04 August 2015

Losing it 1: The spearhead

Traditionally, an issue has popped up in the media, squadrons of journalists rush out with pre-prepared cliches to smother any public interest, and the issue dies and is replaced by another one. They may be weighty issues, they may not; but you can be sure that the media will churn through them.

In recent years, editors and news directors have lost control of this media churn. The decline in consumption of traditional broadcast media means there's a strong correlation between social media users and the remaining readers/ listeners/ viewers of the broadcasters. The smarter people in the broadcast media realise this, while the less smart ones - disproportionately found in the press gallery, and "media management" roles in the political class - persist with the view that social media are somewhere between annoyances and competitors. They can't dismiss us out of hand (the old saws about cats or breakfast pics have had their day) but they dare not admit we keep them up at night.

Adam Goodes' Indigenous dance celebration at scoring a goal didn't seem so strange to those of us from northeastern Australia, as Preston Towers observes in his masterful account of the controversy. Rugby league player Greg Inglis does a goanna move after he scores tries, which is just Inglis being Inglis; it is not worthy of booing even by fans of teams Inglis pays against, or by those who (for whatever reason) don't like him.

It's true that New Zealand's rugby union team, the All Blacks, do a Maori war dance (haka) before every match, facing their opponents at close range, sometimes including a genuinely menacing throat-slitting move. It's also true that the Australian team, the Wallabies, did a half-hearted Aboriginal-derived response, but that they haven't done it for decades. Because this guy doesn't realise that he isn't quite as Proud Of Our Aussie Heritage as he might imagine.

It also makes this whole debate beside the point. Rugby fans are no more/less Australian than AFL fans, no more/less uncouth or passionate, and no more/less across issues of structural racism.

Goodes is not, as one cranky fan pointed out, the first Aboriginal AFL player; he's not the first prominent Aborigine who uses his public profile to help young people. What makes him different to those who came before, like Nicky Winmar or Graham "Polly" Farmer, is that prominent Aborigines these days can mix it in public debates. Prominent Aborigines like Goodes, Rachael Perkins, Larissa Behrendt, Noel Pearson, or Marcia Langton are central to public debates involving indigenous people unlike previous generations of leaders like Harold Blair, or Bennelong.

The idea that Goodes ought not express pride in his heritage, or that he's being aggressive in doing so, is rubbish. Ron Barassi has spoken of his Italian heritage, including the harassment his father suffered during World War II when Australia was at war with Italy. Dermott Brereton's hardscrabble upbringing is not unlike the disadvantage suffered by many Indigenous people. He has spoken of his Irish heritage and the threats he received as a result.

Did Brereton really never offer any support to the terrorist organisation IRA? Has Goodes ever supported terrorism, openly or otherwise? Brereton's criticism of Goodes is curious. He looks like an old stager who doesn't get it. Mind you, that puts him firmly in line with the gutless all-about-the-money AFL Commission.

When he was called an "ape" showed a deft touch in raising the issue, then defusing the anger that arose from it. He insisted the child be protected from the ravages of tabloid (broadcast, "professional") media, and kept the focus on structural, endemic racism. Accepting his Australian of the Year accolade last year he did much the same thing: raised harsh truths squarely, and then called on everyone to face them together.

I wish we had a Prime Minister who could do that.

The man who has not handled Goodes' comments at all well was racial discrimination offender Andrew Bolt:

People who loathe Bolt will show that image for the rest of his life, and probably beyond it. Bolt has to keep up his persona of the disappointed conservative. Even after his conviction he was "disappointed" and, like Goodes yesterday, took time away from his job. Bolt finds accusations of racism directed at him to be "chilling", as the young people say.

Appearing calm and measured is essential to keeping onside well-meaning conservatives who don't pay close attention to media controversies, but who want a respectable champion of their values in the media when they do dip into it.

