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”.
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When you walk into the Commonwealth Bank you don’t see advertisements on the walls attacking banks for paying obscene salaries to their executives. McDonalds would refuse to place banners outside its stores stating that Big Macs are rubbish and the Whopper is a superior burger. In a similar vein, News Limited, the publisher of this website, has taken the unremarkable commercial decision not to use its products as a vehicle to trash its reputation.
The person in question is Dick Smith and the material is a 28-page magazine he has written called Dick Smith’s Magazine of Forbidden Ideas That You Won’t Read About in the Mainstream Media.
As a businessman, Smith has harnessed the concept of martyrdom – be it real or imagined – as his preferred marketing technique. He has made millions presenting himself as a nuggetty Aussie battler taking on the big guys, despite being bigger than most in Australian business.
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The Labor Party might be moving towards the termination of its disastrous shotgun wedding with the Australian Greens, but there are a number of policy positions spawned by this marriage of convenience which are still very much alive. The argument over preferences and formal alliances between the parties is largely an irrelevance to the day-to-day lives of voters. What matters most is the impact this relationship continues to have on public policy.
If Labor is serious about this discussion, its cooler-headed members should broaden the debate to include issues such as media policy, as the once-sensible ALP has disappeared into a vortex of paranoia.
The best politicians are those who cop scrutiny on the chin and get on with governing – in recent years, two of the best examples would be Bob Carr and John Howard – but in Canberra right now it is the whiners who have got the upper hand.
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Newspapers are facing a crisis of confidence but like any crisis it is based partly on reality and partly on mythology. There is vast evidence that circulation is struggling worldwide as more people embrace the digital experience and want their news to follow them on their phone and their tablet. But there are many millions of people out there for whom the newspaper is still an integral part of their day. This week in Australia, News Limited alone will sell 12 million newspapers.
For many of you, if newspapers were to disappear tomorrow, it would wreak havoc on your morning coffee and ruin your lazy Sunday morning in bed, your partner reading Body and Soul while you devour the footy coverage. That’s not written out of any journalistic neediness, but because it is what people say. Millions of people have an affectionate relationship with their newspaper and newspapers still make many millions of dollars.
We have a weird situation in Australia where the second-biggest newspaper company appears to have decided that newspapers aren’t any good. I don’t write that with any mercenary sense of glee at Fairfax’s troubles – indeed it pains and angers me to watch their bosses act like a bunch of crazed sickle-wielding accountants, as a few of my closest friends in journalism work there.
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If Julia Gillard is looking for a shoulder to cry on about the torrid media coverage she has been receiving she could always pick up the phone to another recent prime minister in John Howard. If she were to do so she would find that, far from getting a sympathetic ear, she’d be politely advised to stop whining, harden up and get on with governing.
Ms Gillard once said, misleadingly, that her chances of seizing the leadership of the Labor Party from Kevin Rudd were as great as being picked to play for her beloved Western Bulldogs. To use an AFL analogy Ms Gillard is currently like the hapless footy coach who finds their team 10 goals down at half time and starts complaining about the umpiring.
It might be an over-simplification but the question Ms Gillard should ask herself is this. Is Labor on a record low primary vote of 27 per cent because of negative media coverage? Or is Labor getting negative media coverage because it’s got a primary vote of 27 per cent – that is, because its leadership has been so haphazard and its policies so poorly sold that the media is simply reflecting, not creating, public disquiet at its performance?
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The push by Bob Brown and Julia Gillard for a parliamentary inquiry into the media is so cynical, manipulative and transparently biased that if we really were as evil as they believe we’d congratulate them both for joining the dark side.
Both leaders are seeking to establish a connection in the public’s mind between the obscene and illegal practices exposed in the UK and perfectly conventional and legitimate journalism and commentary in Australia with which they just happen to disagree.
It is extraordinary both how blatantly they have hijacked the issue and how seamlessly the more naïve and ideological sections of the community have followed them to this at best offensive and at worst dangerous illogicality.
I was going to start this with a deliberately understated introduction along the lines of: This is not journalism’s finest hour. But then I remembered that the whole News of the World scandal was in fact unearthed by journalists. And then I couldn’t work out how to start.
Journalists are prone to navel gazing; the unkind would say that’s because of an over-inflated sense of our own importance. The kind would say it’s because we are aware of the inherent privilege and responsibility of what we do.
But you can’t deny the NOTW catastrophe is an incredibly significant story, so no wonder the non-News Ltd press are wallowing in it – gleefully, in many instances.
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It has come to the attention of the Australian Greens and their supporters that members of the media have been questioning politicians about how policies such as the carbon tax will affect people’s lives. To its shame, even the ABC has succumbed to this disturbing trend.
A petition has been organised by activists on the GetUp! website urging the national broadcaster to pull 7.30 Report anchor Chris Uhlmann into line. In an interview last week Uhlmann had the temerity to ask Greens Leader Bob Brown whether he still believed Australia should phase out the coal industry. When Brown suggested that this was a wicked misrepresentation of his position by those of us in what he calls the “Murdoch hate media”, Uhlmann helpfully reminded the Greens Leader that it was actually a direct statement by Brown himself in an opinion piece he authored just four years ago.
A brilliant strategic investment or a Machiavellian ploy, driven by revenge, to mess with the mind of a bitter enemy? The only thing certain about Kerry Stokes’ stunning raid on James Packer’s Consolidated Media this week is that billionaire long maligned as “Little Kerry” will be loving the wild speculation about his motives and intentions.
On Wednesday, Stokes’ Seven Network pounced on 15% of ConsMedia, giving the famously self-absorbed media industry something to talk about after an unusually long period of ownership stability.
The move also opened the third round of the epic Packer v Stokes slugfest.
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