Just one day to go til February 1, 2012. What a relief to have survived another January, a month that for me is always pretty much a waste of time, as explained in the piece I found recently that I wrote on the subject 10 years ago:

How’s the happy New Year of 2002 going for you so far?  A bit on the slow side?  Yeah, me too.  In fact, as in every year I can recall, January seems more like a tired and tattered hangover from the old year than the bright new start of a new one. 

Nothing much is happening, for a start.  Lots of people are still on vacation, and those of us who aren’t away somewhere are still vacantly wishing we were.  So there’s not much work to do, a minimum of incentive to do what little there is, and not enough people around to get it done anyway.  A situation which for us freelancers does nothing to dispel the memory of last year’s sordid struggle for survival, or the feeling of dread that the next twelve months may well be no different.

Of course there’s always the chance that this January malaise may not be general at all, just me.  Thanks to my December 31 birth-date, the terrible economic and emotional toll exacted by the so-called “festive” season is further exacerbated by the fact that the New Year sees me not just poorer in wallet and spirit but another year older to boot.

Which reminds me that I sent three favourite pairs of boots to the repairer last month and can’t yet afford to foot the $105 bill to get them back.  And my PC printer refuses to work because I haven’t felt flush enough to splash out on the new colour ink cartridge the blinking thing needs.  Not that I’ve written much worth printing-out lately, what with all this January enervation and ennui. 

As if to mock my state of block, however, the police recently demonstrated that they haven’t any problem in the creative writing department.  Just the other day, after clocking me driving at 74 in a 50 zone, one of them quickly dashed me off a ticket for $188.

But there are some bright spots on the radar.  There’s a trickle of writing work around, albeit mostly boring stuff like brochures so far.  The cheque’s arrived in settlement of an insurance policy I not long ago remembered and immediately surrendered, rendering me solvent as long as I don’t squander it on paying my outstanding tax bill.  And I’m finding my daughter’s excitement at the approach of her Australia-Day birthday as much an inspiration as my own recent one was for desperation.

Of course my finding myself in two minds about January will come as no surprise to students of ancient Roman lore.  The month is named, after all, for Janus, God of Gates and Doors.  As ambiguous as gates and doors obviously are, in that they can be open or shut, provide entrance or exit and symbolise any number of dualities from imprisonment/freedom to past/future, Janus was always depicted with two profiles facing in opposite directions.  So it’s perfectly appropriate that January looks both over its shoulder at the dregs of December and bravely forward to February. 

Or what, dubious as I am that it will improve matters much beyond shortly ridding us of Januweary, I prefer to think of as Februwary. 

And historically my misgivings would seem entirely appropriate.  I understand that when the Romans added our current two first months to their original ten-month year, they named this one after the februa, a strip of goatskin employed by the priests on the Feast of Lupercalia to ceremonially beat barren women in the hope of rendering them fertile. 

Small wonder, then, that the New Year seems unlikely to show much sign of bearing fruit until our third month, or the one that the ancient Romans put first in their ancient decimal year and named for their God of War.  It seems to me that they had the right idea.  And all I can say, as tired I am of how slow January’s been as usual, and as doubtful as I am that February will prove any different, is “Quick….March”.


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Putting the “fun” back in “funeral”.

This is a piece written years ago to celebrate the deaths of two of my least favourite political figures. Some others mentioned here as still alive have since received their come-uppances. Most recently Libya’s Gaddafi has gone to his eternal reward, and I have high hopes in this regard for the next slimeball on my mental hit-list, al-Assad of Syria.

The grim reaper’s not usually good for much of a giggle, but at least he’s given us a grin or two lately, what with his gathering of Generals Ne Win of Burma and Galtieri of Argentina to their eternal rewards.  Lest you consider my glee at their deaths a little on the ghoulish side, let’s briefly recap the careers of the two old soldiers whose passing I’m so happy to celebrate.

Ne Win, you may recall, was the architect of the no-win situation in which the Burmese people have languished for the past forty years.  In 1962 he seized power in a coup and then proceeded to march his hapless subjects down the “Burmese Path to Socialism”, a route that, as in so many other totalitarian communist states, turned out to be the road to repression and ruin. 

After dedicating himself for two decades to depriving the Burmese populace of all traces of liberty and prosperity, he decided to retire to the role of elder statesman in 1988.  Demoralised as the Burmese must have been by then, but still apparently undaunted, they celebrated Ne Win’s departure by staging a democratic uprising and demanding a national election. 

