The conspiracy of silence about Grahame 'Kicker' Morris

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The mainstream media failed to adequately report on political insider Grahame Morris inciting violence against the Australian Prime Minister on Monday — managing editor David Donovan suggests why.

My story yesterday about Liberal Party political insider Grahame Morris suggesting Julia Gillard should be kicked to death provoked a massive amount of interest. It has been read by over 6,000 different people, shared almost 700 times on Facebook and over 300 times on Twitter. For a young and relatively small independent news and opinion website such as Independent Australia, it was a big story.

It has been so popular, in fact, that it seems rather incredible that the story has not been reported to any extent in the mainstream media — where it would surely have caused a national furore and sold a lot of newspaper copy. However, the MSM are, it seems, more concerned with reporting on leadership speculation about Julia Gillard through, as usual, unnamed sources. Indeed, even Gillard’s spectacular announcement of a comprehensive national disability insurance scheme was buried by the mainstream press (e.g. page 5 in The Age). And, of course, the video of the Morris comments still have not appeared on the SkyNews website, despite Sky's assurances to me on Monday night that it would be.

We have, however, now managed to track down footage of Morris's venomous outburst:

Where the Morris statement was reported on in the mainstream media, it was done in a half-baked fashion. In the only report in the establishment press, Fairfax media downplayed Morris’ misogynistic exhortation to violence as merely a “quip”, and dismissed the widespread anger about it as just a “Twitter furore” — seemingly implying that views expressed on Twitter are somehow flaky or unimportant. Independent news website Crikey did report the incident — but only as a small snippet way down in the media briefs column, along with a link to the IA story. On TV, Ten's The Project also showed a clip of Morris' outburst, after which the panel said it was a "bit extreme", laughed about it, made a quick joke about Kevin Rudd and quickly moved on.

[Watch seven minutes in in the following clip: http://theprojecttv.com.au/video.htm?movideo_p=39696&movideo_m=184487.]

Apart from those three isolated reports, and thousands of comments about the incident on social media and blogs, there was just one other mention of the Grahame Morris incident in the mainstream media — a short letter in The Age this morning, which I will reproduce in full, because it so clearly highlights the pertinent issues in this case:
Inherent misogyny

''THEY ought to be kicking her to death,'' says Grahame Morris (''Liberal strategist sorry for Gillard quip'', The Age, 1/5). The statement could arguably be considered sedition or treason, or at the very least an incitement to commit violence.

Then, only in response to a ''Twitter furore'', he apologises for an ''inappropriate'' comment. How would he have reacted if a strategist from another party had said the same of John Howard or another male prime minister? What, if any, has been the response of law enforcers? And the media characterises the comment as a quip. There was no quip. This was an insult to the office of prime minister, an incitement to violence, and should be castigated as such. The misogyny inherent shames us all.

Peter Stratford, Clifton Hill

Well said, Peter Stratford, because some commentators on social media and blogs have tried to pass off the comment as a mere “figure of speech”, or a joke, or a non-issue. Well, I have never heard anyone use the phrase “kicking to death” in conversation as a joke, though one would hope Morris did not mean it literally. The point is that we can’t know, because the only explanation and apology about the incident comes from David Speers on Twitter, apparently speaking on behalf of Morris. In my mind, it seems doubtful as to whether Speers actually spoke to Morris or was merely acting as his PR man in an effort to hose down any anger about the incident. Certainly, Speers' statements are unconfirmed; Morris was interviewed by Linda Mottram on ABC local radio in Sydney yesterday morning – the morning after his incendiary statement on SkyNews – and he did not use the opportunity to personally apologise — indeed the incident was not mentioned at all.

The fact remains that this was a case of a man graphically describing, and apparently advocating, an act of violence upon a woman — and not just any woman, but the Prime Minister herself. Given the rise of conservative hate speech, and the shooting last year of Gabrielle Giffords in the United States, this incident should have been given front page prominence in Australian newspapers. The fact that it wasn’t is frightening. It is, in fact, a tacit endorsement by Australia’s mainstream press that violent hate speech by men against women and politicians is now socially acceptable. A dark door has been opened — and we can only wonder what may be on the other side.

I spent most of yesterday trying to get mainstream media attention to this issue, sending a media release on the topic to hundreds of journalists – and, indeed, many other prominent people – in the hope that someone, somewhere, would have the courage and ethics to stand up for what is right and hold this senior party political operative to account. The fact that none have yet done so is troubling to say the least. The IA story has, yes, been read by a few thousand people — but, realistically, this is but a drop in the ocean when you consider Australia as a whole.

On top of that, I know many people have used social media to ask journalists why they have not reported this story. Personally, I sent tweets to the ABC's Mark Colvin and other prominent journalists. They responded with silence. As far as I am aware, no journalist has responded to any questions on this matter. There is, it seems, a conspiracy of silence.

But why? I can only offer a few theories.

