Media

May 21, 2018

How the media oversimplified the Margaret River murders

There was the "good bloke" narrative simplification, of course. But reactions against this "good bloke" narrative produced an equal and opposite simplification.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle

Correspondent-at-large

Father of the murdered children Aaron Cockman

The hideous murder of four children and two adults by husband, father and grandfather Peter Miles at Margaret River in Western Australia last week, produced the same disturbing mass media responses as most such rural family annihilations usually do. The event was labelled as a "tragedy" -- which it was, but it was a crime that was a tragedy, not a natural accident, and the crime bit was left out -- and the murderer was labelled as a "good bloke".

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20 comments

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20 thoughts on “How the media oversimplified the Margaret River murders

  1. Saugoof

    I don’t really know much about this particular shooting, so I’ve no specific comment on it. But one thing that generally holds true in all horrific crimes (or terrorist attacks) is that there may be no excuse for it, but there are always a reasons. Whether those reasons are valid is a different matter. But the sooner we understand the reason crimes like these happen and move away from oversimplified “good guy”, “patriarchy”, “they hate our freedom” nonsense, the better we can work towards preventing crimes like these.

    1. Lesley Graham

      I couldn’t agree with you more Saugoof..we need to be able to understand & have some sort of help for people, so that these sort of incidence are less likely to happen…I would also suggest that this man was struggling & if he hadn’t been too proud/or in too deep, it may well have been diverted….but we will never know….these things are complex & the fact the media is looking for, quick in a nutshell major occurence/incidences to report on, the truth around this may never reach the light of day……

  2. kyle Hargraves

    “The event was labelled as a “tragedy” — which it was, but it was a crime that was a tragedy, not a natural accident, and the crime bit was left out — and the murderer was labelled as a “good bloke”

    Guy, just think about it. On the one hand it seems to me that you have read very little German or Russian literature and, correspondingly, have read (over read?) a heap of Brit (and to a lesser extent yank) literature. For the Brits (generalising – but not too much – for space) the characters tend to be uniform; the good guys are good and the bad guys .. well they seldom change. Read something German where, inspired by an opera of Wagner’s, a young educated man resolves to murder his father upon returning home after the evening’s concert (and does, in fact, murder his father).

    The problem, and you are no less a culprit than anyone else who gets paid for writing on current affairs, is that you (singular and plural) insist on doing “everyone’s” thinking for them. Just read any damned article from the ABC’s news/justin

    To be fair your reference to “[v]an Badham in The Guardian” is noteworthy for, as you convey, its irrelevance. Appealing to what we ought to learn from (German and Russian) literature – and as you observe – this family was not the first to be zapped by a family member nor will it come to be the last to be zapped by a family member. No one is likely to be happy about it but we ought to be accepting of such (by no means exceptional) events.

    Lastly, referring to implied(?) manipulation and censorship(?) by the media your failure to mention Aaron Cockman’s nocturnal stalking proclivities in regard to his wife and the hours he (apparently) spent observing the house contribute to the very behaviours you criticise.

    What Saugoof deems a “reason” I would identify as an “explanation”. But the point here is : “just how could we (i.e. the community) ever know”; death-bed confessions notwithstanding.

  3. klewso

    Mental illness is complicated?

    1. klewso

      The manifestation of someone’s breakdown are hardly the place for our insensitive, sensationalist, hyperventilating, hyperspeculating moron media to go stomping.

      1. klewso

        17 hours in moderation?

        1. kyle Hargraves

          One less adjective and it might have passed the Crikey filters!

      2. Lesley Graham

        I think Klewso you have a point there about the media…there seems to be far too much media interest in gossip around the famous & popular…with little interest in how this breakdown not only affects the community, but also in showing the vulnerability’s of these types of family’s…..

  4. NeverTheLess

    Finally…. an article that speaks to the complexity of such a sad event. Agree entirely with your thoughts on Badham’s predictable response – to slot this crime under the ‘all men are bad’ trope achieves nothing, and only serves to validate entrenched views.

