GERARD HENDERSON’S MEDIA WATCH DOG
ISSUE – NO. 563
15 October 2021
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BONGE FIRES OFF ANGRY TWEET AT KATE ROFFEY’S CONCERN FOR LESS WELL-OFF AUSTRALIANS
It was Post Dinner Drinks Time last night when this tweet landed on the computer of Jackie’s (male) co-owner. It was from Media Watch Dog fave Paul Bongiorno – who had this to say:
It so happened that the “Demon Lady” was none other than the Melbourne business figure Kate Roffey who happens to be president of the Melbourne Football Club (the Demons). For the record, Bonge lives in the public service town Canberra from where he writes about politics for The [Boring] Saturday Paper. As far as MWD is aware, Comrade Bongiorno has never worked in business, and he may be unaware of Ms Roffey’s business background.
It so happened that your man Bongiorno was mightily upset at what Ms Roffey said on Q&A about the possible impact of an Australian commitment to zero carbon emissions on everyday Australians. You know, the kind of Australians that Bonge is unlikely to come across in leafy Canberra.
This is what Kate Roffey said that so upset the man from The Saturday Paper:
Kate Roffey: … on behalf of everyone who consumes out there, could we please actually see some strategy on where our next forms of reliable, renewable and most importantly affordable energy is actually going to come from? Because I think there’s a lot of talk about who did the wrong thing, and which policy we should have but there isn’t enough talk about – we’re closing down our coal powered plants, that’s fine, but what are we actually replacing them with?
So, that people who are in a checkout queue, with their four children, and toting up the total of their groceries because they have to leave a six pack of sausages or a loaf of bread in their trolley because they can’t afford it – sorry but saying, you know, “pop solar on your roof of your house” is just not an option for them. So, I want to see more of this talk about, realistically, how are we going to transition into this space to support everyone who deserves to have heating in their house in Australia to have, kind of, access to reliable and affordable renewable forms of energy.
A reasonable point, don’t you think? Kate Roffey acknowledged that she is well off. But she is concerned about the less well-off and their access to cheap reliable power to light and warm/cool their homes. As she put it:
Kate Roffey: I want to see how my household is going to operate in the middle of winter, in a way that I can afford to have it operate. And, and that’s what we’re not getting as voters out there. We’re not getting the information that we need about how we’re going to get it.
Ms Roffey took part in a reasoned discussion about precisely how Australia will move to zero net emissions – while keeping the cost of energy affordable for those with lesser means than, say, Comrade Bongiorno.
And yet Paul Bongiorno chose to mock her in a night tweet as a “Demon Lady” which may have been clever but was downright ignorant.
VERY LITTLE LEAK ON INSIDERS’ “TALKING PICTURES”
The Australian’s Johannes Leak is one of the finest cartoonists in the country. As was his father Bill Leak (1956-2017).
Yet as Media Watch Dog has documented, Johannes Leak’s cartoons rarely get discussed on the ABC TV Insiders “Talking Pictures” segment which is presented by The Guardian’s photographic editor Michael Bowers. According to MWD’s count, there have been only two references to Johannes Leak’s work on Insiders this year – 28 March and 27 June. This suggests that your man Leak is too provocative and too conservative for Insiders. In other words, Comrade Bowers and most of his guests regard Leak as not sufficiently left-wing for his work to be shown on the ABC at Hangover Time on a Sunday morning.
Could it be that the ABC has a similar attitude to Johannes Leak as to the work of the late Bill Leak? When he was a leftist and John Howard-hater – Bill Leak was much beloved by many members of the ABC Soviet. But when he became a conservative – he was all but ignored. Except when he was criticised.
Perhaps this explains the fact that Fred Pawle’s recently released book Laughing: The Biography of Bill Leak contains an introduction by Barry Humphries which concluded: “In this land where we emulate the unexceptional, he [Bill Leak] achieved that rare thing: he helped us to laugh and think at the same time.”
