Right wing Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt has been verbally restrained by a Federal Court judge after he slammed an anti-discrimination case brought against him as an “unforgivable travesty” designed to “smear me.”
As the newspaper’s senior management — Herald and Weekly Times CEO Peter Blunden, HWT editor-in-chief Phil Gardner and editor Simon Pristel — watched on from the gallery, Bolt finally exploded during a tense and often sarcastic exchange with Herman Borenstein SC this afternoon.
“I apologise your honour, I woke up on Tuesday with almost every newspaper in this country describing me as some sort of neo-Nazi planning a holocaust and if I wasn’t stopped there’d be people dead. I have not seen this man apologise for that slur [looks at Borenstein’s associate Ron Merkel] and several of those papers that carried that allegation have not reported my response. This trial is being used to smear me.”
The court heard on Monday that Bolt’s apparent fixation with the issue of genetic descent with regard to Aboriginality was the same mindset that justified genocide. Merkel argued that “this kind of thinking led to the Nuremberg race laws” and that Bolt had adopted a “eugenic approach to Aboriginality”.
Bolt and Borenstein were parrying over a 2009 piece, “White fellas in the black“, and an earlier blog post concerning a prize received by law academic Mark McMillan. Bolt wrote in the stories there may have been other Aboriginal Australians that would have a better claim to a Black Women’s Action in Education Foundation Scholarship. In the blog post, Bolt referred to “a gay white man with a law degree, just the sort of Aboriginal that deserves a special handout.”
The extraordinary blow-up began with this quote from Bolt: “I mean, in what sense is Mark different to me in race? If we’re going to have these race-based awards and scholarships, shouldn’t we be helping the kind of people I’ve identified in other blog articles?”
Borenstein: “I understand that that’s your thesis… and it’s quite irrelevant to this thesis and gratuitously insulting to Mr McMillan for you to make anything of the fact that he’s gay.”
Bolt, incensed, sharpened his gaze: “Why do you consider gay to be an insult?”
Borenstein: “I’m suggesting to you that you have put it in there as a gratuitous insult because it’s got nothing to do with the theme that you are discussing.”
Bolt: “Sorry, I don’t understand why you think calling someone gay is an insult.”
Borenstein: “I don’t think it’s an insult at all.”
Bolt: “Are you suggesting that I do?”
Borenstein: “I’m suggesting you’ve put it in there to convey to your readers an insult to Mark.”
Bolt: “Mr Borenstein, there is no way that I use the word gay as an insult…. the godfather of my children …if I’m knocked down on the way home, is gay. I would entrust my children to him, to raise. Secondly, the gay Aboriginal I knew as a friend, John Newfong, is the man I gave a job [to] as a column writer to at The Herald. For you to first smear me with the Holocaust and now as some sort of gay bigot, is a unforgivable travesty.”
At this point Justice Bromberg intervened. “Mr Bolt, Mr Borenstein’s question is about what he intended…not about what he thinks. Do you think you can confine yourself to the question? Do you need more time Mr Bolt, do you need an adjournment?”
“I’m sorry but if you’d woken up to those headlines about yourself you’d be incandescent with rage. I’m surprised I’ve kept my cool until now,” Bolt countered.
When debate resumed, Bolt said he was of a “different generation” from the veteran Borenstein when it came to the use of the word gay.
“It’s about identity politics and people familiar with my blog would have seen it as such… and if you don’t see it as such it’s a comment on you, not on me.”
According to Bolt, the use of the word “gay” in relation to McMillan reflected an article that Bolt had read penned by McMillan describing struggles with his identity. That struggle included his identification as Aboriginal despite his white skin.
Borenstein wasn’t impressed: “You were mocking him just because of the colour of his skin.”
Bolt: “It’s not mockery, I’m making the point that we offer special help to people that face racism that are deprived and poor and I support that but I’m not sure that a lawyer who would face…from my looking at him, discrimination on that ground.”
Bolt accused Borenstien of “taking a steam roller to satire,” because McMillan’s prize had originally been intended for a woman.
“My intention was to remark on something intrinsically funny, until you get a lawyer in court cross examining you on it.”
The nine applicants are suing Bolt and the Herald and Weekly Times for offending and insulting them under the federal Racial Discrimination Act. They argue Bolt implied in four 2009 stories that fair-skinned Aborigines “chose” to identify as Aboriginal in order to access publicly funded benefits and prizes.
Neil Young QC, for Bolt, will give his closing submission in the case tomorrow, with Borenstein and Merkel, for the nine, to sum-up on Friday.
*As this matter is still before court, Crikey is not allowing comments on this article. If you wish to respond email [email protected].