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Winter 2003 cover

National Observer Home > No. 57 - Winter 2003 > Articles

Australian Journalism and Mr. Andrew Bolt

I.C.F. Spry Q.C.

It has become trite that the quality of Australian journalism is very poor. A conspectus of The Australian and The Age confirms a superficiality in the assessment of news and a lack of independent and thoughtful analysis.

A major part of these difficulties arises through the common support by all but a very small minority of journalists for the Labor Party. It has been said that there is no member of the Canberra Press Gallery who is not either an open or a covert supporter of the Labor Party, and although there may possibly be a very small number of exceptions to this generalisation, it is clear that the Canberra Press Gallery has an overwhelming prejudice towards the Left.

The tribalism that is so evidently a characteristic of Labor Party supporters leads, in a journalistic context, to the adoption of a common front in relation to political issues. A recent example is seen in the pursuit by journalists of Dr. Peter Hollingworth, the then Governor-General. As a former head of the Brotherhood of St. Laurence, Dr. Hollingworth has achieved more for under-privileged Australians than perhaps any other person. He has been viewed as having generally more sympathy with the Left than the Liberal Party, but this did not save him from biased and inaccurate reporting and opinion pieces in The Australian and The Age especially.

The superficiality and bias of journalistic comment is evident in almost any field, and for example there is a concentration on political "gossip" rather than such important issues as the effects of bracket-creep and the long-term economic effects of swelling government expenditures under Mr. Peter Costello. (But because Mr. Costello is on the Left of the Liberal Party, he is treated more gently by journalists than, for example, Mr. Peter Reith, who was seen as a formidable obstacle to the achieving of Labor objectives.)

Indeed, the main impression formed by an intelligent reader perusing The Australian and The Age is of a sameness of approach, and a lack of analysis as opposed to a reliance on politically correct (and therefore Leftist) dogma and a more or less clearly avowed support for the Labor Party.

In Melbourne the journalist who shows least these deficiencies is Mr. Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun. Mr. Bolt's most obvious characteristic is intellectual independence, with a refusal to join automatically with the politically-correct attitudes of his colleagues. When his independence is combined with his obvious intelligence and care in the analysis of his material, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he is Australia's most important journalist.

Mr. Bolt's articles in the Herald Sun merit regular reading, and it is unfortunately not practicable to set out here their full scope, which ranges from political corruption to terrorism and the threat of epidemics.

But an interesting example of his research is found in an article "Footscray's Kremlin" published in April 2003.1 The background to this article is the unfortunate fact that many refugees from the hard Left — supporters of communism or the Soviet Union up to the time of its decomposition — have retained a desire to support Marxist doctrines which have now become discredited. These political refugees have had few places to which to go. But the union movement has absorbed many, and humanities departments in colleges and universities have also been targeted. In these departments academic independence is relied on to enable out-dated Marxist views to be disseminated.

This problem is significant even in the more reputable universities, such as Melbourne University or Sydney University. But it is very much worse in the less respectable universities, many of which have been unfortunately promoted from the ranks of technical institutes or teachers’ institutions.

This Marxist residue is a matter for concern. Although those concerned show little integrity, they are in a position to influence the young. As academics they are accorded a measure of respect that is not merited.

In his recent article Mr. Bolt considered in particular the case of Victoria University, whose impressive name conceals its recent origins and low academic standards.

Mr. Bolt has referred to a lack of success in half-hearted attempts to overcome Marxist and anarchist pressures in the university:

"This became clear when the university last November launched a post-graduate course in public advocacy and action, designed to train activists in up-to-date Left-wing theory and protest tactics.

This strikes me as strange, raising questions such as: Will Nazis be trained, too, alongside the similarly totalitarian Trotskyites and Green pagans? Is there also training for those of us conservative humanists who would like to protest against all brands of smash-them-up activism?

But what makes this course even more dubious is that it is sponsored by Greenpeace, Amnesty International and Oxfam, whose activists will be brought in to help teach.2

What right does Greenpeace, which lies and breaks our laws to get publicity, have to teach and recruit at a public institution?"