If Bolt blows his cool he loses those people. The idea that he's a hate-filled, seething bigot will turn advertisers away, and NewsCorp will drop him. James Packer, a major shareholder of the TV network that broadcasts Bolt, has already shirtfronted him. If there is a "war" over "race hate" between Goodes and Bolt, then Bolt has already lost it.

Spittle-flecked partisans aside, pragmatic and experienced media professionals like Jo Hall expected this to blow over:

I agree with Carol Duncan and Paul Daley: we do need a discussion, one that doesn't end with recriminations and moving-on-to-the-next-story but to somewhere productive, the "brave and fine" conversation we've always been promised but could never quite manage by ourselves.

The AFL had only planned to have one Indigenous Round but has effectively been forced to have a second this past weekend - without Goodes present, and with the possibility that he might retire rather than continue as a lightning-rod for the country's worst instincts. The AFL Commission has not done the leading when it comes to this issue, it has been led. But this goes beyond one sport, which bears more responsibility for the nation than it can reasonably bear.

Again, I wish we had a Prime Minister capable of leading such a discussion. The press gallery promised us that Abbott was both sincere and capable when it came to Indigenous policy issues, and they acted all surprised when neither turned out to be true.

Abbott has gone to ground, which he usually does when the going gets tough. He could have leavened his clearly difficult experience with Bronwyn Bishop by stepping up with even some noble words on this issue - that would have been enough for the mugs in the press gallery. He's not going to talk about on-piste matters. He might not understand AFL or race relations, but he's in that job because he knows how to fool the broadcast media. If he absents himself from the media, the thinking goes, the broadcast media will run out of new angles and the story will die. All that's happened for him and his office is he's been left behind. The broadcast media promised us he was "Prime Ministerial", when he was never anything of the sort.

The broadcast media have now been abandoned at the very point where social media is running rings around them, and they need to borrow Authority from external sources. They're just there to be used and abused by this government, a realisation everyone has come to except them.

They still believe that an endemic issue will just churn through and Good Old Tony will come through for them once more. He'll play them, and they think they play him too, bless them. When they do start focusing on another issue, they might find less public engagement than traditional broadcasters are enjoying now. They become less adept at picking the right issue for their One Daily Story, and their Access Privileges count for less and less with a smaller, more engaged audience.

The worst thing journalists can be is not biased, or even shallow, but obtuse. On Indigenous issues generally, and on Goodes in particular, the media sure have been obtuse. This can't end well for traditional access-oriented broadcast journalism.


  1. Intriguingly Bolt is now attacking the hand which feeds him: News.

    He has gone on the attack in his blog about The Australian and Chris Mitchell.

    I think that is pretty remarkable and perhaps, a smidge unwise.

    1. Perhaps he's seeking martyrdom?

      Maybe he's already been tapped on the shoulder.

      Being a martyr would fit his self-image.

  2. I do enjoy reading your column.

  3. Once again Andrew you have produced an article that points out the futility of our political journalists and the reason for not reading or to turn the radio of or to change channel if politics is being commented on we have been let down by all media in this country and I now turn to your site so I can get a clear analysis
    Thank you

  4. I worry that The Age will soon run out of Bronwyn indignation, then it will be back to their usual "WE'RE IN A HOUSING BUBBLE" / "NO WE'RE NOT IN A HOUSING BUBBLE"

    Today they are running "Our worst government ever?" - wow, you think?

  5. I found Tony Wright's article bewildering and irritating.

    " Prime Minister Tony Abbott has all but gone missing."

    Not that bit, that is a straight observation.
    But this bit:

    "Opposition Leader Bill Shorten hasn't been vastly better, though he has named the booing as racist, declaring it was obvious Goodes was being targeted because of his Indigenous background. His advice to those he calls "idiots"? "Just shut up. Don't say anything. Keep your thoughts to yourself."

    Shorten, to his credit, has made 3 important points:
    1. the booing was racist
    2. obviously Goodes was targeted because of his Indigenous background
    3. and the 'idiots' should "Just shut up"

    Brief, specific, direct - well done Bill.

