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Alan Jones, feminism and Australian politics

By Legal Eagle

Radio personality Alan Jones has been in trouble again, this time because he made some insensitive comments about the recent death of the father of Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the Sydney University’s Liberal Club President’s Dinner. Jones suggested Gillard’s father ‘died of shame’ as a result of the lies his daughter had told the Australian public. Jones has since apologised to the Prime Minister, in a rather half-hearted way. Subsequently advertisers have been leaving Jones’ radio station, 2GB, in droves after pressure from a concerted campaign by a variety of social media groups (such as feminist group Destroy the Joint) such that the radio station has now chosen to run Jones’ show ad-free.

I started drafting this post days ago, but I have been resisting writing on the Jones issue. Part of my reason for not continuing with the post was that I don’t think much of Jones, and I felt that to talk about him is to is to give him credence. To be honest, as a Melbourner, I never really knew much about Jones until the Cronulla riots. And what I heard then didn’t impress me. It’s not that Jones is right-wing. I have friends who are right-wing and friends who are left-wing, and obviously enough, I blog with persons of a variety of political stripes. I don’t mind whether or not a person disagrees with me politically as long as they treat me civilly and with respect. What I dislike about Jones is this: he is an uncivil demagogue who plays on the fears of ordinary people. So I do not feel particularly sympathetic towards him. Jones should be able to accept the same hand that he deals others on a frequent basis. His complaint that he is being bullied seems more than a little hypocritical given that his radio schtick involves unpleasant and bullying comments about others. As Malcolm Turnbull said the other night in his Alfred Deakin lecture:

”Mr Jones has sought to lead ‘people’s revolts’ for many years. But this was indeed a popular revolt against vicious and destructive public discourse … It is difficult not to believe that he is getting a dose of his own medicine …

”Mr Jones has complained that he has been the victim of social media bullying, saying that if it happened anywhere else in society, this kind of bullying or harassment or intimidation or threatening conduct, the police would be called in …

”But Mr Jones believes his association with certain products will encourage people to buy them … If other people take the view that an association with Mr Jones will lead them not to buy those products, why are they not able to tell the advertiser of their view and encourage others to do the same?”

(Turnbull’s speech is interesting and rather good, by the way: it raises broader issues about liberty, freedom, privacy and internet — I recommend you have a read — he raises issues, among other things, about online indiscretions being indelible, and the risks and benefits associated with this).

Jones has a right to say what he did. I’m not suggesting that he should be regulated by law or censored (that way lies danger). But I also think that others in our society have an equal right to find what he said unpleasant and inappropriate, and to say that they do not like it and other things he has said. Moreover, the attempt in this case to resolve political issues via the marketplace is not new or unusual, and if I were an advertiser who was going to be tainted by association with Jones, I’d rather know about it than not.

I’d also suggest that both Jones and his listeners should think about Rabbi Hillel’s Silver Rule: “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.” In short: what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Once you start being rude and uncivil to others, they feel at liberty to be rude and uncivil towards you, hence the passion with which some of Jones’ critics have pursued him. Mind you, SL noted on Facebook that Jones is lucky that he is being pursued by lefties because, by and large allegations as to his sexuality have not been used against him (and nor should people do so).

SL also made the point that perhaps the net effect of social media and online scrutiny will be that public figures will have to be more civil if they want to avoid this kind of backlash, and has noted to me privately, ‘the era of the anonymous city is over, and politeness codes will be back with a vengeance. That can be a good or bad thing, because I can well imagine social media being used as the electronic equivalent of a scold’s bridle, the stocks or the Roman practice of infamia.’ As an illustration of the effect of online scrutiny and criticism, the MC of the Liberal Club President’s Dinner, Simon Berger, had to resign from his position with Woolworths because he supplied a jacket made out of a chaff bag which Jones signed on the evening on the dinner. The chaff bag jacket was a reference to Jones’ frequent comments in his show that Gillard should be tied in a chaff bag and thrown out to sea. I feel sorry for Berger, notwithstanding the silly chaff bag stunt, because although he’s participated in all this, he’s done so in his private capacity, and he’s the one who has lost his job, not Jones. I have a terrible suspicion that Jones may be as indestructible as a cockroach in a nuclear winter. If the Cash for Comment scandal didn’t ruin him, I’m not sure what else will.

Pragmatically, however, I think there’s a broader issue. Taking a step back: why does Jones appeal to listeners? As Nick Cater noted in an article in The Australian the other day, many of the listeners who phoned into Jones’ show regarded him as the one person who listens to their concerns:

…More than a quarter expressed gratitude for his role as public defender: “Thank you for fighting for us,” said Catherine; “You’re the hope of the side, mate,” said John.

You see, I think Jones’ appeal is all about fear. More precisely, Jones listens to the fears of his listeners, and that is why many are so very loyal to him. I suspect that there are a certain group of people who have fears about a variety of issues in modern society, and who feel that their fears are brushed off by mainstream politicians (particularly, perhaps, by the incumbent Labor government). But Jones listens to them sympathetically. He agrees with them. At times, when convenient, he fans the fears. Many of these people would have probably been part of Labor’s traditional voting base, but became John Howard’s “battlers” because they felt that Labor no longer represented them.

