Crikey has been having a ding dong battle with right wing Herald Sun commentator Andrew Bolt over the past week and is happy to publish all of the correspondence and some of your feedback in the interests of open debate.
Firstly, this is what I sent to Crikey subscribers on November 16:

SICK TO DEATH OF ANDREW BOLT’S BROKEN RECORD

And then you have that prominent Howard cheer-squad member Andrew Bolt raving on like Piers Akerman in Monday’s Herald Sun about this being a victory against the elites. Yesterday we got even more rubbish from Bolt. At the top his page was a real rah rah piece about backing the war effort and sticking with the Americans and isn’t the war going well. Crikey had no real problems with this.

Then at the bottom of the page he sticks it to Labor for being too soft Left and calls critics of Beazley’s boat people complicity “class war cavemen and Whitlamite dreamers”.

Bolt claims to be a crusader for the truth. He splashed the debatable claim about Lois O’Donoghue supposedly not being a member of the Stolen Generation on the front page of News Ltd papers across the country earlier this year. This was reckless and inflammatory treatment when the story should never have left his p19 column.

Yet it seems it is okay for the Howard government to lie about Muslim kids being chucked in the water by their parents.

In his war piece, he makes the emotive reference to Bin Laden’s and his cronies as “child-killers” for what they did to American kids in New York, yet he seems to cut no slack to the poor Afghan children drowning on boats.

Crikey cannot work out how people like Bolt can be so wholeheartedly in favour of the war effort and then so wholeheartedly against letting Afghan boat people into the country. How can he have it both ways? You either shut yourself off from the rest of the world or you engage.

Bolt reckons these people are not fleeing the Taliban or the war, no instead “they are actually fleeing a three-year drought and hunger”.

That’s funny, what were all those images on the TV last night of car loads of Afghan refugees returning triumphantly from Pakistan to Kabal after one of the world’s most repressive regimes were chased out of the capital.

Bolt was also one of the leading attack-dogs against Four Corners for their story a couple of months back on detention centres. Since Crikey published that wonderful rebuttal of all the critics by Four Corners producer Peter McEvoy, I haven’t notice Bolt or Akerman publishing any apologies for doing the government’s bidding in trying to tear the Four Corners story down and further fan the flames of xenophobia.

Finally, Bolt’s obsession with Victoria’s Labor Education minister Mary Delahunty, she of the dreaded ABC, led him to drop this clanger in yesterday’s paper:

“The informal vote for the Senate nearly doubled in Victoria, the state where Left-wing Labor governments have done so much to wreck state school standards in literacy. Is there a link?”

Is Bolt really suggesting that generations of Labor educated Victorians have suffered to much that they don’t even know how to vote formally? What a stupid suggestion.

Disclosure: Crikey worked happily with Andrew Bolt at the Herald Sun for 3 years, stayed with him for five nights in Hong Kong during the handover in 1996, attended his 40th birthday in 1999 and enjoyed his company at our post-wedding cocktail party last year. The views above clearly suggest we have a difference of opinion about humanitarian issues and political morals. It’s nothing personal of course. Andrew likes a good straight-talking debate and happily lays into other journalists publicly.

ends

Andrew Bolt’s response by email on November 18

FOR PUBLICATION

Dear Stephen,

Your readers are right to wonder about your sudden lurch to the Left. But with your bizarre attack on me, I wonder not only whether your political principals have deserted you, but your journalistic ones as well.

Almost every single paragraph of it contains either a lie, a misquotation, a misrepresentation, a false assumption or a grotesque error in logic. Just who were you pandering to in writing such desperate stuff?.

Paragraph 1: “Yesterday we got even more rubbish from Bolt .. a real rah ran piece about backing the war effort”, yet strangely “Crikey had no real problems with this”. So why the adolescent abuse? To curry favour with the happily mortified anti-war brigade?

Paragraph 3. “He splashed a debatable claim about Lois (Lowitja, Stephen) O’Donoghue supposedly not being a member of the Stolen Generation”. “Debatable”? The only debatable issue is whether too much proof of her non-membership will ever be enough for the desperate believers, Stephen. She herself on the day my article appeared confirmed in a statement and on a Current Affair that, far from having been stolen by missionaries, her father had given her and her four siblings to a home for children because “he didn’t want to be saddled with us”.

Paragraph 3: Putting this news on Page 1 (not my decision, as any cadet knows from day one) was “reckless and inflammatory”. Inflammatory to whom, Stephen? I suspect you really mean that it inflamed those who prefer to believe the falsehood. Reckless? Correcting the record is reckless? Hasn’t it been far more reckless to falsely accuse missionaries, priests and patrol officers – some of whom are still alived and horrified by the smear – of being racist child stealers? Hasn’t that been inflammatory?

