Howard Sattler: a comment

By skepticlawyer

Like the Australian PM – but unlike most of the people holding forth on misogyny in Australia generally and this interview in particular – I have been interviewed by Howard Sattler. When he interviewed me, he was courteous, pleasant, and asked intelligent questions, despite the fact that some other media outlets had turned me into a hate figure.

In saying this, I do not wish to excuse his behaviour towards Julia Gillard. I think most of us can accept that this is a sacking offence, regardless of the respective positions of the interlocutors. I know what would happen to me if I asked something similar of a client; indeed, as Lt. General David Morrison (Australian Army) has pointed out this week, the number of workplaces that will tolerate this kind of sexist and homophobic crap is rapidly approaching nil.

However, I do wish to make a few observations on the fallout from Sattler’s sacking, and on the treatment of women in public life.

1. Many of the people rightly mortified at Gillard’s treatment by Sattler and others cheerfully posted (on Facebook and elsewhere) various ‘witch’ commentaries and accusations on the death of Margaret Thatcher. Some of them did so while having the singular gracelessness of purporting to be feminists at the same time. This means that they are aware of what such a label meant historically for women throughout the Christian and Islamic worlds. Yes, you know who you are. I think it is to my credit that I only unfriended one of you.

2. Conservative and libertarian women are routinely subjected to rank abuse: Ann Coulter, for example, is a frequent target for transphobic slurs. I am also old enough to remember what was meted out to Bronwyn Bishop and Pauline Hanson. Abuse of the latter was also infused with class-hatred of the vilest sort.

3. When it comes to invasive and biased media behaviour, my experience of left-leaning, middle-class media organisations was far worse than it was when it came to the tabloid right, both print and television. It was the ABC, for example, that obtained my parents’ telephone number by fraudulent means (I believe the kids these days refer to this as ‘phone hacking’). This is why I still want the ABC hacked into bleeding pieces, and hope Abbott proves to be a man of his word when he is elected PM. At least in Britain, I can refuse to own a television and thereby avoid the TV licence—the BBC is, in that sense, user-pays. In Australia, everyone who pays tax pays for a public broadcaster that—if it decides you are the enemy—behaves like the Sun.

4. If women are going to take their place in public life, then standards of civility and good manners need to apply to all women, of all political stripes. Playing the woman is as bad as playing the man, and if you wish to be taken seriously as a commentator, you may wish to think about that.

5. Poet Stevie Smith once asked why the word ‘pretty’ was so underrated. I have a similar question: why is the word ‘nice’ so underrated? Nice, it would seem, is damn difficult, something that takes a lifetime to achieve. And it isn’t even on lots of people’s radars.


  1. Posted June 16, 2013 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    I thought Howard Sattler’s questions were abominable.

    That said, the man has Parkinson’s, and the photo of him with the PM after the interview has him looking a bit out of it. I suspect he’s on the way out.

    I’m not wild generally about vicarious outrage. I’m even less wild about it from people who happily sink the boot into whichever soft spot they can find.

  2. Posted June 16, 2013 at 11:04 pm | Permalink


  3. Posted June 17, 2013 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    For ‘nice’ try ‘courteous’. It applies to everyone, and it embodies respect for others even when you disagree with them.

    Australian society doesn’t value courtesy, and while I realise that the word comes from the behaviour expected at court, I think it is the kind of behaviour that a civilised society should aspire to.

  4. kvd
    Posted June 17, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    ‘Nice’ origin at OED:

    Middle English (in the sense ‘stupid’): from Old French, from Latin nescius ‘ignorant’, from nescire ‘not know’. Other early senses included ‘coy, reserved’, giving rise to ‘fastidious, scrupulous’: this led both to the sense ‘fine, subtle’ (regarded by some as the ‘correct’ sense), and to the main current senses

    ‘Nice’, even now is a bit dubious. “Nice one!” can be praise or sarcasm, for instance. I don’t think you get the double meanings attaching to ‘nice’ with Don’s ‘courteous’ or even ‘polite’. Anyway I very much agree with your point.

    Now about that young schoolgirl with no stockings in DEM’s cartoon. What is happening to our standards?

  5. derrida derider
    Posted June 17, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    1) A fair cop. Thatcher, IMO, did some terrible – and hypocritical, BTW – things. Her being dead should not excuse her from people’s anger at these, but her being female ought neither to increase or decrease that anger.

    2) Ann Coulter is such a deadhead that sexist abuse of her is not merely wrong but counterproductuve – its her deadheadedness that should be the focus. Yet without her long legs, sultry voice and l’il black dresses no-one would ever have listened to her in the first place. That’s why she was the pinup girl of all those warbloggers living in their parent’s basements. Now it’s wrong to say “live by the sword, die by the sword” but you can understand the temptation.

