There’s a nice piece waiting to be written by some modern-day Orwell on “the decline of the apology”.
Apologies, in theory, aren’t hard. Humans have been making them since we first began stringing grunts together. But lately — or is it mere nostalgia? — they’ve been replaced with fauxpologies. Apologies offered only after careful judgment about the public impact of the relevant scandal. Apologies in which, rather than expressing regret for what we’ve said or done, we apologise “to anyone offended”, as if it’s their fault for being so sensitive.
Yesterday was a prominent addition to the annals of fauxpologies from Alan Jones, who spent 45 minutes listing all the reasons it wasn’t really his fault that he’d said something so profoundly offensive about the Prime Minister that a News Ltd tabloid led the charge on it. It wasn’t his remark, he’d merely repeated that of an interlocutor with whom he’d been speaking earlier; it shouldn’t have been recorded; it was “a hoot of a night” with the kids of the Sydney University Liberal Club and he was just getting into “the madness” of it; he’d spoken for over 50 minutes without notes; it was “black parody”; people say nasty things about him; something about Gallipoli, on and on the recitation went … except, of course, they weren’t excuses, he insisted. Then he compared himself to Mitt Romney.
But in a novel development even in fauxpologies, he then attacked the woman to whom he was apologising: “I mean there are a lot of questions, a lot of things unanswered. The AWU thing hasn’t been answered. The AWU thing was answered by the Prime Minister out of the Parliament. I think some of those things should be answered inside the Parliament.”
And, oh the irony for a man who has claimed so frequently that the PM is a liar, he was reduced to outright lying. “I didn’t say that at all,” he replied when asked about his remark that “women are destroying the joint”. “I wasn’t making a generic comment,” he insisted. He denied saying “bring back the guillotine” about the PM. “I take the issues as they are,” he’d claimed earlier. “I keep the personalities out of it.” Out of the chaff bag, presumably.
A key theme of Jones’ remarks was that he was “manning up”. That was in contrast, he seemed to hint, to the Prime Minister, who hadn’t taken his call to apologise. Referring to abuse he had received on social media, he said “this is the sort of stuff — OK, that doesn’t really affect me much because I suppose I might be a different person. I don’t know what the constitution of Julia Gillard is on these emotional issues. But she is entitled to the benefit of the doubt …”
Indeed, the Prime Minister, he claimed, was “quarantined” from personal attacks, unlike Tony Abbott. Some quarantine.
You can see where this is going: Gillard, a woman, ruled by her emotions, who is unfairly protected in the rough-and-tumble of public debate, unlike tough nut Jones, or Tony Abbott, who cop all sorts of personal attacks and cope perfectly fine.
In one of those moments that shows how the far Left and far Right can bend around to embrace, it’s only a couple of weeks since the appalling Bob Ellis, whose misogyny drips from every word of his raging against Gillard, attacked the PM on his thankfully little-read blog because:
“… she fled an important conference, and a meeting with Vladimir Putin, because her father had died at 83, and fled home weeping to Adelaide. Leaving a battlefield because of a dear one’s death is not what she lets our soldiers do. They must stay, and fight on till battle’s end. Yet she thinks she is different somehow. She is allowed her girly tears and her time off, playing hookey from her national obligations, her duty.”
Two privileged old white men, two different political views, but one attitude. And of course, women get it both ways — either they’re too emotional, or if they somehow fail to meet community expectations of emotional response, they’re somehow unnatural, like Lindy Chamberlain.
The comments also raised further questions about the judgment of Abbott. Malcolm Turnbull fired at Jones on Twitter at 6.57 yesterday morning. Abbott waited, and waited, and waited, until after Jones had offered his fauxpology, then made the mealy mouthed observation that Jones was “out of line”.
That can be added to his description of “undisciplined” about Cory Bernardi as evidence that, for all his aggro and cut-through language when it comes to attacking his opponents, Abbott gets strangely nuanced and restrained when it comes to chipping his mates.
That might have garnered little attention among voters until Laurie Oakes made short work of Abbott’s response in his interview on breakfast TV this morning (during which Oakes also made short work of Jones’ good friend Karl Stefanovic).
Doubtless Abbott prizes Jones as a platform sufficiently to want to avoid offending him. Turnbull has no such restraint. But the question is whether Jones offers any value to Abbott. He’s not Ray Hadley, who reaches deep into western Sydney. Jones’ audience are rusted-on Liberal voters who probably haven’t changed their vote since the Hawke years. Jones offers Abbott only an opportunity to make mistakes in avoiding agreeing with some of Jones’ more bizarre positions. And now some sponsors are abandoning Jones.
For a savvy, risk-minimising media strategist such as Abbott, it’s hard to see what upside there is in continuing to cultivate Jones, even if he needs to avoid alienating him and his loyal Liberal base listeners in the way Turnbull did on climate change.
Beyond that, there’s a growing sense that the aggression and personalisation that Abbott has made a key part of his political strategy was not merely unsustainable if it didn’t yield quick results, but increasingly coming back to haunt him, in all sorts of surprising ways.