Paragraph 3: “…the story should never have left his page 19 column”. So a fact that is deemed “inflammatory” by gatekeepers like Stephen should be labelled “opinion” instead, and buried. Really, this is precisely how a sub-editor on the People’s Daily would rationalise keeping the public uninformed of the truth. Have you missed your true calling, Stephen?

Paragraph 4: “Yet it seems okay for the Howard Government to lie about Muslim kids being chucked in the water by their parents.” What a breathtaking and offensive assumption to make of my attitude. No, that would not be okay with me, and show me a word I’ve written that would suggest I would condone such a lie. But also show me that proof that Howard did in fact lie. Should I get my hand on such proof, assuming it exists, I will be as condemnatory of Howard as I was over Peter Reith’s misuse of his Telecard.

Paragraph 5. “He makes the emotive reference to Bin Laden’s (sic) and his cronies as “child-killers for what they did to American kids in New York…” You object to child killers being called child killers now, Stephen. Is the truth again too “inflammatory” for you and those you seek to please?

Paragraph 5: “…yet he seems to cut no slack to the poor Afghan children drowning on boats”. What a filthy insinuation, harnessed to a spurious analogy. Show me anywhere a word I have written that makes it “seem” to you I do not regard this as as an appalling tragedy. And let me provide you, should you need it, with the transcripts of my comments on commerical radio in which I say how terrible this is.

Paragraph 6: You cannot understand how I can be “in favour of the war effort and then so wholeheartedly against letting Afghan boat people into the country”. What an absurd proposition. I am in fact in favour of the war effort AND in favour of letting in genuine refugees from Afghanistan, as I have written before. I am not in favour of encouraging people to pay people smugglers to come in illegally, and risk (as I wrote at least two months ago) precisely the kind of tragedy at sea which we saw during the election campaign. Do you really have such trouble with this very simple proposition, or are you simply pretending? Moreover, I could even logically be in favour of the war effort because I want Afghanistan made so safe that no refugee need ever come here at all.

But perhaps the cause of your puzzlement is that you hold to the absurd proposition that a country which has struck back in a war of self-defence is responsible for the refugees who might result. Which would mean, for instance, that in defending itself against Japan, Australia was morally obliged to accept tens of thousands of Japanese refugees after the war.

Paragraph 7: “Bolt reckons these people are not fleeing the Taliban or the war, no instead “they are actually fleeing a three-year drought and hunger”. A deliberate doctoring of a quote here, I fear. I actually wrote that “MOST are actually fleeing” the drought and hunger. I do not deny that others are denying the Taliban and the war, and you are wrong to say I do.

Paragraph 8: What, you asked, were those images then of carloads of refugees returning from Pakistan to Kabul? I doubt, given the unrest in the territory inbetween, that there were many such genuine “refugees” at all. Most of those “refugees” I saw returning to Kabul wore uniforms and carried guns.

Paragraph 9: “I haven’t noticed Bolt or Akerman publishing any apologies for doing the government’s bidding in trying to tear the Four Corners story (on our detention centres) down and further fan the flames of xenophobia”. You lie when you say the government bade me do the story. I doubt you even believe that. But if you do, prove it. Moreover, McEvoy’s article was in fact primarily an attempted rebuttal of matters Akerman rose but which I did not. I saw nothing in McEvoy’s piece which told me that I had done him an injustice in correcting some of the important errors of fact which his “emotive” and “inflammatory” and “reckless” program had contained. Moreover, to suggest again that to correct the record is to “fan the flames of xenophobia” again betrays your Pravda-like fear of letting the public hear the truth of a matter and leaving it to them to make their own judgment.

Paragraph 10: “Bolt’s obsession with Victoria’s Labor Education Minister Mary Delahunty”. Obsession? A concern about the damage being down to the Budget and to education standards is now to be dismissed as an obsession? And what a mild obsession it is. I doubt that I’ve mentioned Delahunty in my columns more than twice in the past six months or even more. Some obsession. If you want true obsession, count the number of times some commentators have written “Howard is a racist” columns in just the past two months.

Paragraph 10, 11, 12: It’s a “clanger” to suggest that some people are so poorly educated that they find it too hard to properly fill out a complicated Senate ballot paper. What a happy land you live in, Stephen, in which everyone can read to university level and no one ever goes to a rotten school and sits up the back year after year without ever mastering the basics of literacy. Forgive me if the research doesn’t paint quite such a good picture, Stephen. Or am I again being too “inflammatory” in talking about this problem?