But the gang of generals that Ne Win had designated to succeed him killed the uprising, slaughtered thousands of citizens, declared martial law, deemed the National League for Democracy’s overwhelming election victory invalid and clapped NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.

But Ne Win’s retirement was not a happy one.  Power went to the heads of the generals he’d groomed to succeed him as it once had to his own, and they accused him of plotting to overthrow them.  In March 2002 slapped him under house arrest and later handed-out death sentences to his “co-conspirators”, a son-in-law and three grandsons.  Then in December the 91-year old Ne Win died, presumably feeling much like all the Burmese citizens who’d been the casualties of his regime, bitter, betrayed and bereft.

And now, in January 2003, another despotic degenerate has departed the scene of his crimes. At the age of 76, General Leopoldo Galtieri died the other day of cardiac failure.  A most fitting demise, it seems to me, for the man who broke so many Argentinians’ hearts by leading them into the failure if not total fiasco of the 1982 war against the U.K. over the Falklands/Malvinas.  And as if that wasn’t enough, he presided over the waging of the so-called “Dirty War” against his own dissident citizens, up to 30,000 of whom were “disappeared”; thrown alive out of aircraft or tortured, shot and buried in unmarked graves.

After democracy was restored in Argentina in 1983, Galtieri and others were tried for crimes against human rights and “negligence” in the Falklands War.  Convicted on the latter charge, the General was granted an amnesty several years later but arrested again last year after the amnesty was declared unconstitutional.  So, like General Ne Win, he ended his days by getting at least some of what he had coming to him.

Of course death has the last laugh on every dick-head dictator in the end.  But so it has on all of us, sooner or later, without any apparent concern for our virtues or vices.  So whenever death happens it’s too severe on some, and much too good for others.  You religious souls out there have no problem with this, trusting as you do to the righteousness of “final judgment”, the reward of “heaven” and the retribution of “hell” to even-up the score. 

But us pagans, God help us, have more pessimistic posthumous expectations.  We not only suspect, as our legal colleagues claim to, that justice deferred is justice denied, but that justice deferred ad mortem is justice denied forever.  So as impious as it may seem to some, or even downright profane, we take a great deal of pleasure in seeing truly evil people get their punishments while they’re still around to feel the pain. 

Death can be, to quote the cliché we often take comfort in when good people die painfully, a merciful release.  So death, or at least death before dishonour or disgrace, is too good for major-league malefactors.  I find it comforting to recall that Adolf Hitler, for example, while he deserved any number of lifetimes of torment for the suffering he inflicted on the world, at least lived to suffer the spectacle of his Ten-Thousand-Year Reich in ruins before dying like a rat in his bunker; that Benito Mussolini was a hunted fugitive, haunted by the failure of his fascist fantasies, before they hung him up by the heels. 

On the other hand I’m mortified to remind myself that many arch-criminals have died undaunted and unscathed.  The megalomanic mass-murderer Joseph Stalin, for one.  Then there was Mao Tse Tung, the man who tormented and massacred millions of his subjects through the agency of his rabid “Red Guards”.  And who could forget Kim Il-Sung, the self-styled “Great Leader” who condemned his North Korean subjects to decades of serfdom and starvation, then passed-away peacefully and bequeathed the whole shambles to his son, who promptly promoted his predecessor to “Eternal Leader”.

We could go on and on for hours here quoting historical and contemporary precedents for this “may they live to regret” thesis of mine, but I’m sure by now you must be dying for me to finish.  So let me terminate this piece in some sort of style with a quote from the late, great U.S. defense lawyer Clarence Darrow.  “I never wanted to see anybody die”, the great man remarked, “but there are a few obituary notices I have read with pleasure.” 

Amen to that, I say.  There are lots of people I don’t want to see die either, or at least not til they get what’s coming to them. One of this group, Balkan butcher Slobodan Milosevic, is very much alive behind bars in The Hague, and getting his comeuppance in court as we speak.  Some others, loose cannons or misguided missiles like Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-Il, are still not only still at large, but also very much alive and kicking ass. 

Others, including the likes of Haiti’s hideous Baby Doc Duvalier and Uganda’s demented Idi Amin, are still surviving on the proceeds of their misdeeds and hiding in former-dictator-friendly countries like France and Saudi Arabia.  May they all live long enough to pay the price for their crimes and see their victims avenged. After that I’ll read their obituaries with every bit as much pleasure as I recently perused those of Generals Nae Win and Galtieri.

