other, in parliament.”

This paragraph introduces his main justification – as a plebiscite has no impact on the Constitution, which is ultimately what we are attempting to achieve, it is not necessary.  This appeal to legal norms sets the formal and structured tone of the Kirby’s article.  He continues to repeat this main justification to persuade the audience of his central claim, stating that “we do not need a referendum, still less an extra constitutional plebiscite, to resolve any issue that parliament cannot decide” and “…there is no constitutional reason for a plebiscite”.

He emphasises that a free vote in parliament would be the most appropriate as it follows the current political processes normal to Australian parliament.  This is evident through Kirby’s multiple references to the Constitution, for example the argument that a free vote “would return Australia to its normal constitutional arrangements.  Under these, Australians do lawmaking in parliament, not plebiscites.” Another example of this is the following argument:

“The Constitution provides for a parliamentary system of representative government.  A plebiscite, as a precondition to legislation, is a totally exceptional procedure with no foothold in the Constitution. Under the Constitution we make laws in parliament, through decisions voted on after debates by the parliamentarians we elect to represent us.”

These references to the Constitution appeal to legal norms and precedent to present a factual argument. By reinforcing this argument he emphasises his evaluative clam – holding a plebiscite to decide on same-sex marriage is inappropriate because it does not have any impact on the Constitution, and therefore it should be left up to a free vote by politicians in parliament.

Kirby also utilises evaluate arguments to produce and justify his opinion.  The use of evaluative language, such as “abysmal” to describe Australia’s history of referendums, indicates his negative judgement of the political process. He follows this justification with the statement “there is no reason to think a plebiscite on same-sex marriage will be different.” This false analogy undermines his argument because a referendum and a plebiscite are two different processes.  However, they are successful in communicating Kirby’s negative evaluation of the plebiscite, and the assumption that it will fail.  A more subtle example of Kirby’s use of evaluative language is evident in “the substantial costs of the plebiscite (estimates of $160 million to $525m have been quoted) could be better spent on supporting, rather than attempting to frustrate, the attainment of the basic human rights of citizens.”   The use of the word “substantial” followed by the inclusion of statistics regarding the cost of a plebiscite further communicate Kirby’s negative evaluation of the plebiscite inefficient because it is a waste of time and money.

Another way that Kirby attempts to justify his opposition to the plebiscite is via appealing to authority.  The most prominent example of this is Kirby’s reference to the High Court of Australia in “The High Court of Australia in 2013 unanimously made it clear that the entire power to enact same-sex marriage in Australia rested with the federal parliament.” Consistent with his writing style throughout the article, Kirby presents the clear and direct argument and justification that the plebiscite is unnecessary because the decision rests with parliament.  The appeal to authority is an attempt to give credibility to his argument and further present his argument as the ‘logical’ conclusion to make.

Michael Kirby’s evaluative arguments help to communicate his firm and explicit opinion regarding the plebiscite.  The appeals to legal norms and facts provide justifications for his negative judgement of the plebiscite and, accordingly, his viewpoint that a free vote in parliament should occur. Dennis Altman shares a similar central claim to Kirby in his article published on The Conversation Plebiscite looks set to fail, but the push for same-sex marriage will not.” Whilst Altman presents arguments that rely on a greater variety of appeals and argumentative means, he ultimately shares the same point of view as Kirby.

Altman explicitly outlines his opinion that the plebiscite should not go ahead via appeals to facts, authority and emotion.   Similarly to Kirby, his explicit view is made evident from the outset as he sets out his central claim in the following statement:

“There are two major reasons to oppose the plebiscite: it distorts the nature of parliamentary democracy, and it will lead to a bitter and hurtful campaign.”

Altman’s first justification that the plebiscite does not follow the Australian parliament’s processes is supported by an appeal to legal norms in “unlike referenda, plebiscites are official public opinion polls, without any binding impact on legislation.” Thus, he infers the warrant that a plebiscites inability to impact legislation makes it an inappropriate action to take. Altman further backs this argument with an appeal to precedent by stating that plebiscites “are rare in Australian history; two on conscription during the first world war heightened sectarian bitterness that persisted for several decades.”  While this appeal to precedent successfully justifies his central claim, it is also an informal fallacy as it is based on a false analogy that assumes that the two separate social issues of legalising same-sex marriage and conscription could have the same impact on society.  Therefore, this assumption reduces the impact of his justification.  This is not the only false analogy present in Altman’s article.  He concludes his piece by relating the actions of members of parliament in relation to grey-hound racing to same-sex marriage in the following example.

