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.

Chchshooter.jpg

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.

 

Click Bait Media: Australians Who Read our Work are Dumb

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Generalisations about whole nations are meaningless. People, let alone masses of population millions strong, are far more complicated than to be able to be summarised by a handful of perceived common attributes. Yet the genre of national character sketch persists and, in Australia, tends to be particularly cherished by progressive writers using it to argue that their compatriots are stupid, ill-informed racists, more interested in reality TV than politics.

This piece, by comedian and writer Corinne Grant, has been doing the rounds recently, cited approvingly as an accurate snapshot of Australia and Australians. In brief, Grant argues that we are more interested in celebrity gossip than serious politics. The repeated violation of Indonesian territorial waters by the Australian Navy in its attempts to turn back refugee boats is said to get less interest than Cameron Diaz’s views on Brazilian waxing. The conclusion:

The Murdoch media and politicians have told us ‘boat people’ are stealing from us and we’re stupid enough to fall for it. We genuinely believe that a few thousand people are responsible for traffic congestion and hospital queues instead of years and years of government inaction on public transport, roads and health. We accept that we’re ‘at war’ with asylum seekers without questioning the ludicrousness of the statement or the secrecy and abuse it’s used to justify. We hate to think but we love to hate.

Leaving aside the fact that Grant’s piece was published by a commentary website whose lead story today was titled ‘Oh, High Heels, Must We Break Up?’ (pic above), it seems perverse to diagnose the problem as low quality media and then conclude that its sufferers must themselves be stupid.

The uncomfortable reality for media commentators is that most people simply do not have the time to spend informing themselves from several media sources about contemporary politics. Getting up, taking your kids to school, working until 5 or 6 (often later), commuting home, sorting out dinner, and taking a few minutes to relax before heading to bed leaves very little time for the kind of balanced analysis Grant seems to assume is a prerequisite for not deserving to be the target of her opprobrium.

Australia has some of the least diverse media ownership in the world. Two newspaper owners (Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp; Fairfax) were responsible for 86% of newspaper circulation in the country in 2011. Online news and commentary have changed this picture somewhat, but it is still the case that legacy media determines the daily political narrative.

More media diversity is part of the solution, and it is great to see, most recently, the emergence of a new quality weekend broadsheet. But progressive thinkers have to try harder to communicate in ways that are not dripping with contempt for those whose opinions they hope to change, and not simply vacate the field, as Labor did, for example, on refugees in the wake of the 2001 Tampa affair, when it all gets too difficult.

Not giving in to the easy pleasure of proclaiming that everybody who disagrees with you ‘loves stayin’ dumb’ is a good place to start.

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