I wonder if the more rabid of the ABC’s critics will ever develop a nodding acquaintance with the same standards of intellectual honesty, rigour and accuracy they demand of the national broadcaster?
Christopher Pearson weighed in on the weekend, and laid about mightily. ABC Books was “cheerfully partisan”, “publisher-in-chief to the Howard haters” and a “preferred vehicle for the clerical Left and the spiritual uplift market”. The problem is that Pearson’s assertions were based on breathtakingly careless errors.
Pearson listed books he said were commissioned by the ABC: Margo Kingston’s Not Happy, John!, Anne Summers’s The End of Equality, Barry Jones’s Coming to the Party, Helen Caldicott’s Nuclear Power is Not the Answer, David Marr and Marian Wilkinson’s Dark Victory, Mungo MacCallum’s How to Be a Megalomaniac: Advice to a Young Politician, Father Frank Brennan’s Tampering with Asylum, former priest Paul Collins’s Between the Rock and a Hard Place, and Bishop John Shelby Spong’s New Christianity for a New World. Lastly, he mentioned John Marsden’s I Believe This, mentioning that Marsden died last May.
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The problem is that only one of these books – the one by Paul Collins – is published by the ABC. As well, Pearson has apparently confused John Marsden the dead Sydney lawyer with John Marsden the best selling, living, author.
It’s funny. But it is also revealing of the low standards apparently considered acceptable if you are bashing the ABC.
I am reminded of another columnist, Terry Lane, who offered to resign from The Sunday Age earlier this year after falling for an Internet hoax. Lane was honest enough to admit: “I fell for it because I wanted to believe it. That is inexcusable.”
The issues are a quantum leap apart, of course – who published some books in Pearson’s case compared to allegations of human rights abuses in Lane’s case – but the issue of intellectual honesty is the same.
Will Pearson offer to resign? The mealy mouthed correction (not an apology) published in The Australian today doesn’t inspire confidence.
But given that Pearson makes much of his role as a former publisher, it is extraordinary that his general knowledge of the book market did not alert him to his error in at least the more prominent cases. That is, given that he obviously didn’t check the title pages.
Appropriately, Pearson’s column was published on the same day as this Matt Price piece, belling the cat on the ridiculous behaviour of public broadcaster bashers at Senate Estimates last week. “The bullying is out of control,” Price concludes, and predicts this kind of behaviour will backfire on critics of the ABC.
Not all critics of the ABC are intellectually dishonest. Some of them have a point. But they should feel embarrassed by the company they keep.