As Chris Mitchell pointed out in his Australian column on Monday, Bill Leak had some mates at the ABC. Including Leigh Sales, Phillip Adams, Richard Fidler and Libbi Gorr. Adams and Fidler present programs on ABC Radio which discuss books with authors – and on occasion authors appear on 7.30 which Sales presents. Last night, for example, when she interviewed Billy Connolly.
Yet according to MWD’s Book-Review-Watch department, Fred Pawle has not appeared on any ABC outlets (television, radio or online) to talk about his Leak biography. Maybe this will occur in the future. MWD will keep you posted.
Could it be that, in death, Bill Leak has been “cancelled” by the powers-that-be at the taxpayer funded public broadcaster? Here’s hoping the answer is in the negative. But if this is the case – the question is, Can You Bear It?
FIVE MINUTES WITH FITZ – ALMOST AN ETERNITY
Once upon a time there was a 60-something old man who wore a red rag on his head and wrote a weekly column for the Sun-Herald which occupied the entire back page of the Nine newspaper each Sunday. Remember? It was Peter FitzSimons – aka The Red Bandannaed One – and the column was titled “Fitz on Sunday”.
Whatever happened to him? Media Watch Dog hears avid readers cry. Well there have been two significant developments in the Life of Fitz. After a decade of wear, Fitz removed his Red Bandanna. Apparently it needed a dry clean – but was lost at the drycleaner. Or something like that. Then the powers-that-be at Nine realised that it was about time that sport was returned to the back pages of the Sun-Herald – its natural place.
And so it came to pass that Fitz’s column – along with the “Joke of the Week” and “Tweet of the Week” segments – was re-branded “5 minutes with Fitz” and moved towards the middle of the newspaper. The new column features the one-time Red Bandannaed One interviewing someone or other about something or other.
Now, five minutes with Fitz can be an awfully long time. Since his move, Fitz has interviewed, among others, a chef, a multi-millionaire climate activist (Simon Holmes à Court), and the 2021 Australian of the Year (Grace Tame). The discussions are usually pretty boring, but they do allow Fitz the opportunity to reveal his ignorance. For example, in his interview with Ms Tame – where both interviewer and interviewee spent most of their time bagging Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Coalition government – Comrade Fitz said that the Australian of the Year award is “the biggest gong the government hands out”. Wrong. The Commonwealth government of the day does not decide who wins this award. This is decided by the National Australia Day Council. On another occasion, Fitz interviewed Jason Scanes – a critic of Defence Minister Peter Dutton – without mentioning that Captain Scanes has campaigned against the Liberal-National Party in Queensland. By the way, he is now Electorate Officer at the Office of Senator Anthony Chisholm, Labor Senator for Queensland.
Last Sunday, Fitz interviewed eco-catastrophist Tim Flannery. Early on, he referred to your man Flannery as a “prophet”. There followed this question and answer:
Fitz: Even now, however, your critics bring up some of your predictions that were wrong, or at least not yet true, like predicting Perth “will be the 21st century’s first ghost metropolis”. Have you been scarified by that constant bitter criticism?
TF: Not in the least. It goes with the territory I am in. They always leave off the last half of that quote, which was that they’d be the first ghost metropolis unless they made changes. Well, they made changes….
What a load of absolute tosh. As documented in MWD Issue 384, Flannery wrote an article in The Scientist on 16 June 2007 that Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane, in addition to Perth, were in danger of running out of water. On 11 February 2007 on ABC TV, Flannery falsely predicted that “even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and our river systems”. In May 2004 he predicted that Perth would become a “ghost metropolis”.
Tim Flannery’s denial was followed by Fitz’s joke of the week. Can You Bear It?
JON FAINE’S LOCKDOWN PROPHECY
While on the matter of prophets, lotsa thanks to the avid reader who drew MWD’s attention to Jon Faine’s column in The Age on 3 October 2021. MWD used to refer to The Age as “The Guardian on the Yarra”, until the real Guardian turned up in Australia per courtesy of Malcolm Turnbull (see MWD passim ad nauseam).