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God’s day off.

For many years I’ve been wondering what if, behind the multifarious magical fantasies that mankind has dreamed-up to assuage its existential dread of death, there really was such an entity as a “God”? Would He (or She or It) patiently put up with all the crimes that humanity commits both despite His/Her/Its teachings and in His/Her/Its name? I don’t think so.

It’s standard procedure after particularly gruesome accidents, crimes, atrocities and what the insurance industry writes off as “acts of God” for somebody to ask “how could He let this happen?” 

And it always seems to me a perfectly fair question.  How could an omniscient, omnipotent, just and merciful Almighty possibly permit the catalogue of greed, lust, cruelty, murder, mayhem, ignorance, intolerance and bigotry that’s bedeviled us throughout history, and continues to make life a hades on earth for so many of us today?

How can He tolerate the “religious” bombings, shootings, executions and multifarious other persecutions occurring at this very moment in, to name just a few locations, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Sudan and the so-called “Holy” Land?  

How could He stand by year after year, century after century and watch mankind suffer every misfortune from the Mongol hordes and the black death to the holocaust, aids, cancer, earthquakes, tidal waves and road carnage? 

How could He watch little children suffer cot death, starvation and physical, sexual and mental abuse?  How could He tolerate major-league homicidal maniacs like Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Idi Amin, Papa Doc, Pol Pot and all the others, not to mention the millions of smaller fry who kill, maim, rape, rob, swindle and otherwise prey on the innocent and the helpless? 

Or, as long as we’re on the subject, how could He have such atrocious taste as to permit even the more venial scourges that afflict us like techno, rap, American wrestling, celebrity worship, tabloid “journalism” and “reality” television, not to mention religious dignitaries so vain as to use His name to oppose such boons as birth control and the ordination of women?

The answer, of course, is that He just plain couldn’t.  He created the world, after all, in His own image.  Which is by definition perfect.  And according to just one of numberless theories on the subject, the Judeo-Christian one, He did it all in just 6 days.

Not that anyone’s suggesting that it was a rush job.  As everybody knows by now save the fundamentalists – so called, as you know, because they talk through their fundaments – we’re not talking human days here, but God days.  And just as there are seven dog years to one human one, so geologists, paleontologists and sweet reason all tell us, there are millions and millions of human days to every single God day.

In fact look at Genesis and you’ll see that the measure of the human day, the sun that’s the source of diurnal light and darkness, wasn’t even created until God’s third “day”.  And as we learn from fossils (the ones found in rocks, that is, not the ones who set themselves up as creationist spokepersons) the creation of today’s life forms has taken about a billion human years, or days four, five and six God time.

Then on the seventh day He rested, which brings us to the crux of my theory.  Whatever time we or any of the multifarious calendars and cults and religions think it is, I’m convinced that as far as God’s concerned it’s still day seven and He’s still enjoying a breather.  Blithely assuming that we’re all continuing to live the good life in the Garden of Eden right where He left us.  Little imagining that we’ve decided to go it alone in His absence and embark on what our legal colleagues refer to as “a frolic of our own”.  In the process presuming to portray Him in an amazing multiplicity of guises from the singularly inventive to the outright bizarre, and devising in His name thousands of religions, sects and cults each claiming to be the bearer of His true and official message.  Each striving mightily to immortalise itself and incentivise its adherents by authoring “holy” books, erecting “sacred” buildings, electing “saints”, witnessing “miracles” and conducting “holy wars”,fatwahs, crusades, inquisitions, pogroms and other persecutions against its competitors.

What the Almighty is going to make of all this profane intervention in his affairs when He gets back to the office is anybody’s guess.  Will He be flattered, confused or suffer an outright identity crisis to discover that in his absence He’s been known as everything from Ra to Jaweh to Macumbah to Jesus Christ? 

Will He be impressed, honoured or simply appalled at the waste of material and manpower that’s gone into all the totems, pyramids, obalisques, basilicas, churches, chapels, cathedrals, shrines, shiboleths, statues, stupas, spires, domes, mosques and temples erected in His names? 

Will He be grateful or disgusted at learning of all the centuries of cruelty and bloodshed there’s been over ownership of His goodwill and the copyright to all the books ghost-written in His name, each proclaiming itself the unique revelation of His teachings?

