It is time to have a good debate about what is PC and what can fairly be published as Crikey reckons this attack and threat from Peter Isaacson is way over the top.

“Arriving in Sydney in the late forties, and not being too good a mouth organist this Hungarian Jewish emigre/refugee identified the hunger for four wheeled private transport in post war Sydney and set up a used car dealership. In this he was bank rolled by a fellow Hungarian Jew Louis Moss, (nee Moskovitch) late of Bellevue Hill.”

In an email to Crikey, Peter Isaacson wrote:

“I do not care whether you publish this letter or not. It is a protest about your unnecessary identification of the religion of Larry Adler and Moss as Jewish.

I do not recall, in the two years I have subscribed to Crikey, of reading the religious identification of any Anglicans or Presbyterians or Roman Catholics or Plymouth Brethern or any of the multitude of other religions. Why specifically identify those whose religion is Judiasm or any other religion UNLESS the identification has a bearing on the report? What you have done is to disregard one of the prime ethics of journalism.

Peter Isaacson

Stephen Mayne wrote in reply:

Peter, can I draw your attention to this item from today’s sealed section. I don’t just identify those of the Jewish faith.

Best, SM

TWO GREAT PIECES OF JOURNALISM

Crikey dips his lid to the Fin Review’s Mark Drummond and Sunday’s Ross Coulthart for two excellent pieces of journalism in recent days. Drummond gave us chapter and verse about Denis Horgan’s amazing escape from financial ruin in last Friday’s Fin. Taxpayers lost about half of the $250 million written off by his banks 10 years back and now he’s back in control of his trophy asset, the $50 million-plus Leeuwin Estate winery in the Margaret River. The financial acrobatics performed by Horgan and his CATHOLIC ESTABLISHMENT mates is something to behold and Drummond has every move covered.

Peter Isaacson replied:

STEPHEN,

That you used a person’s religion twice does not justify or excuse the use. Unless you assure me that you will or have instructed your staff not to use a persons race, colour, creed or sexuality as an identifier UNLESS such use is imperative to the meaning of the story, I will take the matter up with the ethics committee of the MEAA and the Anti-discrimination Council.

Peter Isaacson

In response, this is what I told subscribers:

CRIKEY: Given that we pride ourselves on the fact that no lawyer, advertiser, publisher, proprietor or editor tells us what to write, we will not give any such undertaking to Peter. He is welcome to complain to whoever he likes about what appears on Crikey but the paragraph in question is perfectly legitimate in a detailed profile and he should stop being so super-sensitive. Crikey likes to focus on networks and power structures and plans to increasingly look at the links between business, politics and religion because it does not get the coverage it deserves. And Peter is welcome to complain again when we do.

Which prompted Peter Isaacson to write the following:

Stephen, I equally deplore your use of the term “Catholic establishment” as I do of any other identification of people by their race, creed, colour or sexuality, unless such identification is essential to the meaning of the story. And so should you.

Will you, your staff and contributors stop doing so, or must I ask the ethics committee of the MEAA and the Anti-discriminations Council to take action? The former I hope.

Peter Isaacson

Author of piece defends the language

Before we go any further, the person who wrote the original piece has filed this follow-up in response to the furore that has broken out:

By “Ingrid Insurance”

A couple of points. I am half Jewish myself. My father was born in Germany and left in 1935 as his family was wealthy enough to send him to a Quaker school in England. His family subsequently escaped in 1938.

Both Adler and Moss were unashamedly Jewish and Hungarian and Aussie but not necessarily in that order. I came to know Moss quite well in a business sense for a number of years in the early 80s. He did not talk about his experiences in the war much but he went to hell and back. I don’t know anything directly about Adler but it would be reasonable to assume that he had much the same experience.

By mentioning that they were Hungarian Jews I used it to denote a certain background of which they were the proud inheritors and that they were, for want of a better word, survivors. It is as relevant as pointing out in a context of religion and politics that Tony Abbott is a failed Roman Catholic seminarian. In certain circumstances it needs to be pointed out to understand where he is coming from.

At that time in common with a number of others (as indicated in evidence to the Royal Commission) I formed the opinion that the highest management of FAI were not fit and proper persons to be in charge an insurance company. Subsequent events have preven that opinion to be well founded. In particular Larry Adler’s background and education did not give him an adequate understanding of how an insurance company’s affairs should be conducted.

FAI held itself out to the public that it was a company that was a bastion of probity. It used a drawing of Hermes or Mercury as a logo. The head office was in Macquarie Street (although the factory floor was in a rat hole in St Leonards).

However it was not run that way. Most of its systems were outdated. The company used microfiche for data storage until the mid 80s at least. No proper statistics were available to underwriters. There was a great deal of management interference in the conduct of the business and in particular the way in which claims were handled. The staff were treated poorly. There was a very high turnover.

I hope this helps

Ingrid

ends

Now for the rest of the feedback from readers.

