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Normalising Scott Morrison

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Leigh Sales and Scott Morrison (Screenshot via YouTube)

Scott Morrison's bullying behaviour during interviews has become the accepted standard, but something needs to be done, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

INTERVIEWING PRIME MINISTER Scott Morrison is proving to be a challenge for the mainstream media, with the obvious exception of the Murdoch stable whose raison d’etre is to provide an outlet for Right-wing propaganda.

Morrison’s technique is scattergun — that is, he fires off sentences containing a barrage of propositions, many of them dodgy, in rapid succession, creating a wall of words designed to protect him from interrogation by confusing and overwhelming any listener. When a proposition is successfully isolated and subjected to questioning, Morrison responds in exactly the same way, offering the listener another barrage, another pop-up wall, another word salad from which the listener must extract, in a matter of seconds, one proposition out of the many on offer to pursue.   

Morrison has perfected the art of using words as a weapon, not in the sense of sticks and stones and neither is he erudite, but rather by sheer numbers, rapid delivery, manic affect and the deliberate confusion of topics designed to addle the listener who must rapidly sort through what’s on offer and decide in seconds which to address. The listener is kept on the back foot. Morrison is in control.

The Prime Minister is very good at this technique, largely because it perfectly fits his personal attention span, which is fleeting and tuned to intense but temporary alightings, allowing him to speak on several unaligned topics in the space of moments with a fervour about each that can only be described as deeply shallow. He doesn’t care about anything, other than saying what he needs to say to his base. That is his only goal in every interview. He is a bad faith interviewee. He has no intention of observing the conventions and the interview is nothing more than an opportunity for him to disseminate propaganda to his demographic.

His method evokes the style of travelling preachers, a reflection of his Pentecostal faith. It would be unsurprising if he started praising Jesus mid-sentence, although he has undoubtedly been coached to tone down any religiosity that might alarm and alienate his supporters. Importantly, his is a bullying technique, a form of gaslighting and the weaponisation of communication. It is almost impossible to counter, short of cutting his mic. When it’s the Prime Minister of the country, cutting his mic is not a simple option.

In Morrison, we see a perfect storm of U.S. President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon's apocalyptic, nationalistic ideology and communication strategy, the fundamentalist religiosity that is its obvious partner and a personality ideally suited to offer carriage to both.

There is no live interview with any journalist outside of the Murdoch media in which Morrison does not bluster, bully and obfuscate. Very little is achieved in these interviews and the journalists are not in control. In an interview with Leigh Sales on the ABC’s 7.30 Report, Monday 25 February, Morrison was in full flight — obfuscating, patronising, offensively voluble, incoherent, deceitful, manically energised and in control. It’s said his drug is God and it is tempting to observe that he was very close to speaking in tongues. Sales has since copped serious amounts of flak for what is perceived as her inadequacy in failing to control him.

It is interesting to note the tired old trope popping up again here. The female interviewer is expected to control the bullying, aggressive, abusive male leader of the country and is castigated when she doesn’t. The focus is not on the man’s appalling behaviour, but on the woman’s failure to control it. Regardless of the fact that there is not one live interview I can find with Morrison since he became Prime Minister in which he does not bluster, bully, obfuscate and/or abuse, Sales is singled out for failure.  

We have not come such a long way, baby. We have not.

On Twitter, many people suggested interviewers who could have done it better than Sales. Kerry O’Brien. Virginia Trioli. Emma Alberici. Jana Wendt. Richard Carlton, even though he’s dead. And of course, Sarah Ferguson.

The hive memory is short. It was Sarah Ferguson who conducted a lengthy and extremely soft interview with Steve Bannon not so very long ago, the very Steve Bannon whose communications strategies are now being implemented by, yes, Scott Morrison.

Misdirected outrage serves only to normalise Morrison’s tactics. Engaging in a desperate search for the one journalist who can control Morrison – should such a person exist, in itself, an extremely doubtful proposition – implies that Morrison must be adapted to by the media, rather than called out for the bad faith interviewee that he is. Blaming the interviewer for Morrison’s bastardry is normalising that bastardry. The bastardry must be acknowledged, instead of embarking on a futile search for the superhero who can defeat it in a live interview. Bullies aren’t defeated by adapting to their bullying.

Morrison isn’t the only one in the LNP adopting a strategy of verbal assault and battery. He’s probably the most accomplished at this point, however, drowning listeners in a tsunami of words with the intent not to communicate — but to make communication impossible is increasingly the choice of LNP politicians.

This is not “normal” in the sense of civil human behaviour. It is abhorrent. Perhaps the time has come when we refuse abhorrence, refuse to adapt to it, refuse it as an option in all circumstances and refuse to normalise it by looking for someone who can “control” it. It is impossible to adapt to abhorrent behaviour without becoming part of it. If Trump has shown us anything, it’s that the normalisation of abhorrent behaviour is the most powerful weapon of control available to leaders and it cannot be exercised without the extensive cooperation of the media.

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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