I wish I had the answer to these and many other burning questions.  But unfortunately, as long as God’s so evidently still on leave, I’m no more able to reach Him for a word or two on the subject than you are.  We could all of us pray to Him, of course, but thousands of years of praying by all the faithful to all their gods doesn’t appear to have achieved the slightest reduction in the amount of preying that goes on.  Just as the preachings of all the prophets against covetousness, greed and avarice haven’t exactly slackened mankind’s pathological pursuit of profit. 

So in the absence of any clear or coherent message from either here or above, I think I’ll just sit tight and wait for day seven to end.  We Seventh Day Absentists might not have all the answers, but we’re as sure as heck of one thing.  Despite what some people may think, or even count on, God hasn’t been caught napping, or gone to sleep on the job, or chosen to shut His eyes to the perfidies and outrages enacted in and despite His name and in clear contravention of His wishes. 

He’s just having Himself a well-earned rest. And when He comes back to work tomorrow morning His time, and sees the unholy mess we’ve made of all His works, and what a high and mighty opinion we have of ourselves despite screwing-up so sensationally and pretending we did it all on His behalf, there’s going to be hell to pay.








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News Corpse.

As everybody knows by now, Rupert Murdoch’s News organisation  is finally starting to get its long-deserved comeuppance for its systematic trashing of the ethics of journalism, thanks to a UK parliamentary inquiry into  its alleged phone-hacking activities. But a proposed media inquiry soon to be staged by the Gillard government in Australia, where no phone-hacking activities have been alleged,  is reportedly set to ignore such arguably equally troubling issues as the unhealthy News domination of the Australian press and its evident self-interested editorial bias.  As you will see in this and the three following pieces, I used to try and criticise News, but long ago gave it up as a waste of effort.  

Entrapment of the loquacious, PR-impaired Sophie Rhys-Jones by News of the World pretend-journalist Mazher Mahmood and the subsequent blackmailing of her into providing a “world exclusive interview” the paper headlined as “SOPHIE: My Edward NOT gay” is just another example of the way the news continues to suffer at the dead hand of News Corp.  But, as some time ago we observed in the outing of pedophiles by the same Noose of the World, there may be some shaming in naming.

Many of we media junkies have been musing for years on the possibility that Murdoch company names contained subconscious flashes of honesty as to the intentions of their founder.  Take the Australian arm of Rupert’s media/entertainment octopus (ockertopus?) for example, News Limited.  A company for which there could be few more appropriate names, given that the news in most of its publications is apparently limited by a very wide range of factors indeed.  Like the pressure to promote the proprietor’s personal beliefs including republicanism and the free-market economy and punish his pet hates like pinkoes, liberals, royalty, public broadcasting, and “chatterers”.  Like the demands of commercial self-interest decreeing either stridence or silence on issues that might for better or worse impact circulation growth or advertising revenue. And above all the political imperative to support regimes sympathetic to its media-ownership and other commercial aspirations, and smear and slander those that promise or prove to be unfriendly or uncooperative.

Despite all this, though, a measure of editorial independence has often been tolerated if not actively encouraged in the Group’s “quality” newspapers.  But that even these are not entirely immune to News’ limited view of what’s news was graphically illustrated by the cover story on the March 10-11, 1991 issue of The Australian Magazine. Carried by The Weekend Australian whose “Careers” section in the same issue by odd coincidence featured a “Skies the limit for attendants” story, the Magazine’s cover proclaimed “The Plane Truth.  What the airlines haven’t been telling us about DVT”, then took off inside with “The Clot Thickens.  With 2500 sufferers set to take legal action in Australia alone, the complaint is as old as long-haul travel itself.  So why did the airlines keep it so quiet?”

Which immediately raised another, much more disturbing question.  If the airlines kept it so quiet – and most of them didn’t, as their exhortations to passengers to drink lots of water, move around the cabin and so on have for decades clearly demonstrated – why did the media keep it so quiet all these years?  One possible answer, though of course not advanced in “The Clot Thickens”, is that, at least in the case of media owned by News, the urge to discuss DVT may previously have been limited by the fact that until quite recently the Group itself owned an airline, Ansett.   And so only now that the said airline had been safely disposed-of could the story be told.  Or, more accurately, sold.  And sold and sold.