Too PC or not too PC

Stephen,

An interesting debate so far!! The observation that is would make is that like people tend to hang out together, and do business together – it is human nature. You will see strong business ties in any community, be it Greek, Italian, Jewish, Serbian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Irish Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Grammar School / GPS, Eastern Suburbs, Western Suburbs, Liberal Party, Labor Party, gay – whatever. Everybody inherently favours people with similar backgrounds and experiences, and this extends to business as well.

There is nothing wrong with this.

There is also nothing wrong with reporting a persons background – EXCEPT when by doing so, you create an unfair inference that the persons background or community affiliations have somehow influenced the persons behaviour.

In Adler’s case, one would ask if there was any point in identifying him as Hungarian Jewish. I didn’t get any feeling that the point of the story was that the fact that the point of the story was that Moss & Adlers Jewishness (or Hungarianess?) was at all responsible for the matters identified in the following paragraphs. Having said that it didn’t seem to me that you were inferring that to be the case either.

I would also point out that I have very rarely read a reference on Crikey to say Anglican Alan Bond, Catholic Rupert Murdoch or Baptist Peter Costello, when reporting on any of their business or political activities.

Your detractors on this point probably do have a case, but only insofar as Crikey is inconsistent with its reporting of backgrounds (Crikey is inconsistent in a lot of things – that is why readers love it). It clearly cannot be said that you are somehow racist or prejudicial in your reporting.

Cheers, Michael.

Keep the discourse unfiltered

Dear Mr Mayne,

I have greatly enjoyed the relatively unfiltered discourse regarding Mr Isaacson and his cliche51d cries of outrage.

I applaud your frankness when writing about people who make the news because I think readers universally are interested in those kind of details. Personally I am genuinely interested in the real profile of newsworthy people (transgressors or otherwise)!

Mr Isaacson and his ilk have what is known as a persecution complex. We’ve all seen it and read it: the moment they attract criticism or scrutiny, up go the cries…”Racist, racist”. (Diamond Joe is a classic case.) The insidious political correctness movement was created, and is upheld by those most fearful of free speech, which is ironic to say the least.

Chris

(scumbag freebie subscriber)

Reader feedback

Dear Crikey,

Go Crikey! Religious, social, ethnic, old school and professional networks are important issues to understand and report on. Don’t let them shut you up.

I’m surprised at the defensiveness of Peter Isaacson. The whole point of a social or religious network is the people help each other, and in this case, its encouraging to see the network operated well. These networks are a great source of strength and resilience for society at large, and should be celebrated as such, particularly in Australia.

They can also be coercive structures working against the public interest, and consequently are a legitimate subject for journalists. In fact, pretending that they don’t exist only lends to the notion that networks are somehow suspect.

The mainstream media rarely probe networks, or consider them as the context in which events occur, which is one reason, among many, for my subscription to Crikey.

Andrew

I’m with Isaacson on this one

Stephen,

When you casually drop in the religious reference without overtly making a point, I think it does suggest the presence of some subtext designed for an implied “in-group” among the readers.

You don’t actually discuss the networks issue – which may have been worthwhile and interesting – in the piece on Adler and Moss. So I don’t think you can claim to be innovating in this regard.

It seems more typical of the tabloid press to include references to religion and other group indicators like sexual preference, race etc.

Isaacson called it for what it was. I’ll be interested in the outcome of his complaints to the ethics committee of the MEAA and the Anti-discriminations Council.

Paul McLeod

PS: Seeing as it looks like you’re publishing contributors’ ages these days, I’m 32.

Stop revealing people’s name and gender

Sir,

I wish to strongly object to the identification of people by their name in your publication. It is sexist (unless they have a name like Robin, which confuses me a lot) and a range of other ists I’m far too outraged to mention here.

You are discriminating against these people, especially when they are involved in corrupt/nepotistic/incompetent/deceptive/etc behaviour, by naming them.

I demand you cease forthwith so that these citizens can continue on their merry way in anonymity without the fear that that they will be stereotyped as stupid/lazy/deceitful/etc.

Yours indignantly, me

PS And stop identifying people as members of the establishment. After being told I’m part of the elite by objecting to the government’s treatment of asylum seekers, it makes me feel left out.

Just stick with the facts and you’ll be fine

What is this man’s problem? The simple fact is that all you provided was the history of the Adler money – help via Jewish society. What’s wrong with that! As long as it adds to the story and is an absolute fact,what more can we expect – well done.

No one can dispute or alter the 1939 – 45 atrocities perpetrated on Jews,and since then on many other nationalities/tribes/societies and their religious beliefs. One thing that is indisputable is that our society has been very good to all, and has rewarded all those who have worked hard both physically and academically. The other fact is that the Jewish immigrants, since 1939, have accounted very well for themselves in our society – money wise as well as in most areas of social influence. There is no other ethnic minority group that has achieved as much, in such a short period of time, as the Jews – both in all our monetary/social corridors of influence/power? The answer is in what is the % of the Jewish population to our total population?

