The Age is headed for a redesign and relaunch next year but can Greg Hywood really find some credible conservative columnists who are better than the current offering which includes Christopher Piggy Pearson.

While he’s looking for them he’s publishing regular columns by Christopher Pearson, editor of The Adelaide Review, one-time Howard speechwriter and assorted other things. By the way, what a speechwriter for a politician who writes his own speeches and/or generally speaks from notes or off-the-cuff does is a matter as fascinating as why Pearson thought Cheryl Kernot’s inter-generational relationship was odd?

The search for credible conservatives is on because the previous house Tories Gerard Henderson and Robert Manne have badly let down their erstwhile right wing colleagues by persistently succumbing to independent thought, old-style liberal commitment to justice and decency and plain unpredictability. The last is, of course, the worst sin in the eyes of the coterie of right-wingers who take up acres of newsprint recycling the same tired old reflexes about everything from immigration to indigenous Australians.

Not, equally of course, that this is a preserve of Age conservatives the resident democratic socialist, Kenneth Davidson, is just as predictable in his way.

Nevertheless Pearson is in place and The Age like the Australian Test Team is harder to get in to than out of.

His predictablity is exemplified by one of his recent columns on “white guilt”. The column is about a conference on the historian, Keith Windschuttle’s, recent book Killing History which seeks to attack the work of Reynolds et al exposes of white massacres of blacks.

To Pearson Windschuttle is the “acclaimed” historian who is vigorously combating the post-modernists who dominate modern Australian history.

Now on the face of it the column was well-written and the references to Nietzsche, Mao, Gough (Austin that is) and Moorhouse’s Conferenceville were what you would expect from any bright, pushy young undergraduate trying to impress.

What is interesting is what those terrible post-modernists would see as the sub-text of the Pearson column because the topics covered in it are probably worthy of some extensive discussion.

Let’s start with the suggestion that Windschuttle is “acclaimed”. Quite true if we confine the acclaim to the self-referential group of front organisations John Quiggin once described as the WMC club. And also quite true if we look at various other front groups and self-referential clubs which have acclaimed Keith in the past.

Keith, you see, is one of the curious examples of life imitating art in this case the late Malcolm Bradbury’s best-selling novel, The History Man. The novel which also made it into a TV adaptation features a terribly political correct UK academic, Howard Kirk, who personifies all that Pearson et al hate. In a small postscript to the novel it is revealed that Kirk is transmogrified over a decade or so from right on leftie to Maggie Thatcher voter.

Back about the time Bradbury was writing The History Man, Keith was publishing Unemployment, a tome dedicated to showing that unemployment cannot be solved by a capitalist economy that responds to profit rather than to human need. He also founded the radical newspaper, Old Mole, and was a member of the New Journalist editorial collective. In short, a fully paid up member of the Whitlam cultural revolution generation from which the latter-day Howard is now saving us.

How Keith got from there to here would be a fascinating column piece which, if told well, might well be acclaimed by many.

The second interesting silence or absence from Pearson’s piece is about the National Museum of Australia. Pearson, demonstrating his fierce integrity, points out that not only was the conference he writes about organised by the Museum but that he is a Board member. In passing he mentions that the white guilt industry is illustrated by the contents of the displays in said Museum drawing comparisons with Chinese and French museums which selectively glorify the past or are shameless in their biases and falsifications.

Now while the Museum’s indigenous displays could be contentious they are not as contentious for real conservatives as the rest of the place. It’s one of those modern wonders where the shop, restaurant, cafe51, coffee shop, entertaining areas etc etc all dwarf the actual display area. In all it epitomises the modern fusion of museum with leisure industry in which traditional scholarly standards are “complemented” by talk of markets, customers and business plans.

A real conservative – worried about values, academic integrity, standards etc etc would be excoriating the institution for its sheer commercialism. Of course, for the WMC club the subversion of traditional values for commercial purposes is not of the same order of threat to civilisation as few academics who think a few blacks were massacred.

The final sub-text is just how all these conservative columnists come to be so predictable in exercising a group think solidarity which Stalin would have envied?

In Australia the explanation is simple. It’s a small, parochial environment in which most of the people who write, speak etc all know each other. The book Ganglands was hated not because it was wrong but because it was oh so right.

Overseas, of course, it’s a bit more complex. For instance, in 1977 Amnesty International and the US State Department human rights bureau decided that the Argentinian military were a bad lot because they organised hundreds of disappearances and were guilty of torture, murder and so on.

The Argentinian military did what anyone in that situation would do they employed a PR company in the form of heavyweight multinational Burson Marstellar, now part of the giant WPP empire run out of London by Martin Sorell.

B-M attacked the problem full on with a recommendation that the goons “use the best professional communication skills to transmit those aspects of Argentinian events showing that the terrorist problem is being handled in a fair and just manner with equal justice for all”. Nobody can say that B-M wasn’t principled in demanding that their client address the core problem!

Recommendation two, however, was a bit more practical: appeal for “the generation of positive editorial comment (from writers) of conservative or moderate persuasion.” It worked too with Vargas Lhosa and Ronnie Reagan riding to the rescue with trenchant pieces pointing out what a great and fair job the goons were doing.

Now the Australian situation is a tad different from the US of A in 1977 (our government is more right wing and conservative for a start) but one can’t help wondering if just occasionally the natural inclinations of people like Pearson aren’t encouraged by someone whispering sweet nothings in his ear.

Meanwhile young Greg Hywood will continue the search. He’s already had some success in other areas by introducing a diversity of commentators from o/s who actually write stuff which people might learn something from. And rumour has it that the paper’s design is in for a revamp next year. And in introducing diversity to the editorial side he could well keep in mind the words of Walt Whitman: “I am large. I contain multitudes.”

Wonder what Pearson thinks about that?

Feedback direct to Wendy at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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