“Recently a few Coalition members crossed the floor in New South Wales to oppose the end of greyhound racing.  It is probably not asking too much of their federal counterparts to cross the floor in order to allow a parliamentary debate and vote on same-sex marriage this year.”

Whilst grey-hound racing and same-sex marriage are both prominent and contentious issues being debated within parliament, as well as society, they are two separate issues. Therefore to compare them does not provide an accurate prediction of what will happen if a parliamentary vote for same-sex marriage occurs.

Altman goes into further detail in his reasoning for the plebiscite being unnecessary because of its lack of impact to change legislation.  This is evident in his argument that a parliamentary vote will need to occur regardless of whether or not the plebiscite occurs. The appeal to political norms in “a plebiscite can only stall a parliamentary vote to amend the Marriage Act allowing same-sex couple to wed.”  In this instance, Altman explicitly justifies his claim by stating that the only impact that the plebiscite will have is delaying a free vote in parliament.  The inclusion of the first person narration “let’s be clear” to introduce this point highlights his argument, and causes it to appear more ‘logical’.

Whilst Altman explicitly expresses his opposition to the plebiscite, as previously identified, he acknowledges that the impact of legalising same-sex marriage should not be over-estimated.  Altman states that “in reality changing the Marriage Act will achieve less than either its opponents or its proponents claim… Homophobia will not magically disappear because a number of established couples are able to legally marry.”  This statement is something that is not discussed by Kirby or Tim Wilson.  However, it essentially summarises the impact of the debate of this contentious issue in the Australian media.  It brings to attention that the legalisation of same-sex marriage, whether via a plebiscite or a parliamentary vote, will not necessarily alter anything in society.

In contrast to Michael Kirby and Dennis Altman’s articles in opposition to a plebiscite, Tim Wilson writes in support of it in “Blocking the plebiscite on same-sex marriage is no victory,” from the Sydney Morning Herald.  Wilson’s viewpoint is explicit and he presents the central claim that Australians should support the plebiscite.  He presents a recommendatory argument that relies on appeals to emotion to justify his claims.  However, he article comes across as opinion rather than argumentative as many claims made are not justified and contain informal fallacies.

Similarly to the previous articles discussed, Wilson’s view is explicit throughout the article.  His positive evaluation of the plebiscite is introduced in “many people who support a change in the law seem to think blocking a plebiscite is a victory.  It isn’t.” He justifies this by stating that “it might be the first time in human history when people who have an opportunity to fight for their rights decide they’d rather sit back and wait until someone else permits them.”  This is also the first example of an informal fallacy, as Wilson makes a hasty generalisation that people who support the legalisation of same-sex marriage are not doing anything for the cause. However, he appeals to the emotion of his audience via the image of fighting.  This is continued throughout the article, in which Wilson attempts to motivate his audience. For example, Wilson states “history isn’t delivered on a silver platter. It has to be fought for,” as well as “that is a future worth fighting for.” These examples of the reoccurring image of fighting appeal to the emotions of readers, and are Wilson’s attempt to persuade the audience to support the plebiscite in order to ‘fight’ for the change they desire through the nationalistic tones that are evoked.

The appeal to emotion is continued throughout the article.  Specifically, Wilson includes personal anecdotes to relate to his audience that imply his imagined readers have a similar worldview to himself.  A specific example of this occurs when Wilson recalls his initial reaction when Malcolm Turnbull announced that they would push for a plebiscite. In this personal anecdote, he states “after the announcement I went home, crawled into a ball in bed and cried.”  He continues to describe how it triggered him to relive his personal struggles as a young gay person trying to find his place in the world.  This personal anecdote strongly appeals to the emotions Wilson’s audience.  It indirectly refers to readers through the concluding statement “I know I wasn’t alone in this response,” as it subtly infers that readers share similar experiences or have similar worldviews. It is effective in supporting his central claim as he causes readers to reflect on their current view and reconsider Wilson’s argument, just as he has changed his view since his initial reaction to the plebiscite.