All aside; the real question is why so much concern by anyone with such simple word sensitivities of who are what and what they represent? Really, we all should move on – time has. As long as we remember to never to forget where we came from. Remain honest and proud of our heritage, irregardless of our beliefs, may they be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu etc or just plain humanistic. In end the world belongs to us all,but only for a very short time – a blink of an eye lid in the greater scheme of life/earth – and then only through a common acceptance of each others space and granting some sort of a future for all to live for.

So why do we need to waste our good energy ( looks like I have?! ) on old Isaacson’s word sensitivities – he is over 80 – that is definitely not young.

Continue to deal in facts and all the honest/responsible people will support you

Janis Avotins

Don’t hold back

Dear Crikey,

All strength to you on this one. Mr Isaacson is being totally over-sensitive. So what if Crikey identifies them as being Jewish, or Catholic. What is his problem?

It is true that religous groups have operated on the same lines as ‘the old mates network’. The catholics and the protestants were notorious at it but nobody goes to church anymore so the network is ineffective these days. Years ago the Masons rightly were disliked due to their favouritism towards other Masons and secret handshakes. Again, there effectiveness is limited by small membership and some 20th century light getting through the cracks in the 90’s.

The Jews have a very strong culture. Despite the Jewish diaspora, they have retained their identity wherever they went. While there is strength and comfort in retaining their identity there is also the danger of favouring one’s own over the people in society generally. This is always to the detriment of society generally, for exactly the same reasons that nepotism is detrimental to society generally (but good for your clique or family, as the case may be).

No doubt you will be hit with the anti-semite tag. Following that will be the cry that ‘this was how Hitler started out’.

It is sad to see a venerable gentleman so sensitive, with so little tolerance.

Andrew

You’re a dsigrace, unsubscribe me now

I support Peter Isaacson’s complaint, Stephen. Your self-righteous bluster about editorial independence and the rest of the sanctimonious crap in the last paragraph above simply confirm what has long been evident – that you have lost your direction and whatever it was that made Crikey attractive.

It is bad enough that you waste reams of space (and hours of our time) with your political sour grapes and petty personal and political vendettas, but now that you’ve allowed yourself to descend to mere religious bigotry, the stench of Crikey has become too much for me.

Please cancel my subscription immediately.

Mike Burke

Bravery for taking on Jewish establishment

You should be awarded a bravery medal for openly disagreeing with a member of the Jewish establishment. Even George W Bush is scared shitless of the establishment — look at his recent backflips on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict — he clearly got a few calls from major US donors, business leaders and political figures indicating he was toast if he continued a line that would dare stray from Sharon’s “peacemaking initiatives”.

From my vast experiences living in the US, the term anti-semitic is used regularly (some non-Americans might argue, excessively), and extremely effectively — and questioning the Catholic or WASP establishment is absolutely Kosher — mainly because those groups are pretty thick skinned and don’t really look after each other in the way that people who have gone through what the Jews have, will. Personally, I would stick to beating up the old school tie networks of Catholics and WASPs — but I certainly would not make as interesting reading as you do!

Cheers, Name Withheld

Only disclose if relevant

Stephen,

There’s a big difference between exposing networks based on religious affililiation (or anything else, for that matter) and dropping in gratuitous references to people’s religion.

Isaacson asked how often you had mentioned people’s Anglican, Catholic, Baptist or whatever beliefs in your articles and you responded with a reference to one alleged network. That’s fine, but what he meant was: “How often have you referred to people’s religion on an individual basis?”

As a sub on a metropolitan newspaper I used regularly call reporters over and ask why they’d identified someone as Croatian or Aboriginal or Spanish etc in the intro to a story – often a court report. Then I’d point out that it would be appropriate ONLY if they identified everyone on the same basis.

If you’re claiming that Adler’s Jewishness has a bearing on his dealings, say so. If not, drop the reference – unless you’re prepared to identify everyone’s religion in everyreport.

Keep up the good work.

Name withheld.

In conclusion

Without stooping to the “some of my best friends are Jewish” defence (more than 10 were invited to our wedding), the thing that really got up my goat about Peter Isaacson was his threat – give me a written undertaking about something right now or I’ll dob you in to the thought police. Anyone who makes a threat against Crikey gets the same treatment. When Channel 7 reporter Brendan Donohue rang and said “I will defend my family and you can defend your family, keep it up and see what happens,” it went straight up on the site. When someone threatens legal action, it goes up on the site as well. Our philosophy is to “disclose, disclose, disclose” so to start giving out assurances that you will never do something goes against the free speech spirit – especially when the case in question is completely groundless. Crikey has taken a strong stand in favour of assylum seekers and believes we should double immigration. I’m a Pommie WASP who has married an Irish-Italian Catholic immigrant and am in business with a Macedonian.

Australian corporate history is famous for the Eastern European Jews who came out after the war and made a great success of their lives in Australia. Frank Lowy and Victor Smorgon have written whole books about the subject, yet in running a detailed profile on FAI, we’re now told it has to be “essential” to the story to mention the background of the key players. It’s just ridiculous and Peter Isaacson should lighten up a bit.

Peter Fray

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