    Clearly vastly better than the other bloke.


  6. Chris Uhlmann has called social media users Twitter Bedwetters. Perceived as a step up from the Piano Playing Cats jibe, one presumes.
    During the Bronny Entitlement War I thought it resembled more a front full of Katyushas at Kursk.

  7. Mr Bolt is a highly discredited man here in Melbourne

    Very few people watch his show.

    His son works at the I.P.A as a research assistant

    He set up M.T.R as an alternative radio station and it failed miserably

    He's a greedy, narcisstic bully

    Jamie Packer is dating Mariah Carey whose father was black and a white irish-American mother

    I can understand his disgust at the racial elements of the Goodes saga

    Stan Grants eloquent response to all this has exposed something more significant outside of football

    Elite racism in our media

    Thanks Andrew

    1. Yup all that and more is A Bolt too a tee

    2. Melbourne is a highly educated and progressive city.

      We're really sick of right-wing populism

      It's ugly, shallow and nasty.

      Bolt et al are misfits.

  8. It bewilders me that so many press gallery journalists seem to be devoid of curiosity: a nose for news.

    That wily old Joh person from Kingaroy was decades before his time when he talked about 'feeding the chooks'.

    Sure there is plenty of commentary, some of it statements of the bleeding obvious, some of it incisive, but obvious questions remain unanswered a lot of the time.

    Why, for instance, did no reporter ask Abbott if he had a view on the likely replacement for B Bishop as Speaker?

    I am not aware of any journalist asking Abbott directly why the govt is claiming to have billions to spend on warships in South Australia when only last year the relevant minister said that those same yards could not build a canoe.

    1. Latika Bourke Tweeted a day or so ago that she'd noticed a decline in transcript flows from the PMO. She no doubt saw this as an insightful observation, no doubt extrapolating deep insights spinning off from it.

      All it served to show was why MSM 'journalism' is in such dire straits.

    2. @Paul Henry

      Perhaps Latika Bourke should change her programming and do what she is supposed to do. Namely use her sources to find out why this is the case!

      If Latika was an animal on the African plain she would be nothing more than a scavenger. Namely she feeds of the scraps others have left behind, and is grateful that her employers have allowed her to develop such a role in the press gallery for herself.

      It is hard to believe that Tingle at Latika's age was already a heavy hitter, back in the 90's.

  9. Further to my comments about the ship building project in SA, it astonishes me that some commentary blithely accepts that billions will be pumped into SA after the election.

    I would not feel so confident. Surely it is the role of the journalist to get out the winkle stick and ask a few sharp, pointed questions about the matter.

    Why do they continue to take Abbott at his word?

    1. There's nothing to winkle - like everything Abbott does, it's about getting him out of a hole. The voters of SA know this.

  10. Booing Goodes is not racist.

    Like so many of the political class, and the AFL commission, you are out of touch with the ordinary baracker.


    1. Ordinary Baracker6/8/15 3:17 pm

      Ordinary Baracker checking in. I survived Goodes' little dance, though in hindsight on not sure how. We'll see if I develop PTSD down the track.

      Mick, stop being a racist mung, ya mug. Have a crack, harden up and shake your sauce bottle. Stop perpetuating a dog-act.

      Booing someone might or might not be racist, but booing someone for racial reasons is racist.

      I find it suspicious that these people want to boo probably the most thoughtful and well spoken player on the field. Especially compared to Akermanis. I'm happy to say as a Footscray "Ordinary Baracker" we were happy to see the back of that bloke.

    2. Ordinary Baracker, good to hear from you. How can we be so sure that its racists doing the booing ? I think Goodes is not a bad bloke, very sensitive though, and yes, like you say, thoughtful and well spoken. These are not much valued on the footy field. Neither are dancing skills. Why bring all this stuff into a simple game of footy. I think he did it because he was seeking nomination for a safe seat in Parliament. No prizes for guessing which team he'd be on. I don't want that stuff contaminating my Saturday afternoon enjoyment. Boooooo !


