Our Sydney contributor reckons that despite two lengthy and spirited attacks on Media Watch, The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen still hasn’t challenged their accusations against her.
The war between Media Watch and The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen heated up even more on Wednesday when Albrechtsen ran two lengthy pieces in the Oz defending herself against the MW attacks.

Not satisfied with a one thousand word opinion piece on what’s wrong with MW (“Marred by private vendettas“), Albrechtsen was also granted an extra fifteen hundred words online to outline her case against MW’s case against her.

We’ll deal with the latter for now.

At first blush it appears that Albrechtsen has many a strong argument.

Indeed, many of the “usual suspects” in the world of right-leaning web-logging were quick to stand up and cheer.

But on closer inspection, many of her arguments just do not stack up.

If Albrechtsen’s aim was to rebut the allegations contained against her in MW over the past two weeks, we reckon she has failed to mount a convincing case.

Does MW play favourites?

The whole MW fracas opened up when, on 9 September, they ran an episode concerning the media’s treatment of the Sydney gang rape cases, in particular the relevance of race and religion to coverage of the cases.

In our view, the most noticeable flaw with the MW analysis was that it was lined up against the “usual suspects”, a who’s who of the “right wing cognoscenti”, if you will – Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine, The Parrot and Albrechtsen were among the roll call.

Why didn’t MW include in its survey, say, a Mike Carlton, someone who is definitely not considered to be amongst the right-wingers but who argued that it was relevant to mention race in the gang rape cases?

In our view, their choice of targets in this episode lends support to the legitimate claims of the “right-wingers” that Marr too often lines up against them and doesn’t go hard enough against those with whom he appears to share a particular ideological sympathy. (Dare we say it, the left-leaning, Fairfax / ABC – friendly ideology, for want of a more indiscriminate generalisation?)

In her shorter critique of MW, Albrechtsen points to Margo Kingston’s Webdiary on the Herald online as one of the MW “untouchables” (our word) and wonders why that doesn’t get a going over.

Albrechtsen makes the sweeping allegation about “Kingston’s scurrilous manipulation of the truth about the navy and the sinking of SIEV-X”.

While we wouldn’t go this far – and it seems to be one of the few instances where space constraints have prevented Albrechtsen from citing any evidence – there is certainly a case to be put about Margo’s reporting on SIEV-X.

There is enough opinion on some of our favourite web logs – Tim Blair and Professor Bunyip especially – to warrant a MW examination, in our view.

Did Margo wage an unjustified campaign against the Howard government on SIEV-X that was motivated by her own prejudice rather than a considered examination of the facts?

It’s at least worth MW looking at, but by ignoring issues such as this, MW continues to provide ammunition to its critics that it plays favourites.

Even if MW doesn’t agree that Margo was on a wild conspiracy chase with SIEV-X, Webdiary’s critics have pointed to the numerous grammatical errors that crop up on Webdiary, in particular the site’s irrefutable inability to correctly use the possessive apostrophe.

Surely such errors, appearing on the website of a major media outlet, are worthy of ridicule by MW – just as they would be if they appeared in the Tele, the Herald-Sun, or the any other Rupert publication?

Again, the fact that MW hasn’t had a shot at Margo in the same way they would a “non-Media Watch-friendly” outlet provides fuel to the fire that MW plays favourites.

But none of that is relevant to the question of whether MW got it right in their attack against her. In raising it, Albrechtsen diverts attention from the real issue.

Albrechtsen seems to have subscribed to the theory that the best form of defence is attack and in doing so has, in our view, failed to counter the main thrust of MW’s initial allegations.

Media Watch – silencers of free speech?

It only takes Albrechtsen until the second paragraph of her longer article to crank the hyperbole generator up to hyper-drive:

“Far from upholding journalistic standards in order to stimulate high-quality free speech, the current Media Watch is devoted to suppressing speech with which it disagrees, and uses highly dubious techniques to do so.”

Come again?

Anyone would think “Deng” Marr has had Albrechtsen summarily executed for daring to publish an opinion that he didn’t agree with.

We’ve been avid viewers of Media Watch and while we’ve had occasion to disagree with the program, we’ve never once heard it advocate the suppression of free speech.

Sure, it has its pet topics and the grievances from “the right” that MW hasn’t gone hard enough at “the left” are not without foundation.

Yes, it ridicules, tries to embarrass and humiliate and probably does it more often to your Akermans, Bolts, Albrechtsens and Devines more often than it does (and probably should do) to your Margo Kingstons, Philip Adamses, and most anyone from the ABC.

But to accuse it of being “devoted to suppressing speech with which it disagrees” is laughable.

Aren’t MW allowed to make legitimate inquiries?

Albrechtsen’s second concern seems to be that MW were engaged in some sort of covert fact-finding mission:

“Media Watch also played the man, not the ball, early when they started digging for dirt. Researcher, Marcus Priest rang a partner at the Sydney law firm where I once worked to check my employment history. How these tactics advanced Media Watch’s role in upholding journalistic ethics is yet to be explained.”

