Ridicule them in public

I do question the mantra that airing a view-point will automatically legitimise it. With the example of David Irving, I suggest that giving a platform to his views actually damaged his already flimsy cause even further.

I spent about ten minutes in the sea on holiday, before I misjudged particularly large wave I was attempting to body surf. It turned me upside-down and I crashed onto the beach shoulder-first. I still have a gaze on my shoulder and an ache in my arms.

I fear I may have missed the blogging wave on the news that the Holocaust-denier David Irving was imprisoned in Austria – the event co-incided with my return to the UK. However, comments on this thornytempestuous issue still lap at the shore. Stef at Famous For Fifteen Megapixels begins a good summary by posting a picture of Auschwitz and declaring that David Irving “is a disgraceful human being.” He also makes a pertinent point:

History gets revised all the time

And that includes the Holocaust… Who gets to decide what the official version of an historical event is and what truths are set in stone? Is someone unconvinced by the notion of the Nazi Pope a Holocaust Denier? Who gets to decide what the official interpretation of history is? An Austrian judge?

Adloyada is pissed off with the BBC for giving credence to Irving’s views by airing them on Tuesday’s Today programme.

These were treated by the interviewer as if they were serious arguments rather than the preposterous and absurd statements they were.

I actually thought that the interviewer, Sancha Berg, took a tone of incredulity throughout and strained herself not to begin ridiculing Irving, who was being interviewed from his prison cell in Austria.

Adloyada’s point is that people with such abhorrent views should not be given a platform to express them, on the basis that it gives those views legitimacy. One could of course argue that one man’s ‘abhorrence’ is another man’s ‘debate’ but I have no wish to do so regarding Holocaust denial. However, I do question the mantra that airing a view-point on public radio will automatically legitimise it. In the case of the David Irving interview, his stance was completely falsified and discredited by the BBC’s in-studio guest, Professor Richard Evans. In this example, I suggest that giving a platform to Irving’s views actually damaged his already flimsy cause even further. When a person’s opinions and presentation of facts is so obviously false, and so easily ridiculed, giving them a public platform does not legitimise their views. Rather, it delivers a coup de grace to their credibility, and their argument.

2 thoughts on “Ridicule them in public”

  1. Robert,

    Another excellent analysis.

    One clarification on your conclusion:
    “When a person’s opinions and presentation of facts is so obviously false, and so easily ridiculed, giving them a public platform does not legitimise their views. Rather, it delivers a coup de grace to their credibility, and their argument.”

    This is might not be true if the opposing argument that shows it to be ridiculous is not presented at exactly the same time and will sufficient force. (apologies for the double negative – it needs to be as the positive form does not hold in all cases)

    In the case of Irving, had the BBC had, say, a random politician or, to be even more controversial, a radical Zionist, to present the opposing case, Irving would not have been trashed unequivocably – there might have been quibble room in the opposing argument.

    That listeners who fall foul of this would be suffering from a form of the “well-poisoning” logical fallacy is not the issue: it is that the person offering the platform to Irving laid themselves open to such a fallacy…

    Or am I being too precious about this?

    The broad point is true though. Better to get the nonsense out in the open where it can be defeated. With added sarcasm for good measure…

    Toodle Pip!
    PG

  2. “When a person’s opinions and presentation of facts is so obviously false, and so easily ridiculed, giving them a public platform does not legitimise their views. Rather, it delivers a coup de grace to their credibility, and their argument.”

    One need only to analyse how the media treated Andrew Wakefield’s MMR allegations to see how this argument is not true.

    The BBC, as one example, attempted to show this as a balanced argument. So, if Wakefield was on, then an opposing views was provided. This gave the impression that the evidence on each side both was also balanced. It was not. Wakefield was in a very small minority. We are still unravelling the damage caused by this.

    The same goes for Irving. Even if opposed, the same dangers exist. After Irving has been given one minute’s airtime, there ought to be an hour long documentary, including the weight of expert opinion against him, on the Holocaust for balance, not a brief opposing view. Since that cannot be done they should interview Irving as often as they interview David Icke, Flat Earthers and people who believe Lady Diana was killed by MI5. That is, not at all.

    You say that Irving ‘s “opinions and presentation of facts is so obviously false, and so easily ridiculed”. Well they are to you, and to me, but to suggest they are to everybody is a bit optimistic to say the least.

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