Like an elevator formerly occupied by a passenger afflicted with terminal flatulence, a visit to The Guardian Australia website serves as a sharp reminder that noxious emanations linger noisomely in small, tight, closed-off spaces. As Bertolt Brecht lamented of his contemporaries’ insistence on pouring their talents into the mundane when the workers’ paradise had yet to be realised, “They are like painters who cover the walls of sinking ships with still lifes.” Pardon the irony in quoting a red-raggin’ propagandist and totalitarian publicist in regard to a red-raggin’ publication with a pronounced affection for greenish jackboots, but the agit-propping dramatist’s observation is too delicious to resist. Here we are, the left’s march through the institutions long ago complete, yet in The Guardian’s strange and sealed little eco-system the same old battle cries and campfire songs echo yet. Suggest that journalists of the modern breed are bitchily contemptuous of free speech and intolerant of any opinions but their own, as the ABC’s Chris Uhlmann did last week in The Australian, and the truth of that observation is immediately confirmed by something akin to an eruption of explosive peristalsis. The offence against leftist presumption to solely determine what can be discussed and how, having been duly digested, prompts an immediate rumbling in the literary bowel until, after a period of authorial grimacing and discomfort, it spurts noisily forth in a gaseous bum burp as short on substance as it is foully obnoxious. Here, the effusions of former journalism academic and current Guardian contributor Jason Wilson come immediately to mind.
It is quite the case study, Wilson’s excoriation of Uhlmann, but very much of a piece with his earlier and no less gassy gushers. Not long ago, for example, he displayed a unique talent for finding perfidy in the prosaic by denouncing the faddish paleo diet as an assault on women and feminism. That expose should not be missed, especially by those who find amusement in the bizarre, but do set aside more than what might normally be considered adequate time to absorb a few hundred words of the merely tendentious. Some will laugh until they cry, and those tears will blur the vision as thoroughly as does the author’s compulsion to make everything, even plates of offal, symptoms of the right’s cleverly concealed and ever-sinister intentions. As a former Canberra University academic, Wilson cannot have worked in close proximity to Professor Matthew Ricketson, co-author of the infamous Finkelstein review, without having what seems a congenital inclination to useful idiocy greatly enhanced. The Finkelstein opus, it should be remembered, recommended the jailing of recalcitrant editors (see below), so there is another alleged journalist opposed to unfiltered free speech.
On Islamic terror and December’s massacre at the Bataclan Theatre, Wilson pinned yet more absurdist logic to his sleeve. The notion that Islam has a problem and, in its more ardent manifestations, is itself very much a problem are dismissed after a prolix introduction resurrecting the ordeal of French Huguenots at the hands of Catholics in 1572. Yes, a massacre getting on for five centuries distant and of relevance only because Wilson believes it to be so. Pleas for an Islamic reformation – a demand recently made by no less an authority on Mohammedan malice than Egypt’s General Sisi, himself very much a Muslim – are dismissed as both “a know-nothing cliché” and part of an orchestrated campaign “to manufacture the kind of fear and insecurity that drags the national political spectrum to the right.” It seems the mass slaughter of kids at a rock concert was but another of Waleed Aly’s petty “irritants”, certainly nothing quite so dangerous as the likes of, say, Tony Abbott noting that Islam could do itself and the world a favour were it to put its house in order. The chalked silhouettes of the innocent on the sidewalks of Paris (and many, many elsewheres) seem to disturb Wilson a good deal less than the outline, as he divines it, of sinister conservatives’ game plan to “heighten the appeal of right-wing candidates.”
Uhlmann’s essay on his colleagues’ loathing of free speech presented Wilson with another opportunity to make the sort of connections less academic minds might otherwise spurn as fanciful in the extreme. This time his theme isn’t roughage-beset women as the brunt of the phallocracy’s meaty slights, nor even Muslims allegedly imperilled by infidel reactions to their co-religionists’ outrages. No, none of that. In his latest iteration of the inane, Wilson holds that it is Jews who have been victimised by Uhlmann’s passing reference to the Frankfurt School and its members’ hearty disdain for unfettered free speech. As the the Frankfurt School was heavy on Hebrews, Uhlmann is guilty of promoting anti-Semitism. Yes, really! To be fair, Wilson does grant his quarry a dispensation from immediate guilt by noting that “there’s no suggestion being made here that Uhlmann himself is antisemitic.” Just the suggestion that he is dim, apparently, for not seeing a connection so obvious to Wilson. Pity poor Uhlmann, who is quite likely every bit as non-plussed by the link between raw vegetables and misogyny.