Comrade Faine’s column was titled “I can’t do this anymore?: The lockdown lament that must be addressed”. This was evidence of the fact that – on their way to the longest COVID-19 lockdown in the world – Victorians were sick of lockdowns – which were sometimes imposed for no apparent reason. Alas, your man Faine ran out of puff towards the end of the column and moved to discuss Federal politics.
Picking up his crystal ball, Comrade Faine referred to “a looming Morrison election loss”. And he wondered whether, after defeat in the forthcoming election, the leadership of “a diminished Liberal opposition” will “go to Melbourne [Josh Frydenberg] or Brisbane [Peter Dutton]”.
Well, the Prophet Faine may be right. Or he may be wrong. As MWD is wont to repeat – it’s unwise to make predictions, especially about the future. In any event, it is not clear what the leadership of the Liberal Party at the Federal level has to do with Victorians being locked down by the Andrews Labor government in Victoria. It would seem that Comrade Faine ran out of ideas about the impact of the lockdowns and threw the switch to prophecy. Can You Bear It?
MICHAEL ROWLAND, ONE OF TWO WHITE NEWS BREAKFAST PRESENTERS, CALLS FOR GREATER ETHNIC DIVERSITY
Did anyone catch the moving moment during the Newspapers segment on ABC TV’s News Breakfast yesterday when commentator Jieh-Yung Lo reflected on the lack of diversity in Australian politics? Co-presenter Michael Rowland concurred – as the transcript demonstrates:
Michael Rowland: Yeah, I think you raise very interesting points. And listen, it applies to both sides. Party apparatchiks, become political staffers, become MPs. It’s, it’s a bit of a roundabout. And it’s very hard to create these openings, isn’t it Jieh? For, the people with – we’re talking diversity in terms of diverse backgrounds, ethnicity, and also diverse life experiences. Speaking about these politicos who basically start at Young Labor and Young Liberal and go all the way through it.
After Michael Rowland agreed with Jieh-Yung Lo – he returned the favour by declaring that Comrade Rowland was “absolutely right”. Yet it seems that your man Rowland lacks a degree of self-awareness. He and fellow presenter Lisa Millar are white. As are most of ABC TV’s presenters on major outlets – e.g. ABC News, 7.30, Four Corners, Insiders, and the like.
What’s more, most prominent journalists have similar life experiences and most live in inner-city areas. And then there is the fact that the ABC is a Conservative Free Zone without a conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of the ABC’s prominent television, radio or online outlets. And Michael Rowland lectures Australia’s political parties on the need for diversity. Can You Bear It?
Media Watch Dog fave William (Bill) Thompson established the website “Outside Insiders” – in which he would attempt (sometimes unsuccessfully) to interview politicians and commentators entering and exiting the ABC Melbourne Southbank studio where Insiders is filmed. Mr Thompson, who describes himself as the ABC’s Southbank Correspondent, has been a bit short of talent in 2020 and 2021 – due to the pandemic, since much of the Insiders interviews/panel discussions are done online. So, for a time at least, MWD has borrowed Bill Thompson’s (clever) title – and presents a print version of “Outside Insiders”.
DAVID (INTERRUPTUS) SPEERS INTERRUPTS PAUL FLETCHER 23 TIMES
Every Friday at Gin & Tonic time, avid Media Watch Dog readers wait in anticipation to learn how ABC TV Insiders presenter David Speers went at Hangover Time the previous Sunday. Which is code for – how many times did David (“Interruptus”) Speers interrupt his guest?
Well, last Sunday it was time for a Coalition interview – to wit, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. And Speersy interrupted Minister Fletcher on no fewer than 23 occasions – as determined by MWD’s interruption-checker. This compares with 8 interruptions of Labor frontbencher Ed Husic (on 3 October 2021) and 4 interruptions of Greens leader Adam Bandt (on 13 June 2021). The latter led The Australian columnist Chis Mitchell to reflect on just how soft the Speers-Bandt interview was (see MWD Issue 549).
