Malaysiakini Opinion

Shooting the messenger ad hominem

Bob Teoh  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Are we shooting Lim Guan Eng as the bearer of bad news or are we shooting him for using Mandarin on his disclosures about the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) bailout?

"Shooting the messenger" is a metaphor for the act of blaming the bearer for bringing bad news and not the source. Except in this instance, we seem to miss the substance of the bad news and blame Lim for something else totally unrelated.

Both Rais Yatim, the Parliament speaker-in-waiting and Khairy Jamaluddin, Umno’s presidential candidate, are wide off the mark in their sliding tackle on Lim for using Mandarin in an official press release.

It’s interesting that both are from opposite ends of the political divide, yet they speak the same lingo. And Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the new prime minister, has tried to diffuse the rage by saying:

“It's a minor mistake, I don't want to make it into an issue. Sometimes, we make mistakes. For the Chinese audience, he (Lim) will issue (statements) in Chinese that's all.” But what’s the mistake?

The whole saga is beginning to look like what in Latin is known as argumentum ad hominem (to-the-man argument) where genuine discussion of the topic is avoided by attacking the person associated with the argument instead, rather of tackling the substance of the argument itself.

Some rank ad hominem low down on the hierarchy of argument or disagreement, next only to idiotic name-calling.

In football, ad hominem would be known as playing the man, not the ball. The "ball" is our personal view and the "man" is someone with the opposing view...

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