There is really no point in further examining Wilson’s argument, if that is the right word for such a brain fart. Much more interesting – and no doubt beyond the ken of a man who thinks “paleo” and “patriarchy” are synonyms – is proof the columnist’s publisher provides of Uhlmann’s very point. Recently, the website whose motto is “comment is free” deep-sixed reader input due to “racism, abuse of vulnerable subjects, author abuse and trolling”. Clear on that then are we? Comment is free except when the arbiters of correctness decide that it shouldn’t be. How rich is that!
Beyond garden-variety hypocrisy there is The Guardian’s entire raison d’etre, which is two-pronged and seriously bent in each tine. The first of those is a rich man’s ego, that of internet entrepreneur and political dabbler Graeme Wood, whose ambition and avocation it has long been to underwrite a pulpit for preachers of the green faith. He tried with the comically inept Global Mail and threw away a pot of money. Then came his decision to underwrite The Guardian’s local incarnation, which must be costing a further packet. Good on him, if that’s his hobby and pleasure. Alas that Australia’s well-heeled conservatives do not likewise place deep pockets at the service of their principles. Were they to do so, one can only assume that honest and open debate would be part and parcel of any undertaking. In this regard, and with modesty set aside, Quadrant makes the point, most conspicuously in the thrust and parry about Australia’s hands-on support for the assault on ISIS. Tom Switzer thinks our involvement a very bad idea, while Keith Windschuttle provides a muscular rationale for military actions executed, as they say, with extreme prejudice. Has such a debate on any topic ever graced The Guardian’s pages? No, never has and never will for the simple reason that the left prefers its opinions, its worldview and urgings, to be monolithic and monochromatic. Correct opinions come in only one colour on the left; to demure is not merely to be wrong, it is to bear the shame and shunning apportioned to those deemed morally bankrupt. Where there is a touch of light and shade, that comes courtesy of Wilson and others, who leaven their colleagues’ doctrinaire pronouncements with the sweet relief of unconscious and unintended humour.
That The Guardian is failing, depleting its trust fund in England while draining Wood’s wealth in Australia, (a claim the local operation rejects, by the way, with protestations that it is under no immediate obligation to re-pay debts and what-about-all-those-new-readers!) is the point Uhlmann might have explored but didn’t. As any forester might tell you, and as a publication so ostentatiously sworn to diversity should know, monocultures succumb very quickly to disease. Fairfax Media discovered as much when brain rot at board level saw its newspapers placed in the hands of children and absent-parent editors, the latter seeing no great reason to filter their junior underlings’ output. As Evans & Partners advised investors only last week,
Domain represents 71% of our group valuation and 88% of [FXJ’s] market value, implying next to no value for the other assets.
In other words, The Age and SMH aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, which former readers long ago realised and acted upon.
Being an internet operation, Guardian Australia lacks even the scrap value of ink-soiled forest products, which can be useful for wrapping fish and soaking up puppy puddles. All it can offer, other than accidental amusement, is a sanctuary for those who had not the wisdom to wed an ABCer, thereby opening the inside track to tax-payer funded salaries, and also to the sharper Fairfaxians who noticed their former employer would soon cease to exist.
Like Brecht’s sinking ship, The Guardian‘s online pages feature none but still-life studies drafted in stock-standard perspectives: This is the world and this is how you, simple readers, must regard it. Beg to differ? Then prepare for the pile-on and a good kicking once the closet of spurious arguments has been inspected for just the right cudgel. In Uhlmann’s case the charge that the left detests dissent, which The Guardian’s us-luvvies-only newsroom demonstrates to a tee, was met with the low blow and distraction of, allegedly, inciting anti-semitism. You’d laugh were it not so sad to see adults inhaling so deeply the ripe aroma of their own spore.
Apart, perhaps, from when Jason Wilson’s sillier poutput is on the computer screen. That is when it is difficult – nay, impossible – not to laugh out loud.
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online