    3. Yeah nah. As another "ordinary barracker", the sight of mouth-breathing knuckledraggers engaging in mass bullying of a man who's done nothing but speak out about racism (and ruffle the composure of hyper-sensitive white people who'd rather pretend racism is purely a matter of overt acts of hatred) makes me rather ill. The sole motive may not be racist, but there's absolutely no doubt that it is a significant factor motivating those who do this. I am proud to see that the leaders of my club are among those unequivocally condemning this boorish, asinine and obnoxious behaviour.

      Andrew is spot on about the total inadequacy of the MSM to grapple with many of the systemic issues that have given rise to this ugly saga. As for Abbott, his claim to be the "PM for Indigenous Affairs" or whatever it was is a pathetic joke - he might swan around the odd remote community every now and then mugging for the camera and using Indigenous people as props, but I really don't think he gives two shits about combating racism - he certainly supports thoroughly racist policies, definitely doesn't have the intellectual wherewithal to grapple with the issues, yet time and again, the press gallery acts surprised. Thanks again for addressing this.

    4. Bull. Goodes like any star player has got his share of fully explicable, non-racist boos relating to things he does on the field. This systematic howling down of the man has everything to do with a bunch of racists starting it, and a bunch of idiots being too willing to go along with it. The words of guys like Jones and Bolt in encouraging the boos, saying that GOODES is causing a racial divide and should apologise to that girl who called him an ape, kind of give away that the point of the boos is to go after the Aboriginal man who dared to speak up about racism. Anyone who's not a racist should not be joining in with the racist boos just for the sake of it. Seriously, guys who are done for hitting women (or worse) don't get howled at this systematically.

    5. '... mouth-breathing knuckledraggers ... boorish, asinine, and obnoxious ...'

      Rache, it'll save time if you just call us apes.


    6. Of course booing Adam Goodes isn't racist, it's just that he's an uppity coon who's forgotten his place. That's not racist at all. /sarcasm

    7. With you Rachel and Ordinary Baracker. Everyone knows the booing of Adam Goodes had nothing to do with his football, which would have been the only justification for booing a footballer on the field, and everything to do with his being a black man who doesn't "know his place." Mick admits as much when without a shred of evidence he ascribes political ambitions to Goodes and even claims to know which party he'd join. If after retirement from football Goodes ever does decide to join the political class he'd be an improvement on most of those currently in it but I hope he does something more important with his time and energy.
      Rais, WA.

    8. I'm happy with the words I chose, but if you'd like me to be more concise, "bully" will do me, Mick. It doesn't matter what your (general "you", I'm prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you're not an individual participant in this, even though you seem keen to justify others doing it) motivations for doing it yourself. I'm sure not every single person doing it has a consciously racist motive: there are people joining in because they think it's hilarious, or because everyone else is doing it. It doesn't change the fact that this behaviour is hurtful not just to Goodes, but to other Aboriginal people, and they perceive it as a racist act. We know this because they have said so. And if someone is coming out saying, "What you are doing is hurting and distressing me. Please stop", why on earth would you want to continue it? You'd have to be some sort of psychopath, wouldn't you? I mean seriously - what are they getting out of this? Does it make them feel empowered? Do these people get their jollies out of knowing they're upsetting someone? I don't get it. I really, really don't.

      This saga has brought up a lot of things for me because I was bullied at school mercilessly until about year 11. No doubt the kids responsible justified it on the basis that I was a "tool" and "brought it upon" myself because of my "actions". And I still didn't cop it as badly as the non-white kids, or the presumed non-heterosexual kids. I'm still dealing with the effects of it. A girl I went to primary school with contacted me about 15 years later because she was having a hard time dealing with the psychological effects of bullying and wanted to know how I was handling it. A couple of months later she took her own life because it all became too much. No doubt Andrew Bolt would tell her to harden up if she were still here.