Anne Summers’ speech (vanilla version) on misogyny and criticism of women in politics is revealing. I agree with Summers that some criticisms of Gillard are sexist (has a male politician ever been criticised for the size of his bum? for the jackets he wears? been accused of being “deliberately barren”? called a “cow”?) And I also believe that some of Jones’ on-air comments display a deep misogyny. Saying that Gillard should be put in a chaff bag is rude and childish, but not misogynist. However, in August this year, Jones told listeners, “She (the Prime Minister) said that we know societies only reach their full potential if women are politically participating. Women are destroying the joint – Christine Nixon in Melbourne, Clover Moore here. Honestly.” This infers he doesn’t like women to have political power or to participate in political process. I am on record as saying that I thought Christine Nixon’s evidence in the Bushfires Royal Commission was appalling — and I am also on record as saying that, although I was a fan of Gillard in the past, I’m disappointed about a number of things she and her government have done. But my problem with the performance of these women is not that they are women per se, whereas Jones’ comments suggest that his problem with them is simply that they are women, and that women should not participate in the Australian political process because they destroy our society. Well, he’s entitled to say that if he wants, but that is patently a misogynistic point of view.

But I am not sure that I agree with all of Summers’ speech. I noted the part of her speech where she gave examples of unpleasant criticisms of Gillard, which she said demonstrated that ‘the contempt for the prime minister has leached out of the political domain and into the daily lives of ordinary Australians’:

  • A few weeks ago in Darwin my friend was picked up from her hotel by a cab. The taxi driver said to her, totally out of the blue: “How could you be staying at the same hotel as the lying c**t”. Apparently Julia Gillard had stayed at the same hotel the week before when she was in Darwin to welcome the Indonesian president. The taxi driver continued: “Someone should have shot her while she was here. Everyone wants to do it.”
  • In July in Sydney a stallholder in the flower market at Flemington apologised to a friend of mine who was buying some flowers for having to add GST “for Julia”; he then followed it by saying “we’ve got to get rid of the bitch”.
  • Another friend told me about an encounter his mother, whom he describes as “quietly spoken and conservative-looking”, had at a medical office in Albury when she went to submit a form for her latest MRI. The man behind the counter said to her, unprovoked: “I’ll send it off to the red-haired bitch”.

Prima facie, there’s a gendered aspect to the criticisms Summers repeats above. The critics were all men, and described Gillard, a woman, in derogatory terms which were also gendered (referring to female dogs and female genitalia). Therefore it may be tempting to write off the criticisms as simple sexism which has been fanned by demagogues such as Jones. Where charismatic media demagogues are concerned I have observed a tendency to assume that anyone who expresses a similar opinion as merely a sheep following the party line without thought. I think this may be true of some, but I also think that the reality is somewhat more complex than this. Presenters such as Jones are successful precisely because they manage to channel and vocalise a sentiment which already exists in some sections of the community. If they did not reflect certain pre-existing sentiments within the community, they would not be so popular. Of course, that being said, by making such views public, the views in question are given social confirmation, and more readers, listeners or watchers may come to also participate in those views or in that section of the community. Public opinion and the opinions of the demagogue feed each other. But just because someone has a superficially similar opinion to Jones does not necessarily mean that the person has listened to Jones or been influenced by him. I have noted a tendency among Sydneysiders to overstate Jones’ influence. My Sydney-based grandparents have been ranting about him since my teenage years, but for many years I had no clue who this guy was. Clearly Jones has influence in Sydney and beyond, but it shouldn’t be over-estimated.

Returning to the three men whose criticisms Summers repeats, I suggest that it is dangerous for the Labor to simply brush off the criticisms of Gillard by these men as “sexist”, and that the Left should be wary of such superficial analyses. What should be done in these instances is to ask these men why they are so very unhappy and angry with Gillard, and what the source of their anger is. Now, it may be that perhaps these men are sexist, and that they simply hate Gillard because she’s a woman. But it also may be that their anger has more concrete and genuine bases which relate to fears of societal instability. Perhaps (to pick an example) they voted for Labor on the strength of Gillard’s assurance that her government was not going to introduce a carbon tax, and they would not have voted for her had they known that she was going to do so. Perhaps they are now afraid of the financial impact of the carbon tax on their families and feel personally duped and enraged. I don’t know whether this is the case: this is pure supposition on my part. But my point is that no one else knows why these men said what they did either. I think it’s a mistake to simply write off the reaction of these men as sexist without probing deeper to see if there is some genuine basis for the criticisms beyond pure sexism.

I should also note that one of the things which has rendered this saga so very toxic has been the underlying political landscape with the Federal minority Labor government struggling in the polls. To be honest, I think no one in this saga comes out lily white. On the one hand, Labor has said that Jones’ commentary is symptomatic of a broader misogyny regarding Julia Gillard. And as I already noted, Anne Summers has made a similar argument. Thus, when Jones’ comments were reported, Labor immediately attempted to link Jones’ comments with Tony Abbott, the LNP Opposition leader, who emerges in polls as being substantially less appealing to female voters. Female Labor Parliamentarians have long said Abbott has a problem with women in authority, which prompted Abbott’s wife and daughters to face the press last week and deny this. The Opposition has complained that Labor did not attack former Labor speechwriter Bob Ellis for his unpleasant comments about Gillard’s father’s death, and it has also protested that persons associated with Labor have made comments in the past about LNP members which are equally as unpleasant as Jones’, so there is an element of hypocrisy about all of this. And, despite the accusations of misogyny against former Speaker Peter Slipper detailed below, Abbott has said he will happily accept Slipper’s vote in his favour.