In his article Mr. Bolt referred to the fact that the university's deputy vice-chancellor, Jim Falk, is a former chairman of Greenpeace Australia, and that "helping him to teach this course is a picket-line of some of Melbourne’s most experienced activists, now dressed not in beanies, but in academic gowns". The programme co-ordinator, for example, is associate professor Michael Hammel-Green, "a draft-resister and long-time anti-nuclear and ‘peace’ activist who once joined the ‘Rainbow Alliance’", and under him are "radical greenies, feminists, old Vietnam War protesters, an Aboriginal activist and the author of a book which challenges the ‘idea that revolutionary projects are no longer possible’". Mr. Bolt noted that other courses include gender studies, cultural studies, advocacy and mediation, globalisation studies and policy studies, all of which are readily radicalised.

Mr. Bolt reflected that it is actually an assumption by the university "that the students will subscribe to the prevailing Left orthodoxy":

"For instance, the university handbook says that its environmental policy course will teach that ‘existing economic, political and legal structures are demonstrably inadequate for dealing with the scope and depth of the current global ecological crisis’.

What ‘crisis’? How is our parliament ‘demonstrably inadequate’?"

Mr. Bolt went on to refer to the membership of the university council of one Jean McLean, "herself a student of witchcraft and a long-time activist for dissident-jailing Cuba", and of one Peter McCubbin, formerly a Maoist activist.

A fundamental requirement of universities is scholarship, but the serious problems that Mr. Bolt has referred to involve a combination of un-scholarly political activists who wish to target young students because they are relatively inexperienced and vulnerable. That this should be happening is alarming indeed. Characteristically Mr. Bolt has performed the service of disclosing what is happening, which other journalists — apparent prisoners of political correctness — are not prepared to do.

Another example of Mr. Bolt's important work is seen in a recent article on Phillip Adams,3 a well-known hard left commentator employed by The Australian and also by the A.B.C. Adams was a member of the Communist Party, and there are varying accounts by him as to when in fact he ceased to be a communist. But regardless of the time when he ceased to be a formal Communist Party member, it is evident from his public statements that he has retained many radical views that would also have been held by Party members.

Adam's articles in The Australian are remarkable principally for the amount of venom that they reveal. Adams is above all a hater. His evident hatred has recently been projected towards Mr. John Howard, but may be observed against a range of other innocent objects, such as those who favour Mr. Howard's policies on illegal immigrants, so-called "reconciliation" and the preservation of our constitutional monarchy.

The low quality and the invidious nature of Adams’ writings are identified by Mr. Bolt, who comments of Adams:

"He has fought for asylum seekers, by denouncing the ‘mass of Australians’ who backed the Howard Government's stand as liars who love lies about refugees, and as a ‘little people’ with ‘the racism of nice people who live in nice houses’, voting for a Prime Minister who ‘speaks at the deep, dark depths of our mediocrity’ . . .

In fact, Adams never seems happier than when accusing most of his fellow citizens of craven immorality, a self-congratulating habit shared by most commentators of the Left.4"

Mr. Bolt referred in his article to Adams’ appointments by Labor governments over the years to the Australian Film Commission, the National Museum and the Australia Council, and to be head of the National Australia Day Council "where he ensured that the Australian of the Year Award went to Left heroes ‘who would discompose calcified conservatives’". He noted that Adams, who unfortunately is an evident prisoner of his own out-dated prejudices, is now being side-lined and abandoned by the Left he has long cultivated:

"In fact, what he failed to realise was that this growing demand for a ‘Right-wing Phillip Adams’ on the A.B.C. was not a tribute, but an insult — the first public indication that this former communist turned socialist was no longer swimming powerfully in the [Left] cultural mainstream, but had somehow been swept out to some airless galaxy, far far away from mother earth . . .

You see, what was being demanded was not another voice of reason and wisdom, but some-one as way out to the Right as Adams was to the Left. Just for balance."