As MWD readers are only too well aware, Speersy specialises in interrupting Liberal Party and Nationals ministers. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce copped 19 interruptions (26 September 2021) while the score was 23 for Liberal Party Senator Simon Birmingham (19 September 2021) and a whopping 26 interruptions for Prime Minister Scott Morrison (22 August 2021).
Which raises the question. How does a politician get an interruption-lite interview with David (“Call me Speersy”) Speers? Answer – join the Greens or, perhaps, the Labor Party.
As avid readers are aware, the late Nancy (2004-2017) did not die. She merely “passed” on to the Other Side. Hence MWD has been able to keep in touch and seek her advice about behaviour, courtesy and all that – with the help of the American psychic John Edward of Crossing Over fame. Your man Edward has demonstrated a first-class ability to communicate with the dead, albeit not so much with the living. And so, Nancy’s “Courtesy Classes” continue – albeit from the “Other Side” in a post-mortem kind of way – with a little help from Jackie (Dip. Wellness, The Gunnedah Institute).
THE GUARDIAN’S KATHARINE MURPHY DIRECTS MOCKING LAUGHTER AT ANGUS TAYLOR’S (ALLEGED) “NONSENSE”
While on the topic of David (“Oh yes, I’m the Great Interrupter”) Speers – did anyone notice that last Sunday he even interrupted Nine’s David Crowe after a mere 31 words on the Insiders (virtual) couch? Instead Speersy threw the discussion to fellow panellist Katharine Murphy. As readers know, Comrade Murphy is The Guardian Australia’s political editor.
Now, Murpharoo (as Malcolm Turnbull likes to call her) is something of an MWD fave. So much so that Jackie’s (male) co-owner likes nothing better than when Murph gets an Insiders gig. For starters, it consummates once again the ABC/Guardian Axis. For example, half the panellists/commentators/presenters on Insiders last week were from the ABC Soviet or The Guardian Soviet. And the ABC/Guardian Axis invariably provides good copy for MWD.
But MWD digresses, again. Let’s go to the transcript of last Sunday’s Insiders where Speersy’s rude interruption of Comrade Crowe was followed by Murph’s decision to engage in the oh-so-rude behaviour of engaging in mocking laughter of someone with whom you disagree. The transcript commences as the Insiders team bag Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s comment that the Business Council of Australia’s proposal for net zero Australian emissions by 2050 involves the implementation of a carbon tax.
David Crowe: The [Morrison Government’s] politics could have been played a bit differently. He [Angus Taylor] could have said “Look, I welcome this [BCA] report because it shows that we are on track, and we can do more.”. Um, instead he picked a fight over the –
David Speers: [interjecting] Well, not only that. But, Katharine, he’s [Angus Taylor] referred to this in the paper today, and in a statement he’s issued, as “like a carbon tax”. And I said to Paul Fletcher there, this is an existing mechanism.
Katharine Murphy: Yes, it’s, it’s a mechanism that was legislated by the government. Yes.
David Speers: So, is he, is he [laughing] acknowledging? We’ve got a sort of –
David Crowe: [interjecting] It’s their policy.
David Speers: – carbon tax.
Katharine Murphy: [laughing] I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I should – I, I should chill out. I’m getting a bit, I’m getting a bit intense. But, I mean, seriously, like, what nonsense [laughing]. What nonsense. “This is a carbon tax.” – I mean, what nonsense.
So there you have it. David Speers engaged in mocking laughter of Minister Taylor. And Murph hit the artificial laugh button twice. And then The Guardian’s political editor said “I’m sorry” on three occasions in a 40-word statement. In fact, Murph was not sorry at all. Moreover, Murph acknowledged that she was getting “a bit intense” and “should chill out”.
Quite so. There is a time on Insiders these days when criticising a Coalition minister merges into angry abuse. At least Murph recognised her need to calm down somewhat. And she would be well advised that merely saying that the Energy Minister speaks “nonsense” is somewhat short of a considered analysis.