But the sad reality is that both parties are prepared to let unpleasant comments and worse go past the keeper if it advances their political fortunes. Remember that when Jones was found by ACMA to have incited violence towards Lebanese and Middle Eastern Australians, both John Howard and Kevin Rudd said that they’d continue to support Jones and appear on his show.

The immediate plot has thickened even further yesterday when the Opposition sought to oust the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper from his position. Slipper is a former LNP Member of Parliament who accepted the minority Labor government’s offer to sit as Speaker so that the Labor Party’s position was less precarious. Slipper is now being sued by a former staffer for sexual harassment, and, as part of that trial, a variety of lewd text messages allegedly sent from Slipper to Ashby concerning women’s genitalia and other matters were tendered in court yesterday. Abbott said that Slipper was unfit to sit as Speaker because of his lewd behaviour towards women and his misogyny, but the motion to remove Slipper failed by one vote (69 to 70). When speaking about Labor’s continuing support of Slipper, Abbott said the Labor Government “should already have died of shame”. (One must wonder whether this apparent reference to Jones’ earlier insult was intentional, or merely an instance of foolish foot in mouth disease? Abbott claims it was unintentional. Whether intentional or unintentional, it illustrates why I continue to have concerns about the prospect of Abbott being Prime Minister.) Gillard responded furiously to Abbott by saying that it was inappropriate for him to lecture her on misogyny: “I say to the Leader of the Opposition I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man [Abbott]. I will not. And the Government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever.” She also said, “Well can I indicate to the Leader of the Opposition the Government is not dying of shame, my father did not die of shame. What the Leader of the Opposition should be ashamed of is his performance in this Parliament and the sexism he brings with it.” Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that I’m a rather cynical person, but I have to say that, when I initially watched the speech, I saw it primarily in functional terms as a tactic to distract from the fact that Labor has remained in power by supporting two individuals, Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson, against whom very serious allegations had been made. This is also how the professional political commentators generally saw it as well. But, as these two pieces note, this is not how many other people saw it; and Gillard’s speech seems to have resonated with many. I’d say that Abbott is not regarded with respect by many progressive middle-class, educated women (and some men), if my Facebook feed yesterday was any indication; they see Abbott as an unpleasant bully, and were delighted to see Gillard put him in his place. Apparently the speech has also received positive international attention. Fortunately for all, perhaps, Slipper has since tearfully resigned from the position of Speaker and will sit on the cross bench as an independent.

Nonetheless, Overland blog had an important and pithy reminder for all those cheering Gillard’s speech:

If winning or losing in politics was merely a matter of who had the best one-liners to throw along with their stones, then Gillard won yesterday hands down. But politics is not simply about whip-smart wisecracks and cutting speeches. It’s about policies and practices, legislation and social organisation.

Yesterday, the Gillard government also passed welfare reforms through the Senate that will cut single parent payments between $56 and $140 a week. This is a measure that will disproportionately affect women, and particularly those in the sectors of society that the Labor Party is traditionally supposed to represent. And yet, when the heavily debated reforms finally came to a vote in the Senate, only the Greens and Independents Madigan and Xenophon voted against it.

It’s been said before but it bears repeating: standing up for women’s rights is not just about calling sexism for what it is. It’s about agitating for specific change. It’s about making concrete demands of society and of the government. So if this is feminism that Gillard is representing in parliament, then I want to know, whose feminism is it? I don’t care how many sharp speeches she makes: her government is making life for some of the most vulnerable women in Australia even harder than it already is, and I want no part in it.

Very nicely said.

My fear is this: that the net result of all of this will not be the decline of Jones, but instead an increasing polarisation in Australian society where a certain alienated group of people (the  Jones “battlers”) feels that another group of people in society (the educated, middle-class “elite”) gangs up on them, fails to listen to their fears, and polices who they can listen to on the radio. I feel like both major political parties are feeding off and exacerbating this polarisation so that they can get the votes of each sector of society (Labor from the anti-Jones groups, Liberals from the pro-Jones groups) but that this polarisation is to the net detriment of Australia. I would suggest also that assuming people who listen to Jones are stupid, sexist, ignorant and racist is not a good idea either. Of course it is true that some listeners may exhibit those characteristics. But there may also be genuine bases for certain fears which may be overlooked if you simply write people off as ‘sexist’ and the like without probing more deeply to see what the basis for the fear really is. And surely, if one takes Labor’s traditional background into account, then they should be concerned not only to listen to the concerns of middle-class educated persons such as myself, but also others who are less educated and less privileged, up to and including Jones’ “battlers”. Genuine fears or criticisms which should be at least given some consideration risk being overlooked, simply because they may be expressed in infelicitous terms. Moreover, the best way to change people’s minds is not to tell them they are stupid, but to listen to their fears, and work out whether any part of those fears which may have a basis, and attempt to allay any of those fears which are based on a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge.

