And the ABC’s Drum beats: shoot the messenger

28 Dec

by Darryl Yeoh, flickr

On December 6, I wrote an article in On Line Opinion, also published on this blog titled The death threats, the media, and the government’s sycophantic pursuit of Julian Assange.

I was, among other things, critical of the way in which the Wikileaks story was handled by a panel on the ABC’s Drum on December 2.

On December 8 there was another panel hosted by Steve Cannane, with guests Alan Anderson, a former advisor to Peter Costello; Scott Stephens, ABC Online Editor of Religion and Ethics, and actor Rhys Muldoon. I’ll elaborate on this panel later. But first:

The art of silencing a whistleblower

There are three basic methods of discrediting a whistleblower used by those who wish to shut him or her up.

There is demonisation, as exemplified by certain figures in the USA likening Assange to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and calling for his assassination as a terrorist and a “treasonist.”

There is the technique of criminalizing the whistleblower, as exemplified by Julia Gillard’s ignorant description of Assange’s activities as “illegal,” and the comments to be found everywhere that claim he is guilty of alleged sexual offences before he has been charged and tried.

The third method is to pathologise the whistleblower, as did John Howard when he announced that whistleblower Andrew Wilkie was “emotionally unstable.”

There are sub-headings under these categories, such as minimising and discrediting the messenger in order to minimise and discredit the message. As exemplified by Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales on the previous week’s panel. This is best done by focusing on real or imagined negative characteristics of the messenger’s personality, instead of on the message that’s being delivered.

It is the pathologising method that held sway in the December 8 panel on The Drum. Assange was described (and I’m afraid I cannot recall which panellist made which accusation, other than that Mr Muldoon was not much involved) as a megalomaniac, a narcissist, and an anarchist. This last perhaps fits the category of criminalizing as well as pathologising.

Deconstructing the denigrations

  • Assange is an anarchist.

A quick look in the dictionary will reveal that Assange is anything but an anarchist. He does not envisage a world bereft of all government and cast into unregulated chaos. His interest is in maintaining governments, but making them transparent and honest.

  • Assange is a megalomaniac

Megalomania is psychiatric disorder in which the patient experiences delusions of great power and importance. Mr Assange may well consider himself to be powerful and important, as far as I know nobody has asked him about this. But there is no doubt that “powerful and important” accurately and realistically describes his position in the world at this time. He is not suffering from a psychiatric disorder if he holds this opinion of himself.

It is difficult to imagine anyone who has achieved anything on a global scale, for better or worse, who did not have immense confidence, faith and belief in their ability to bring their vision to fruition. This mind set only becomes a disorder when the assessment is unrealistic, and the visionary delusional about his or her capacities.

  • Assange is a narcissist

Narcissism is a personality disorder characterised by the patient’s overestimation of his or her appearance and abilities. The patient also has an excessive need for admiration, and is extremely self-centred. Never having met Assange (and I suspect the panellists haven’t either) or anyone who knows him, this is not a diagnosis I would care to make, and I am trained to make such diagnoses. No one on the panel has the expertise to do this, as far as I know. If they do, they didn’t reveal it.

All three terms are commonly used abusively, to denigrate, discredit, ridicule and otherwise do harm. People generally resort to the use of such abuse when they are unable, incapable, or too lazy to present an intelligent argument against another’s position. As with most abuse, they reveal far more about the abuser that they do about the abused.

The Twelve Leaks of Christmas

On December 10 there were several serious articles on Wikileaks in The Drum, and one very silly poem by Ms Crabb. This consists of  the Wikileaks events rendered into verse and titled TheTwelve Leaks of Christmas. This would not matter, one could cheerfully ignore it, except for the fact that Ms Crabb is The Drum’s Chief Online Political Reporter. She sets the tone, as it were. Stumbling across her doggerel is rather like watching the ABC television news and suddenly being confronted with Chris Uhlmann lying on the roof of Parliament House in his underpants swigging vodka and belting out a globally significant news event to the tune of Up the Old Red Rooster.

It would be fun at a party, but if you want to know what’s going on in the most intriguing, and quite possibly the most revolutionary story on the planet at the moment, doggerel just doesn’t cut it. Not from the CPR.

If there’d been any serious, insightful in-depth commentary and analysis from the Chief Online Political Reporter on Wikileaks, the silly poem wouldn’t matter so much. But there hasn’t. Why not? What is The Drum up to?

Loewenstein strikes again

In his article published in The Drum on December 10, titled Wikileaks challenges journalism – politics partnership, Antony Loewenstein again challenges the media’s cosiness with politicians and diplomats. This cosiness continues to be most annoyingly evidenced whenever a journalist tells us there’s nothing in the cables that everybody doesn’t already know.

Which “everybody” would that be? Because there’s a very, very large “everybody” who don’t earn their living as politicians, journalists and diplomats, and practically nobody in that cohort knows anything much at all about the cables. Last I looked, it was the media’s job to inform us especially the publicly funded media, and quite frankly, I’ve had it with hearing that because they know all about them that means the cables aren’t interesting.

As Loewenstein observes: The cosiness between these players (media, politicians and diplomats) is exactly what WikiLeaks is aiming to challenge.

He continues: Why do journalists allow themselves to be romanced without revealing the kinds of agendas they’re pushing? It’s obvious why; being close to top officials and politicians makes them feel connected and important. Being an insider is many reporters’ ideal position. Independence is secondary to receiving sanctioned links and elevated status in a globalised world.