Now MWD has a solution. Katharine Murphy should enrol in Nancy’s Courtesy Classes – now under the management of Jackie (Dip. Wellness, The Gunnedah Institute) and learn that it is discourteous to dismiss people – even conservatives – by the weapon of mocking laughter. And she should ask the Insiders’ presenter to join her on this occasion. After all, Nancy’s Courtesy Classes can cure the conditions of both fake laughter and interruptions. And if Murph can stay on for a little bit extra – she may learn how to stop saying “I’m sorry” – when she is not sorry at all. That’s also impolite.
Comrade Murphy: Off to Nancy’s Courtesy Classes for you.
WHO’S PARTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR ASTRAZENECA HESITANCY? – STEP FORWARD NORMAN SWAN (AMONG OTHERS)
Early this morning RN Breakfast host Fran Kelly interviewed Dr Chris Moy, Vice President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA). The primary focus was ICU capacity in Australia’s hospitals but towards the end of the interview the following exchange took place:
Fran Kelly: Chris Moy, we’ve heard the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners talking about some GPs having to actually throw out hundreds of expired vaccine doses. Is that your experience with your members as well, what are you hearing?
Chris Moy: Look unfortunately there has been to some degree and that’s got to do particularly with the AstraZeneca vaccine – but also a little bit of Pfizer, which we’ve heard from Queensland. So, there is some concern about that and it’s a sad bit that that’s occurred. I think that there’s been a completely disproportionate fear of AstraZeneca, which may actually turn out to be as good, if not a slightly better vaccine than some of the others in the longer term.
Dr Moy and Fran Kelly then returned to the subject of ICU capacity without any discussion of the origins of the “completely disproportionate fear of AstraZeneca”. If Comrade Kelly has any interest in uncovering how a segment of the Australian population developed irrational vaccine preferences, she would probably be well-served by starting with the coverage of the AstraZeneca vaccine provided by the ABC’s COVID guru Dr Norman Swan.
MWD has previously covered Norman (“Trust me, I’m Australia’s most trusted doctor”) Swan’s tortured history with the AstraZeneca vaccine. Here is a summary:
- On 30 December 2020 your man Swan (who has not practised medicine for four decades) tweeted that Australia may be “condemned to a second rate vaccine” with AZ.
- In March and April 2021 Dr Swan devoted considerable airtime to discussing the rare clotting complication associated with AZ.
- On 5 May Dr Swan received the AZ vaccine on ABC News Breakfast.
- In a 23 May profile in The Sydney Morning Herald Swan admitted that he “probably did cause some vaccine hesitancy”.
- In June, after the death of a NSW woman who had received the AZ vaccine, Dr Swan worried that the woman may have felt it was safe to receive the vaccine because she had seen him receiving it on TV. He also speculated that were we not in a pandemic the AZ vaccine would have been taken off the market.
- On 11 July, with COVID-19 case numbers increasing in Sydney, Dr Swan brought forward his second dose of AZ.
- In August, as new evidence emerged showing that the effectiveness of Pfizer decreases more rapidly than that of AZ, Dr Swan became a vocal advocate for the AZ vaccine.
- In September Dr Swan blamed “boomer entitlement” for AZ hesitancy among some older Australians. In other words, blame the boomers.
Norman Swan was certainly not the only cause of the AstraZeneca panic which occurred in some segments of the Australian community. But throughout the pandemic he has been promoted by the ABC as a health authority, leading many Australians to place a great deal of trust in his views.
And he played a role in the first half of 2021 in leading to a situation where, in Dr Moy’s words, there was a completely disproportionate fear of AstraZeneca. This, in turn, had the unintended consequence of bringing about the current situation where expired doses of AstraZeneca have been thrown out.
THIS WEEK STARRING MARK HUMPHRIES AS MARK HUMPHRIES
Did anyone catch the latest offering from (alleged) comedian Mark Humphries (and co-writer) Evan Williams on 7.30 last night? As Leigh Sales always has to remind us prior to the segment, Humphries is a satirist. MWD may be projecting, but we believe we detected a bit of a grimace from Leigh Sales either side of the sketch. Almost as if she was appearing in a hostage video.