These examples of appeals to emotion are the most prominent justifications that Wilson utilises.  It illustrates that the issue of same-sex marriage, and how it is debated in Australian media is very divisive, and requires people to take a side. Whilst Wilson holds a different view on the plebiscite to Kirby and Altman, they ultimately similar in two aspects. Firstly, all authors address an audience that is made up of Australians who support same-sex marriage and want it to be legalised.  Secondly, they explicitly take a definitive on the issue, implying that it is an issue that each Australian must decide on.


Donald Trump: The joke that went too far – from harmless narcissist to serious threat.


Since Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president of the United States, in June of 2015, the media has seemingly imploded. Donald Trump’s media presence has been overwhelming, reportedly receiving close to $2 billion worth of free press coverage (Confessore & Yourish 2016). Donald Trump is known for being the real estate tycoon, responsible for such feats as the Trump Towers and for being the star of popular reality television show, The Apprentice. Trump has been in the limelight since he became a prominent figure in elite social circles of New York in the 1980’s (Friedersdorf 2016). There is clearly a close relationship between Donald Trump and the media which stretches back to long before his campaign for presidency.

For this analysis the portrayal of Donald Trump in the media is examined from his candidacy announcement in 2015 to his 2016 campaign for presidency. This analysis will focus on how prominent media outlets, such as The New York Times and USA TODAY, have chosen to portray Donald Trump and how, over the life of his campaign, a distinct shift in characterisation and tone can be noted.

My research shows that, initially, Trump was framed by the media as a joke, a comical figure and a narcissist. However, following his campaigns success, the media seemingly shifted tact and unconventionally turned to denouncing him, characterising him as a serious threat. It was the first time prominent and highly respected media outlets had so vigorously and openly condemned a candidate.

It is the purpose of this analysis to outline the apparent shift in characterisation and tone and to ultimately examine the reasoning behind this and attempt to understand the media’s motivation in their portrayal of Donald Trump during his presidential campaign.

All articles examined are opinion/views journalism, with two articles taken from both The New York Times and USA TODAY in order to better ascertain and highlight the shift in characterisation and tone from 2015 to 2016. The papers were chosen for a number of reasons, following my research on the topic I found the two papers were indicative of a trend across a number of media outlets in their portrayal of Donald Trump. Due to their prominence, respectability and circulation, the papers are often referred to as sources for other media outlets, with both being counted in the top three widest circulated newspapers in the US by the most recent Audit Bureau of circulation. (MediaMiser 2016)


Image taken from article
Image taken from (Mann 2015) USA TODAY article

In June 2015, Windsor Mann wrote an opinion piece for USA TODAY, ‘Donald Trump’s rambling presidential pomp.’ The headline itself characterises Trump in a negative light, as ‘rambling’ suggests incoherency and serves to undermine Trumps intelligence, whilst ‘pomp’ highlights his narcissistic tendencies of vanity and ostentatiousness.

Mann (2015) remarks that, “Trump made the announcement at Trump Tower in New York City, presumably in an effort to elicit headlines like, ‘Trump towers at Trump Tower’.” Mann’s statement serves to highlight the narcissistic tendencies of Trump and highlights the sarcastic and facetious tone of the author. This tone is echoed when referencing Ivanka Trump’s comment, ‘that her father is the opposite of politically correct’ by suggesting, “Many would say the same thing, only without the politically part” (Mann 2015). Mann makes no effort to hide his opinion or to back it up with factual or evidentiary support which suggests the expectation of an agreeing audience and an established characterisation of Trump which will go unchallenged. “Speaking of military matters, Trump was right about a couple of them. He said that Humvees are ‘big vehicles’ (a quick Google images search confirms this). ‘We have wounded soldiers’, Trump (correctly) informed the audience” (Mann 2015). This exert clearly serves to attack Trump’s credibility and undermine his intelligence, outlining the authors view of Trump as a comical figure. The author’s choice of parentheses again highlights use of sarcasm, a seeming attempt to speak directly to readers, suggesting an expectation that the audience will share his view of Trump.

There are many examples of the author’s characterisation of Trump as narcissistic and self-obsessed, maintaining the mocking tone present throughout the article. “On the most pressing issue- golf courses- Trump has ‘the best courses in the world’. Of course he does. Anything and everything bearing his name is the best…..Presumably if the Unites States were to be renamed Trump Territory, Trump would call it the best, finest and most spectacular country in the world” (Mann 2015). The author is explicit in his characterisation and the piece is highly evaluative and opinion based, making use of emotive language and a mocking tone to further frame Trump in a decidedly negative light.