So what?

They wanted to find out where Albrechtsen used to work?

Big deal.

We have no idea why MW were making such inquiries. Maybe Deng Marr was going to start his intro with “Albrechtsen is a columnist with The Australian who used to work as a lawyer with ….”

Playing the man?

Hardly – just doing some basic fact checking. One would think that a crucial aspect in “upholding journalistic ethics”.

Who’s a plagiarist now?

Albrechtsen reckoned that MW had accused her of “lifting” an idea from another publication.

Well, she had some plagiarism ammunition to fire across the bow of the good ship Media Watch:

“Their first allegation, which Media Watch plagiarised from [Amir] Butler’s website was ironically enough, that I had “lifted” the idea that some young Muslim boys were torn between Islamic and Western values from a piece by Adam Sage in The Times.”

There are two problems with this.

First, MW hadn’t “plagiarised” from Butler’s website.

Both MW and Butler have stated on the record (more than once – and it’s still on MW’s and Butler’s websites) that Butler had provided MW the info and they went along and independently verified it.

Secondly, Media Watch didn’t say that Albrechtsen had “lifted” her ideas from The Times. They said that “it seem to us she lifted the words” from The Times and, importantly, mentioned that “Albrechtsen denies this” (that is, “lifting” the words).

A subtle distinction, but important.

And more importantly, the distinction seems completely lost on Albrechtsen.

This is not the first time that Albrechtsen has misrepresented the thoughts and words of others, and nor is it the last in her article.

Not only did MW not accuse Albrechtsen outright of “lifting” the words, but MW had set out both Albrechtsen’s words and those in The Times so that viewers could make up their own minds whether Albrechtsen “seems” to have lifted the words.

“The Australian’s flinty columnist Janet Albrechtsen blames the rapes on Islamic values.

‘French and Danish experts say perpetrators of gang rape flounder between their parents’ Islamic values and society’s more liberal democratic values, falling back on the most basic pack mentality of violence and self-gratification.’ The Australian July 2002

That’s her core argument. Used more than once. Though Albrechtsen denies this, it seem to us she lifted the words from an article in The Times in December 2000.

‘Caught between their parents’ Islamic values and societies Christian and social democratic values, some youths appear to have fallen back on the most basic instincts of violence and pleasure.’

The Times 5 December 2000″

Albrechtsen also seems to try the plagiarism line against MW later on:

“Media Watch then said Balvig had confirmed my misrepresentation direct to them. However, the words they put in Balvig’s mouth (“The citation is completely wrong. What I have said is, that the main explanation of gang rape probably is social, and not cultural or religious.”) were taken verbatim from Butler’s website where nearly all of Media Watch’s “research” was derived. No doubt another happy coincidence.”

While not going all the way and accusing MW of plagiarism, Albrechtsen’s implied meaning seems pretty clear.

A whole lotta liftin’ and twistin’ goin’ on

Albrechtsen’s next gripe is with another supposed MW accusation against her that never was:

“Media Watch next accused me of inventing the findings of French and Danish experts that pack rape of white girls by young Muslim men was an emerging phenomenon.

Media Watch knew their accusation was false.”

Not really.

Here is what MW said:

“Except they aren’t the findings of French and Danish experts, as Albrechtsen says, just the words of Adam Sage, the journalist who wrote the piece in The Times.

She also lifts and twists what Sage says about a French psychotherapist. Here’s Sage:

‘Jean-Jacques Rassial, a psychotherapist at Villetaneuse University, said gang rape had become an initiation rite for male adolescents in city suburbs.’

The Times 5 December 2000

And here’s the Albrechtsen version:

‘Pack rape of white girls is an initiation rite of passage for a small section of young male Muslim youths, said Jean-Jacques Rassial, a psychotherapist at Villetaneuse University.’

The Australian 17 July 2002

Note how the victims become white, and the perpetrators become Muslim in Janet’s hands. She went on to cite a Danish expert too:

‘Denmark presents a similar story. Last year, Flemming Balvig a criminologist at Copenhagen University, confirmed the French experience of this barbaric rite of passage into manhood for some of these young men.’

The Australian 17 July 2002

Not according to Balvig, who confirmed to Media Watch that Albrechsten misrepresents his work.

‘The citation is completely wrong. What I have said is, that the main explanation of gang rape probably is social, and not cultural or religious.’

Balvig to Media Watch”

So, MW did not accuse Albrechtsen of “inventing” the findings of French and Danish experts about gang rape and ethnicity as she claims.

Rather, they noted that she had relied on the (flawed) words of the inappropriately named Sage in The Times in quoting the French expert Rassial and that she had misrepresented the Danish expert Balvig – a claim that Balvig himself had confirmed.

Albrechtsen even seems to recognise the former charge in a later argument against MW:

“If, as Media Watch claims, Rassial feels he has been misrepresented, then he should take that up with The Times. If Rassial has retracted his views, then he has some explaining to do.”

This in itself is a curious argument.