A predictable sketch from your man Humphries (and co-writer Evan Williams), once again mocking the Morrison government. This time on the Prime Minister’s recent comments regarding social media. One can assume from the content and backdrop that Humphries is playing Morrison – but for someone who bags out the same Coalition handful of politicians every sketch – Humphries can’t manage an impression of any of them. He rolls out the same “smug politician voice” for everyone. (This happens to be very similar to his regular voice).
In typical Humphries style he makes a joke, then explains the joke. Perhaps he thinks they are just too sophisticated for the audience to understand. See the transcript below for an example. (If you want to see what Humphries has to say but don’t want to hear his voice, 7.30 has published a transcript).
Mark Humphries: [As PM Morrison] You’ve got people on there making defamatory comments with impunity. Imagine if we had a system in parliament where politicians could get up and say whatever they wanted with impunity.
Okay, it turns out that we do have that system, but parliamentary privilege is different…
The gist of Mark Humphries’ sketch (as far as we can tell) is ridiculing the concern some have about the negative impact of social media. This is somewhat of a contrast to Leigh Sales’ recent article published by the ABC on the intense harassment and bullying that Sales and other journalists are subjected to on Twitter, where she made comments such as:
“…The bullying and harassment now comes, not in an occasional phone call from a real person, but at a furious pace on social media from politicians’ acolytes, lackeys, fans and proxies, mostly — but not always — operating anonymously. It is non-stop, personal, often vile, frequently unhinged and regularly based on fabrications…”
“…When I look at the filth dished up about Stan Grant, one of the smartest, most decent men I know, it is clearly a form of racial vilification. The publication of such words extends beyond morality to legality.”
Perhaps this is why Leigh Sales looked a little pained before and after Humphries’ little sketch last night. Or maybe because the jarring transition from her interview with comedian Billy Connolly to satirist Mark Humphries was hard to bear. Who knows?
By the way, MWD recently decided to purchase a copy of On Politics – the recent very short book by Mark Humphries (and co-writer Evan Williams). MWD is only a few pages in but have already spotted two references to Tony Abbott eating an onion, which does not bode well for the rest of the pamphlet. The remaining few words should be able to be read during Gin & Tonic time.
JOHN LYONS’ DATELINE JERUSALEM SAYS MORE ABOUT THE ABC THAN IT DOES ABOUT ISRAEL
The Australian journalist John Lyons is one of the ABC’s most senior executives. In terms of importance, he probably comes in as number three – behind David Anderson (managing director and editor-in-chief) and Gaven Morris (director news and current affairs, who has announced that he will step down from the position in December). Yet Lyons’ role as the ABC’s head of investigative journalism was little known. Until Monash University Publishing released his book Dateline Jerusalem: Journalism’s Toughest Assignment earlier this month.
In recent months, there has been considerable criticism about the errors of commission and omission in various ABC programs. Criticism has been directed at Messrs Anderson and Morris but not at Mr Lyons. Yet when Lyons took over his position in 2017 he was described by the ABC as having oversight over 7.30, Australian Story, Q&A, Insiders, Foreign Correspondent, AM, PM, The World Today as well as future investigative programs. In short, John Lyons is a big player at the ABC. That’s partly the reason why Dateline Jerusalem has received considerable publicity on the ABC and in Nine newspapers.
Dateline Jerusalem is not really a book and it’s not really about reporting on Israel, or even Jerusalem. Rather it’s essentially a hit job on the Melbourne-based Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), its national chairman Mark Leibler and its executive director Dr Colin Rubenstein. In spite of the fact that Dateline Jerusalem is a book by an Australian author about two prominent Australians – Lyons did not interview either Leibler or Rubenstein to hear their response to his case for the Israel lobby prosecution.