Similarly, an opinion piece taken from The New York Times in September 2015 by Joe Nocera ‘Is Donald Trump Serious?’, Trump is clearly and deliberately characterised as a comical figure, a joke not be taken seriously. Nocera presents an evaluative piece with a strongly negative stance on Donald Trump. Nocera opens with the line, “As part of his ongoing effort to make a mockery of the American political process, Donald Trump released his tax plan on Monday morning” (Nocera 2015). This sets the tone for the article where the author repeatedly makes sarcastic quips regarding Donald Trump and his presidential campaign.

The author explicitly characterises Trump as a figure not to be taken seriously in the statement, “like almost everything else about the Trump campaign, his tax plan is hard to take seriously,” (Nocera 2015) and ultimately suggests that Trump’s campaign, rather than a serious political campaign, is likely a publicity stunt, an attempt to further promote the Trump brand.

Like the previous article taken from USA TODAY, the validity of Trump’s candidacy is belittled and Trump is ultimately framed as a joke, someone to laugh at and promptly dismiss. “I wonder whether even now Trump is a serious candidate, or whether this is all a giant publicity ploy” (Nocera 2015). Nocera claims, “I’m not alone in wondering this, of course,” and supports this statement with an appeal to authority by referencing Republican strategist, Rick Wilson.  Wilson states, “You would see him spending a lot more money if he were putting together a true national infrastructure” (Nocera 2015). This marks the only point in the article where the author seeks to convince the reader of his view, otherwise his stance on Trump is expected to be shared by the reader and is unsupported by factual or evidentiary references.

The article is largely an attempt by the author to discredit Trump as a real candidate, and to ultimately characterise him as a joke, a narcissist obsessed with publicity, someone not to be taken seriously by the public. “All his life, Trump has had a deep need to be perceived as a ‘winner’. He always has to be perceived coming out on top. The more famous he becomes, the more he can charge to slap his name on buildings or perfume or men’s suits” (Nocera 2015). These comments are highly evaluative with emotive language being used to frame Trump in a negative light. This again suggests the authors fundamental belief that his opinion is widely shared and unlikely to be challenged by readers. The author refers to a ’60 Minutes’ interview with Scott Pelley, where he describes Pelley as, “struggling to keep a straight face” (Nocera 2015). The author uses exclamation marks to convey the perceived ridiculousness of Trumps political ideas. “Trump told Pelley that he would force the Chinese to ‘do something’ about North Korea’s nuclear program-while also preventing them from devaluing their currency!”, “that he would get rid of Obamacare-while instituting universal coverage!” (Nocera 2015).

The author makes an evaluation at the end of the article that Trumps political stint will come to a quick end, due to his inherent narcissism, “I don’t think he’ll ever put himself at the mercy of actual voters in a primary. To do so is to risk losing. And everyone will know it. He’ll be out before Iowa. You read it here first” (Nocera 2015). This is purely the evaluative opinion of the author, which again serves to undermine the credibility of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate and characterise him as a joke, not to be taken seriously or worry too much about.

What is interesting to note is that both of the articles taken from 2015, characterise Trump in a startlingly similar way and this is reflected across the media at the time. The articles’ focus on the narcissism of Trump, highlighting an obsession with publicity and branding, and both take a distinctly mocking and sarcastic tone. The articles’ characterise Trump as someone to laugh at and mock for his ridiculousness. Neither authors’ expect their readers to disagree with their characterisation, suggesting this characterisation is a given and agreed upon by the majority of people. Trump is conveyed by both in an entirely negative light with no mention of alternative views, showing a clear belief of an unchallenging audience. In the articles the predominant view expressed portrays Trump as a joke, a narcissist who is too ridiculous to present a threat.