The way things are going, my ultimate fear is that we will again see something like One Nation or another form of extremism rise in this country. When you don’t let people have an outlet to speak their fears (whether it be about carbon tax or refugees or whatever) those fears fester, and become ugly. Ideas exposed to the light of day become disinfected. Now, personally, I don’t think Jones is a healthy outlet for those fears (he tends to exacerbate fears rather than speak the voice of reason, and he closes down callers who attempt to inject some sense into the debate, as the transcript of the show which was found to incite the Cronulla riots shows). But the more I think about it, the more I think that any attempt to close Jones down for good may be dangerous and may backfire. It may actually concrete his appeal among his select audience. His audience will think, “Look at the middle class left-wing elites ganging up on him; they are trying to close down our spokesperson, and close down our voices.” The goal is to lessen Jones’ demagogic appeal, not to produce the paradoxical outcome of increasing it and widening gulfs in our society. Thus, I’d advise people who wish to unseat Jones altogether to beware unintended consequences, tread carefully, and remember the Streisand effect (i.e. that attempting to suppress certain information may lead to increased exposure as people flock to see what all the fuss is about).

I think all parties should back away from this kind of polarising, ugly debate. All parties should attempt to resist and reject commentators who make cheap jibing shots at the other side as a way of advancing political dialogue. (Yes, I include the Catherine Devenys of the world with the Alan Joneses here. I am on record as disliking Catherine Deveny‘s approach almost as much as Alan Jones’.) I want our Federal Parliament to consider the issues that matter in a civil and respectful manner. I want our politicians to get on with actually governing our country for the good of all people, and I want them to truly represent those they govern by listening to all sides of the story, not just those who agree with them.


  1. Posted October 10, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    We elect them to run the country and what we get is them slanging away at each other wasting time and making themselves look very bad. This 64-yr-old ex-Labor, Greens voter would however, vote for my local candidate of any party that had ‘Malcolm Turnbull The Civilised’ leading it.

  2. Posted October 10, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Is it permissable to mention his lavatorial exploits, being gay and so forth?

  3. Mindy
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Simon from Woolworths was supposed to be a Community and Government Liasion officer. It was pointed out that perhaps someone who is supposed to be dealing with the Government shouldn’t be making chaff bag jackets and that his position was now untenable. I agree with that. YMMV

    I am thinking that a Malcolm Turnbull PM will only lead to the same disillusionment that a Julia Gillard PM has, for me. But I can’t think of anyone else on the Opposition benches that I would rather either.

  4. Posted October 10, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Having been in receipt, in the past, of a leftist pile-on when I was (a) young and (b) without power or influence, Simon Berger is the only one in all of this I feel sorry for. I was still getting hate mail in June 2007, before I left to take up my scholarship at Oxford. One item of hate mail came to chambers, the other to my home.

    And this was long AFTER I’d retrained and changed jobs. No, I do not like what has been done to Mr Berger, and the people who have brought it about need to take a good long look at themselves. Bullying does not magically become something else when done in the name of what appears to be a good cause; in fact, I submit that it undermines the ‘good cause’ irrevocably.

  5. John H.
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Sorry LE I don’t have time to fully digest your excellent piece and am sick to death of what passes for politics in this country. Accordingly I try to keep my mind focused on productive thinking.

    Eleanor Roosevelt:

    Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.

    The country is becoming minuscule minded. This blog is a shining exception to that sad trend. Too many political forums, and the Cat is certainly guilty in this regard, have become hate forums. Enough.

    The way things are going, my ultimate fear is that we will again see something like One Nation or another form of extremism rise in this country.

    Parliament is leading us towards that end. We are losing our way. The real challenge is how do we stop it? Suggestions?

  6. kvd
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    LE I agree with the point of your commentary, but I think you are granting Mr Jones more significance than he warrants. He has a listening audience of maybe 150,000 on a good day (possibly more these past few days) in a four hour slot from 5 a.m. weekdays. In his show he takes 15-20 calls per hour and makes a very good job of exactly what he’s employed to do. But to grant him any wider significance, relevance or influence is to assume his followers are representative of the whole, and I think that is fairly problematic.

    There will always be Joneses, and Pickerings, and various mini-me’s of all colours like Mike Carlton and Andrew Bolt and whoever-you-dislike-today. But they are not representative of any more than a minute portion of the population, or even the more important beast – the electorate.

    Summers’ piece is fine as far as it goes, although I do wonder how anyone who gives three prime examples by simply quoting various stories told her by ‘a friend’ can be taken seriously. (Is that called hear-hearsay?) Anyway, I think she otherwise makes a fair case.

    And lastly, how did any serious media person let the lie stand: “There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead, but lets be absolutely clear. I am determined to price carbon”. I’m not a supporter, but as far as I’m concerned she actually has followed through on that particular undertaking.

  7. Posted October 10, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Very thoughful post.

    Malcolm Turnbull is the first Liberal Leader to be ousted by the ordinary membership; his return is very unlikely.

    On social divisions, it is revealing how Sydney-style shock-jockery just does not work in Melbourne, despite attempts to import it. There is simply not the requisite level of social disenfranchisement for it to feed off.

  8. Posted October 10, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    oI liked this pst a great deal, and it emboldens me to do one of my own. I don’t like Alan Jones, or at least, I don’t like what I’ve seen or heard of him, but I dislike much more the notion that some people mustn’t be heard.

  9. Posted October 10, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    It would have been better, my comment, had it begun ‘I liked this post …’

  10. Mel
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Berger involved himself in something moderately grubby and he has (apparently) paid a price for it. I’d feel sorry for him if he was unemployed and slept under a bridge. But he doesn’t; he is rich and well connected and undoubtedly he’ll have a nice new job and have his Mercedes detailed long before SL’s tears of sorrow have dried.