 Not to say over-sold, as the “Clot Thickens” article in The Australian Magazine was essentially a rehash of a campaign launched several weeks earlier in the News tabloid in Sydney, The Daily Telegraph.   The first salvo in News’ “exposure” of DVT in Australia was a Telegraph front page screaming “FLIGHT CLOTS: 10 DIE” followed by a story that affected to reveal the truth, but cynically neglected to mention three crucial facts.  Namely that Deep-Vein Thrombosis is very old news indeed, most airlines have for years advocated ways of preventing it, and that the labeling of the problem as “Economy Class Syndrome”, as The Daily Telegraph did at first, is extremely misleading. 

Deep-Vein Thrombosis is in fact one of the hazards of spending long periods of time sitting down anywhere.  So it afflicts a proportion of long-distance sitters in not just economy class, but also business class, first class and even those on the flight deck.  Plus, of course, passengers in more down-to-earth modes of transport including coaches, trains, cars and rolling office chairs.

The Daily Telegraph then proceeded to follow-up its “breaking” of the “story” with a daily series headed “Panic in the air”, and eventually splashed-out with another big spread in which it unaccountably reversed – but of course failed to actually acknowlege – its own previous inaccuracies as to the airlines’ efforts to overcome the syndrome, and boasted that its “revelations” had forced the airline authorities to display passenger-warning signs at Sydney Airport.  And now, just as the Telegraph has barely finished congratulating itself on having effectively aired the issue, The Australian has taken-up the hue-and-cry.

Why?  What possible motivation could there be for this kind of overkill?  Aside from the obvious economies arising from making the “product”, however thin and shoddy, stretch across as many “platforms” as possible, what could be the angle here?  Surely not the public interest. The DailyTelegraph and all its News Corp ilk around the world have long been evidently far more focused on the health of their own circulations than those of their readers.  Who must be nothing but millions of lumpen, brain-dead clots in any case, I suppose Murdoch and his minions must figure, as long as they’re prepared to pay for treatment as trashy as they get from News tabloids.

So what’s the purpose of this clot of a campaign, and why has the Australian been dragged into the act?  Has News acquired an interest in a law firm specialising in class-action damages litigation?  Are the airlines being punished for falling below expectations in the proportion of their advertising budgets they’re prepared to spend in News media?  Or is this rather more personal?  Has the Proprietor, as surely one of the most frequent fliers in the history of aviation, himself fallen prey to the dreaded DVT?  Or has it befallen one of his high-flying cronies?  Who knows?  Just another example of the way the News brand of  “journalism” has of proving more concealing than revealing, I guess.

Another instance of which occured in the “The Plane Truth” issue of The Australian Magazine, this one a classic of the salacious/santimonious, prurience/prudery school so characteristic of News-owned U.K. gutter tabloids like the Sun and the News Of The World. “The Oilman And The Gold Digger” consisted of five full pages of sneering and sniggering at the affairs of Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall 11, highlighted by the pull-out “As he lay dying and fondling her breasts she taped conversations, trying to get him to put her in his will”.

This piece of tawdry trash also vividly demonstrated the limits that News has a way of placing on the news.  Highlighting by contrast the quiet reverence, not to say thunder of silence, with which the Group’s media dignify the doings, financial, marital and otherwise, of Anna, Wendy, Rupert and other Murdoch family, favourites and friends.

And the News propensity for limiting or killing the truth is by no means limited to its papers.  At a business conference in Los Angeles recently, James Murdoch, who runs News Corp’s Asian operations, lambasted media criticisms of that well-known bastion of truth and justice, and major opportunity for the dissemination of News-style news and entertainment, the People’s Republic of China.  In a story in The Sydney Morning Herald he was quoted as informing his conference audience, which included his father, that pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong should learn to “put up with” life under communist rule, and that the Falun Gong was an “apocalyptic cult” that didn’t “have the success of China at heart”

But let’s not bother with any more isolated examples.  For a consistent, insider’s view of the way News limits the news by a blend of self-censorship and self-promotion, there’s nothing to touch the Media supplement in every Thursday’s The Australian.  Its cover story for March 15, 2001, “Who’s watching?  The fight for free-to-air TV’s shrinking audience”, while striving mightily to give the appearance of balance, was largely a massive plug for the News-majority-owned cable television network, Foxtel.  But the real highlight of the issue for we News afficionados was the first paragraph of the Amanda Meade column – now the former Amanda Meade column, but we’ll get to that in a moment – The Diary.  The item castigated the News-owned Melbourne Herald-Sun for running a recent front-page lead entitled “Australia sells out” and failing to include itself in its list of formerly Australian assets as now “owned by that well-known foreigner Rupert Murdoch.”

