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Saturday, 17 September 2011

Oz rebuttals to Manne uniformly antagonistic

The response to Robert Manne's Quarterly Essay, 'Bad News', which I wrote about on this blog a few days ago, was predictable. The Australian summoned forth not one or two leading lights to rebut the thesis put forward by Manne - that The Australian is a campaigning newspaper that ruthlessly pursues a set of specific agendas - but eight of them and they all read from the same script: Manne is ideologically motivated and misleading in his claims. What better proof - if any further proof was needed - of the paper's editorial bias than this uniform response to a highly convincing essay by one of Australia's foremost intellectuals and polemicists.

To be frank I didn't read much of what was published today. There's simply no point. It's a predictable litany of offenses that shamelessly tries to underscore all the things Manne missed reporting that The Australian has written over the years. The evidence is often old - some sources date from the late 90s - but it is simply a cherry-picked assortment of get-out-of-jail-free cards that some prescient editor made sure were included at the time. Anyone who regularly reads The Australian knows that it is just the PR arm of the Liberal Party and that Manne actually has understated the case because he restricted himself - usefully, it turns out - to a small set of issues. If he had cast his net wider there would have been much more damning material for the paper to deny, now, as though Manne were somehow a unique and deluded maniac with an axe to grind.

He's not. There are thousands of intelligent people who read Manne's essay with a sense of peace because all it did was say - and back up with copious evidence - what they had been thinking for a long time but never had the time or energy to prove. Manne did Australia a great service by subjecting himself to such an onerous labour. Who else would put aside the months needed to scrutinise reams of tedious and one-sided material in order to prove a point? Mann alone. And what do we get in response? Eight quick throw-offs from a bunch of interested parties who represent a media owner who most definitely has an axe to grind and takes every opportunity to do so.

You wonder how these phone calls went. Just how did Chris Mitchell get all of his trusty warriors on side? What did he say to them in order to make sure that the response to Manne's essay was as complete and unanimous as concievably possible? No emails, for starters. Rrrrrrinnnnnnnnnnngg! "Hey, Joe, it's Chris here. Just wondering if you'd had time to read Robert Manne's essay. You did? Great. I'm sure you have a lot to say, Joe. I'll be using my past experience with Rob to attack him but you might want to look at genocide. You have? That's great. OK, mate, talk later." Click. Joe turns to his computer, rubs some almond oil into his palms, checks his Facebook one last time before beginning, then sets to: "Manne is just a stupid ass and nobody likes him, not even leftie intellectuals because his prose style is boring ..." Joe highlights and deletes his first attempt ruefully. No, something more is required, he thinks. The file is named 'Manne rebuttal first draft' and by the time Joe has completed his afternoon's work there are 2000 shining, sharp-edged words sitting on his hard drive. He leaves the office, goes to his pilates class, picks up some cheesecake from the patisserie on the corner, and when he reaches his kitchen he cracks open a cold one. He silently toasts his stubbie into the empty air, thinking, "This is for you, Chris."

Meanwhile, in a cafe in Newtown, two 25-year-old locals - one a legal clerk and the other a graphic designer - are talking about - what else? - Manne's devastating essay about The Australian. "They're going to be shitting themseslves in Surry Hills," says Graeme as he takes a spoonful of sticky-date pudding and pops it ironically into his mouth. "Yeah. Fuck that shit," says Imogen as she replaces her cup for emphasis on its saucer. "I'm sick of reading that crap. It just makes me want to vomit." "Mate, you should send a copy to Aaron in New York. He'd really dig that stuff. You know he got a piece published in the New Yorker?" "I heard," says Imogen. "He emailed me the link. Great job there." "Yeah," Graeme replies.

Imagine how these two young people will react when they see the eight responses piling up on the page The Australian dedicated to the essay.

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng! "Hello?" "Mog, it's Graeme. Just calling to ask if you'd seen the Oz's reaction to Manne's essay on their website." "Yeah, sure," says Imogen. "I read a bit of the one by the guy who writes about Aborigines but I couldn't be bothered with that self-righteous crap." "No worries, Mogs. Hey, you right for Tuesday?" "The Fringe gig? Absolutely." "See ya." "See ya."

Back on King Street, Graeme exits the pie shop holding his breakfast in a plastic singlet bag. He navigates around the pair of police talking to the beggar in front of the IGA and enters the cavern that leads to the ticket counter of the Dendy. He picks up a few promotional leaflets, turns round, and walks home. It's not far to Alice Street but by the time he gets there, the pies are almost cold. Good thing he bought a microwave.

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