The WikiLeaks documents challenge the entire corrupted relationship between media and political elites. Founder Julian Assange is an outsider and doesn’t attend exclusive and secret meetings where the furthering of US foreign policy goals are on the cards. He aims to disrupt that dynamic. Many in the media resent not being leaked the information themselves and are jealous. Others simply dislike a lone-wolf citizen with remarkable tech-savvy to challenge their viability.

Could any of this explain the denigration of Assange and Wikileaks by some panelists and some journos on The Drum? The abusive descriptions of him? The silly poem? The refusal to take either Assange or the Wikileaks dump seriously enough to consider the complex and manifold implications of his activities? Because the way it’s shaping up, The Drum’s chief online political reporter is going to be one of the last journos on the planet to get her head around what the dump means and might mean for the future, including the future of her own profession.

Mark Scott, please explain

My questions to our public broadcaster are, why are some of the ABC’s employees using these classic methods to shoot the messenger in their reporting on Wikileaks? Because I do not wish to financially support the ABC if its policy is to shoot messengers, even just a little bit, and they are currently doing it quite a lot.

Are some ABC journos doing the government’s bidding in this matter? Are some of the reporters far too close to politicians and diplomats, and therefore unwilling to treat the Wikileaks story with the seriousness that the public deserves, and finances?

Is The Drum’s television panel really about informed commentary and analysis, or are the hosts going to continue to permit these personal attacks on Assange? Because if they do, I hope he instructs that battery of lawyers he’s got on board to go for their jugulars.

It is extremely important that the ABC presents points of view that disagree with and argue against those who support Wikileaks and Assange. Everyone I know is very willing to read other perspectives on this story. But the ABC producers and editors, for the television panel and articles, need to remind their contributors that personal denigration is not intelligent opposition or robust debate.

Salacious speculation as to the nature and circumstances of the alleged sexual offences and the guilt or otherwise of any of the parties involved is extremely unfair, both to Assange and to the complainants. Speculation such as this is neither intelligent opposition nor robust debate.

For example, on December 10, The Drum published a piece by Marion Dalton in which the author implied that Assange might have infected his partners with two different sexually transmitted diseases. (This article was also published on OLO on December 9). Calling upon spin and innuendo to carry her unsavoury message, Dalton weaves what she describes as a “hypothetical” case of sexual assault in with the real accounts of the allegations of sexual assault against Assange.

Does The Drum or OLO really believe its readers are too stupid to notice this deliberate conflation of the “hypothetical” with the actual?

There were an overwhelming number of negative comments on this article on both sites. Will The Drum and OLO get this message?

The ABC spins

“DavidPerth” posted the following on the comments for Loewenstein’s article:  I just heard on ABC news that several hundred FANATICS had gathered to protest in Australian cities.

 Come on, what is going on here with the ABC?

I heard on the ABC news on December 10 that “disciples” of Assange had gathered in Sydney to protest against the treatment of Assange and Wikilekas.

“Disciples” are devoted followers of a spiritual leader. The word is frequently used to describe those entrapped by a charismatic cult. It is often used in a derogatory, belittling manner.

Those protesting are neither fanatics nor disciples. They are citizens in a democracy, exercising their democratic right to express their discontent with their government’s actions, and the treatment of Assange.

Exactly what narrative is the ABC working to produce about Wikileaks, and about those who support the organisation and Assange?

This bias really must stop. Until it does, it’s reasonable to assume that the ABC, at least in parts, is consciously or unconsciously in collusion with the global efforts to shoot this messenger, in an attempt to distract from and discredit his message. Shooting messengers is a tawdry and unintelligent occupation. Many people today are far too sophisticated and engaged to be taken in by a tactic that has long since reached its used by date, even if they aren’t employed as journalists, diplomats or politicians.

But the most interesting question is, what is ABC’s agenda and who is driving it?

This article first appeared in On Line Opinion, December 14  20102

4 Responses to “And the ABC’s Drum beats: shoot the messenger”

  1. Jim Moore March 4, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    Wow. I’m trawling through your archives after reading your article today on The Drum and finding your blog. I’ve been making similar comments to yours about the ABC on The Drum’s Comments page to these same articles, though not nearly as articulate as you have done here.

    I feel vindicated, relieved and joyous that I’ve found your blog. Have added to you my GoogleReader subs.

    Please keep up your efforts on your blog and in getting published on The Drum. If the ABC can publish trash from Dragonista, Kevin Donnelly and their own “Religion and Ethics” Editor (why are those two issues together on the same website – is it to show how opposite they in fact are?) then surely they can publish intelligent, logical pieces like yours as well, if only to even up the “journalistic balance” scales they’re always on about.


    • Jennifer Wilson March 4, 2011 at 9:54 pm #

      Thank you so much for the accolades, Jim. The best thing in a writer’s world is when readers get so much out of their work.
      It gives us oxygen.


  2. PAUL WALTER March 4, 2011 at 11:12 pm #

    Yes this is worth a comment. I wish I could get it posted at a Web site I’m familiar with, “Web Diary”. A moderator and I were having a conversation on the media, about the time Scott Morrison and the Abbott were grunting like Neanderthals about the boat people; fairly blood-curdling stuff. I never got round to doing it but I’ve watched , utterly spelledbound, by the media and press performances, and online the last week or two!
    and this thread starter just gives such a panorama of the dolorous mess.


    • Jennifer Wilson March 5, 2011 at 4:31 am #

      You can post it as far as I’m concerned if that’s the problem –


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