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May 26, 2004

Michael Danby on Alan Ramsey

Labor MHR for Melbourne Ports, seems to have it in for SMH political columnist Alan Ramsey. We reproduce what may be the most vicious tirade by a pollie against a journo, delivered by Danby under parliamentary privilege on Tuesday. The obvious question is: Where did all this Danby anger come from all of a sudden?

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Labor MHR for Melbourne Ports, seems to have it in for SMH political
columnist Alan Ramsey. We reproduce what may be the most vicious tirade
by a pollie against a journo, delivered by Danby under parliamentary
privilege on Tuesday. The obvious question is: Where did all this Danby
anger come from all of a sudden?
The expressive Yiddish word chutzpah has gained increased currency in
Australia in recent years through the steady Americanisation of our
culture. Chutzpah is what Australians might traditionally have called
“a bloody cheek.”

Until now it has been defined by the story of
the young man who murdered both his parents, and then had the chutzpah
to throw himself on the mercy of the court on the grounds that he was
an orphan.

But now Australians will have a new byword for
chutzpah, thanks to a figure well known to members of this House, the
Sydney Morning Herald’s political columnist Alan Ramsey.

Honourable
members will not need to be reminded of the high moral tone Mr Ramsey
takes when writing about those who do not live up to his ethical
standards. Every week he pours out his bile on all who displease him.

On
April 24, however, Mr Ramsey outdid himself, with a piece which gave a
new meaning not only to chutzpah but also to hypocrisy. In this article
Mr Ramsey accused both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the
Opposition of being “thieves.”

The article was called “A tale of
two thieves, in their own words.” In it Mr Ramsey attacked the Leader
of the Opposition for using words about education allegedly taken from
Bill Clinton’s 1997 State of the Union address. He also attacked the
Prime Minister for allegedly plagiarising Kenneth Pollack’s book, The
Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.

Throughout the
article Ramsey deployed his usual vitriolic style, berating both
leaders for stealing other people’s work. Words such as “cheat,”
“plagiarism” and “humbug” were liberally scattered through the piece.

Such
strong language might be bearable if it came from almost any journalist
but Mr Ramsey. The record, however, shows that no other journalist – if
indeed he can still be called that – has been a
greater thief of
other people’s work than Mr Ramsey. For at least the past three years
Mr Ramsey’s weekly column in the Sydney Morning Herald has seen him
indulge in the theft, not just of an occasional phrase, sentence or
paragraph, but of huge chunks of other writers’ words.

This is
not an occasional lapse on a slow week. Rather it has been journalistic
theft raised to a lifestyle. Week after week, up to 85 percent – let me
repeat, 85 percent – of Mr Ramsey’s column consists of an excerpt from
a book, a transcript, Hansard, an article or some other such source.

Let me give the House some examples:

  • On 8 February 2003 Mr Ramsey filled up most his column
    with extracts from Hansard – quoting the Honourable Members for Barton
    and Brand, which at least shows that he had good taste in whose words
    he steals.
  • On 15 February, in somewhat less good taste, he gave us a very long quote from the anti-American filmmaker Michael Moore.
  • On 22 February three-quarters of the column consisted of
    quotes from the Leader of the Opposition. On 24 May we had extensive
    quotes from the ANU economist Julie Smith, taking up least half his
    article.
  • On 31 May 2003 half Mr Ramsey’s article consists of an editorial from The Times of London.

These examples come from just a couple of months last year. I could
go on with such examples at great length. I have forced myself to read
all of Mr Ramsey’s columns since 2001. I am a much better informed
politician as a result, although little credit for that goes to Mr
Ramsey. My survey shows that the great majority of his columns are
heavily larded with quotations and extracts from works written by other
people and speeches given by other people.

These quotations are
in fact the best things to be found in Mr Ramsey’s columns. They are
usually “topped and tailed” with a couple of paragraphs from Mr
Ramsey’s own pen, and these are marked by his usual bitterness and bile
against all the many people who he has accumulated a grievance against
over his career. Compared to Mr Ramsey’s prose, extracts from Hansard
or editorials from The Times are great pearls of wisdom.

Mr
Ramsey of course covers himself against the charge of plagiarism by
making sure acknowledges the sources of his quotes. What we see in Mr
Ramsey’s columns is not strictly speaking plagiarism – it is grand
larceny.

What we see here is the great moral guardian of
Australian politics and journalism, who rails as no other journalist
does about the inadequacies of those who govern us, committing the
greatest journalistic fraud in Australian media history, and not only
getting away with it but being mightily well paid for it as well.

How
does Mr Ramsey get away with this? Why do his employers at the Fairfax
press tolerate such lazy journalism, such padding of what is supposed
to be a serious contribution to national debate, in a quality
newspaper? Why do they put up with such blatant theft of other people’s
work? Why is Mr Ramsey paid a six-figure to do what amounts to a
cut-and-paste job every week?

And where is that other paragon of
virtue, Mr David Marr of Media Watch fame, who sanctimoniously berates
every other journalist for failing to cross a T or dot an I, while
ignoring Mr Ramsey’s outrageous purloining of other people’s work?