John Lyons’ current approach to journalism – as exhibited in Dateline Jerusalem – gives a good idea of what passes for editorial standards in the contemporary ABC. Here’s how it commenced:
As someone who’d tried to avoid running most of my life, I was surprised to find myself, at the age of 52, pounding along the old railway track in Jerusalem, sweating under the Middle Eastern sun but determined to be ready for the prize fight. Over four months, I’d become the fittest I’d been since I was eighteen. I needed to be: I was about to face the full fury of Australia’s pro-Israel lobby. I was busy working on a story — Stone Cold Justice — as a guest reporter for Four Corners. I knew the hardline supporters in Australia of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories well enough to understand that this story would unleash a propaganda fatwa against me.
How about that? In 2014, at the age of 52, Lyons “was surprised to find” himself running along an old railway track in Jerusalem. Presumably he was there because he had decided to go for a run, had put on his running gear and so on. Even so, your man Lyons was so surprised to do what he had done – and felt the need to write it. Quelle Surprise!
It seems that Lyons had to be physically fit to take on the likes of Leibler and Rubenstein in the anticipation that they would criticise the program he was doing as a guest reporter for an ABC Four Corners titled “Stone Cold Justice”. But it is not clear why such a task required him to be pounding on the streets of Jerusalem in order to send off a reply to a few emails. But there you go. At the time, Lyons was in the midst of a six-year posting in Jerusalem – reporting on the Middle East for The Australian.
Lyons’ first paragraph does not go anywhere – or tell us anything about the life of a journalist in the Middle East. But it does tell us quite a lot about Lyons. Like so many journalists, Lyons likes to criticise others but does not like to be criticised.
The author, journalist and critic Margaret Simons, who is no conservative, put the phenomenon well in an article in Nine Newspapers published on 15 September 2021. Simons commenced her article by criticising a part of an article written by ABC TV 7.30 presenter Leigh Sales concerning the bullying of journalists on social media – mostly by the left. Simons said that she agreed with most of what Sales wrote. The exception turned on the capacity of journalists to take criticism. Wrote Simons:
Sales spends a lot of her opening paragraphs emphasising that journalists are not thin-skinned. It’s true that we learn very early to be robust in dealing with furious reactions in private phone calls and emails from the subjects of our journalism. But as those of us who report on media know, that is not the whole story. Journalists ARE thin-skinned, sometimes ridiculously so, when they are criticised in public. Too often they react like stung cats, lashing out and defensive.
Let’s trace Lyons’ sensitivity to criticism – which leads to slack editorial standards in Dateline Jerusalem.
▪ Page 1. Lyons knows that after his Four Corners program concerning the treatment of children in the West Bank there will be a “propaganda fatwa” against him. Yes, a fatwa. And he assumes any criticism will be unfounded before he finds out what it is.
▪ Page 2. Lyons says that after he did a report about Israel in The Australian “a prominent member of the Melbourne Jewish community” wrote to him suggesting that he “was Goebbels”. The alleged writer is not named, and no evidence is provided to support the claim.
▪ Page 5. Lyons writes that, when editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, he was dismayed that the likes of the Liberal Party’s John Howard and the Labor Party’s Paul Keating criticised the paper. Really.
▪ Page 6. That criticism by the prime ministers was bad enough. But nothing matches the fury of the right-wing supporters of Israel – the “pro-Israel lobby”. It includes the Israeli Embassy in Canberra.
▪ Page 7. Journalists who “jump on board” the Israel lobby, get “free flights to Israel”, plus free accommodation, plus access to “the best vintages from the Golan Heights”. This leads to Australian journalists self-censoring the coverage of Israel. No evidence is supplied to support this assertion – and no names are named. The implication is that all Australian editors and producers are either compromised or weak – except for your man Lyons.
▪ Page 13. Lyons commences an account of “what most Australians would not know” about Israel. Which overlooks the fact that most Australians would not know much about Ireland, India or Indonesia, without self-censorship.