And that covers every single paragraph of your stunningly inept article.

Oh, apart from the disclaimer outlining our former friendship. It would have been more appropriate if you had instead made the disclaimer a list of the subjects which you deem too “inflammatory” and “reckless” for the public to be told the truth. Just so your subscribers know what imperfect goods they are receiving.

Andrew Bolt

What subscribers were told on Nov 19 about response to blistering Bolt attack

CRIKEY’S LETTER TO THE HERALD SUN

I received quite a good aggressive email from Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt last night who wants space on Crikey to rebut my attack on him last week.

Ordinarily this would happen, but given that the Herald Sun has run a ban on Crikey and Jeffed.com for more than two years now because editor Peter Blunden is so thin-skinned, I’ve done the rather obvious thing of sending this letter to the Herald Sun and telling Bolt I’ll only publish his spray if the Herald Sun lifts its ban.

Anyway, this is my letter to the Hun. The ball is in their court:

Dear Sir,

Andrew Bolt is sounding increasingly hysterical with every column about politics but congratulations for tempering his shrill opinions with those of Jill Singer and Steve Price on the question of asylum seekers last week.

Bolt sees dangerous lefties and socialists around every corner and has lost his sense of balance whilst crusading against these so-called “elites”, of which I’m probably one.

There are former Liberal voters and staffers such as myself who are genuinely appalled with the Howard Government’s xenophobic pitch and are not part of Bolt’s left-wing conspiracy.

His linking of a doubling of the informal vote in the Senate with supposedly “left-wing” education policies was ridiculous and if he was so concerned about the truth with the Stolen Generation, why isn’t he monstering the Howard government for not telling the truth about how those children of asylum seekers finished up in the water.

Yours Sincerely

Stephen Mayne

East Melbourne

Bolt’s first response to my offer

Dear Stephen,

What cowardice. You have disgraced yourself.

Andrew Bolt

Bolt’s second response to my offer

Dear Stephen,

On reflection, I should spell it out to you just why your decision not to publish shames you.

You claim that you won’t do so because the Herald Sun allegedly has a ban on you. (Although we both know that you won’t publish it simply because it is somewhat unflattering of you.)

But if we had written a harsh attack on you, ascribing to you outrageous views you do not hold, misquoting you apparently deliberately, smearing you by casting doubt on stories you had written on which no doubt can fairly be said to exist, falsely accusing you – without evidence – of writing to the orders of a political party, falsely accusing you of tolerating lies if not actually lying yourself and falsely accusing you of deliberately whipping up xenophobia and almost gloating in the deaths of children, then yes, we would indeed publish your response.

It would be immoral (not to mention legally dangerous) for us not to do so.

Andrew Bolt

Crikey gets on the front foot in November 20 sealed section

BOLT DOES IT AGAIN

Hysterical Herald Sun lecturer Andrew Bolt is going off like a two bob watch to Crikey at the minute proving that he is just all too easy to wind up.

Having received a Bolt spray that I have absolute no problems in publishing, I decided to call the HUN’s bluff and demand they lift their 2 year ban on Crikey by publishing a letter of mine to the paper complaining about Bolt.

My call that his whinge doesn’t get a run unless my letter to the HUN gets a run in today’s paper sparked this response initially from Bolt (see above).

ANDREW BOLT: THE ALAN JONES OF MELBOURNE

Crikey was thinking about running the white flag up the poll to Andrew Bolt yesterday morning, but on consuming Bolt’s latest diatribes on page 21 of yesterday’s Herald Sun we have no alternative but to seriously get on the front foot.

At a time when most responsible opinion leaders are trying to contain racial tension in the community, Bolt went out of his way to fan it yesterday.

He blasted the SBS program Insight for not broadcasting footage of Sheik El-Hilaly allegedly inciting racial hatred inside the Lakemba Mosque when he praised suicide bombers involved in the tit for tat battle between Palestinians and Israel.

The comments were made before the September 11 attacks so you cannot blame SBS for not broadcasting them because it is just “too inflammatory” and the world changed so much after that day.

But this hasn’t stopped Bolt relaying the comments and then mounting an argument about why SBS should have broadcast them and why Sheik El-Hilaly should have been thrown out of the country.

The Herald Sun sells 550,000 copies a day and is the punter’s paper so all the people who read it will no doubt now be even more suspicious towards Australia’s 300,000 Muslims, even though the vast majority will have never even heard this so-called spiritual leader banging on in the Lakemba Mosque.

Bolt’s piece came on the same day that responsible and respected political columnist Mike Steketee wrote a column in The Australian that concluded with the following:

“Now that he (John Howard) has won the election, a gesture of healing, of reaching out to those dismayed by what the election campaign has unleashed, could only increase his standing.”

