"When Volume 1 came out back in 2002, Windschuttle promised further volumes on an annual schedule, covering Queensland and WA. Since Queensland in particular was the focus of Henry Reynolds’ main work, and since the evidence of numerous massacres seems incontrovertible, this promised volume was central to Windschuttle’s claims of fabrication. The promise was repeated year after year, but no Volume 2 ever appeared, and the 'research' supposedly already undertaken has stayed out of sight ... Then in February 2008, Windschuttle published extracts from a Volume 2, promised for publication 'later this year', but now on a totally different topic, that of the Stolen Generation ... The real hoax victims here have been those on the political right, who’ve repeatedly swallowed Windschuttle’s promises to refute well-established facts about Australian history.”Since then Windshcuttle has published his book on the Stolen Generations, now listed as Volume 3 in the series, with Volumes 2 and 4 promised "later". Still waiting. Any fair-minded observer, looking back at all that has been published and said in this debate, can only wonder that Windschuttle’s work was given so much attention. Certainly, he identified some sloppiness and errors by some historians. But that is about the size of it. Manne’s most powerful accusation against The Australian is lack of intellectual honesty. The problem is not that The Australian published views with which Manne disagrees, but rather that it spends so much of its campaigning energy on straw. The newspaper’s self image is of rigorous scrutiny of the powerful. Yet its approach is inconsistent. There are favoured arguments, and favoured individuals, and there are those who will never gain anything more than attacks and scorn. There are arguments and views that gain uncritical acceptance, and others that are only ridiculed. The paper is not an even-handed scrutineer, but rather a barracker and, sometimes, a bully. It will be interesting to read Greg Sheridan’s response to Manne’s analysis of his work, which includes that author’s failure to admit error, the almost laughable response to the revelation that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and the failure of the paper to ever admit error in its predictions and analysis on the Iraq war, even though errors were clearly present. Then there are the parts of Manne’s essay that Kelly does not respond to this morning. Kelly says nothing, for example, about Mitchell’s threat to sue journalism academic Julie Posetti over a Tweet, nor about the other virulent and over-the-top attacks on the paper’s perceived enemies. All this in the context of the still amorphous media inquiry announced by the government, with terms of reference that are still being decided. Although Communications Minister Stephen Conroy apparently insists the inquiry won’t be particularly aimed at News Limited, that hasn’t stopped the Herald Sun and Andrew Bolt today alleging the whole thing is an attack on freedom of speech. One of the things I think Manne gets right in his essay is his observation that this sense of vulnerability, of being the bullied boy in the sandpit, is not a put on by News Limited people. They really feel that way. Inconceivable, even ridiculous, as it may seem to outsiders, such is the mentality within the mighty company that it imagines itself as a victim of bullying, even as it bullies. Can companies have personality disorders? If News Limited has one, it is narcissism. The narcissist sees himself as the centre of the world. He cannot enter into the reality of others. And while the ego is enormous and overweening, it is in truth so vulnerable that it can tolerate no insult, and no attack. Every element of negativity is a stab to the heart, and must be countered with virulent attack. Manne knows this. And so he must also have known what was coming. And that makes him a brave man. Full disclosure: The Australian has said some pretty nasty things about me, including inaccuracies. By and large, I adopt a heat and kitchens principle on this. Correct the errors. Argue your corner. Wear the rest. But I also accept that a bully with a vulnerable ego wandering the public debate is a real disincentive to many who might otherwise make a valuable contribution. As one author said to me: "Why would I go there? It is like arguing with a drunk in the pub. They never listen. They never really engage." I don’t agree with every part of Manne’s analysis. It is no bad thing that a newspaper publishes views with which I disagree. I have no problem with sharpness, or even campaigning, in a newspaper. Some of the things Manne thinks should not have been published, I have no problem with. Yet it is also true that The Australian is blind to its own faults, and has been intellectually dishonest. Again and again, it overplays its hand. It undermines its serious contribution to public debate by its bullying demeanour, its unbalanced attacks, its failures of judgment and its failure to admit error. Manne pings this. I also think that The Australian’s influence can be overplayed. Those who watch it closely, which includes most of the political class, now discount its reporting and its editorialising. As the best reporters on its staff acknowledge, The Australian’s faults undermine its presence far more effectively than its critics.
The Oz playing the Manne: why it’s a barracker and a bully
The Australian is launching a major response to Robert Manne's Quarterly Essay, and the blurbs tell us that there will be more to come on Saturday, with the usual suspects lining up to respond.