Lee Rhiannon: She can’t handle the truth(ers)
If you asked any normal person to describe the September 11 terror attacks, the word “unbelievable” would be one of the first adjectives to spring to mind. Unbelievable, as in defying comprehension.
For a small but loud group of people – people I am somewhat reticent to write about for fear of inviting a deluge of emails from wackos – the September 11 terror attacks are unbelievable in a different way. They are unbelievable because, they argue, terrorists did not hijack planes and fly them into the Twin Towers. Instead, they believe the whole thing was an elaborate hoax, either a controlled detonation or a joint operation masterminded by the United States itself to justify a war against Islam. Some of them argue that Osama bin Laden didn’t exist, or was not behind what happened, despite his appearing in a film claiming full responsibility.
It is not so much an opinion as a diagnosable mental illness, but there you go. They think it’s the truth, and that’s why they give themselves the silly name of “truthers”.
Bizarrely, and probably also worryingly, Australia has among its federal MPs a person who has cuddled up to these loonies and has herself expressed doubts about the veracity of al Qaeda’s responsibility for 9-11. She is someone I kind of like, even though I can’t cop her politics, but someone with whom I always had cordial dealings while working as a political reporter in the NSW Parliament for what she likes to call the Murdoch hate media.
Just to be clear I don’t hate Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon at all. But her behaviour over the past week has given a telling insight into the minds of the rattier members of the Australian Greens, the way they behave when they are caught playing fast and loose with the truth, and the way they believe the media should be restricted from holding them up to scrutiny. They are the most rabid exponents of the types of media restrictions envisaged by the Convergence Review and the Finkelstein Inquiry into newspapers.
And this week we saw how their reasons for being so gung-ho about the media have less to do with a desire to ensure responsible conduct by the press, than to cover their own behinds when they are caught out doing something irresponsible or foolish.
The Australian newspaper’s Christian Kerr wrote a good story earlier this month revealing that three years ago Lee Rhiannon attended a meeting with a prominent “truther” called John Bursill.
Despite her left-wing convictions, Rhiannon went ahead and held a meeting with Bursill at the same time he had given an address to another meeting of right-wing extremists to push his truther views. The meeting was called the Sydney Forum and was a gathering of Far Right activists organised by a lapsed Nazi called Jim Saleam, the former head of the cheerily named National Socialist Party.
In her speech after her meeting with Bursill this is what Rhiannon had to say about September 11.
“Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the USA, we have been subjected to a propaganda bombardment such as no other that I can recall.
“We were told that our governments had incontrovertible evidence that Osama bin Laden, holed up in an Afghanistan cave, had ordered the attacks. But no such evidence was produced. What the public have been subjected to is a patchwork of a few facts, propaganda, prejudice and conjecture.’‘
The comments were quite weird given Osama’s boastful video saying it was all his own work, and sounded pretty much identical to the ravings of the truther movement.
Rhiannon tried to wriggle her way out of strife by taking to Twitter this week to disown her former absurd remarks and state unequivocally that it was the work of Al Qaeda. “Bin Laden behind 9/11 terrorist attacks that are rightly condemned,” she tweeted.
However she then continued that she was the victim of what she regards as a “trolling” exercise by News Limited and The Australian and had been fitted up – rather than simply being on the receiving end of accurate reportage of a matter which is in the public interest.
She followed up her indignation on Twitter by using the time of the Federal Parliament to mount another tirade against us evil so-and-sos in the mainstream press. She said she had been “vilified” and that the coverage was “guilt by association smear tactics reminiscent of McCarthyism”.
This is just total rubbish. It is also interesting rubbish coming from the mouth of one of the most impassioned supporters of media regulation, which would replace the independent Press Council with a powerful body called the News Media Council, its 20 members selected by a five-member committee comprising people who are themselves members of the government or appointed by the government. This outfit would be able to hold news organisations in contempt of its rulings.
It would obviously suit Lee Rhiannon if such a body existed because then she wouldn’t have to suffer the irritation of accurate reporting pointing out the dumb things she has said and the strange people she has associated herself with.
The more we see of the calibre of person who is backing this crackdown on free speech, the more apparent it becomes that it has nothing to do with the public good and everything to do with stifling scrutiny. Like Labor Senator and ferocious media critic Doug Cameron, who said the Murdoch press should be the subject of an inquiry for reporting that Kevin Rudd wanted to knock off Julia Gillard and get his old job back. Seriously, where do we get these crazy ideas?
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