Firstly, it may be because Grahame Morris is a former journalist and a political insider. In Australia, the “Insiders” culture is strong. If you are one of the Insiders, as Morris clearly is, you will be drawn on to comment about public affairs all the time. If you are not seen as an Insider, your views will be seen as worthless — Benjamin Millar’s description in The Age about the controversy as being a  “Twitter furore” is indicative of this dismissive attitude by journalists towards the non-elite.

David Horton describes this culture vividly:
So why the huge disconnect between how journalists perceive their own profession and how it is perceived by a number of anonymous highly ranked commentators? Two reasons I think (I’m talking political journalists here, but the same thing would apply to sports journalists, business journalists, entertainment journalists). The first is that the journalists, whatever media outlet, seem to see themselves as something of a club, and a beleaguered club, of people misunderstood by the general public. Much in the same way as politicians and policemen, journalists think no one appreciates how hard the work is, what long irregular hours they work, what skills are required. They work alongside each other, socialise, marry each other, move between different media outlets, give each other industry awards. They no longer compete with each other for “scoops”. Instead (just as in the lack of competition between banks, oil companies) they ensure that if one person does a story everyone else will immediately do the same story in exactly the same way, so no one gains any advantage. Breaking ranks to either ignore a particularly crap story, or investigate something others were not asking questions about might leave you exposed on a limb, making a mistake. Besides, to question something your mates were accepting would be unsporting, might embarrass, expose a friend — and you won’t do that to your friends and don’t expect them to do it to you.

But it gets worse. The journalists not only work and play with each other but with the subjects of their work, the politicians. All the same things apply. No one understands them like each other, they share a workplace, intermarry, party together, are each other’s BFF or worst enemy. They share secrets and, like doctors and priests, journalists can guarantee the secrecy of the confessional. Say what you like, political person, and I will publish, anonymously, no more and no less than you want published to suit your purposes. You win, I win (promotions and by-lines and TV shows if the secret big enough), we are all looking out for each other in parliament house. And here, too, no one asks awkward questions, or friendships could be lost, access to secrets curtailed. You scratch my back, I’ll report your political stunt as if it is the Gettysburg Address.
Grahame Morris, despite being really nothing more in the public domain than a former political staffer, has appeared on ABC’s Q&A programme no less than four times, and is a constant fixture in the world of political punditry on such programmes as SkyNews, 7.30, ABC Radio National, ABC local radio, The Drum, ABC24 and many others. The fact that David Speers immediately waded into the Twitter fray to defend Morris after I called the SkyNews studio suggests that Morris is a valued member of this clique.

Horton also brings up the second explanation, that journalists are unprepared to report stories in a different way than they are reported in other outlets. In Australia, though there are a few different media outlets, you could be excused for thinking there is only one — since all media report all stories in almost exactly the same way. Like wolves, they hunt as a pack, and they now “smell blood” with the prime minister and this Government – something depressingly analogous to Morris’s statements – and will not be satisfied until it, or at least she, is taken down. So, reporting on the grotesque Morris attack on the Prime Minister is simply off message as far as the Australian media is concerned and would be seen as bad form in their incestuous little world.

We have the least diverse media in the western world — and it is even less diverse than the nominal number of outlets suggests.

Thirdly, and perhaps most disturbing of all, the non-reporting of Morris may be seen to indicate the true nexus of power in Australia. Morris, for one thing, is a former chief of staff to Prime Minister John Howard, who many suggest is still pulling the strings in the Liberal Party. Furthermore, as a lobbyist for Barton Deakin – which acts as a major conduit for funds and influence between the business community and the Coalition – Morris is, undeniably, the mouthpiece for many powerful interests. Indeed, we can presume that Morris has close ties to all the major media companies in this country, who are all quite clearly eager to see the end of the Gillard Government. Thus, not only is Morris seen as an Insider, and a valuable source, but also as a friend and agent of the journalists’ very employers — and therefore a very dangerous gargoyle to cross.

This does not, of course, explain why the ABC did not choose to run the Morris story — except as a form of journalistic solidarity. Perhaps it may have something to do with ABC managing director Mark Scott being a former Liberal Party political staffer. Certainly, during Scott’s tenure, the ABC has drifted to the right, and commentators from rightwing lobbyists, such as the IPA, have gained notable prominence. Thus, it may be seen internally that Morris is a protected species at the public broadcaster as well.

Much of this is conjecture — though it has the depressing feeling of truth about it. The Morris incident highlights, if nothing else, how corrupt and irresponsible the mainstream media in this country really are. This is, in some ways, a positive — because now our eyes are truly opened. We know more now about the nexus of power in Australia, and how political and business interests act undercover to undermine our democracy and silence dissent. Only by the growth of truly independent media sources such as this one can this alarming predicament perhaps be overcome. Of course, they will attempt to shut us up well before that ever happens.

If you are woman who is suffering from some form of violence, know of someone who is, or would just like to help stop acts of violence against women, please click here.

Listen to David Donovan speak about this issue on The Wire by clicking here.

Follow David Donovan on Twitter: @davrosz

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