The upshot of this flagrant betrayal of the News limited-news code, as reported in the same day’s The Sydney Morning Herald, was that the editor-in-chief of The Australian, David Armstrong, informed Ms. Meade that she would no longer be writing The Diary column.  The editor of The Australian, Campbell Reid, denied that Ms. Meade lost her position because of the Murdoch mention. 

Asked by The Sydney Morning Herald whether he had raised concerns about the item, Reid reportedly hedged that “I had a discussion about the whole column and several items in it, as I do every week”.  A reply that hardly tests the limits of candour, to say the very least.  But let’s not be too hard on the guy.  The position of editor, by no means easy in the best of circumstances, would seem to be particularly tricky in the News organisation. 

And again we have a recent “Media” supplement from The Australian to thank for revealing just how dodgy the job of a News editor must be.  The February 15, 2001 issue of Media featured an adulatory cover story on sometime editor of The Daily Telegraph, former editorial director and recently-appointed chief executive of News Limited, John Hartigan.  This shameless puff-piece was so candid as to speculate on why Hartigan was given his new job, commenting that it was probably due to his “experience and intuitive skills”, adding that “Lachlan Murdoch also liked Hartigan’s philosophy of encouraging his editors to think creatively and laterally and to conjure up non-traditional ways to increase circulation and revenue.” 

Lauding him as a visionary who “sees future editors as being more than people possessing journalistic skills”, the article quoted Hartigan himself as proclaiming that   “we should let future editors spend six months in advertising or sales to build up a broader knowledge of consumer trends to be really prepared for the marketing role which will be the editor’s task in this environment.”  In other words, if I read him right, he’s saying that if we think News news is limited now, we should see how much worse is in store for us in future if he has anything to do with it.

It’s often been said that truth is the first casualty of war.  News, both Limited and Corp, seem dedicated to demonstrating to the world, as if further demonstration was required after the examples set in the past by the Hearsts, Pulitzers, Northcliffes and others, and the totalitarian and many other media today, that truth is also the first casualty of whore. 

Proprietors, editors and “journalists” prepared to subvert the the truth for their own and their investors’ self-interest, to pervert their opinions for the benefit of their politcal patrons and to manufacture a false and venal “reality” to peddle to the unsuspecting readers aren’t worthy to use a respectable word like “news”.  As one of the institutions on which we rely for our freedoms, it’s vital that our news be nothing less than the genuine article.  The news media are supposed to be the watchdogs of our society; our last line of defence against lying, corruption, cronyism, incompetence and injustice in our institutions of business, public service and government, not some pack of mongrels set loose to scavenge whatever they can get out of us.  We don’t need our news bastardised by public relations, hype, evasion, consumer trends, marketing, corporate cross-promotions and “entertainment”.  Whatever the powers that be at News may fancy, we don’t need our news limited by them in their own or anyone else’s interests, and we certainly don’t need it limited to death.
































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Noose of the world.

You really have to hand it to Rebekah Wade and the team.  In one fell swoop they’ve scooped the News Of  The World out of the gutter where it’s been all these years and dragged it down into the sewer.  Fearlessly naming and shaming themselves as ready to exploit child murder victim Sarah Payne to lengths little short of necrophilia to lift their circulation.

That none of the sex-offenders that it has so “courageously” outed were  involved in this terrible murder and in any case all have already paid for their crimes appears to be of fine inconsequence to the vigilantes of the News of the World.  The pretext for the defamation of these people is that they’re “likely to re-offend”.  One of them most certainly isn’t.  The one that’s been driven to suicide.  And the mobs that the posse from the press has brought onto the streets has already in its idiocy and confusion attacked several entirely innocent men.  

Here were we thinking we’d seen everything that rabloid journalism had to offer when it came to fearless crusades against the sad, the sick, the inane and the insane.  But now they’ve shown us how very much more sanctimonious, vicious and venal things can get when it comes to chasing circulation.  What next, I wonder.  Bring back the rope?

