tip off

Bill Shorten and the News Corp method of blackmail

The threat to Bill Shorten from unproven rape allegations may lie as much in them not being used against him as in any media smear campaigns.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s decision to identify himself as the subject of a police investigation into sexual assault allegations when he was a teenager was made in anticipation that News Corporation would attempt to use the story against him, Labor figures say.

The lengthy investigation concluded this week, with police deciding not to recommend charges in relation to events involving Shorten and an unnamed woman at a Young Labor event in the 1980s. Yesterday, Shorten confirmed what had long been discussed on social media, that he was the target of the allegations.

The Australian newspaper has run several pieces on the investigation into a “senior Labor figure” over the last year. Most pertinently, it ran a column by right-wing industrial relations columnist Grace Collier in The Weekend Australian last Saturday, which warned that even if charges were not laid, it would still “be a disaster for Labor”. Collier, who famously claimed that prime minister Julia Gillard was in no position to complain of misogyny because she showed too much cleavage in Parliament, collaborated on the hounding of Gillard over the AWU corruption matter from the 1990s with far-Right blogger and sacked shock jock Michael Smith, who has enthusiastically aired the rape allegations about Shorten.

The column was seen by some in Labor as a blunt warning that, regardless of the truth of the allegations, News Corp would run the same sort of smear campaign against him that it ran against Gillard, which continued for over a year despite a complete absence of any specific allegations against her.

However, a direct attack designed to destroy Shorten, who has proved unexpectedly competitive against a government that has spent a year stumbling from error to error, may not have been the only thing playing on Labor minds. One of the key elements of Rupert Murdoch’s success, according to The Guardian’s Nick Davies, is his ability to secure cooperation from key figures based on the threat that they will be punished via personal attack in his newspapers. As Davies wrote in July:

At its worst, everybody in the power elite has heard that the punishment can amount to crude blackmail. They have all heard the stories about how Murdoch editors have safes containing dossiers of evidence about the private lives of politicians and competing businessmen; and that Murdoch and his people agree to suppress these gross embarrassments in exchange for yet more favours. There are specific rumours — about a senior figure in British sport who is said to have complied with Murdoch’s plans for TV rights when he was informed that The Sun was ready to tell its readers that he had had sexual relationships with young men; and about a middle-ranking Labour politician who is said to have spoken up on behalf of Murdoch’s UK newspapers after journalists obtained a video of him having sex with a prostitute while the prostitute’s husband watched. It is true that the sports administrator and the Labour politician offered their support to Murdoch. Whether they did so out of fear of the dossiers — or whether the dossiers even exist — is not so clear. The power is in the belief and in the fear it engenders. Which is widespread.”

In this context, the allegations against Shorten, even if police had decided not to proceed with them, were perhaps more damaging if they remained unused by News Corp, kept in the safe, with an implied threat that they could be pulled out if Shorten was seen to be a threat to the company, or if a specific favour was needed. And the threat can always remain implied — it is given force by the few occasions it is publicly delivered on. As Davies notes:

The power to conceal or reveal sensitive personal information turns out to be just like the power of the bully in the school playground. The bully need only batter one or two children for the fact of his power to be established: fear will then ensure that the others do all they can to placate him.”

Whether in response to the prelude to an attack or to prevent the threat of future attack, Shorten has opted to attempt to short-circuit the issue by coming out, unexpectedly, and on his own terms, to discuss it. It’s true that the allegations were already widely circulating online; this is not the 1980s, when mainstream media journalists and editors could act as gatekeepers of personal information about politicians. But it’s a high-risk play in that it elevates what until now has amounted to social media abuse into a mainstream media issue that can be openly discussed. Shorten himself has now made it the subject of public debate. But it also undermines the threat from Murdoch on the issue: his papers can still run a smear campaign against Shorten, but he has got on the front foot and ensured it can’t be used to blackmail him.

How much the decision costs him remains to be seen. But for the moment, Shorten’s initiative looks the smarter long-term play than staying silent.

24
  • 1
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Is “Limited News” run much like J. Edgar Hoover ran his FBI (“F***ing Blackmail Institution”?)?

