Last week, Sam Dastyari had a rotten night down the pub. Many pundits seized upon the recorded moment, determined to spread rot. There are to be no prizes for predicting who’d bring the rottenest take. Matter decomposes fastest in the mind of Andrew Bolt.

Let me translate: the true thugs are not those who taunt a bloke, but those who protest Manus.

Per Bolt, three men pitching racial slurs at one as they film his abasement isn’t “violence”. Violence is what is accidentally done to the smart-casual clothes of Liberal Party insiders. Violence is not an unexpected confrontation in which demands are made that the target leaves the country. It’s what happens at an expected confrontation where police are present to control those demanding from the powerful the resettlement of 600 immiserated men.

Violence is a torn sports coat, modelled for media here. You know the story: the real people are those raising funds and/or having a harmless racist laugh. The “elites” are those told to go back to where they came from, or any person who thinks a “go back to where you came from” policy is unsustainable in an era that’s produced more than 65 million refugees.  

Pure, precedented Bolt. I describe his argument here not to contradict it. As Shakira Hussein writes in Crikey, to fact-check such bigotry is useless. To check it against one of Bolt’s purported nemeses, however, is not. Bolt’s demonised ABC cannot be said to stand in total opposition to the Herald Sun.

I make this case not to “damage” the ABC; we can probably leave that work to its managing director. What we cannot continue to do is excuse a broadcaster that edges toward bias. Yes, it’s “better than the rest”. But haemorrhoids are better than skin cancer. One seeks removal of both.

I make this case to endorse another point Hussein made: racism is not the sole work of white thugs. Thugs who are, per ABC radio program The World Today, unemployed manual labourers. Their role, in fact, is minor. Racism is maintained as it was started: by elites, for their own benefit.

Politely racist views seem commonplace at the ABC. There are likely internal efforts made toward “diversity”. But such efforts are often understood by white knowledge workers as an echo of what their class already believes: we are not common labourers! When we meet any Aboriginal person at all, we open conversation with, “That Stan Grant is someone I really admire.”

This is a recent conversation between an ABC broadcaster and an academic I know, who has no theoretical time for Grant at all.

No, it’s not as bad as thuggery; guess we’d call it “microaggression”. Or, as my acquaintance did, “fucking hilarious”. Perhaps if I were Aboriginal, I’d find such a moment of white middle-brow condescension funny, too. I’d giggle if a chap said to me, “That Margaret Thatcher is a fine and dignified specimen of your kind”. But, unlike this bloke I know, so habituated to mention of Grant, I’d have had the special shits if I heard it from an ABC broadcaster.

The ABC now seems to run like a private school debate club. It must do, as there is no other way to explain Sunday’s Insiders. All panellists were just as eager as Bolt to compare the actions of protesters with those of the “sacked forklift driver”, cut down to his class by the ABC.

It’s tempting for a media worker to compare the mass protest with the personal racist attack. It is not, however, compulsory. But the ABC did it. The pro-diversity ABC also chose to broadcast footage several times on Friday not only of Pauline Hanson in relation to the Dastyari story, but of one of Dastyari’s attackers.

Bolt criticises Insiders for failing to show footage (presuming it exists) of a checked jacket being torn, instead favouring the Dastyari video. Perhaps Bolt didn’t endure, as I did, Insiders’ consensus: all violence is terrible! These protesters have been infiltrated by radical elements! They’re not helping anyone! Just how protestors are supposed to “help” was unclear. Perhaps they should behave more like dignified ABC broadcasters.

Bolt is partisan. The ABC is “balanced”. But it is no more “balanced” to permit two avowedly anti-immigration speakers to challenge Dastyari when video evidence obviates the need for any challenge at all. It is not “balanced” to personify racism as the work of the white underclass. It is not “balanced” to say that mass political action is equal to a moment in the pub. In short, the voice of the white knowledge class, which is the voice of the ABC, is about as balanced as Bolt.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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