However, after examining articles taken from 2016 there is a noticeable shift in tone and characterisation. The articles’ focus less on Trump as the narcissistic, comical figure and more on Trump as a very real threat and danger to democracy, highlighting him as a racist, a misogynist and strongly discouraging readers from voting for him. This interestingly shows a different expectation of readers, one where they are challenging and need convincing, cementing the view that Trump is no longer a joke but a dangerously viable candidate. Trump is characterised in a more serious tone as a misogynist and a racist, and the articles chosen are taken from the editorial board, showing the shift from lighthearted mocking, to a strong appeal to authority, as senior members of the two prominent papers defy standard news protocol to publicly condemn Trump as a presidential candidate.

In the case of USA TODAY, the article itself is focused around the phenomenon of the paper’s editorial board taking sides in the election and publicly condemning Donald Trump as a candidate for the presidency. The September 2016 article is itself titled, ‘USA TODAY’S editorial board: Trump is ‘unfit for Presidency’. The article is accompanied by a short clip with members from the board, the editorial page editor, Bill Sternberg, and the operations editor, Thuan Elston, explaining why, for the first time since the paper’s origination 34 years ago, the board has disregarded its objective stance and decided to discourage Americans from voting for Donald Trump. The article cites that, ‘normally there are two capable candidates, whereas in this election Donald Trump does not represent a capable candidate, ‘fit’ for presidency’.


See link: http://usat.ly/2dqGvvN


This clip is captioned with “We haven’t made a recommendation in 34 years. For this election, we made an exception”. The article itself has a byline that reads, “The editorial board has never taken sides in the presidential race. We’re doing it now” (USA TODAY 2016). This repetition seemingly seeks to simultaneously convey the gravity of the situation, suggesting that Trump is such a false candidate that it has prompted the paper to act in an unprecedented way, and to justify the papers actions of disregarding an objective stance on the election. This justification can be seen in the following lines. “We’ve expressed opinions about the major issues and haven’t presumed to tell our readers, who have a variety of priorities and values, which choice is best for them. Because every presidential race is different, we revisit our no-endorsement policy every four years. We’ve never seen reason to alter our approach. Until now” (USA TODAY 2016).

The following paragraph again seeks to justify the actions of the paper, suggesting that if they were presented with a capable candidate they would not be subjective, however, Donald Trump is not a capable candidate. Unlike the 2015 article the tone is somber and serious, the article clearly doesn’t expect the audience to be in agreement or unchallenging, due to the lengths with which they’ve taken to justify their stance. The article is then structured into subheadings of reasons why Trump is an unfit candidate, entitled; ‘He is erratic, he is ill-equipped to be commander in chief, he traffics prejudice, his business career is checkered, he isn’t leveling with the American people, he speaks recklessly, he has coarsened the national dialogue and finally, he’s a serial liar’. There is no humour, sarcasm or traces of facetiousness in terms of the tone of the article, the article is very much a concerted attempt to frame Trump, not as a joke, but as a very real threat that has prompted serious action.

The article is undeniably explicit in its central claim and states this throughout the article, “Now is the time to spell out, in one place, the reasons Trump should not be president” (USA TODAY 2016). The article makes multiple appeals to authority to back its various arguments against Trump, citing the opinion of Robert Gates, “the highly respected former defence secretary who served presidents of both parties over a half-century,” who described Trump as, “beyond repair” (USA TODAY 2016). The article references a 1973 Justice department suit against Trump and his father for discrimination against African Americans in housing rentals and a series of USA TODAY network articles which, “found that Trump has been involved in thousands of lawsuits over the past three decades” (USA TODAY 2016). Unlike the previous USA TODAY article analysed, this article attempts to draw a factual and evidentiary basis for its opinion. Unlike the previous article, reference to alternative views are made. “We are not unmindful of the issues that Trump’s campaign has exploited: the disappearance of working class jobs; excessive political correctness; the direction of the Supreme Court…. All are legitimate sources of concern” (USA TODAY 2016). This again shows a change in the assumption of audience, referencing the ‘legitimate sources of concern’, that Trump has ‘exploited’ shows, albeit still using language to frame Trump as negative, a need to convince a questioning audience and to discourage fence sitters from voting for Trump.

This is further conveyed in the final recommendation of the article. “Our bottom-line advice for voters is this: Stay true to your convictions. That might mean a vote for Clinton. Or it might mean a third-party candidate. Or a write in ………Whatever you do, however, resist the siren song of a dangerous demagogue. By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump.” (USA TODAY 2016)

Similarly, The New York Times also produced an opinion article in September 2016 from the editorial board entitled, ‘Why Donald Trump should not be president’.