For
the past three years, while “Alan Scissorhands” has cut and pasted his
way to media infamy, his colleagues and the rest of us have watched
bemused by this gigantic fraud.

Until very recently it appeared
that he would be able to go on doing this indefinitely. Fortunately,
there is one journalist who is not scared of Mr Ramsey. More
fortunately, it is one of his stablemates from the Sydney Morning
Herald, Dr Gerard Henderson.

In March this year Dr Henderson
gave Mr Ramsey a serve in his media column in the Sydney Institute
Quarterly. In his article Dr Henderson pointed out that Mr Ramsey’s
Google-driven journalism is not only lazy, but also leads him into
serious errors, which is what tends to happen to people who use large
slabs of other people’s work without checking whether they are still
true. In December 2003, for example, Mr Ramsey’s “quote of the week”
was from an article on Zimbabwe by Simon Hoggart, from the London
Guardian of 9 February 1980 – 24 years ago.

But being exposed by
a leading journalist on his own newspaper has not deterred Mr Ramsey.
Only last Saturday, his column consisted almost entirely of an almost
verbatim transcript of an interview with the pollster Rod Cameron.

It
is good to see that Mr Ramsey has supplemented his scissors and paste
with a tape recorder, but this does alter the substance of the charge
against him – that his journalism is lazy and dishonest.

Since I
have had to endure reading three years of Mr Ramsey’s cut-and-paste
journalism, I think it is only fair that others should have the
opportunity of doing the same. I am therefore seeking to table this
file of Mr Ramsey’s columns, with the quotations highlighted so that
anyone interested can see how much of Mr Ramsey’s output is in fact an
exercise in recycling.

In closing I have a challenge for Mr
Ramsey. I challenge him to write his next column in the Sydney Morning
Herald entirely from his own pen, without any quotes or transcripts or
extracts from Hansard. He may find this hard work after having been out
of practice for so long, but I suggest it will be good for him, and
certainly for Australian journalism. Mr Ramsey used to be a real
journalist once. Here is a chance for him to become one again.

Subscriber feedback on Ramsey

Crikey,

Mr Ramsey must be doing something right to arouse the passion of Mr Danby. Especially from the safe haven of Parliament.

As
a regular reader of Alan Ramsey’s columns I have found his chosen
quotes to be carefully researched, selected, necessary, and
appropriate.

Over the years Mr Ramsey has been one of the few
fearless political commentators who will say it as they believe it to
be and then support the argument. Time has often proved his point.

The depth of Mr Ramsey’s experience is irreplaceable.

Kind regards, Patrick

=======================

I think you will find that Danby has been on what might almost classify
as a crusade against the SMH and The Age for their alleged bias against
Israel. So, why not start an attack on a journalist who hasn’t been shy
in criticizing Israel and the Jewish lobby? You may recall that Ramsay,
last year, was highly critical of Crean, then leader of the Labor
party, when he flew down to Melbourne to assuage the so-called Jewish lobby.

=======================

The Herald will kill this as quickly as possible – and I suspect that they will do this by ignoring it.

It’s a brilliant expose and I applaud Crikey for reporting it.

I’ve
little doubt – right now – that the Government is ‘done like a dinner’
but as a piece of totally objective journalism, Crikey ought to
stand proud.

Had
I the vote in Australia, I’d be in the Howard camp, but as I’m resident
in HK…..I don’t. This, though, was as good a ‘piece’ as Crikey
has written in a while and it prompted me to write the following to ‘SMH letters’:

Dear sir/madam,

Given the expose of ‘Alan Ramsey’ in today’s www.crikey.com
report as a serial plagiarist, what is the SMH going to do about him?
Isn’t this scandal (which is breaking as I write this), just as potent
as the May 2003 “Telegraph – London” expose of Jayson Blair of The
New York Times, that subsequently led to his dismissal?

(I have no doubt that this letter will DIE here……such is the veracity of the Sydney Morning Herald’s journalism.)

Cheers,
David Crothers

CRIKEY: We didn’t actually say that Ramsey was a “serial plagiarist”
– we reported Michael Danby saying it. Crikey doesn’t agree that Ramsey
is a plagiarist; while he does overuse long extracts in his columns
they are always in context and properly attributed.

=======================

And Ian Sinclair takes time to support Ramsey from Wagga Wagga:

“Ramsey is the most readable and best political journalist in this
nation in my view. He seems to tell it as he reads it and does not
appear to bebeholden to anyone.

He has been fearless in his writings on Hawke, Keating and Howard. I
have enjoyed that as I believe that the three of them have acted in a
manner that has led inexorably to a decline in the Westminster system
anddemocracy in general.

At least it is clear when Ramsey is quoting, and from where he is garnering his opinions. Who would know with most?

I may not agree always with Ramsey but at least he puts a case that is at times unconventional.

Keep on attacking him … it is just like Fred Nile warning the
populace about the evils of an R rated movie. I’ll bet some
interstaters now want to read what he writes!

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