Politics Analysis

Murdoch media weaponises victimhood — except when convenient

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(Cartoon by Mark David | @MDavidCartoons)

News Corp's attempts to claim victimhood over the Moomba Parade's cancellation mirrors the exact viewpoints it so often seeks to chastise as "soft", Dr Victoria Fielding writes.

THE MURDOCH media has outdone itself trying to squeeze cancelled events during extremely hot weather into its favourite weaponised victimhood frame. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.

Just like their U.S. Murdoch cousins at Fox News, Australia’s Murdoch media outlets wage political and cultural wars through fear campaigns designed to divide the public and turn people against progressive policies and politicians.

A key thread of these wars is a rhetorical strategy Professor Lee Bebout has called ‘weaponised victimhood’. This is a fairly simple strategy which is easily recognisable in conservative political and media discourse.

The goal of this strategy is to create what Bebout calls aggrieved entitlement from people with relative power – men, white people and Christians – towards people advocating for more equality, such as women, non-white people and minority religions.

By claiming they are the victim of policies or movements that aim to reduce inequality, conservatives adopt this method to fight instead to maintain their privilege and power — to preserve inequality.

Put simply, conservative media and politicians whip up hate campaigns against the true victims of inequality, victim-blaming them for threatening the relative power and privilege of the beneficiaries of inequality.

Weaponised victimhood is used by a raft of different conservative actors to attack progressives.

Men’s rights activists claim feminism is victimising them. In Australia, this type of campaigning has culminated in coordinated hate campaigns against alleged rape victim Brittany Higgins and support for her alleged rapist Bruce Lehrmann, implying that Lehrmann is the “victim” of Higgin’s unjust allegation.

Trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) use this tactic to claim transgender people make them unsafe when their real goal is to demonise trans people and oppose their very existence.

In the U.S., extremist Republicans are waging book-banning campaigns against any book that they deem to be too "woke", while at the same time News Corp campaigners like Peta Credlin complain when books are removed from circulation because they contain racist imagery.

The allegation of "wokeness" has become a slippery concept that Murdoch media has turned into such a broad accusation — it’s unclear what it actually means by "woke", other than it doesn't like it.

The "No" campaign during the Voice Referendum employed victimhood by claiming an Indigenous advisory body was unfair to white people and even racist.

Using Bebout’s example, the annual conservative claims that there is a ‘War on Christmas’ is a staple of conservative media’s weaponised victimhood. Australia has its own iterations over opposition to changing the date of Australia Day and even attacks on supermarkets which choose for commercial reasons not to stock tacky Australia Day merchandise.

This rhetorical device is used so regularly by conservative media that it’s hard to find a political topic where it doesn’t apply this cut-and-paste template to create division, fear and direct hatred at people fighting for more equality and solutions to society’s problems. There is no better way to maintain the status quo than to turn people against each other.

Murdoch media’s use of this strategy was stretched to the limit by Peta Credlin during the recent autumn extreme heat wave.

Climate policies have regularly been opposed this way. This includes false accusations that fuel efficiency standards will increase the price of ute trucks, or the sustained assault on the former Labor Government’s carbon price, accusing the policy of being a tax on ordinary Australians — which Peta Credlin admits to knowing wasn’t a tax.

Murdoch media is always willing to go into bat for fossil fuel interests to evoke aggrieved entitlement to turn people against policies that are designed to avert climate catastrophe.

Peta Credlin almost comically adapted this strategy during the heatwave to claim Melbourne City Council was “going soft” and “woke” for cancelling the Moomba Parade in forecasted 38-degree heat.

She called the cancelling of the parade a “leftist council trying to reinforce notions of climate catastrophe” and described how Melbourne has had hotter weather in the past even before there was air conditioning — air conditioning being of questionable relevance to an outdoor parade.

As it regularly does, Sky News thought this ridiculous statement in itself deserved its own glowing report and then The Australian kept the silliness alive publishing a column by Peta Credlin titled ‘Country built on grit and hard work goes into meltdown’.

Credlin’s feeble attempts at weaponised victimhood – where she tried to make people who missed out on a parade during extreme heat the victims of a conspiracy to emphasise a climate catastrophe – smells a lot like political desperation.

Anyone who sweltered through the heatwave – including millions who do not have air conditioning – knows that the true victims are not those given a reprieve from the risk of heat stroke.

The real victims here are our whole society, who are being baked by an ever-worsening climate crisis that News Corp is campaigning to make worse.

Dr Victoria Fielding is an Independent Australia columnist. You can follow Victoria on Twitter @DrVicFielding.

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