  5. AR

    I got nothin’ – “nobody’s right when everybody’s wrong”.

    1. kyle Hargraves

      deep AR : deep!

  6. Draco Houston

    The ‘good bloke’ thing seems a bit cliche, like when they interview neighbours and hear that they were very quiet and kept to themselves. Probably not very enlightening, but neither is charging in to give a hot take on the reasons it happened before the bodies go cold.

    I hope that the family and friends of the victims get some answers.

  7. brendan wynter

    Thoughtful. As the surviving son of a ‘family annihilator’, these narratives just leave me cold. The amount of stupid in this world is hurting people.

    1. Lesley Graham

      I couldn’t agree with you more Saugoof..we need to be able to understand & have some sort of help for people, so that these sort of incidence are less likely to happen…I would also suggest that this man was struggling & if he hadn’t been too proud/or in too deep, it may well have been diverted….but we will never know….these things are complex & the fact the media is looking for, quick in a nutshell major occurence/incidences to report on, the truth around this may never reach the light of day……

  8. Andrea

    I understand the shades of grey in crime and every social issue, but this Murderer took innocent human lives, four children and two women, and I do see the link with a domestic violence scenario where the man ultimately sees his wife, children and grandchildren as his property rather than people in their own right. What is killing in this instance if not the greatest harm to be inflicted? Who cares what his motives were? They are dead in any case.

    1. kyle Hargraves

      What is killing in this instance if not the greatest harm to be inflicted?

      On the one hand such is the point were we can become unduly philosophical and the question turns upon what is to be understood as “harm”. On the other hand there is the difficulty in quantification or verification of any particular theory or assertion.

      > Who cares what his motives were?

      Subsections of the discipline of Criminology care very much “what the motives are/were”. The answers to such questions are edifying with the above caveat taken into account. The motive may be associated with a perception of ownership or (in the case of a surgeon in Sydney who visited the same “treatment” onto his immediate family 35 years ago) outright self-indulgence; at least so it was claimed by extended family members.

      1. Andrea

        Yes criminologists, journalists, police have to do their jobs, and learning more about why this happens is educational for society and may lessen future occurrences due to awareness of warning signs, but I was looking at it more from the perspective of the victims who don’t have that luxury available to them. My response is emotional, it’s a horrific thing.

      2. Dion Giles

        Professional criminologist nitpicking, and social engineering and special pleading especially by the squattoracy bury the incontestability of the one factor relevant to the right of every human being not to be shot dead by a crazed piece of garbage. The filth had access to a gun. This could be stopped at the pass by extending the Howard gun laws to make ownership or possession of a gun a criminal offence, Australia-wide, punished by serious prison time. This even though implementation would require political rejection of the Yank NRA and its Australian metastases.

        1. kyle Hargraves

          Yet, with all due respect, Dion, you are implicitly making another plea for a perfect world. Firearms can be obtained at the “right” price whatever the laws and irrespective of the legislation. Secondly, a discussion on “gun-culture” (comparing the USA, Canada and some Commonwealth countries) has appeared on these pages and such would be well worth a review prior to advocating policy; however intuitively appealing such policy may be. Such events have occurred in (sleepy) NZ that has a gun policy a good deal tighter than that of Oz.

          As a aside it is interesting to observe that homicide by firearm in Canada is something like 1/10 to 1/12 of that in the USA for (very) roughly the same gun laws; a tad tighter (with more checks) in Canada but still obtainable by a nutter. Ditto, with much greater control in the UK and Europe.

          Lastly, it is a theorem in Criminology that the “severity” of the sentence is much less of a deterrent that the risk of detection. If the risk of detection is high and the penalty is (very) low compliance can be (almost) assured. For the converse, the law-breaker assumes that the “other fellow will be caught and not me” irrespective of the penalties. A survey of criminal history, from the Middle Ages refers.

          1. AR

            The risk of detection & penalty would seem to be low for a murdering suicide – not at all like Shrub telling the world that he was gonna get tough with suicide bombers.

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