    Alan Jones is 71 and I suspect his audience is similarly aged mutton. I think the old fart’s occasional explosion between the ears do the Lib’s more harm than good. Other than that, I can’t think of anything nice to say about the guy :)

  11. Mel
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Another point- Gillard forcing single parents (mostly mums) onto the unemployment benefit when their youngest kid turns 8 is revolting and will have nasty unintended consequences due to the added stress and poverty that will result. For this reason, Gillard is a cow. Moooo!

  12. John H.
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    Another point- Gillard forcing single parents (mostly mums) onto the unemployment benefit when their youngest kid turns 8 is revolting and will have nasty unintended consequences due to the added stress and poverty that will result. For this reason, Gillard is a cow. Moooo!

    Judith Sloan has an article in Online Opinion wherein she argues that Newstart must be raised. This is now a widespread view in the Australian community, including various business groups. The data is unequivocal, long term Newstart recipients are growing in Aus and long term unemployment is clearly a major risk factor for depression and suicide. Some abstracts I looked at tonight even suggested it is the major cause of suicide.

    There is nothing unintended about the consequences Mel. They don’t give a damn. The current Newstart allowance is promoting suicide.

  13. Posted October 10, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    You’re starting a whole new angle htere John H. Giving people money is promoting suicide? A flippant answer to that stands out like …er… well.. comes to mind easily.
    There are plenty of problems in Australia, not least of them being the culture of restentfulness at having to work.
    At times it makes one ashamed to be part of such a lazy & sour race.

  14. Posted October 11, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    If governments stopped rationing land in a way which is both arbitrary and inevitably raises rents, then Newstart would be much more liveable. Given, however, that they do, then that must raise the level at which it has to be paid to be workable.

    Leaving aside the issue of level of benefits, having single parent benefit as specifically targetted for pre-school age kids makes considerable sense; particularly if you don’t wish to encourage generational welfare dependency.

  15. stackja
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Menzies retired and the rot set in. First Whitlam, then Keating, now Gillard. If the media just reported and not opinionated every event. My mother never liked feminism. What has feminism really contributed to women’s lives?

  16. Seanofinn
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    A great piece. The only thing I would add is the fact that the 70 probably voted not so much to keep Slipper but to stop Parliament becoming a Court even if after the lynching. God help us if these after to be the judge of anyone!

  17. John H.
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Judith Sloan did write:

    Rather there are messages in the patently inadequate allowance for the unemployed – you are not as deserving as those on other allowances, you are at fault, you should simply find a job. It is not at all clear that these messages are the best way to motivate and encourage the unemployed to gain employment.

    In short: ostracism. Read about the consequences of ostracism. As for the real rate of unemployment, double the govt figures, then add another 1/3 for under employment. Additionally, long term Newstart recipient numbers are increasing.

  18. TerjeP
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Jones has a right to say what he did. I’m not suggesting that he should be regulated by law or censured (that way lies danger).

    I presume you meant “censored” not “censured”.

  19. Chek Ling
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Free speech is a nice idea. Just that it does not work in practice. I am not in a position that Alan Jones has. Neither are most of us in Abbott’s position to cheer-lead the media to paint the government as illegitimate from day one. (That to me is what started the political low ebb we are now in.) Sure, both Jones and Abbott won their places. (So pity that I have not got there!) As we know Joseph Goebbels also won his place.

    As for Jones merely channeling what is already in the community I think that is both weak and disingenuous. It’s like saying that humans are predisposed to heroin, ecstasy, etc. The peddlers are merely filling a need.

    Leadership determines how a culture develops: The Third Reich, Mao’s cultural revolution, the list goes on. What we have at this juncture is Abbott’s born-to-rule mentality, buttressed by his in-the-ring boxing tactics.

    The Murdoch media machine barracks for him, and too many of us seem to succumb to the gladiatorial spectacle that passes for political debate.

    Gillard has made quite a few mistakes. Sure, she is not as robust and politically astute as we had hoped. But how many in her position would survive the combined crusading of Abbott’s lot, the Murdoch empire, and demagogues like Jones. Not one of the many heroic Aboriginal leaders survived the gun-totting expeditions and “legal” retributions of our colonial forbears.

    It was the same sort of moral slackness which agitated for and clung to a White Australia for a hundred years.

    Free speech can never be an excuse for avoiding a moral judgement on what is good for the society as a whole.

    “When the mores of a society are weak, the law is unenforceable.”

  20. TerjeP
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I read the Andrew Bolt blog most days and often watch the Bolt Report on Channel 10. I’ve listened to Alan Jones a few times but I’ve never been a regular. I find both individuals intelligent, informed and likeable. They also don’t pussy foot around issues which is what many of us hate about the political class. You may not agree with them but you know where they stand. There is a certain integrity in that. I don’t think their talent is in sharing or channelling fear so much as it is providing a cathartic outlet for anger at government stupidity. Not that they get it right all the time but they get it right often enough in the view of the listeners.

    In terms of being merchants of hate I think this is a very unfair label. Certainly many people who get angry at government figures will end up hating them but it isn’t the same thing. I get angry at my kids and I don’t let them drive heavy machinery but this does not mean I hate them. I can get angry at the ALP, the Greens, Julie Gillard etc without hating anybody. I don’t sense anything in Bolt or Jones that suggests I should make the transition to hate.