Mr. Bolt noted that even within the Labor Party itself a process of disassociation from Adams has begun. The explanation for this may be evident:

"One reason may be, as black conservative writer Thomas Sowell put it: ‘Policies are judged by their consequences, but crusades are judged by how good they make the crusaders feel’.

And aggressively atheist Adams and his kind mount their crusades in which the invariable rule is to feel good by calling everyone else, and our society, evil. But smarter Labor thinkers are at last realising it does them no good to have their party so influenced by people with such a smug contempt for voters and for Australia.

So Labor's then leader, Kim Beazley, told Adams over lunch two years ago that he was tired of people like him whingeing so over boat people.

‘To my astonishment, the nice Kim Beazley wasn’t nice at all’, Adams confessed last month in his column in The Australian. ‘He dismissed [us] as the ‘chattering classes’. Indeed, Adams has even said that Mr. Beazley ‘told me he’d rather talk to a dozen striking unionists at a factory gate than a thousand of the chatterers’".

Mr. Mark Latham, a prominent Labor Party politician, has proved disappointing by reason of his intemperate and offensive comments on a range of subjects, which betray regrettable prejudice and animosity. It is nonetheless true that this out-spoken politician is expressing in regard to Adams what others have long held. As Mr. Bolt has noted,

"Labor frontbencher Mark Latham, tipped as a future Labor leader, also savages Adams now, calling him ‘pompous and out of touch’, a ‘millionaire’ who ‘never talks about the practical reform of bad schools, public housing or the health system’. He claims Adams prefers the ‘politics of pettiness’ and an ‘abstract style of debate’ that prefers the empty ‘symbolism of an Aboriginal treaty’ to a ‘suburban Labor agenda’."

Mr. Bolt's analysis of Adams is significant. It is necessary to examine the motives and psychological impulses of hard radicals, especially when they express opinions that involve bitter attacks on ordinary Australians. The contempt by "intellectuals" for ordinary people that is so often demonstrated is indeed a warning sign. Too often "intellectuals" are prisoners of abstract theories which, if effectuated, would produce undesirable and unjust consequences. Indeed, communism and socialism themselves, which have failed as often as they have been tried, are test cases. The products of "intellectuals" (by which one means those who are insufficiently concerned about the consequences of their ideas), have caused enormous suffering. And there was never any possibility that they would succeed.

So again in the case of Phillip Adams Mr. Bolt has provided a decisive analysis, and one may indeed wonder why the views that Mr. Bolt has so sensibly expounded have not been expressed by other journalists. The answer lies largely in other journalists’ misplaced loyalty to left-wing causes and to their perceived allies in the Labor Party. But now that they have been provided with a lead by Messrs. Beazley and Latham they too may be expected to turn away from Adams. His deauthorisation by the party that he has more recently (after his communist years) supported will mean that his views will be increasingly perceived as eccentric ramblings (which they in fact are, but of a particularly distasteful kind).

Australians have become accustomed to low levels of journalistic (and editorial) comment in their newspapers. What can be done to remedy this? The first step is to identify and recognise the problem, which is essentially a lack of quality and an acceptance of bias and of shoddy work. In this context Mr. Andrew Bolt is of especial importance, for more than any other Australian journalist he has shown that independence of mind and the careful assembly of facts and a strict concentration upon truth are essential here as elsewhere. He must be seen as an example to be followed, and it may be hoped that newspaper proprietors and editors will take pains to ensure that other journalists, especially in over-rated newspapers such as The Australian, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, are required to improve their quality and make a respectable contribution to public affairs.

1. The Herald Sun, 21 April 2003.

2. Greenpeace has from its inception been a political, semi-anarchic movement relying on a policy of deliberate breaches of the law for selective causes, and Amnesty International and Oxfam have gradually been broadly infiltrated by activists with their own political agendas.

3. The Herald Sun, 26 May 2003.

4. This criticism appears to be particularly valid in regard to Robert Manne, who has recently adapted a radical Left position and who shows distasteful animus against many who are not persuaded by his views.

National Observer No. 57 - Winter 2003