Let me start by being blunt. I think the tweeting SBS soccer/football reporter Scott McIntyre is an idiot. He describes the US move effectively to end World War II by dropping two atomic bombs on Japan as ‘the largest single day terrorist attacks in history’. But that elides a criticism, a wrong-headed and sophomoric criticism by the way, of how a war is conducted with a description of people who do evil, vile things outside the confines of a war.
On top of that, McIntyre doesn’t know his history, or he would realise Little Boy and Fat Man may well have ended the war while causing fewer overall deaths than if the Allies had been obliged to fight their way into Japan inch-by-inch. Those were the only two choices, unless the Allies wanted to call it a day and not defeat the Japanese. That sort of cost-benefit analysis is a wholly valid consideration in fighting a war, especially one that was triggered by the other side. Of course you can agree with how the Americans opted to end the war, or you can disagree, but likening it to a terrorist operation — you know, someone who goes into a school, separates the Muslims from the Christians, and then slaughters the latter — is idiotic.
So, at a risk of vulgarity, McIntyre doesn’t know his arse from the off-side rule on that one.
Then he tweeted about ‘widespread rape and theft’ committed by Anzac soldiers, and from the context he meant in both world wars. Now the adjective ‘widespread’ here is bizarre. I know of no respected historian making that claim, nor of there being a scintilla of evidence for such a claim. So, Scott the Tweeter, given that you’re referring to two world wars, how much raping and thieving would be needed for it to constitute ‘widespread’ in your view? Tens of thousands of incidents? Thousands? Again, this is a man who can’t distinguish a handball from a header.
Then there’s his cheap shot at ‘poorly read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers’. He seems to wonder whether, on a day devoted to remembering Australia’s war dead, this category of people might also ‘pause to consider the horror that all mankind suffered’. I suppose McIntyre’s point is that non-Australians suffered in these two wars too, indeed in all wars. But does McIntyre honestly think white drinkers and gamblers are too dumb to realise that? Does he think they don’t care? Maybe it’s just that he reckons this demographic doesn’t care much for ‘the world’s game’ anyway, which is the only team sport on offer via the taxpayer-funded SBS, so no harm done in insulting them. If he does think this group thinks soccer is boring, I have to confess I’m with all those drinkers and gamblers.
Oh, McIntyre also characterises World War I, and the attempted attack on the enemy’s southern flank at Gallipoli, as ‘an imperialist invasion of a foreign nation that Australia had no quarrel with’. Isn’t that just about the most moronic thing you’ve ever read? Does this soccer buffoon know that the Ottoman Empire was in the war at the time? That it was on Germany’s side, not ours? That it was in no sense at all an imperialist invasion, no matter how you cut it, even using the sharpest deconstructionist knife you can find? In war you attack the territory of the other side, especially if they initiated aggression and you are fighting back.
Basically, McIntyre’s four tweets are what you’d expect from someone steeped in hard left, hate-the-West, post-modern journalism. Having them in the public domain, all things considered, is a good thing because it lets the rest of us know such shallow, ill-informed, despise-the-West attitudes are flourishing, and flourishing in taxpayer-funded broadcasters.
Okay, so that’s how I’d begin to reply to McIntyre. You take issue and you argue. And in case the above isn’t clear enough, let me make it clear that I don’t think the man has two brain cells to rub together.
But leave wholly to one side the question of whether McIntyre is right or wrong and turn to the issue of free speech. We can notice at least three things as regards how the plight of McIntyre, ‘that poorly read, largely white’ soccer reporter, relates to free speech.
Point One: Almost all the people now defending McIntyre are hypocrites
Let me generalise. Virtually none of the people I’ve been seeing coming out in defence of McIntyre rallied to defend Andrew Bolt’s freedom of speech. Almost none of them. For all I know it might actually be none at all. Bolt had to face litigation under the egregious Section 18C hate-speech law that Tony Abbott won’t even try to repeal. So where were all those defenders of free speech when Bolt was under attack?
Ah, they all said back then: ‘But Bolt got some of his facts wrong’. So say, just for the sake of argument, that Bolt did get some facts wrong. Didn’t McIntyre ‘get some facts wrong’? Why defend McIntyre and not Bolt?
I have a lot of time for the miniscule number of people now defending McIntyre who also went to the wall defending Bolt. I just don’t think many of the former were in fact anywhere to be found when the latter was under attack. And that’s in a world where Bolt was under assault by the law, and so from the power of the state. McIntyre was not, and is not, under any threat of being dragged before the courts for what he said; nor did a judge tell him he can’t legally publish these tweets again. No, McIntyre was and remains legally free to say what he likes. It’s just that he was fired from his job.