▪ Page 18. Lyons says he saw “unadulterated power in February 2017” when (then) Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Australia. Lyons claimed that AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein effectively instructed newspapers what they could not report about what the Israeli prime minister had said at a meeting with journalists and columnists. What Lyons did not say is that the function was an off-the-record briefing as laid down by the Israeli Embassy. This is a quite normal practice over which Rubenstein had no control. Gerard Henderson attended the briefing and was advised in advance that this was an off-the-record occasion.
▪ Page 22. Lyons maintains that there are only three people who can tell the editors of The Australian what “they can or can’t use”. He names Rupert Murdoch, Lachlan Murdoch and Colin Rubenstein. Lyons reckons that Rubenstein has such “power”. Media Watch Dog reckons that Lyons is into fantasy. Sure Rubenstein has influence. But if he had power over The Australian’s editor, Lyons would never have been sent by the paper to Jerusalem for six years.
▪ Page 25. Lyons ‘fesses up that, when editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, he took an AIJAC funded trip to Israel. He expresses “regret” for having done so – but overlooks the fact that the trip had no influence on how he covered Israel as a journalist. So what’s the problem with such trips? – unless it is assumed that Lyons’ morality is greater than that of his fellow journalists who have accepted trips to Israel.
▪ Page 26. Lyons’ “woeful tidings” continue as the author whinges about fellow journalists who have let him down and quotes from various mainly anonymous members of the Jewish community in Australia – in support of his position.
And so it continues until Page 83 – with Lyons emerging as a pure-as-the-driven-snow journalist who fights for truth and justice only to be thwarted by the Israeli Embassy, the Israel Lobby, AJIAC and so on. At Page 82 of an 84-page booklet, Lyons writes:
I spoke to scores of senior journalists and editors for this book, and over and over I was told words to the effect: “No editor wants to be accused of being anti-Semitic.”
Once again the author does not name any names – so there is no way of checking the source of his comments. Lyons’ conspiracy theory overlooks the fact that there is much criticism of Israel in the Australian media – particularly at the taxpayer funded public broadcaster and at the Nine Newspapers (the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age) along with various commercial TV outlets plus SBS.
As was pointed out earlier, John Lyons did not interview either Mark Leibler or Colin Rubenstein. Moreover, as one-time Age journalist Michael Gawenda pointed out in an article in Nine Newspapers on 5 October 2021, Lyons did not interview him for Dateline Jerusalem. This despite the fact that Gawenda is the most important editor in Australian history who happens to be a member of the Jewish community.
John Lyons’ Dateline Jerusalem gives an insight into what passes for professional journalism at the contemporary ABC – exaggerations, unchecked errors, anonymous sources, gross exaggerations and the failure to get both sides of the story.
It is interesting that a book written by one of the ABC’s most senior managers has been severely criticised by such senior former editors as Michael Gawenda and Peter Fray – neither of whom are conservatives.
Writing in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, Gawenda said that it is a substantial exaggeration to describe reporting on Israel from Jerusalem as the “toughest assignment”. He accuses Lyons of “vague generalisations” and engaging in smears against unnamed editors and journalists. Gawenda described Dateline Jerusalem as “a strange booklet, animated by a deep hostility for mostly unnamed people who make up the lobby”.
Writing in Crikey on 7 October, Peter Fray, a former editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, referred to Lyons’ “cool rage”. He comments “Much of Lyons’ essay relies on anecdotes…a few more facts wouldn’t have gone astray”. Fray also pointed out that the author “largely ignored the scores of hard-nosed reporting done from and about Israel by the likes of Paul McGeough (SMH/The Age), Sophie McNeill (ABC) and Lyons himself.
Peter Fray describes Dateline Jerusalem as a work “essentially about a bunch of people who got up Lyons’ nose big time…”.
It says much for what passes for editorial standards at the ABC these days that Dateline Jerusalem could be so heavily critiqued by the likes of Gawenda and Fray – neither of whom are conservatives nor known ABC critics.
[Note: Gerard Henderson is a friend of Mark Leibler and Colin Rubenstein. He has a long-time professional relationship with John Lyons – who, for example, invited Henderson for coffee before he took up his current position at the ABC. – MWD Editor.]
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Until next time.
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