It is interesting to note an apparent trend in prominent news outlets such as The New York Times, USA TODAY and other papers such as the Washington Post to unanimously denounce Trump within the same time period. The Washington Post wrote a piece in July 2016 from the editorial board entitled, ‘Donald Trump is a unique threat to American democracy.’

The New York Times article is structured in a similar way to that of the USA TODAY article, with subheadings, this time in the form of questions, regarding Trump’s appeal, such as ‘A straight talker who tells it like it is?’ and ‘A change agent for the nation and the world?’. The article proceeds to systematically debunk these ‘selling points’ cleverly addressing alternative views whilst systematically arguing against them. This again shows a shift in the assumption of an agreeing audience, to one that needs convincing, and a clear change in tone from mocking to serious.

The article similarly makes its central claim abundantly clear not only in the headline but again in the byline, ‘Donald Trump is a man who dwells in bigotry, bluster and false promises.’

Another point for comparison can be seen in the images the authors’ have chosen to accompany the article. In the previous article taken from the New York Times, the image included is in colour and conveys an almost comical expression on Trump’s face. The image accompanying the latter article is in black and white and Trump wears a stern and serious expression. This shows a visual and literal shift in the tone of the articles.

Image taken from article
Image taken from USA Editorial Board 2016 article

While in the former article Donald Trump was referred to as Trump, in the latter article he is referred to as Mr. Trump, again suggesting a shift in the stance of the authors. Trump is no longer a joke, Mr. Trump represents a serious threat. In the article there is a repetition of key words, ‘dangerous’ and ‘fear,’ showing a clear characterisation of Trump as a threat. The article makes use of the same examples as that of the USA TODAY’S editorial board, such as Trumps failure to release his tax returns, and both make reference to a list from NBC detailing Trumps shifting stance on key issues. However, it is worthy of note that USA TODAY reports the list as outlining 124 shifts on 20 major issues whilst The New York Times reports it as 117 shifts on 20 major issues. Whatever the number both articles are undeniably similar in their approach to condemning Trump.

The article is evaluative in its highly emotive language such as, “Mr. Trumps views were matters of dangerous impulse and cynical pandering rather than thoughtful politics,” (The New York Times 2016) but unlike the previous article from the New York Times, it does make reference to factual and evidentiary support to justify the authors’ opinions. Like USA TODAY’s editorial piece, the article is strong in its recommendations, with repeated reference to what voters should do, “voters should be asking themselves if Mr. Trump will deliver the kind of change they want…..Voters should also consider Mr. Trump’s silence about areas of national life that are crying out for constructive change” (The New York Times 2016). Both these recommendations are followed by a series of hypothetical questions in response, such as, “How would he change our schools for the better?” The final paragraph stresses a strong recommendation to readers, “voters attracted by the force of the Trump personality should pause and take note of the precise qualities he exudes as an audaciously different politician: bluster, savage mockery of those who challenge him, mendacity……Our presidents are role models for generations of our children. Is this the example we want for them?” (The New York Times 2016) This highlights the drastic shift in tone, characterisation and expectations of audience. Here the authors are strongly appealing to their readers, not to vote for Trump, suggesting the assumption that they need to convince their readers.

Concluding, my research suggests that the media’s initial response to Donald Trump, in the early stages of his campaign, was to characterise him as a joke and maintain mocking and sarcastic tones when describing him. Following his campaign successes, the media shifted to a more serious tone, moving away from characterising him as a joke, to a demagogue, a serious threat and a danger to democracy.

Furthering this analysis, in an attempt to understand the media’s actions, a study from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, which assessed the coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign by mainstream media outlets, including The New York Times and USA TODAY, has been examined. The study found that the media have covered Donald Trump in, “a way that was unusual given his initial polling numbers.” (Patterson 2016) Suggesting Trump received an inordinate amount of coverage even before his polling numbers justified it. This could be due to the outrageous, flamboyant and highly entertaining nature of Trump and the inherently capitalist nature of the current media, where ratings are prioritised. Now that Trump is edging closer and closer to being President of the United States, the media have perhaps realised their role in his rise and are desperately attempting to amend the situation, ignoring common precedent by publicly denouncing his candidacy for presidency and strongly urging readers not to vote for him in the coming election.



Reference List