Meanwhile, Bolt is dragging out material more than two months old unleashing more of what Mike Steketee says we need less of.

Bolt claims to be obsessed with the truth and is a real family man, so I was expecting him to blast the Howard Government for telling lies about children being thrown into the water before the election.

But this doesn’t appear to be an issue for Bolt as he is still yet to raise it.

His side-bar in yesterday’s paper contained an attack on Victorian Premier Steve Bracks for allowing lesbians to receive taxpayer funded IVF. In his calm assessment of the situation, Bolt uses the following phrases:

“Tragedy for children, tragedy for our democracy, disgraceful, smuggle in a radical social change, cruel and irresponsible, vague and silly law, dishonest, defend children.”

Contrast that with Bolt’s unwillingness to speak in favour of the 700 largely Muslim children locked up in our detention centres at the time Four Corners broadcast their controversial story earlier this year.

Check out the way Bolt went out of his way to do the government’s bidding in attacking the Four Corners story and discrediting the stories told by the detainees without ever contacting the program: http://www.crikey.com.au/media/mcevoybolt.html

You’ll find Peter McEvoy’s comprehensive demolition job on Four Corners’s critics – especially Bolt’s partner in crime Piers Akerman – under Bolt’s government-prompted column of August 20.

Victoria is not noted for its shock-jocks but Crikey cannot think of another Victorian journalist who more incites xenophobia in the community than Bolt at the moment. And the HUN is easily Australia’s biggest selling paper so he spreads his message far and wide. He really is becoming the Alan Jones of Victoria and it is time editor Peter Blunden reined him in.

Journalists like Jones, Bolt and Akerman have been vital weapons in the government’s refugee-based propaganda war to get re-elected. They should be very proud of their efforts. Shame about the obvious bias.

I can’t imagine what Bolt will say when he’s finished reading all of this. He likes speaking over people and even called journalist Karen Middleton a “smart-arse” on Insiders the other week, so the best means of dealing with him remains the email.

ENDS

In the interest of balance, here is one pro-Bolt and one anti-Bolt email from readers to round off this debate. If you’d like to contribute, email [email protected]

I’m all for Andrew Bolt and you publish his email

Dear Stephen

You know that I am one of your staunchest defenders because I appreciate full and frank debate on issues. However, I cannot support your position on Andrew Bolt. You do seem to me to have it in for Andrew Bolt whom I regard as one of Australia’s best journalists.

I feel you are being hypocritical in refusing to publish his material. You are also being somewhat cute. You know that a mere journalist can never change the editorial policy of a newspaper. You make a contra offer of “I’ll publish your rebuttal of my attack on you when the Herald Sun takes its ban off me”. This is just grandstanding petulance not worthy of a serious journalist. You stoop to their level in an attempt to justify your untenable position. If you want to improve journalism in Australia, you should have published Andrew Bolt’s rebuttal of your opinionated views.

As a subscriber, I would ask that you publish his original rebuttal without delay. I deserve to know what it is that you are suppressing. If you are true to your charter of publish fearlessly and apologise frequently and in the most grovelling of ways, you must give Andrew Bolt his right of reply.

There is of course the substantive issue that you are railing about.

For what it is worth, I feel we should let more asylum seekers in. I’m all for an orderly refugee migration program where people in camps are given priority and we bring in 30,000 – 40,000 a year for the next ten to fifteen years. However, I’m also in favour of asylum seekers trying to enter Australia being referred to a third country, by force if necessary, where their claims can be assessed and they can join the queue.

The “industry” built around people’s misery in Australia needs to be closed down. I hate lawyers who take on clients purely for the purpose of delaying justice by procedural tactics of appeals without merit. I think we could kill this off quite easily if we made the lawyers responsible for legal costs with a right of recovery from their clients. The plaintiff lawyers association is an abomination and those parasites are the second biggest donors to the ALP after the Unions.

I happen to think that the extremist views of a small minority of Muslim clerics in Australia is relevant. Inciting violence against Christians, Jews and Westerners is something that should be exposed regardless of when the comments were made. Bin Laden derives moral comfort from the positions adopted by these extremists in our midst. More worrying still is that these views nurture feelings of hatred in young people who are drawn to the Bin Laden approach to resolving world conflict. The cleric in Sydney is morally culpable for what happened in New York and Washington. He formed part of the cheer squad for terrorism. Sheik El-Hilaly’s comments inside the Lakemba Mosque are very relevant indeed. His colleague’s comments that said it was morally permissable for Lebanese Muslim Youths to gang rape Australian teenagers because the Koran states that only believers can be victims of crimes fall into the same camp of outrageous comments that must be exposed and repudiated.

