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.

 

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.

 

Momentum, schmoementum

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Nate Silver reminds us that we should ignore vague discussions of the ‘momentum’ behind Bernie Sanders’ campaign and focus on the numbers:

So Sanders is doomed? If he doesn’t beat these polls, then probably yes — Sanders is not going to win the Democratic nomination if he’s losing Ohio by 13 percentage points. And if Clinton has a really good night on Super Tuesday — by winning Massachusetts, for instance — that would take almost all the suspense out of the race….

 

His polling in the Super Tuesday states looks pretty bad, even after allowing for the fact that they aren’t a great set of states for him. Still, follow the numbers in these states and not the talk about who has “momentum.”

I’m trying hard to avoid my #election2016 posts sounding like a paean to fivethirtyeight.com but these guys really do know what they’re talking about.

Rolling Stone’s Political Reporting: Thompson to Taibbi

Hunter S. Thompson is my favourite political writer, and one of my favourite writers of all time. Although he is now best known for the drug-fuelled benders that inspired some of his work – as memorialised in the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, itself based on his book of the same title – he has written more truth about American politics than anyone else I’ve read.

Hunter cut his teeth as a political correspondent at Rolling Stone magazine in the early 1970s, reaching his peak when he worked as an embedded reporter with George McGovern’s unlikelyrs622-rs progressive tilt for the Democratic nomination and the Presidency (McGovern ultimately got the nomination, but lost all but one state in the general against Nixon. I’ve got another post saved up for a comparison between McGovern and Sanders). Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 is Hunter’s book-length account of that campaign – and it’s spectacular.

Matt Taibbi is Rolling Stone’s new rising star, and it’s pretty clear he is going for Hunter’s mantle, if not explicitly, then at least through some strong allusions to his style. His piece on his time with the Republican primary roadshow in New Hampshire is worth reading in full. My favourite part:

Concord, New Hampshire, the Secretary of State’s office, morning of November 6th. I’m waiting to see Ohio Gov. John Kasich officially register as a candidate for the New Hampshire primary.

In another election, Kasich might be a serious contender, being as he is from Ohio, a former Lehman Brothers stooge and a haranguing bore with the face of a dogcatcher. He exactly fits the profile of what party insiders used to call an “exciting” candidate.

At the moment, though, he’s a grumpy sideshow to Trump and Carson whose main accomplishment is that he hogged the most time in the fourth debate (and also became the first non-Trump candidate to be booed). Kasich in person seems like a man ready to physically implode from bitterness at the thought that his carefully laid scheme for power might be undone by a flatulent novelty act like Trump.

Compare that to this, by Thompson himself:

Richard Nixon has never been one of my favourite people, anyway. For years I’ve regarded his very existence as a monument to all the rancid genes and broken chromosomes that corrupt the possibilities of the American Dream; he was a foul caricature of himself, a man with no soul, no inner convictions, with the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad. The Nixon I remembered was absolutely humourless; I couldn’t imagine him laughing at anything except maybe a paraplegic who wanted to vote Democratic but couldn’t quite reach the lever on the voting machine.

Hunter wins it easily, but then again I doubt even Rolling Stone could publish something like this today and not get sued. Hell, they’d probably chicken out before even trying it on.

Still, it’s good to see them covering the race properly. I’m looking forward to what Taibbi can come up with as it gets more serious and more insane. Maybe he just needs to hit the narcotics a bit more to catch up with his predecessor and go from great to eye-peelingly fantastic.

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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