With a sensitive issue comes the need for great sensitivity and accuracy. And so it was with the bushfires.

Miranda Devine obliged, calling for greenies to be strung up:

So many people need not have died so horribly. The warnings have been there for a decade. If politicians are intent on whipping up a lynch mob to divert attention from their own culpability, it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies.

And if lynching seemed a bit OTT, she also recommended legal means for attacking greens: “…there is an opening now in Victoria for a predatory legal firm with a taste for David v Goliath class actions.”

The Australian‘s Caroline Overington, sent many moving messages from the frontline using her twitter account. This was not one of them:

They used to have chickens, but they were gone, too. We found one, completely cooked, on its side, lying like a roast chicken.

Fox News found the Osama angle:

But, like everyone else, we really just want to talk about Sam the koala and Dave the fireman. Aww.

CFA volunteer David Tree helped quench Sam’s thirst after some fires. Pictures were taken. The story, too cute to resist, traversed the globe. But things are perhaps not as they seem…

Yesterday, The Hez went big on their “amazing reunion”.

Today they went one better. Megan McNaught, writing in the Herald Sun, found the love angle just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Koala Sam — a global face of the Victorian bushfires — has found love, as claims the stricken animal was not in the bushfires were scotched. She has fallen in love – with a koala called Bob who is another refugee of this week’s bushfires.

The pair now share a cage and have a lot in common, both have survived terrifying bushfires and both have burnt and bandaged feet.

(Which makes us worry for their long-term prospects. To quote Sandra Bullock in Speed , “relationships that start under intense circumstances, they never last.”)

McNaught also poured scorn on those who would question Sam’s claim to fame:

After she captured the attention of the world some sceptics have emerged that want to take the gloss off her fame. They claim Sam was not in a bushfire affected area when the footage was taken. This is not that case. The famous photographs and footage were taken at Mirboo North near Boolarra where 31 houses were destroyed by bushfire just days before they gripped the rest of the state.

She is referring to sceptics (journos?) like Prue Vincent who clarified in The Smage that the video was “actually taken in the week leading up to the deadliest bushfires in Australian history, during preventative backburning operations”.

No-one’s claiming Sam wasn’t in a bushfire-affected area, just that it wasn’t one associated with Black Saturday, which is the conclusion an onlooker would draw from most of the reporting on the Koala quench.

McNaught herself wrote about Sam on 11 February: “Sam became the most famous koala in the world when firefighter David Tree stopped to give him a drink amid the devastation of the Victoria fires.”

In fact, the photo was taken on 1 February, six days before the Victoria-wide fires broke out (the fires most people would associate with the term “Victoria fires”). It doesn’t make the Koala any less cute or any less thirsty. And who’s to say that symbolism can’t sometimes transcend accuracy when it serves a higher cause, like highlighting the plight of animals caught in bushfires.

But it is a reminder that even in times of tragedy we should continue to question the story behind the story.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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