However down and dirty the action gets, though, proprietor Rupert Murdoch has every reason to be very chuffed indeed with the figures.  Not that circulation alone is by any means the name of his game.  He’s much esteemed the world over for his dedication to freedom of the press. 

Freedom of the press to make money, win friends and influence people, that is.  People whose influence might be crucial to his other business interests like satellite TV and “content”.  People like, for example, the unlovely rulers of China, with over a billion loyal subjects and potential consumers of the new cultural revolution that SkyTV is so uniquely equipped to deliver.

Of course it will be a while before China is ready for the some of the more colourful aspects of his tabloid newspapers. It’s having quite enough trouble with the Falun Gong without Rupert and his minions exposing the workers to a heady capitalist brew of knickers, knockers, Spice Girls and sex-slayings.  But at least the News organisation can be satisfied that the News Of The World, like its stablemate and partner in grime, the Sun, are both pretty much on a par with the People’s Daily for probity, truth and justice.

As happy as Rupert, his shareholders and management must be, though, any civilised citizen of the U.K. has every good cause for dismay.  The fact that four million of one’s countrymen and women are prepared to publicly shame themselves as the kind of lowbrow losers who would actually buy a copy of the News Of The World and read the rubbish it serves-up must be very alarming indeed.

And it’s only early days yet.  Rebekah only just got started as editor.  There are no telling how many more and even lower species of readers will crawl out from the next sewer she elects to name and shame herself by setting-out to Wade through.  And as long as the numbers keep growing, justice, humanity and fair play can apparently, as far as she and her miserable career are concerned, go hang.

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Another miscarriage of journalism.

“NICOLE’S BABY TRAGEDY”, screached the front page of the March 30,2001 issue of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.  A lead – or perhaps mislead – on the front of the same day’s The Sydney Morning Herald used the same, identical words.  And no wonder.  As the miserable little “story” the Herald ran on page two revealed, the Australian media had apparently all picked-up the rubbishy rumour from the same trash bin, London’s Mirror.

At least the Herald admitted both the dubious source and unsubstantiated nature of the tale of Nicole’s alleged miscarriage.  So that, although there was certainly room for improvement in its coverage, it did eventually let us into the secret that by “baby” the headline actually meant “embryo”, and that for “tragedy” we should have read something more along the lines of “disappointment”.

No reservations or revelations on the part of the Telegraph, though.  As if on a mission to demonstrate why many of us think of it as “The Daily Tellemcrap”, and so many respectable journalists write it off as “the whore of Holt Street”, it gave the Nicole “baby” story the total tragic treatment.

Whether or not the  “tragedy” was as big a blow for us as for Nicole, or whether in fact the whole sorry story was merely the illegitimate child of some Fleet Street tabloid flack’s fertile imagination, The Daily Telegraph spared no efforts to make its coverage a very sorry day indeed for journalism.

Its lead story, for example, treating the whole thing as fact through the employment of the usual word-weaseling like “friends say” and “it is believed” and quoting such sources as “an (anonymous) Australian friend”.

There was also a stenuous attempt to give the whole issue a serious spin, with an article, actually a long series of quotes strung together from a certain Ros Richardson, “co-ordinator of a support group (unnamed) which helps women who suffer miscarriages”, by “Health Reporter” Anna Patty.  But the icing on the cake was an actual editorial, no less, entitled “Heartache after heartbreak”.  This was such a dead-set classic of the hand-on-heart, crying-in-your-beer school of tabloid journalism, that it merits quoting in full:

 “After the anguish of a public marriage break-up, Nicole Kidman has experienced every expectant mother’s worst fear – a miscarriage.

It is a tragedy that befalls parents across the world every day – no matter our wealth, our fame or our status – and engenders in all of us, a real sadness.

But for Nicole and her family to grapple so publicly with such heartache on the heels of her marriage breakdown really deserves our deepest sympathies.

Her family has always been such strong support for her; we wish them only the best as they come to terms with this tragedy”.

See what I mean?  So earnest and sombre and sincere you could weep, and utterly full of shit.  Everybody knows that many expectant mothers’ pregnancies are unwanted, in which circumstance a miscarriage is not a “worst fear”, but a blessed reprieve.  And even in dearly longed-for pregnancies, miscarriages are hardly tragedies compared with a late- or full-term child’s being born dead or permanently damaged.  And don’t you love the “no matter our wealth, fame or status” bit tossed-in there as a sop to celebrity-junkies?