    3) I suspect that the only reason you were spared the treatment of the tabloids is, frankly, that a literary scandal – real or confected – is just not of much interest to tabloid readers. Try doing something more newsworthy for them and you’ll see they behave at least as badly as the ABC.

    4) Agreed. All the most devastating interviews of pollies I have ever seen – since Frost and Nixon actually – were conducted with studied politeness and focused on the issues. Jana Wendt (ex ABC) is actually the best I’ve ever seen at this, to the point that pollies of all stripes started refusing interviews with her (there are risks to being too good at some journalism jobs!)
    5) Yes, niceness is nice. There ought to be more of it.

  6. Posted June 17, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Yes, what happened to Jana Wendt? When I left Australia in 2007 she seemed to have disappeared. Obviously I managed to miss something there.

    To be fair the tabloids/commercials got in on the act, but they were willing to make the traditional argument that writers write, not represent this or that group according to that group’s wishes. I realise that the demented postmodernism that had infected the humanities when I was at university is now on the wane (for which, I think, we ought to credit the Sokal hoax, although I played a part in undermining it), but while it was in place it made it very easy for persons hostile to the humanities to cut the field to ribbons in terms of funding, all to the benefit of law, economics, and the sciences.

    I actually think we need the humanities, but by the same token, we don’t need intellectual drivel. Now, post Derrida, Kristeva, Butler, and Co, the humanities has a mountain to climb in order to regain a measure of respect.

    [Also, too, arguments founded on ridiculous notions of epistemic relativism – the ‘privilege’ furphy comes to mind – are still kicking around. Fortunately, ‘privilege’ has encountered organized skepticism, and is in the process of being taken to bits empirically.]

  7. Posted June 17, 2013 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    I cant understand it. In this enlightened day and age there is no shame in being gay. If for example we were to change the question to ‘is your partner heterosexual’ to a gay person, I don’t believe it would or should raise an eyebrow. I cant understand why the reverse is a sacking offence.

  8. Mel
    Posted June 17, 2013 at 10:26 pm | Permalink


    “I cant understand it.”

    In order to understand it, you probably need the emotional maturity of at least your average 13 year old.

    Problem solved.

  9. derrida derider
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Don’t be silly Henry2. If Sattler asked Bob Brown if his partner was hetero Brown would be entitled to take offence at such a simultaneously irrelevant and prurient question. I’d expect the radio station would be quick to get rid of such a gormless and incompetent journalist, especially if Brown was PM.

  10. conrad
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    If you want an Aus example from the other side of the political spectrum and which used to happen from groups then you might remember Amanda Vanstone — whenever she used to visit universities as Education minister (or whatever it was), people use to chant “fat cow”, which I thought was pretty disgusting (I thought she was hopeless incidentally, but that doesn’t justify such chanting), and people didn’t seem to care less about it then.

  11. kvd
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    This is not new. Helen Clark in NZ had to face the same sort of stuff.
    And I can’t be bothered to check, but I’d lay a dollar on the Thatchers also being so besmirched.

    Sattler’s question should have been “does your partner play any sort of role in your decisions of state?” And therein I think is the real difference: male politicians the world over get extra points for listening to ‘the little woman’, whereas for women, that would be absolute, utter poison.

  12. John H.
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Ann Coulter, for example, is a frequent target for transphobic slurs.

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I was in the library the other day and noted two books by her. The titles said it all, she regards leftists as evil, stupid and “godless”. Even JP O’Rourke once joked that Ann Coulter says things about her political opponents that most would only say at 3.00am after being on the turps all night.

    It’s nice to be nice but being nice isn’t always the best way to deal with the likes of Coulter.

  13. Mel
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Eek, I’ve just read some of Ann Coulter’s quotes and she is indeed a vile shit-stain with the morality of a schoolyard bully. It would be forgivable if she said the odd awful thing but it is apparent that hatefulness is the reason for her popularity and she’s proud of it. (BTW, I wouldn’t classify Coulter as a conservative; she is a right wing populist. The former is a rare beast, the latter very common.)

    I don’t mind folk venting hate at such misanthropes (in fact I’d be frightened if they didn’t) but if you do it with words that also happen to be gendered or vilify some historically vilified group then you are actually indirectly helping Coulter make the world an uglier place.

  14. Posted June 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Henry2, I think the underlying implication is that the PM’s relationship is fake, that she’s not in a committed relationship and that Tim is there as window-dressing.

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