    I think that a lot of the gulf between those that like these commentators and those that don’t comes down to differences of dialectic style and differences of political opinion. If you’re left leaning and you like concensus style discussions then you won’t like them. If you’re more conservative leaning and like adversarial debates then they will be much more your cup of tea. Personally I’m comfortable with lots of dialectic styles but I do really loath it when people pussy foot around issues.

    In terms of the callers to 2GB (usually on the Bolt podcasts I listen to) I have heard some really crackpots. But in my limited experience it hasn’t been the norm. Most seem to be regular people with nuanced and considered points of view. Usually not left wing but often somewhat at odds with the commentator. They generally get a fair hearing. I find it annoying when they are characterised as ignorant children being fired up by merchants of hate. Frankly it’s silly. And often these characterisations are made by people who never listen anyway so have no real basis for their assessment other than as second hand opinion or just base contempt.

  21. TerjeP
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    They also don’t pussy foot around issues which is what many of us hate about the political class.

    Probably a bad choice of words given my point. But try and see the nuance in the “H” word and read it as intended.

  22. derrida derider
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    OT, Lorenzo, but the whinge is NOT about requiring them to look for work – we already do that and have for some years. The sole parents’ whinge is precisely about the level of benefit (that, plus a harsh means test that confiscates any return from part time work).

  23. derrida derider
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    PS – Mindy @3 is right. If the Woolworths guy had just been, say, a finance manager then no problem. But his actions made him unfit for the particular job he was in.

  24. TerjeP
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    p.s. SL – regrading the cronulla riots I don’t think Alan Jones was culpable despite the fact that a kangaroo court said otherwise.

  25. Mel
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink


    “Leaving aside the issue of level of benefits, having single parent benefit as specifically targetted for pre-school age kids makes considerable sense; particularly if you don’t wish to encourage generational welfare dependency.”

    The reality is more complicated than that. If a single mum has no real chance of gaining employment because she lives in a high unemployment area and employers don’t see her as a viable proposition, all you are doing is adding stress and its associated impacts into the home.

    Alternatives like compulsory part time voluntary work or further education might be better.

  26. Posted October 11, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    DD@29 If the change is simply a way of cutting benefits, then rather nasty politics. (My tidy mind would also like benefits to have clear expectations.)

    And don’t get me started on harsh means tests and confiscatory overall tax rates.

    DD@30 Agreed.

  27. Posted October 11, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    TerjeP@27: There’s a stark contrast between “adversarial debate” and the sort of hyperbolic vitriol that I’ve seen attributed to those types of shock jocks.

  28. TerjeP
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I don’t see them making hyperbolic vitriol any more than many other prominent commentators (eg David Marr). Bolt positively rails against hyperbolic vitriol and regularly points out journalistic comment by others that he finds needlessly vitriolic. Of course if you pluck things out of context you can see what you want to see or what your told to see.

  29. TerjeP
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink


  30. Posted October 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Phrases from today’s posts on Bolt describing the government in some way:
    “poisonous culture of abuse and deceit”
    “A monstrous hypocrite.”
    “moral vacuum”
    “green madness”

    That’s just one day’s worth of what I’m describing as ‘hyperbolic vitriol’.

  31. TerjeP
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Although I have not seen the actual context they were used in by Bolt himself if I simple take the context you have provided here then all the descriptions seem accurate and reasonable to me. They’re descriptions I’d readily use in polite company to explain my view of the Gillard government. If I was describing to my kids or my mother or a public gathering my view point about the government these terms would fit right in. If that is your definition of hyperbolic vitriol then we have a severe difference of opinion.

  32. stackja
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I suspect you’re trolling, Stackja. Nonetheless I shall bite.

    Not trolling just skeptical of all this feminism propaganda. My mother did not need the permission of anyone to own land or have a job. She got very angry when some PC person called her Ms. What has gender got to do with jobs? If you do a good job so be it. If a bad job then face the consequences. Why do feminists always claim special treatment when a woman does not do the job she is expected to do.

  33. TerjeP
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    p.s. describing a culture as “poisonous” is akin to describing it as “vitriolic”. Strange you would object to one form of words but not the other.

  34. kvd
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    desipis@37 yes, but perhaps he was “positively railing against” these things, but in a sort of non-hyperbolic way? You’re obviously missing nuance and context; maybe wait for the edited podcast to get at the ‘truth’ ;)

  35. John H.
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink


    My sister ran a very successful business and early on, decades ago now, did complain about the attitude to “strong women”. She said it has improved greatly over the last decade. Mind you, that may reflect her status now, she is a leader in her field and is paid moocho mucho as a consultant.

    So while there were problems with feminism overall I think it has done a lot of good for women.

  36. Nigel Davies
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    A good, and obviously thought provoking article.
    As someone who listens to, watches and reads the widest range of opinions I can get, I find the Alan Jones’s slightly less annoying simply because they are usually on commercial channels, and therefore public opinion can in fact (hurrah) reign them in a bit if necessary. (Pathetic apology by the way, though being picked up for something at a private function not on air is a bit rich compared to what does go on air…)
    But that just makes it clear that Q&A and other (ABC) taxpayer sponsored programs can spread equally viscious bile without any chance of being controlled by public opinion.
    I would imagine that a twitter campaign against some of the vicious and appalling garbage that has got good laughs on Q&A recently would be ignored not matter how many hundreds of thousands wanted the show axed.
    (Note, I don’t want any of these groups axed. ‘Defend their rights’ to be asses etc. I like to hear people who consider themselves morally superior wallowing in unrecognised filth… it does so much good for my own moral superiority.)
    If I felt that publicly funded left wing commentators had even as few constrraints on them as the commercially vulnerable right wing ones, I would be a bit happier about the Australian media.