Meanwhile, on the same editorial page on which it was sliming away about “our” Nicole’s miscarriage, this abortion of a newspaper was crucifying a rugby-league footballer for “cowardly and unnatural acts” (that’s Telespeak for goosing other players) for which he’d already received a 12-week suspension.  None of your understanding or campassion or sentimental slop about “the support of his family” here.  “It’s time to banish him forever”, snarled the headline.

Then followed a merciless condemnation that ended with “there is no place for Hopoate in that code (of rugby league).  Let him be expelled from it for life, for that is what he deserves”.   Me, I’m no rugby league expert, and so claim no expertise in judging the finer points of the ethics of this great and noble game.  But I am an ardent follower of news reporting.  And if ever there was to be a call for those with their fingers in the arse-end of journalism to be rubbed-out for life, I’d certainly be among the first to put my hand up.




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Moulin ruse.

Anyone regularly reading or even just perusing the pictures in the Sydney Daily Telegraph over the past few months would be aware of this organ’s love affair with  Nicole Kidman.  Hardly a day’s gone by in recent times that it hasn’t mooned over some aspect or another of “our” Nicole’s life.  Her split with Tom was front-page news there for a spell, while the Tele agonised over the causes and raked-over the scanty details in search of rumours and scandal.  And then, to its supreme delight, came the “news” that she’d suffered a miscarriage. 

Never mind that this story started as a U.K. tabloid fantasy, or, as many have suspected from the start, outright fabrication.  I’m with my friend Susan, who says she’ll believe it when she sees with her own eyes the alleged ejected embryo in a jar with notarised DNA test results attached.  But what the hell, at last the Tele had something it could really get its teeth into, so to speak, and it made a right meal of the thing, not just in its news pages, but in an actual editorial expressing its hand-wringing, heart-felt sympathy.

In fact they laid it on so thick with Nicole that it’s been enough to make even we hardest-core Telegraph observers feel that there must be more to this infatuation than just the usual “celebrity sell”.  And it wasn’t long before the true motive emerged.  Soon the “news” about Nicole started to focus less and less on her troubles and more and more on her role in the movie “Moulin Rouge”.  This, for anyone who’s been out of town or failing to read the Daily Telegraph lately, is the latest blockbuster offering from Fox Studios.  Which, like The Daily Telegraph, is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News organisation. 

So the method in the Telegraph’s madness for Nicole Kidman has clearly been to set its readers up for the movie sell.  And what a sell it’s proving to be.  Rave coverage of its showing in Cannes, a report that it “wasn’t finished yet” when international reviews were less than glowing, and hysterical hype of the galah premiere at Sydney’s Fox Studios attended by 3,000 hand-picked AAA guests.

In short, it has been a gigantic Moulin ruse in the time-honoured News tradition to present hype, hard-sell and flat-out advertising as “news”.  “News” that has never once mentioned, as far as I could see, that the whole performance was in the interests of the paper’s proprietors.  In fact this shameless exhibition in self-promotion went even further than passing itself off as news, and even resorted to an editorial.  “Hollywood meets Paris in Sydney”, proclaimed a Daily Telegraph editorial in the May 22, 2001 edition, continuing:

“If the fanfare that greeted Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann and its star Nicole Kidman at the film’s premiere at Fox Studios last night is any indication of its success, the musical should break all box-office records.

The 3000 guests at the premiere were treated to an extravaganza that rivaled any Hollywood opening, with the studios refitted to resemble the famed Parisian show of the late 19th century.

Screenings in each of the 11 cinemas were staggered by two minutes to enable Kidman to address the guests before the movie started.

It was a touch that was not lost on the appreciative audience.

Let us hope that similar applause rings out loudly throughout the world for this daring Australian production.”

If “Moulin Rouge” doesn’t break all box-office records, it certainly won’t be for lack of effort on the part of The Daily Telegraph.  This is as blatant a blurring of the required distinction between news and advertising as 2UE and other radio stations committed in the “cash-for-comment” affair.  But I haven’t heard of any complaint or action on the part of the Press Council or any other regulatory body that might curtail or at least draw attention to such a travesty of journalism.  Maybe it’s considered just a matter of caveat emptor.  If all the punters who pay good money for The Daily Telegraph in the belief that it’s a real newspaper, and go see “Moulin Rouge” at its urging, they can-can have only themselves to blame for falling for yet another News con-con.

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