Sticks and stones may break my bones…

Brilliant cartoon in today’s Sydney Morning Herald by Cathy Wilcox.

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Are there white supremacy sympathisers working at the Courier Mail?

I am wary of adding to the commentary about the Christchurch shooting.

But a crucial question remains unasked: how may people working at Australia’s leading publications are sympathetic to white supremacist doctrine?

It’s important because the front page of News Ltd’s Courier Mail on Saturday 16 March – the day after the shooting – adopts a presentation and framing in its reporting that the shooter himself could only have dreamed of as he planned his attack.

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First, the design. In his portrait he is depicted as stern, tough and determined. That’s not surprising, because it’s sourced from his own social media account: he would have posted it to make himself look good. The top left image is again his: it’s a screen shot from the Facebook Live stream of the attack that he broadcast as he entered the Christchurch mosque. The decision to use these images and the qualities they embody plays into the shooter’s hands – as opposed to, say, not showing his image or the footage of the live stream at all, which is what the New Zealand authorities urged.

The headline and splash keep the theme going. He is not described as a terrorist, or a criminal, or a murderer. He is instead a ‘working class’ guy, a ‘kid who grew up in Grafton’. This humanises him and suggests that rather than being entirely culpable, something must have happened to make this ordinary man snap and commit this act of violence. It’s also exactly how he described himself in his video, as quoted in the text below the headline: as coming from an ‘ordinary, working class family’.

That article extract at the bottom of the page reinforces his own view of what made him snap. The massacre is described – by the Courier Mail’s journalist this time – as ‘orchestrated revenge attacks against immigrants’. The phrase ‘revenge attacks’ implies that immigrants in New Zealand have done something that may be seen as worthy of revenge. In other words, the shooter was reacting to external provocation as opposed to committing an unjustified terrorist attack. I’m not suggesting that the Courier Mail journalist thinks this is the case. But the poor choice of phrasing again plays into the shooter’s hands.

Finally, the phrase ‘killer white supremacist’. What at first glance sounds like a condemnation reads instead as a compliment to the shooter, at least in the eyes of him and his far-right followers. He is not described as a coward or a loser. He is a ‘white supremacist’, a tag he has gladly embraces. And he is a ‘killer’: a praiseworthy thing in a movement that glories in violence.

It cannot be stated strongly enough that the above qualities emphasised by the Courier Mail’s front page are exactly those the far right tries to claim as its own in their image-making efforts.

They see themselves as the last ‘real men’, as opposed to the ‘feminised’ leftist ‘cucks’ they hate. They are honest, salt of the earth types struggling against the cosmopolitan elites who they blame for the immigration they see as corroding white society. They depict themselves as warriors in a clash of civilisations, pushed to breaking point – and violence – by a ‘quiet invasion’ that is marginalising them.

There are only two explanations for this, both unpalatable. Either the Courier Mail’s staff are so ignorant of this context that they have published a front page that unintentionally plays into the shooter’s hands, or those responsible for that front page knew what they were doing.

I prefer to believe it was done out of ignorance.

But the Courier Mail needs to examine how a front page that would have had many layers of sign off and oversight before it hit the presses could end up reinforcing so many far right tropes in its coverage of one of the worst white supremacist shootings in history.

 

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Tony Abbott is the 21st century Neville Chamberlain

You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war.

– Winston Churchill to Neville Chamberlain, after the Munich conference, September 1938

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The reality of the climate crisis can no longer be avoided.

Whether it’s Australia’s record-breaking 2018/19 summer heat wave, the disruption of the jet stream that has delivered arctic winters to north America and Europe, or the life-threatening collapse of global insect numbers, it is clear that climate change is already here as an existential threat.

Individual actions to combat the problem, like turning down your air-con or doing meat-free Mondays, barely scratch the surface. Proposals for economy-wide transformations better match the scale of the threat. The most current, and most promising, is the Green New Deal, promoted most visibly by first term US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The scheme borrows its name from US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vast scheme of public spending and regulatory reform – the New Deal – which helped to pull the US out of the Great Depression. The Green New Deal proposes mobilising the resources of the state on a similar scale to rapidly reduce carbon emissions and prevent the impacts of climate change shifting from bad to catastrophic.

The ambition of the Green New Deal is its great strength. But it is already being opposed by the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry, and their political and media enablers, whose profits would be threatened by the necessary phase out of coal, oil and gas.

They are not simply faceless corporations and lobby groups. They are people who have names and faces and addresses. Globally they include US president Donald Trump, former Exxon CEO and short-lived US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, and News Corp owner Rupert Murdoch. In Australia the familiar roll call includes Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott, and the compromised men of the Monash Forum.

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They trust science in other area of their lives but have chosen to ignore it here. They play make believe when it comes to climate science because it is easier (and more lucrative) to pretend a catastrophic threat doesn’t exist than to face it square on and make the sacrifices that it demands.

We need a Green New Deal. But a better 20th century comparison is not the Great Depression but the immediate lead up to World War 2. Then, people of conscience and character could see the threat and chose to face up to it. They knew that the longer they delayed, the more difficult the task would be in the long run.

But today, as then, those who would turn away and try to postpone the inevitable at the expense of the rest of us remain in power.

As much as former Australian Prime Minister, and climate denier in chief, Tony Abbott admires Winston Churchill, he is much more akin to Churchill’s political opponent, Neville Chamberlain, in his cowering before a threat that is all too real, instead of taking up the fight.

Abbott has already suffered the same fate as his appeaser compatriot, who was forced to resign as Prime Minister in 1940. At the upcoming May election, Abbott will likely lose his seat in parliament as well.

Poetic justice for a man who has perhaps done more than any other to delay climate action in the hottest, driest continent on earth.

 

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