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.
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.