'When your mainstream media tell you you’re unhinged (or biased) for questioning them, they’re presuming a privilege to stifle rather than evaluate criticism.' ~ Jennifer Wilson
THE OTHER EVENING, I was musing on the mainstream media (MSM) reporting and pursuit of Labor Senator Sam Dastyari.
It involved the senator asking a Chinese benefactor to cover his travel costs and then making a supportive statement, contrary to both Government and Opposition positions on China’s activities in the South China Sea.
I was comparing this to the relative lack of interest in pursuing Steve Irons, the WA Turnbull Government MP who stole taxpayer money to pay travel expenses for himself and his new wife for their wedding in Melbourne and back to Perth.
I tweeted this:
Mainstream media: A blanket term
The first response was from a Fairfax journalist taking me to task for using the blanket term “MSM”. After hooting a little at the notion of a journalist complaining about the use of “blanket terms”, I acknowledged that the term – like all blanket terms – is less than perfect, although most of us use it to signify traditional media as opposed to new media.
There are some very good journalists working in mainstream media, without whom we’d be even more in the dark than we already are. Fairfax, the ABC and The Guardian are home to most of them. Yes, the ABC. There are still some exceptional people there and one can only imagine how they survive.
However, I wasn’t about to list in my tweet every media outlet not pursuing Irons to the same extent it pursued Dastyari and I stand by my initial impression that the two incidents were handled very differently.
It is true that Irons didn’t reward the taxpayer for footing his wedding travel bill, as Dastyari rewarded the Chinese. It’s also true that both major parties are significant beneficiaries of Chinese money, for which they are presumably expected to provide favours in return.
Some crimes are more important than others
So why single out and hunt down Dastyari when the Turnbull Government's foreign minister, for example, received an iPad, airfares and accommodation and a bunch of Government MPs scored Rolex watches? All of these people are far better placed to further their benefactor’s interests than was Dastyari – who, after all, said something nobody much bothered to listen to – and to do it far more covertly.
It’s also true that politicians thieving from taxpayers has become normalised and without the added spice of potentially treasonous remarks — Irons’ theft was of comparatively little consequence.
This, for mine, is the heart of the problem. “Ordinary” thieving from taxpayers is par for the course in politics, meaning politicians are held to a much lower standard of honesty and punishment than the rest of us. I’d like to know why.
For example, if you are caught thieving items from a supermarket you are very likely to be charged by police, even if you put the items back on the shelf and say you’re sorry — not so much when politicians rip-off taxpayers. If they are caught, they pay it back and that is the only consequence they face. They’re still thieves but they are protected thieves.
No answer to any questions from Buzzfeed and I’d terminated my conversation with the Fairfax journalist, who’d lost his head and started telling me I was
'... wrong and you can’t face facts because of your bias.'
Interesting, I thought. I’m perceived as biased because I’m questioning the difference in how two matters are handled — and he’s obviously assuming I’m a Labor fanatic because why would anybody who wasn’t politically aligned bother to ask such a question? This is what I mean about the normalising of crime in politics. You can’t even ask about it without journalists assuming you are only doing so to create trouble for a party other than your own.
At this point, several of my Twitter pals joined in to assure the traditional media representatives that I’m equally disagreeable to all politicians.
On Di Stefano’s subsequent points: one, it’s cheering to see the MSM doing its job by breaking stories, but actually I was querying the subsequent pursuit and two, what?
Do you mean MSM don’t pursue unless a political party pursues first?
I asked Buzzfeed.
'I didn’t say that', came the reply.
'So what do you mean? Just trying to clarify because your tweet read as if you were saying that.'
The notion that matters are not pursued by the media unless first pursued by a political party is unnerving. This is not what one expects from the fourth estate. This is not speaking truth to power, it is waiting until one power gives you the signal to speak a bit of truth to another power and obediently refraining from pursuit when no permission in the form of guidance is forthcoming. Is this how traditional media decide what issues and personalities to pursue? Taking their lead from politicians?