  • 2
    rhwombat
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    The Royal Commission into the News Corpse Maladministration after the next election is going to rival that of Pell’s pets or NSW Liberals. I might take up knitting.

  • 3
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    It was either “out” himself or face a “death of a thousand cuts” - well quite a few - working for Murdoch, anyway?

  • 4
    L Hudd
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    If someone would just take out Rupert in the interests of democracy no jury would ever convict.

  • 5
    mikeb
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    When this story came out y’day I happened to be in a Sydney taxi. The driver who had a thick middle-eastern accent was scathing on the “girl” and on the allegations. Perhaps this “leak” could backfire on the News corp cheer squad.

  • 6
    granorlewis
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I find it hard to believe that you have written this stuff Mr Keane. After all what has been said publicly is that the Victorian authorities have deemed that in relation to this matter, there is no likelihood of a criminal conviction. Not that it didn’t happen - only that there is no basis for a criminal hearing on the matter, This poor woman, who has been ashamed of what happened on a tragic night 30 years ago, when a testosterone-charged male took advantage of her 16 year old body, has been traumatised all that time - and more now as she is confronted again by this man, acting as you now say to ensure he is not blackmailed over the matter. Shame on you all.

  • 7
    SusieQ
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Yet the Melb arm of the empire has still chosen to run it on the front page (no I didn’t buy a copy!) despite all the other news around (including George Pell’s evidence to the RC)and despite there really being no story to tell.
    What a dreadful company they are.

  • 8
    Djbekka
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Obviously something bad happened to a very young woman 30 years ago. I saw a short account without much context. Equally, there is insufficient evidence to make a case against Shorten, the Victorian authorities say. If media empires are compiling dirt files as alleged here, none of us are safe. With luck, the next 30 years will see the development of a better culture of gender relations. Let’s work for that instead of indulging in a hypothetical forensic account of events we didn’t witness.

  • 9
    zut alors
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    It’s reminiscent of J Edger Hoover having a file on a politician. He never needed to bring it out of the drawer, the fact that he had it at his disposal guaranteed him all the power.

    If Palmer ever carries out his threat to start a newspaper it could be of service dishing the dirt on the Murdochs. A taste of their own medicine may not be efficacious but would be entertaining to the Great Unwashed nevertheless.

  • 10
    Graeski
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    It’s an interesting strategy. Abbott’s biggest electoral weakness (historically, at least) is his unpopularity with women. Snide insinuations of rape would trump that, I expect.

    Better still, Liberal politicians can piously wring their hands while News Limited and the shock jocks dish the dirt.

  • 11
    Forever Marshall
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    just think, if feminists had their way shorten would be in gaol by now

  • 12
    bushby jane
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    That’s what they’re doing.

  • 13
    Alan
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    So our democracy is allegedly held to ransom by a private company? Is that what you are saying? What the hell is going on? Has our country gone mad? Or stupid? Or is it another ‘look over there!’ to obscure senior RC church officials? Are we just the plaything of the rich and powerful? Good Lawd!

  • 14
    The Hood
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Klewso you are right; yes J Edgar H and Rupert, difficult to see the difference except Rupert is more dangerous to democracy and indeed the world with his anti science views on climate change etc.

  • 15
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    If News Corpse want to sell more papers they should do a full expose on Rupert-Wendi-Tony Blair affair, there is a story to be told there. As News Corpse know so well …smut sells.

  • 16
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Paul Kelly could do it.

  • 17
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Why am I not surprised that anything to do with Rupert Murdoch is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg?

  • 18
    Posted Friday, 22 August 2014 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    PS: It was wonderful to see a politician wearing a lovely green tie. The Liberal Party’s dour conviction of wearing a blue tie is as boring as Scott Morrison reiterating that Manus Island is not a goal. Actually he is correct. It isn’t a goal, it’s a concentration camp.

  • 19
    K.D. Afford
    Posted Saturday, 23 August 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I was in Sydney recently and broke a drought on buying The Australian, by three third day I was appalled, as ever, at the lies, bias, and misinformation supporting our worst government ever.
    My guess is that even the crosswords in the other arms of Murdoch’s local rags have subliminal “vote Liberal” persuasions.!

