Star News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt has admitted “everyone makes mistakes” while defending himself in the Federal Court this morning in a race discrimination case brought by nine prominent Aborigines.
Under cross examination by Herman Borenstein SC over a 2009 Herald Sun article that erroneously referred to the “German father” of Sydney academic Larissa Behrendt, 41, Bolt confirmed he later amended the article on his blog to refer to Behrendt’s “German name” instead. Behrendt’s father is Aboriginal, and her grandfather was an English immigrant with presumably German heritage.
Bolt also deleted another reference to the NSW Australian of the Year as “mein liebchen” and added another sentence referring to her “white mother” to further his argument. The changes are partially clear on Bolt’s blog, but remain unaltered on several other News Limited sites.
Borenstein tackled Bolt head on: “Can I suggest to you that the reason why you deleted the words ‘mein liebchen’ is because you were made aware that those words were insulting and can I suggest to you that the rewrite without showing the actual deletion of the words was done to hide the fact that you had to delete them?”
“No, that’s wrong”, Bolt retorted, under oath.
The applicants are arguing Bolt had strongly implied in his stories that the nine “chose” to identify as Aboriginal in order to access publicly funded benefits and prizes.
Earlier, a war of words had also erupted over Bolt’s description of Behrendt as a “professional Aborigine”. Bolt: “She’s Aboriginal, she’s professional but it means a little extra beyond that … it means that someone is active in the Aboriginal field and that to some extent her career developed as a consequence of … that Aboriginality.”
Borenstein: “It’s correct is it that you’re not suggesting there that she’s both a professional and an Aborigine but that somehow her Aboriginality is profession for her?” Bolt maintained that he stuck by his initial definition.
This morning’s session before Justice Mordy Bromberg, a former St Kilda VFL star, hinged on the question of whether Bolt’s articles had focused solely on descent as a marker of Aboriginality to the exclusion of the applicant’s personal identity and cultural and community influences. This, according to Borenstein, was likely to “offend”, a key test under the Racial Discrimination Act.
After an extended back and forth, Bolt conceded his articles had caused offense to Behrendt: “If you want me to concede that these articles would offend Ms Behrendt, then I will concede that.” He revealed he had met Behrendt only once in his life, when he was a guest speaker at an ATSIC conference organised by then-chairman Geoff Clark.
The hearing was again attended by a bevy of media and activist luminaries, with veteran News loyalist Terry McCrann on hand to cheer on his colleague. When the hearing broke for lunch Clark joked to Bolt that he had a “vivid imagination”, to which Bolt responded it was in fact Clark who was entertaining false thoughts.
The court also heard Bolt’s postmodern take on the idea of race, despite his suggestions in one article that the successful light-skinned Aborigines had chafed with “racial reality”.
“I have problems with the notion of race in that I don’t know that there’s much beyond a human race. I just think it’s a very fluid concept, it means different things to different people,” the Herald Sun associate editor opined.
“The notion of race is difficult and I find it uncomfortable; race was one this drop of blood thing and quadroons and octoroons and all these things that I’ve been accused of saying.” He said he found the concept of race “yuck”.
According to Bolt, “the central concern” of the four articles at the centre of the case was not a denigration of his subjects but a broader issue with “the stressing of race in terms of identity but also of positions of a kind that tends to stress what divides us rather than what unites us as human beings”. “They hold positions on the public platform or race-based positions, so there are consequences to that … [and that] makes it more a matter of the public interest,” he said.
The Herald Sun scribe would prefer some self-identified Aborigines focus more on their commonalities with others. In one of the articles, Bolt said sartist Bindi Cole has a “distressingly white face”. He expounded on these views yesterday:
“I would have preferred for her to identify herself as she does on her blog … or she could say she has a polyglot ancestry or she could say I am a member of the human race, take me as I am, my name is just Bindi Cole, judge me as that.”
Borenstein: “You object however to her identifying with a particular strand of her genealogy, is that your objection?” Bolt: “I find it a little strained, that’s all. It seems to me an effort of will, of choice.”
Another tactic employed by Borenstein was to poke holes in Bolt’s Google-centric research, alleging he had deliberately excluded any reference in the article to Cole’s Aboriginal grandmother, focusing instead on her white mother and her absent Aboriginal father, in order to fit his thesis.
Borenstein: “So you think it’s a fair summary to refer to her mother and to her absent father, and to omit someone who’s had a significant influence, according to this document, on her cultural upbringing. You say it’s fair do you?”
Bolt: “No, I think you’re going further than what my words said or imputed. I said that she was raised by her English Jewish mother, which is correct, rarely saw her father, which is correct … and that’s it, that’s all that I said. I didn’t say her grandmother had no influence, her grandfather had no influence…”
Borenstein: “But you also didn’t paint a complete picture of her upbringing, you painted a selective picture of her upbringing.”
Bolt: “No it’s an article of 1000 words, I’m describing a trend, and of course I have accurate summations based on extensive research of each thing that I can defend that will not necessarily give every in and out of a whole career.
Borenstein: “Given the influence that her grandmother made which you agree do you still maintain that the description you’ve given about her upbringing is accurate?
Borenstein: “I see. Is that the level of accuracy you bring to the rest of the article as well?”
Bolt: “That kind of meticulous research and fairness, yes.”
The gallery giggled. The case, featuring more evidence from Bolt, continues this afternoon.
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