  37. kvd
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    I like to hear people who consider themselves morally superior wallowing in unrecognised filth

    Is that a fair quote, or should I have included the ‘…’ at the end, to provide context and nuance, and to remove any hint of hyperbole? Never mind.

    LE@45 I’m wondering if you have ever sat through an Alan Jones program? Ever? My guess is not, and why would you, being Melbourne-based. So when you say you dislike his show, I think you’re reacting to others’ reports of their opinions?

    Those 15-20 calls an hour go something like this:

    2 birthday/anniversary greetings
    3 mentions of local fundraising events
    4 requests for help with electricity/phone/water bills
    5 thank yous for earlier 234′s
    6 ‘I agree with you Allen”‘s

    Mix in a couple of interviews where Mr Jones puts his views, and then multiply by four hours. Seriously – what’s not to like?

  38. stackja
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    …the Labor party and the Left may miss the fact…

    ” The Labor party and the Left seek to obscure the fact of legitimate criticisms of this government by name-calling. I am not convinced about the merits of feminism. But we can agree to disagree.

  39. Posted October 11, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    kvd, you make it sound like the mainstream media precursor to Facebook, only less interesting because it involves people I don’t even know.

  40. kvd
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    desipis – “Hmmm, hummn, yes I see what you mean, but the important thing is that no Prime Minister should lie to the public, and be allowed to get away with it”.

  41. Mel
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Stackja @47: “I am not convinced about the merits of feminism. But we can agree to disagree.”

    Conservatives have more in common with the Taliban than they’d care to admit.

  42. Posted October 11, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, kvd, for clarifying why I never listen to talkback radio (it’s for music, as far as I’m concerned).

    In fact, I don’t even listen to BBC Radio 4 over here…

  43. kvd
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    LE@51 – Hmmm, hummn, yes I see what you mean, and I tend to agree, but you see, the important thing is that no Prime Minister should lie to the public, and be allowed to get away with it.

    Rinse and repeat.

  44. kvd
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    SL you obviously do less driving than I do, or enjoy mindless music more than I do. Or maybe it’s the wallowing in the filth that I prefer – who knows or cares? But the important thing is that no Prime Minister should lie to the public.

  45. Mel
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    But on a more serious note, I guess I agree with most if not all of the core feminist program – abortion on demand, generous statutory p/maternity leave, a ban on sex discrimination and so on.

    However I’ve been seriously repulsed by the behaviour of uber-feminist activists such as those on the internet. Here’s Mindy, who occasionally pleasures us with a visit, in an OP at Hoyden About Town:

    “Men are at more risk of violence. Sort of if you squint a bit. Yes, men are more at risk of violence from other men. How about you guys stop hitting each other and trying to prove who has a bigger dick? Get out the rulers and get on with it.” (my emph.)

    Can anyone explain to me how toxic crap like this differs from Alan Jones’ style nastiness?

  46. John H.
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, kvd, for clarifying why I never listen to talkback radi

    I don’t listen to Radio National anymore SL but some of the more specialised talkback programs can be good value.

  47. Posted October 11, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Mel@56, I agree that there’s not much difference and that ‘toxic crap’ can be found in all corners of politics, regardless of the merit of the particular point of view.

    You make an interesting point @32 about how incentives don’t work if they aren’t aligned with capacity and opportunity. Figureheads such as radio shock jocks or prominent bloggers provide the opportunity for people to revel in the ‘toxic crap’. However I wonder to what extent such emotional partisanism is a necessary incentive to get people involved in important political issues that might otherwise struggle to attract sufficient attention. There might be issues with the format and execution of Q&A, but at least the show has exposed its demographic to the experience of interactive politics.

  48. TerjeP
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Desipis. I think I’ve got it now!

    “poisonous culture” ~ bad phrase to use, sign of being vitriolic.

    “toxic crap” ~ okay to use. Presumably because it ends with the poo word.

    Any more of this subtle rules of decorum you can help with?

  49. Posted October 11, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    I was using quotes for the reason that I was referring to the same concept as Mel but not necessarily adopting the phrase as a description of the concept that I’d use. But yes, I’ll say it’s probably not the best term to use. There’s also the issue that I’m generally trying to focus on the comments, rather than the people in my criticism. I think it in part goes back to the post and points being missed. When people try to emphasise their emotion or perhaps group identity, they are causing their quite valid points to be lost in the language.

  50. Jolly
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    @ Check Ling ..”Gillard has made quite a few mistakes. Sure, she is not as robust and politically astute as we had hoped..” You must be joking, mate!
    Gillard is the most conniving, calculating, scheming and back-stabing politician in Australian history. She is as tough as they come and what is most amazing is that she is also playing the gender card. What I’d call ‘having the cake and eating it’ Remember her steel nature comes from the coal mines of Wales. She is a tough cookie, alright. Jones is a a bully who delights in dishing out but can’t take it himself. C Deveny is delusional and abusive with not an iota of good manners. Abbott and Gillard deserve each other. Meanwhile who is managing the country? Hmmm … we are paying these politicians to entertain us in Parliament. The only people I truly feel sorry for are the Aboriginal people. After having robbed them of their land,culture, language and dignity, we (White Australia) have now turned on each other. What a sad mob.

