Today Crikey bestows an old pair of sandals, worn by me during my appearance at the federal government’s media inquiry last November, as an award for the most gratuitous media reference to personal appearance.

Why is it so? Regular Crikey readers will remember what some on Twitter badged “#sandalgate” or the “#journaosandals” affair. It began with this piece by Miranda Devine reporting my appearance, with the descriptor “sandal-wearing freelance journalist and prolific Tweeter Margaret Simons …”

Not inaccurate, but a little beside the point.*

The Devine piece caused a bit of a stir on Twitter, and one reader suggested I should auction the sandals for charity. This I did — with the proceeds to Amnesty International.

The winning bidder, at $160, was the person behind Twitter username @maybeee2011 (who wishes to remain anonymous), who then asked that the sandals be made into an award for most gratuitous reference to personal appearance in the media. Crikey was happy to oblige.

Before we move to the nominees, it should be said that we are aware that in the minds of some right-wing commentators, “sandal-wearing” is dog whistling language and code for “lefty”, and not, or not only, a reference to footwear. It has its origins in George Orwell’s reference in The Road to Wigan Pier (published in 1937) to:

“the … prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, s-x maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.”**

But Devine’s contribution on Twitter on the day of the auction would suggest that it was indeed the footwear that bothered her. She said:

@mirandadevine No @MargaretSimons! Journalists. Do. Not. Wear. Sandals! We are suffering enough in #mediainquiry without completely trashing our reputation

Anyway, it was all good fun, resulted in money for Amnesty, and no harm done.

So to the nominees. We asked for them on Twitter, and got a surprising field, including journalists we would expect to know better. Sadly, the fact that we have a female prime minister seems to have resulted in even senior political commentators feeling that clothing and personal appearance were note-worthy. The shortlist includes:

  • Glenda Korporaal for this piece in The Australian about Julia Gillard’s failure to carry a handbag.
  • Gemma Jones in The Daily Telegraph for an article on Gillard’s shoes and “shoe miles”.
  • Kyle Sandilands predictably got a mention for that disgusting rant against News.com.au journalist Alison Stephenson, calling her a “fat slag”.

Andrew Bolt was nominated by one reader for his preoccupation with the fairness of some Aboriginal commentators’ skins, but although the famous resulting court case was last year, the key publication was not, so he is disqualified.

Sandilands has had enough attention. Plus which his entry was not so much gratuitous as infantile and disgusting.

Given that there are two sandals, we have the luxury of being able to make a joint award. So it’s one sandal each — signed by me, the Crikey team and Media Watch’s Jonathan Holmes — to Korporaal and Jones.

*(If readers are interested in more than my footwear, the transcript of what I said to the media inquiry while wearing the sandals is not yet available, but will eventually be posted here. For my submission (unredacted version) and the controversy about it, see here.

**I am not a nudist, s-x maniac, Quaker, pacifist, Nature Cure quack, communist or socialist. Feminist — yes. I have also been known to drink fruit juice.

Peter Fray

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