So it is hardly any sort of a stretch to say that the ranks of those now defending McIntyre are chock full of the worst sort of hypocrisy. Give me a call when any of you poseurs decide to lobby for repeal of Section 18C. Till then, stop embarrassing yourselves with cheap, bumper-sticker moralizing about free speech.
Point Two: Free speech is about keeping the government from banning speech you don’t like, not your employer
It goes without saying, or should do, that the notion of free speech has nothing to do with words and speech that is wholly uncontentious. If someone is saying you’re the greatest person going, you’re not going to enact a law to silence that person. People mouthing ‘Coke commercial’ sentiments of harmony and love to all, don’t get silenced. Even in North Korea there are plenty of things you can say, such as any improbable compliment you might concoct about the Great Leader’s golf game, leadership skills and commitment to the revolution. You might want to be careful, though, complimenting his food-production insights, his haircut, or the way he manages his immediate family. These might be considered sarcastic, a deadly sin in places without real free speech.
So the only reason a society needs a doctrine of free speech is to deal with words and speech that lots of people do not like, sentiments that offend, annoys and infuriate them.
It is here that the defenders of McIntyre have things right. His words are precisely the sort that the John Stuart Mills of the world want protected against government. But, of course, McIntyre’s idiotic tweets are protected here in Australia against civil or criminal court actions. You see, Caucasian gamblers and drinkers, even ex-servicemen, don’t fall within the aegis of Section 18C. So these groups can’t claim to be the victims of race hate. Funny that.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think gambling, boozed-up ‘whiteys’ should get to invoke some hate speech law and drag McIntyre through the courts using a process that, whatever the outcome, is the punishment. But then I don’t think anyone should get to do that to McIntyre or Bolt or Mark Steyn or anyone – not whites, not blacks, not gays, not Asians, not anyone. Tony Abbott and George Brandis used to agree with me on that core point, back when they had convictions and backbones.
But leave that aside and notice where the defenders of McIntyre go wrong. Being fired by SBS is not an outcome where the State has acted to silence you. McIntyre can make those same tweets as many times as he likes and there will be no case for dragging him through the courts.
Ah, they say, but he was fired. Yes, he was. If you worked for McDonalds and spent each tea break in front of the store with a sign proclaiming ‘this food sucks’ you would be fired too. Or if, like me, you think the ABC is a disgracefully biased broadcaster pointedly ignoring its statutory obligation to be impartial and yet, to the amazement of every sentient being in Australia, Mark Scott decided to give you a job fronting next year’s Q&A, and you kept tweeting that the ABC was a one-sided, lefty joke, well then you’d be fired. And rightfully so. Taking the job involves tailoring your speech to limits your employer can stomach. Don’t like those limits? Then quit and say what you like.
McIntyre’s defenders just don’t seem to see this distinction, quite possibly because they don’t want to acknowledge the distinction. Of course, it’s a wholly different question whether McIntyre did in fact damage the SBS brand in a way that justifies his employer getting rid of him. Given SBS’s mandate, I’m not so sure. Personally, I would shut down SBS tomorrow and save the taxpayer wads of money. But if you’re going to have a broadcaster like that, whose mandate is to bring to the table all sorts of extremely minority tastes, well McIntyre’s tweets certainly do that. It’s not clear how they cut against what SBS was set up to do.
We all suspect that, in reality, SBS fired him not because he undermined its core broadcasting mission but because its brass was worried that this spineless government might actually grow a backbone and take steps against them if they did nothing. Hands up everyone who thinks that’s why SBS acted? I certainly do. If that’s correct, is that a valid ground on which SBS might sack someone? Probably.
Point Three: Regardless of anything else, there’s a benefit to society in giving views such as McIntyre’s an airing
J.S. Mill was right. There’s a benefit to all of us in hearing views we think are dumb, wrong-headed, ill-informed, even hurtful and hateful. First, it makes us sharpen our own contrasting perspectives. Second, it is a good thing to know views like that are out there. How does society gain when they are driven underground?
Now Mill was aiming his ‘let people talk’ against government over-reach, not against private employers or clubs. That distinction matters. But Mill’s point is so powerful that I confess I have sympathy for those people – the very few who are in fact out there – who defend McIntyre and Bolt and all speakers. I have in mind the sort of American Civil Liberties Union type thinking, a left of centre group I might add, that has no equivalent here in Australia because, alas, virtually no Aussie lefties seem to me to be full-blooded defenders of speech the way the ACLU is.
However, to any of you out there with those ACLU-like attitudes, let me say that I salute you. I respect you. We may differ here and there but that sort of commitment to the free speech principle is wholly admirable.
Alas, the defenders of McIntyre I’ve seen so far appear to be no better than mere hypocrites.