Well, as you’d expect, the conversation by now involved more people than just me and Mark Di Stefano. Many references were made to the “MSM” and I don’t think any of them were particularly favourable, demonstrating the frustration and disillusionment felt by some consumers.
Di Stefano maintained his silence until this:
As you can imagine, there is a great deal to unpack in Di Stefano’s communication.
So, let’s go through this tweet, phrase by anguished phrase.
A truther is:
'A person who doubts the generally accepted account of an event, believing that an official conspiracy exists to conceal the true explanation; a conspiracy theorist.' (Source: en.oxforddictionaries.com.)
There are 9/11 truthers who believe the terrorist attacks were perpetrated by the U.S. government; Sandy Hook Elementary School truthers who believe the massacre was a “false flag” government conspiracy; Holocaust deniers; Obama birthers and so on.
Di Stefano attempts to delegitimise any inquiry into the narrative choices made by MSM, describing those who question perceived bias as “truthers” and implying that merely questioning media choices is the act of a conspiracy theorist. Whether you find the MSM biased towards the right or the left of politics, in either case you are participating in a conspiracy and you wear a tin foil hat. Therefore, your concerns are invalid and deserving only of mockery.
When any institution takes this as its default position towards questioners and critics, it has lost sight of its purpose and its parameters. MSM is not now, never has been and should never aspire to be above critique. The tactic of reacting to criticism by denigrating the critic is inadequate and defensive, and only serves to confirm the suspicion that there is indeed something rotten in the fourth estate.
When your mainstream media tell you you’re unhinged (or biased) for questioning them, they’re presuming a privilege to stifle rather than evaluate criticism. This is the antithesis of the values of a liberal democracy. Fortunately, we have blogs and social media through which we can contest mainstream efforts to quash disagreement. That the mainstream media has no business quashing criticism in the first place is a fact that must never be forgotten.
Aged-out tribal boomers
“Aged-out” usually refers to a young person who passes an age where he or she is eligible for certain youth benefits, or must leave foster care. Obviously the term wasn’t used in this sense when linked to “tribal boomers” and I took it to be a disparaging comment on people over 50 (or 60) who are perceived by Di Stefano to be “aged-out” of, well, life, really — and of participating in or contributing to anything considered by him to be relevant or important.
It’s a thing, to blame boomers for a swathe of social difficulties and to perceive that group as particularly privileged — the hippies who grew up to be successful capitalists and bought up all the houses as investment properties (taking advantage of negative gearing) leaving younger generations struggling to put a roof over their heads.
There are, no doubt, many boomers who fit that stereotype — however, there are many who don’t. For example, hundreds of thousands of older women are expected to become homeless in the near future and many of these are, in Di Stefano’s terms, aged-out tribal boomers.
This is the danger of isolating human groups who have in common only their age and then pitting them against one another: the real culprits, rampant capitalism enabled by corrupt government supported by complicit media, remain unacknowledged and unchallenged.
Responsibility is deflected and as long as the populace is busily engaged in wars against a particular group – boomers, asylum seekers, bikies, feminists, irresponsible whining generation, whatever, who just need to stop buying coffee if they want a home – those who are actually responsible for society’s ills and have the power to address them, are not held to account.
It’s surely the job of MSM to bring us back to first principles, not to divide and set us upon one another for their amusement and the amusement of their masters.
While Di Stefano didn’t gender his aged-out comment, it is particularly dismissive of women. When did you last hear a man over fifty described as aged-out?
He also used a tweet from a woman as an example and it was me who started him off on his tantrum.
I suspect that when a man describes a woman as aged-out, this is code for no longer sexually interesting to me and therefore, irrelevant.
When challenged, Di Stefano responded:
Stinking up Australian politics
As I replied to Di Stefano when he posted his tweet: crap politicians stink up Australian politics — and I’d add to that, crap media who do a crap job are enabling the ongoing production of stink.
I think Di Stefano’s one tweet validates much criticism of MSM: biased, inaccurate, pushing a bizarre and very personal agenda, defensive, arrogant, ill-informed, divisive clickbait crap.
I rest my case.
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