  • 20
    Roberto Tedesco
    Posted Saturday, 23 August 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    So, has no one, anywhere, ever compiled a dirt file on RK Murdoch? He’s as clean as driven snow, I’m sure.

    Do any of the News Corpse Schutzstaffel ever get any twinges of conscience or remorse, or does it only pop out in memoirs like Man Bites Dog, when they are back out in the free world?

  • 21
    Lubo Gregor
    Posted Saturday, 23 August 2014 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Roberto check out Rondey E. Lever’s rants on Independent Australia :)

  • 22
    rhwombat
    Posted Sunday, 24 August 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    I gather that Kim Williams has a bit of ammunition - and cause to bite.

  • 23
    AR
    Posted Sunday, 24 August 2014 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Good on Bort Shillen to stand up but what a pity that he is a blot on the escutcheon of Oz politics (no small achievement given the competition) so, carry on vamping until someone else comes along.
    VA - they may be Morriscum own ‘goals’ but they are certainly gaols.

  • 24
    GideonPolya
    Posted Monday, 25 August 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    I am certainly no fan of the pro-war, pro-Zionist, US lackey Labor Right that with the Coalition constitute the politically dominant, neoliberal Lib-Lbs (Liberal-Laborals) in Australia, but I must say that Bill Shorten did the correct thing by going public in relation to Murdoch media innuendo.

    The Elephant in the Room crimes of the Murdoch media - and to a lesser but nevertheless substantial extent of other Mainstream media (MSM) - principally involve:
    (1) censorship, non-reportage and under-reportage, most notably of the huge crimes of the US and its war criminal allies (12 million war-related deaths so far in just the US wars in Iraq (1990-2014), Somalia (1992-2014) and Afghanistan (2001-2014) alone; see “Muslim Holocaust, Muslim Genocide”: https://sites.google.com/site/muslimholocaustmuslimgenocide/ ) ;
    (2) dangerous, anti-science, false reportage in support of the fossil fuel Lobby and climate change denialists, noting that climate genocide from unaddressed man-made climate change is predicted to kill about 10 billion people this century (see “Climate Genocide”: https://sites.google.com/site/climategenocide/ ); and
    (3) perversion of the English-speaking Democracies to Murdochracies (Big Media determine truth, general public perception and how people vote) and Lobbyocracies (Big Money buys government policy), aka Corporatocracies (see Professor Brian Ellis’ new book “Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics”; see “Review. “Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics” by Brian Ellis: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/20947-social-humanism.ht ).

    Decent Australians will reject the gross malreportage of the pro-One Percenter and pro-Ten Percenter Murdoch media and boycott Murdoch media (see “Boycott Murdoch Media”: https://sites.google.com/site/boycottmurdochmedia/ ).

    Accurate reportage is vital for societal safety. The Murdoch media are not alone in gross maltreportage and censorship . For details of media-derived censorship by the global Murdoch media empire, Australian Fairfax media, the Australian ABC, the UK BBC, and the Australian universities-backed web magazine The Conversation in Neocon American- and Zionist Imperialist-perverted and subverted Murdochracy, Lobbyocracy and Corporatocracy Australia and elsewhere in the West see “Boycott Murdoch media”: https://sites.google.com/site/boycottmurdochmedia/ ; “Censorship by the BBC”: https://sites.google.com/site/censorshipbythebbc/ ; “Censorship by The Conversation”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/censorship-by ; “Mainstream media censorship”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/home ; “Mainstream media lying”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammedialying/ ; “Censorship by The Age”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/censorship-by-the-age ; “Censorship by ABC Late Night Live”: https://sites.google.com/site/censorshipbyabclatenightlive/ , “Censorship by ABC Saturday Extra”: https://sites.google.com/site/censorshipbyabclatenightlive/censorship-by-abc-sat and “ABC fact-checking unit & incorrect reportage by the ABC (Australia’s BBC)”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/abc-fact-checking-unit , “Censorship by The Guardian UK”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/censorship-by-the-guardian-uk and “Censorship by The Guardian Australia”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/home/censorship-by-the-guardian-a .

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