Albrechtsen writes an opinion piece and bases one of her arguments on an argument contained in The Times.

It turns out that the offending paragraph in The Times was wrong.

So Rassial should be going after The Times and not Albrechtsen?

Strange, indeed.

Does this also mean that MW can’t go after Albrechtsen for using the flawed quote?

And no, Rassial hasn’t retracted his views – just given a stern rebuke to Sage and Albrechtsen, which you can read all about on the MW website.

But of course, Albrechtsen isn’t a “journalist” – she’s an opinion writer. So the normal rules of checking sources don’t seem to apply – any attempt to apply such standards is obviously a ploy by MW to silence legitimate opinion writers with whom they don’t agree.

Albrechtsen then goes on to cite a wide body of evidence to support her original claims about the emerging problem in Europe of pack rape of white girls by young Muslim men.

We don’t doubt Albrechtsen that the evidence is out there. Perhaps we should.

The problem is, Rassial and Balvig didn’t say it in the way that Albrechtsen claimed, if at all.

That was MW’s beef with Albrechtsen, one that she still does not counter, in our view.

In mentioning the volume of evidence that she had sent MW’s way, Albrechtsen notes:

“I pointed Media Watch to even more evidence: comments by a police commander in Northern Paris and Rachel Paul from Norway’s Centre for Gender Equality to the same effect. These were more inconvenient facts so Media Watch ignored them describing my response simply as “a long and unhappy exchange”. Nothing long and unhappy about it. It was a presentation of fact. And that they chose to ignore it reveals their bias and dishonesty.”

“Chose to ignore it”?

Well, it didn’t make it onto their 15 minute weekly television slot, that’s a fact.

But they did publish the “long and unhappy exchange” on their website.

Dishonest?

Hardly.

Once again. Albrechtsen misses MW’s point. She put words in the experts’ mouths – Rassial and Balvig – that the experts have firmly refuted.

There might be a mountain of evidence to support Albrechtsen’s case that there is a phenomenon of racially-motivated gang rape.

But none of that rebuts MW’s case that Albrechtsen mis-quoted the expert opinions that she based her initial arguments on.

Tradding all over the truth

Albrechtsen saves her final salvo for an old favourite, Keysar Trad, the Sydney Lebanese Muslim community spokesman who just can’t seem to help being quoted out of context by the likes of Albrechtsen:

“Finally, Media Watch complained I misrepresented the views of Keysar Trad, a Sydney Muslim spokesman expressed in the Sydney Morning Herald on 1-2 September 2001 when I quoted him as saying “these boys were screaming for help”…

…Trad was excusing Muslims who commit crime just as he recently excused Osama bin Laden’s [sic] from those atrocities on September 11. Last Saturday The Weekend Australian Magazine’s Greg Callaghan reported Trad as saying: “Osama bin Laden would have trouble teaching someone to drive a car. How could a man living in a backward country mastermind the hijacking of several planes… I just don’t want to believe Muslims were behind it.” “

Funny how different people can read different things into the same quote.

To us, it doesn’t seem like Trad is excusing Osama Bin Laden for September 11. Trad is simply saying that he couldn’t believe that Muslims were behind it.

It’s not hard to read that interpretation into it – they were Trad’s words, after all.

And if Albrechtsen needed further convincing that Trad and the Lebanese Muslim community weren’t excusing Bin Laden for September 11, here is part of a statement he read out in December last year:

“KEYSAR TRAD: His Eminence the Mufti has given me a statement.

It is most horrific and regrettable to see in this tape, to see Osama bin Laden appearing to express joy at the criminal act of terror against the World Trade Centre that led to the deaths of so many innocent people.

It’s also regrettable to see him proudly speaking about the intricacies of this tragedy to his audience.”

Although Trad is reading out a statement on behalf of his leader, the statement is consistent with what Trad has continued to express as his own opinion.

And if Albrechtsen needed further convincing that she had misrepresented the views of Trad, how about this doozy of a letter that appeared from the man himself on The Australian’s online feedback?

“The fact remains Ms Albrechtsen: you misquoted people, I being one of them. And you trivialised the plight of Australian youth by misquoting me. What gives you the right to misquote others? What gives you the right to criticise those who point out to you the injustices that your pen has wreaked? I do not care what ideology drives you; I care for truth, fairness and accuracy. The misquotes you wrote have hurt too many people.

Keysar Trad
Sydney, NSW”

We reported recently how Albrechtsen had apparently misrepresented the views of the Chief Justice of the Family Court, Alistair Nicholson.

Trad, Rassial and Balvig – and MW for that matter – have joined the list.

How many more misrepresentations will The Australian allow Albrechtsen before she is pulled into line?

A bit more light reading

If you’ve made it this far, go outside and catch some rays, but if you feel like reading more when you get back, here are a few more competing views:

Don Arthur (In particular, Arthur’s post of Friday, 13 September, titled “Media Watch and the Albrechtsen defense”.)

Tim Blair

Amir Butler

Gareth Parker

Ken Parish