  51. TerjeP
    Posted October 12, 2012 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    You must really hate football.

  52. Chek Ling
    Posted October 12, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Dear Jolly, our dominant attitude towards the Aboriginal peoples until the recent decade or two is a good example of how the White Australia culture has developed. Never mind two hundred years of oppression, the killing for revenge, convenience or sport (Inga Clendinnen), we blamed it all on them for not willing or unable to do what we do so well for ourselves. That is we only see what is convenient to us.

    The remains of the White Australia mentality is still discernible from time to time. Charlie Teo (a brain surgeon of some note) drew a lot of animosity, albeit largely from certain social strata, from his Australia Day address. But Mao’s last dancer earns demi-cult hero adulation. The Chinese are okay if they provide some cultural exoticness, but not criticism of the white hand that has given them a place in this country.
    The Australian today reveals that the conservative high court judges had helped the working class never-quite-made-it-to-the-gentry Kerr to dismiss Whitlam. Twenty years on the born to rule mentality is still with blokes like Abbott and Jones. Mungo McCullum wrote in the Monthy that this business of “character” not befitting that of Prime Ministership started in 1994 when Latham began to knock over Howard in the polls initially. It was then that the muck racking on Latham started. The same tactic has been used to try to derail Gillard.
    That our political leaders are what they are says a lot about our culture. Look at some of the younger ones, Sophie M for instance.

    It seems too many of us have the addiction to bond with the winning mob, just like the million voters who bonded with Pauline Hanson. (Made Hanson quite well off, though only a small shadow of what we offer up to Jones.)

  53. TerjeP
    Posted October 13, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    The only times I have found myself truly passionate about football was at a game of soccer where one of my kids was playing. I can get tribal only blood loyalty is involved. And with out some bond of loyalty to one of the teams I don’t think you can properly enjoy the spectacle.

  54. stackja
    Posted October 13, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Mel: “the Taliban” this name-calling again.

  55. marks
    Posted October 13, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Terjep @ 27 “…You may not agree with them but you know where they stand….” about A Jones and A Bolt.

    I used to lurk and occasionally comment on Bolt’s blog.

    Sometimes I agreed with him, and sometimes not. However, the reason I have not bothered to keep up with whatever he was saying is precisely because I know where he stands. What he says is entirely predictable, unchanging, and never having to admit error. Therefore going there is like experiencing one’s own ‘Groundhog Day’.

    It seems to me that the dictum: If they agree with me, they are superfluous, and if they disagree with me, they are pernicious, applies to Bolt, Jones and all the rusted on. (Apologies to Abbe Sieyes)

  56. Chris
    Posted October 14, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Meanwhile who is managing the country? Hmmm … we are paying these politicians to entertain us in Parliament.

    As usual its the public service who keep things running reasonably smoothly regardless of what the government are doing.

    LE – I think the only reason the ALP are calling a truce is because of the very badly timed joke at the CFMEU dinner. If that hadn’t occurred they’d still be going hard on Abbott.

  57. Will
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    A thoughtful post, thank you. I just want to comment on one thing.

    Personally, I think you bend over backwards a little too far in trying to imagine that there might be nuggets of respectable protest in clearly disproportionate and arbitrary levels of vitriol and inventive cited above. We can certainly make allowances for people to be a bit inarticulate or perhaps lacking the proper vocabulary to adequately express their ideas. But that only works up to a point. Beyond that point, applying a charitable principle to insert nuance and respectability where none can be found is just a kind of bad faith.

    Sociologists and psychologists are best placed to address these issues of parsing inchoate and emergent alienation into something tractable and meaningful. So let’s leave that to them and there’s lot’s of studies on the reactionary side of political cognition.

    Also, I don’t think most people who reject talk radio as an unserious reactionary backwater, as I do, really assume the listeners really lack agency or originating grievances. Obviously there is a symbiotic relationship there, and, of course, even assuming a lot of oblique framing and amplifying heat, that still involves tapping into existing feelings. I don’t think anyone would deny something like that.

    The point isn’t that these people are just stupid – but more that they have inhabited this universe for a long time and succumbed to a kind of epistemic closure whereby they join crescendos of outrage that really aren’t comprehensible to people outside their own epistemic bubble. It makes perfect, proportionate sense in the bubble but nowhere else.

    As for the carbon tax, certainly people are entitled to make noise and clamour about major broken promise and what it means to their understanding of the bonds of trust between leaders and the polity. However, the reality of the chronology of events does not support that reading of a promise, reliance, vote and then betrayal.

    A few points:
    -Almost all Jones listeners are Liberal and National voters;
    -Maybe once they were blue-collar Labor, but that has dubious relevance here;
    -The promise was made right before the election in a paper;
    -The promise has made simultaneous to a promise to implement a carbon price;
    -Most of the publicity of the promise occurred in the aftermath of the election;

    All of that strongly suggests that outrage was tied to promotion and post-facto framing by the conservative media, not person reliance and a feeling of betrayal.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Skepticlawyer » ‘Manners cost nothing’ on October 19, 2012 at 5:05 am

    [...] delivered with eyebrow arched, and often over the rim of a teacup) by various recent events: Alan Jones undone by someone recording an ill-mannered comment and then broadcasting it, the sacking of Reddit [...]

  2. [...] is no stranger to the need to apologise: he recently had to apologise for comments in relation to Julia Gillard’s deceased [...]

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