Where do you stand Stephen? Are you for full and frank disclosure of the truth or do you wish to hide the more unsavoury aspects of the Muslim presence in Australia in an attempt to suppress material that might further harden the Australian public’s views against asylum seekers?

If you want a proper briefing of how the system is abused by illegal entrants, you should have a chat to some of the former members of the RRT. The stories I’ve heard are enough to make any reasonable person angry.

For example did you know that Indian and Sri Lankan men in their 20’s arrive in Australia on subsidised flights on student visas for the supposed purpose of taking post-graduate study in computing. They take up employment allowed for under their student visa. They don’t go to Uni but they then claim refugee status. Because they were here legally originally, they are not detained and they are entitled to keep working while their claim is assessed. They get denied by DIMA, they get knocked back by the RRT, they then appeal to the Federal Court, the full Federal Court and the High Court and the Governor-General for clemency …… losing each stage – but it takes five years during which time they have remitted hundreds of thousands of dollars back to the place they are alleging they seek to escape from. They then get deported, free flight back courtesy of the tax-payer. They then set up a business in Sri Lanka and live like millionnaires given the purchasing power parity differential.

One isolated case you may say. Wrong, the latest count is nearing 100. 100 people who have abused our hospitality as a nation and who have abused the checks and balances built into our legal system. They are the people most likely to lodge an appeal to the High Court on the validity of the privative clauses preventing appeals from decisions of the RRT. Why? Because they have the most important incentive to do so – not life and liberty but lucre!

I share some of your misgivings about the way the Tampa turn-back was used by racist elements in Australia to harden attitudes against refugees. I suspect Andrew Bolt does as well because he is not a racist. I have read his material and he is merely trying to redress some of the left bias that alleges Howard was motivated by racism. He wasn’t. He may well have been motivated in part by the need to win an election. However, that only became an option because the ALP acted so disgracefully.

Kind regards, Giuseppe

Challenging the Bolt formula

Dear Stephen

Ten points to Crikey for holding Andrew Bolt and his absolute shocker of a column up to scrutiny. It’s about time that toad was made somewhat accountable for the venom and lies he spits out in the Hun.

I read him to get a grip on what the real elites (who are the ones going around calling everyone else elite) are trying to tell people to think, and to realise how issues can get so muddied by people with too many column inches on their hands. Such formulaic writing, using the same “Opinion-writing 101” techniques in every column, making sure to indent frequently so his lines stand out with a good amount of white surrounding black, looking authoritative and easy to read. I think Boltie must have an automatic column-generating program on his PC, which he runs the night before his column’s due:

load: [issue which the Howard government has focused on lately]

insert: [name of person/stereotype taking a contrary stance to Howard government]

insert: [attack on people identified in line 2 with highly emotive and stereotypical adjectives]

insert: [one word of contrary point of view in inverted commas]

insert: [claim to have done research to ascertain what the “real facts” are]

insert: “FACT: [“real facts”]” (repeat 3-6 times)

insert: [some more words in inverted commas to prove depth of research]

insert: [cause and effect relationship between a recent meaningless statistic and personal Bolt hobbyhorse, ie informal vote and Labor destruction of state schools]

insert: [rhetorical question which looks reasonable but implies a fascist answer, ie “are boat people terrorists?”]

insert: [accusation that other commentators on issue are stupid/self-interested/liars/morally bankrupt]

insert: [one-sentence final paragraph containing opinion posing as fact]

Print

And Boltie’s earned his keep for another week. All too easy when you don’t have to grapple with intensive research or complex ideas. He probably just gets the program to run while he nicks off to the pub. Who cares if he holds the views or not — he’s propagating them and should therefore be accountable for them.

At least I get a good laugh at the so-thin-it’s-translucent nature of Boltie’s skin (like a steamed dim sim) once someone else takes him to task. What a prima donna. You’d think someone who repeatedly dragged other people through the dirt wouldn’t mind a bit of a spray here or there, all part of the rough-and-tumble of the free speech game, but Boltie shows that while he may be able to dish it out, he sure as hell cannot take it.

Keep up the excellent work Crikey.

Ben

CRIKEY: I should point out here that Bolt is not a pub type and does actually work very hard and read widely. He’s certainly a lot better read than Crikey and he’s about as obsessive as I am but on different issues obviously. Whilst there is definitely plenty of intellect, the bullying debating style and supreme defensiveness suggest a combination of passion and insecurity about the positions he takes.

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Peter Fray

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