Mood: not sure
Topic: big media
Tim Blair has taken his Karl Rove style 'attack the left' rhetoric out for another spin with his 'pimp my ride' theme in his Saturday column here:
"Pimp my clapped-out ex-soviet, Afghan ride"
The idea in a nutshell is that the famous David Hicks, released from gaol after several years of high legal controversy over human rights abuse, is actually a beaten down 'old model car' hardly worth the time and investment of 'left wing' (read Fairfax, ABC, blogosphere) journalists. These folks are 'pimping the ride' which is a tv show about doing up old cars, like reality makeovers to lose weight, or get a cosmetic upgrade.
So much for explaining some one else's joke. It always loses something in translation. It's true Blair is genuinely funny as a right winger which is a rare quality on that side of politics.
But Blair's joke has a real cost and likely he is the biggest fool over the subject matter of David Hicks. How so?
1. No matter the merits or lack thereof of the character of chicken boner, kangaroo shooter, military adventurer, heterosexual (as below) Hicks he is and has always been an Australian citizen. What value?
After 5 years with no fair legal process Australians across the political spectrum were disgusted, not least in the hands of a longstanding ally who appeared to debase their own constitutional guarantee of human rights:
So Blair is insulting all Australian citizens who felt that degree of solidarity if they were to get in trouble abroad, or to put it another way, Blair is insulting all those readers to their face. That damages the News Ltd brand in the market. Blair may not have noticed but his political crutch in this respect, John Howard, was resoundingly rejected by the voters on Nov 24th.
There is a truth in group dynamics that Blair completely misconceives: When someone stuffs up and everyone knows it, everyone watches to see if the punishment is proportionate and merciful. If it is, everyone, not just the transgressor takes comfort from that and reassurance that they are safe in such a community dynamic, because down the track being frail humans, it may be the shoe on their foot one day. It may be their turn. They need to have faith in the system to feel safe themselves, regardless of Hicks.
Because the greater truth is that no one is perfect, and no doubt Tim Blair as well. What skeletons he must have.
To bully the wrongdoer excessively might attract a gang of jackals for the melodramatic entertainment in the short term like children in a playground fight, but even the cruel barrackers are ever more insecure in themselves. It's a system based on fear, not truth. On pain, not love. And that in the end means less readers for Blair's paper to avoid his ugly sadism.
2. The rival reporters Blair likes to sledge were essentially champions for the rule of law. Settled law. Not make it up as you go law like Gitmo and the military commissions. That's the slippery slide to fascism. Blair comes across as a fascist. Australians don't like fascists, even funny ones. We fought the whole second world war to destroy fascism as a philosophy, but interestingly that didn't stop the CIA adopting NAZI intelligence officers as POWs to learn their techniques, according to a 1997 Discovery Channel 3 hour documentary called CIA Secrets (e.g. Marrickville Library). Blair is on the wrong side of history. Indeed he conspicuously avoids for his satire any mention of the CIA film footage of torture that has been so controversial these last several weeks. Cute selectivity that by BlairT.
3. Sour grapes. Fairfax got a 3 day scoop on News Ltd e.g. Blair's own paper, with picture of David and father Terry Hicks in a public park in Adelaide published Jan 1st 2008:
The symbolic significance of this in the international media industry is 'large'. This is the great Rupert Murdoch's home town no less where his career at the top of the News Limited multinational behemoth started, and they missed the picture story. Gazumped by the loathed Fairfax. With the tabloids, in the words of journo Paul Barry, so called "news driven" to be beaten by days let alone hours to the story really is professionally embarrassing. No wonder Blair is trying to pick a fight to change the focus. But it's a figleaf really. News Ltd dropped the ball in the silly season, a bit like Howard did in the election. In short BlairT is a loser.
4. The second last sentence allegedly quotes David Hicks in a letter in his young 20ies with a crude reference to sex he wants to have when he gets back. Written perhaps when he found himself dominated by male company in far flung places 8 years ago before he got a Muslim religious experience. Such crudities are spoken in every footy dressing shed every Saturday across the land, not that we ever felt comfortable about that even as a teenager.
So where did Blair get the letter to quote? Is it satire or real? Why the bottom of the fourth column? [The real answer is found in the postscript #1 below: Editor 10th Jan 2008] Could it be because it reveals a back channel of political, illegal leaking by the security industry to Blair in News Ltd, like the infamous leak of the Wilkie documents to Andrew Bolt at sister paper HeraldSun in Melbourne?