      Well said, Rais: if Mick is right and Goodes wants to pursue a political career upon retirement, more power to him. I'm happy to see footballers speaking articulately and sensitively on important social issues instead of spouting cliches, schmoozing at corporate events and smiling for endless selfies at things like the Grand Prix. They have a vote, they have to live in the world the same as the rest of us.

    9. It's quite sad the woman in The Bolt case appeared on S.B.S Insight and told her side of the story

      She suffered post traumatic stress which lead to depression and her career being effected severly.

      He stalked and trolled her over an 18 month period aside from demeaning her in the newspaper.

      The man is a repulsive individual.

  11. Speaking of media and politics

    I'm going to miss John Stewart from The Daily Show

    He's leaving at an interesting time

    I'm having withdrawal symptoms already.....

    I'm not sure what I'll do now Andrew.

    Any advice?

  12. Jon Stewart was good fun and sometimes more than that. But just think for a moment: in all the time he was on the Daily Show was there ever an occasion when his commentary, sharp and valid as it was, ever changed anything? Shows like the Daily Show allow people to work out some of their frustration without actually challenging the status quo.
    Rais, WA.

    1. I disagree....his youth demographic became interested in politics...

      He made fun of politicians from all sides and exposed their strengths and weaknesses

      He made Americans think!

  13. Hartcher's latest excoriation of Abbott made my eyes roll. And spiral wildly when I read that Abbott had over-reached in Budget Mark 1 by springing harsh reforms on an 'unsuspecting public'.

    Count me out there boy-o. I could see Abbott coming a mile off and so did many, many others.

    I am afraid his prime ministership represents a monumental failure by the mainstream media who allowed him to mouth his platitudes, evasions and straight out lies without any challenge.

    1. People like you and I (and Andrew) could see a mile off that Abbott's Liberals intended to push their ideological agenda after the election, but that is not true of the general public. In large part because of the media urging them to trust the "changed" Abbott, in part because of how much Abbott emphasised trust and not breaking promises, people really didn't expect that from Abbott. Certainly not in his very first budget.

      Look, even I (as a person who does pay attention to politics, has disdain for the press gallery's narratives and who never trusted Abbott) assumed that Abbott would make a point of keeping his promises - to an ostentatious degree, even- for his first term, or at least for the first year.

      It's wrong to say his overreach was springing "harsh reforms". Only the far right thinks Abbott's policies were reforms. The truth is he overreached by springing far-right policies aimed at wrecking the egalitarian society the majority of Australians still hold dear, without first gaining trust. He thought people trusted him because they voted for him, and that wasn't true. People voted out Rudd, not for Abbott.

    2. You thought Abbott would make a point of keeping his promises? Abbott was always a weasel - even in opposition. As Andrew has pointed out previously - he should have been dead in the water the moment he confirmed that you should not trust a single word he says, only what is written down. But this little cracker was quickly relegated to something only those left wing axe grinders bring up. During the campaign Coalition members who dared to appear in front of non-partisan media faced questions about policy detail, which they effectively palmed off with vague answers about it all being in the plan - a coloured brochure with no detail, just more assurances.

      Media resorted to reporting on how well the campaign was being managed, with Peta Credlin bustling everyone onto flights with appearances timed, questions vetted, and access harshly cut off for anyone going off script.

      It was a farce and the population were beaten into submission when faced with the looming specter of another ALP term with no acceptable leadership, or assurances that the Coalition would achieve the impossible (their promises were wildly contradictory) without any detail on how this would be done, despite that clearly being desired and relevant information.
      And of course, no information on independents/minor parties, because they don't exist. Choose A or B.

      Abbott had no reason to earn the people's trust and no intention to. He was happy to cry mandate and do exactly what his party had planned but carefully ensured nobody was told they intended to do.

  14. The broadcast media promised us he was "Prime Ministerial", when he was never anything of the sort.

    "Australia needs Tony."