“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is good men do nothing.” — Edmund Burke
It shoots a bit high in the ethical stakes but I figure that’s a good quote to begin with. Let’s call it overblown but apt.
In the Tuesday edition of The Australian, journalist Fred Pawle penned an article titled “Racism and drug abuse stories covered up in the endless summer of sycophancy” in which he accused surf journalists of ignoring scandals that occur within the surf industry.
The catalyst for Pawle’s tirade was an incident that happened on the North Shore of Hawaii last December where current world champion Mick Fanning called journalist Charlie Smith a “fucking Jew”. Smith works for STAB magazine, which then reprinted the exchange in full and ran it as a title piece in a story “Tales of a Fucking Jew”. The title of the article was written inside a Star of David.
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Upon release, the incident caused the surfing blogosphere to light up. Bloggers the world over-analysed the actions of Fanning and Smith from every available angle. And there were many: was Fanning being racist or just ignorant? Was Smith’s reporting mere sensationalism? What are the duties of a journalist? It was a complex argument with many entry points and hence comment sections stretched to triple digits as anonymous punters weighed in with their thoughts.
Every issue has an endpoint, however, a point where all avenues of argument are exhausted. Deconstruction complete, the comments dried up and the punters waited for the next turn of the news cycle.
Then, just two weeks ago, a Jewish organisation took offence to the original article and The Australian reported on it. The next day The Sydney Morning Herald and all it’s national syndicated titles did likewise. Within two days of mainstream exposure Fanning’s words again were international news, though this time to a non-surfing audience.
The story had received a second wind via mainstream scrutiny initiated by The Australian. Tuesday’s piece in The Australian further perpetuates the story with what could be considered a third wind. Unlike Pawle’s claims, however, the surfing world isn’t ignoring the issue, they are wary of it.
Their reticence is understandable …
Pawle is closely connected to STAB, having contributed several articles since their inception. He contributed a Walkely-nominated piece on the coming out of ex-pro surfer Matt Branson and the reported sexual misconduct of surf photographer Paul Sargeant. Both stories were high profile and controversial.
Controversy and infamy are STAB’s raison d’etre. Considering the above stories, written by Pawle, were both published in STAB, the uninformed may think that investigative journalism is its forte. Such a thought is a long way from the truth.
With shots of naked girls, wanton displays of conspicuous consumerism, gratuitous swearing, and repeated misogyny, STAB is the surf version of FHM or Ralph. In fact it advertises itself as such: a lads’ mag with a bent for surfing. It aims for the male 18-24-year-old bracket and barely reaches it. No, the Guardian it ain’t. And if, as smooth-talking real estate agents say of house prices, “a rising tide floats all boats” the inverse is also true: Pawle’s article’s are devalued by the company they keep.
Yet it’s not like all of Pawle’s article’s are paragon’s of virtuous journalism. In his recent story in The Australian Pawle said that surf journalists hadn’t “covered themselves in glory” because they didn’t report the recent drug habit of a pro and sexual transgression of a photographer. If Pawle’s idea of “covering oneself in glory” is to publicly expose private issues, to operate as if conscience has no currency and an individual’s fall from grace is only validated if it’s splashed across the cover of the surf tabloids … well, let’s call it by it’s real name: gutter journalism.
When a publication’s only agenda is infamy, when it deliberately sets in motion media circuses, when it fuels those circuses with its mainstream media connections, then the current response from other surfing publications is understandable. It’s not because of sycophancy that the other surf publications are quiet, it’s because to weigh into the debate would give STAB exactly what it seeks.
That argument aside: there are not many people who really think Mick Fanning was being a racist. Yes, he used the word “Jew” in a pejorative sense, but it was used as an uninformed stereotype rather than to persecute a person or race. His choice of words displayed ignorance and insensitivity, but for mine, and also for many others I’ve spoken to, they did not amount to racism.
And anyway, by repeating the line wasn’t STAB further reinforcing the stereotype? Of course it was under the claimed guise of irony. But, unfortunately for STAB, stereotypes know no nuance. Nor, I believe, do teenage males.
And so we have silence … and it shouldn’t be mistaken for sycophancy. I work in the surf media, so those holding their tongues are my commercial foes yet I understand their stance. Racism or not, the blogosphere shouldn’t have been the only place where debate occurred, but because of STAB and Fred Pawle’s actions it was. Put simply, everyone is aware of their ulterior motives and also aware that to weigh in, even to disagree with them, is to give them what they wish for.
I am fully cognisant of the fact that I have now weighed into the debate and hence contributed to the media circus that STAB so craves, but what it does is reprehensible and lines have to drawn somewhere.