[actually Blair looks to be in the clear on this, says its from an article in the Bulletin 2006 i.e. open source: Ed Jan 10th 2008. We withdraw any speculative imputations about big Tim in this respect.]
Journalists in general need to be cautious these days in light of the Haneef Case farce re political (arguably) illegal leaking by security industry/media complex forcing other sections of the media to take their discipline, with a real journalist Hedley Thomas taking a Walkley Award based on the real transcript in the Haneef case.
Postscript #1 10th January 2008
As suggested by some moderate and some more rabid contributors in the comment section, responding to our point 4 above, the phrase attributed to David Hicks as a direct quote from one of his private letters, we are told has been in the public domain since a Bulletin article of 2006. Indeed we are told by no less than Tim Blair who rang this morning 10/1/08 to politely request a correction, as is his (legal) right. To his credit requesting not a deletion but a correction (strike through was his suggestion).
You will notice we generously employed the use of questions marks to speculate as to the legal or illegal sourcing of the Hicks letter/quote. In that sense we think it was a legally safe speculation in print. We are happy to say Tim Blair is in the clear assuming the Bulletin story exists which we do. We accept prima facie his position the quote was tucked away in his 4th column because it was in fact old news. We are told the Bulletin story is linked by reference on the Tim Blair blog page itself now in rebuttal. Does this put the Bulletin in the clear as to their source? The subtext seems to be his old flat mate, pen pal sold them to The Bulletin when she saw her own book opportunity close down. Quite a betrayal if that was the source but also says ASIO took the letters which leaves open which source, with flat mate as a false trail? What for instance does this mean:
Those seeking to tap the original material written by Hicks and kept over the years by Fletcher will now have to seek the co--operation of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
About 18 months ago, ASIO officers came to Fletcher's house and, she says, politely but firmly told her: "You give us what we want or we will just have to pull your house apart and take it." They took the originals.
"They took the originals." Cute eh? Did flat mate Fletcher have copies which she sold as implied by quotes all through the story? Did ASIO vet and approve the Bulletin story? Did indeed the Bulletin "seek the cooperation" of ASIO. Did ASIO effectively play politics in green lighting their publication?
Curiously, the story in The Bulletin has no byline, which is suggestive of 1. fear of official retribution for an individual journo, or 2 fear of getting caught doing ASIO's dirty work. No byline on serious stories effectively puts the imprimatur of the whole publication on the line saying, you go the story you go the whole business.
Is Tim Blair an accessory after the fact to republishing via open source political postures in support of ASIO/security services/Howard Govt regime blackening of Hicks name under the Howard regime? Indeed the Bulletin reference in context by Hicks wanting sex is said to be light hearted, black humour after 4 years in gaol. Not much of a thought crime really.
Suffice to say the to and fro does underlie the general interest to avoid even by way of mere suggestion here on SAM the intense legal and political consequences that may go with political leaking of national security information (eg Bolt/Wilkie of 2004, Haneef 2007-08). Mr Haneef and his lawyers, Hedly Thomas and his paper The Australian have to a significant degree shut down such PR trickery that seems to have festered under PM Howard.
..................Postscript #2 10th Jan 08
We spoke again to Tim Blair to note our adjustments in light of his feedback, and his position is The Bulletin where he used to work got the letters from the flatmate not ASIO as implied by the extensive quoting of the flatmate. Blair implies its not national security but other trivial information about Hicks. He didn't know there was no byline on the story (which there isn't on the web version) and said he had worked for 20 years as a journo.
We say it's not altogether clear what is and isn't trivial national security information regarding Hicks. We say this still leaves the situation quite ambiguous as to whether ASIO did provide the letters to The Bulletin as opposed to the interview of flatmate, and in any case whether ASIO approved of the article being published, or vetted it. We just don't know. Maybe The Bulletin might help us? Assuming of course that it wasn't Blair's own story from when he worked there. That would be too much duplicity.
Nor do we blame Blair in terms of free speech for using as much open source as he can to push his barrow. We could hardly complain about that here even if on the other side of the political fence.
Postscript #3 10th Jan 2008
The editor of the Bulletin advises their Sept 06 story was by Bernard Lagan, its an oversight not being on the webpage, that the letters were provided by the flatmate Louise Fletcher, and there was no role by ASIO in any of this.either vetting or approving. That's a lid on this thread I would say.