Days after The Age went tabloid, its reporting appears to have followed suit. Take the bizarre and self-contradictory defence of Marcia Langton by Russell Skelton. Responding to Crikey‘s story revealing Langton had not declared, in her ABC Boyer lectures, that mining giant Rio Tinto was funding one of her major political projects, and that big Rio was praised effusively in the Boyers, Skelton has responded:

“According to her critics, Langton’s sins are many: She failed to declare in her lectures that mining companies helped fund her research into the politics of poverty and plenty in the Pilbara.”

He then went on to catalogue the more thematic criticisms Boris Frankel (in Arena Magazine) and others mounted at Langton’s broad criticism of the Left, Greens, etc. By Skelton’s reckoning this failure to disclose financial interests in the lectures was of the same level as the accusations that:

“… she betrayed her Trotskyite roots by stating not all miners were villainous exploiters of indigenous people … Further, she had the temerity to take a hefty swipe at environmentalists …”

They bloody aren’t the same, and I know that because I read about the iniquity of undisclosed interests in, erm, The Age, which days before had splashed with a huge exclusive on Planning Minister Matthew Guy having undisclosed lunches with $10,000+ Lib donors with planning applications in process.

Langton’s non-disclosure within the Boyers is not of that order, since she has made her links with Rio clear elsewhere. Skelton notes that “for years” there have been rumours about Langton receiving personal payments from Rio, but he discounted them because he “knew her”. Nevertheless, in the tradition of I.F.Stone and Woodward and Bernstein, he felt some investigation was in order, 2012-style: “… as an exercise I hit Google.” Christ, there goes this year’s Gold Walkley.

In doing so, Skelton establishes Langton has received extensive support from Rio for her research into Aboriginal poverty. Should she declare that in the actual text of the Boyers? Skelton seems to think so, as he demonstrates at the end of his article:

“Russell Skelton is a contributing editor of The Age. Rio Tinto assisted with his travel in the Pilbara.”

So, in an article trying to defend Langton for not explicitly declaring an indirect financial interest, Skelton (and/or The Age) feels compelled to declare an indirect financial interest! With the same company as Langton is involved with!

That is an own goal of Ronaldo-esque proportions, for two reasons. Firstly, because it’s just dog-bollocks dumb on the face of it. Secondly, because much of Skelton’s article is devoted to praising Langton for refusing the “special treatment” hitherto given to black people on account of a history of oppression (that’s why Langton now accuses critics of her policy proposals of “racism”). On the face of this article, it appears Skelton, embarrassingly undistanced from Langton — “If she had a second PhD, it would be in refusing to tolerate fools of any kind.”* Gaaaaaaaaack. — has extended exactly that special treatment to Langton. And The Age has joined him in it.

*Connoiseurs of sycophancy may wish to compare this line with the great ad campaign by Dos Equis beers about “the most interesting man in the world”: “His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man’s entire body.” Stay thirsty, my friends.

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