journalists

All glory and thanks be to the rescuers of those dear little boys trapped for 18 days in Thailand’s Tham Luang cave. Had this plucky team taken just a day or two longer, they risked publication of another story by Paul Toohey. Surely, our compassionate, hopeful human hearts could have borne not one more serve of oily gratification. Surely, we’ve had it up to the mitral valve with reminders of our shared humanity, our capacity for thoughts, prayers etc.

Toohey, of course, is hardly alone in his uncritical love for the Human Spirit. He’s hardly the first to make claims for our innate ability to ascend to greatness blah blah in this newer version of the allegory of the cave. He was, however, among the first to write that this rescue story was the “good news story” we needed. Call me old-fashioned, but I do find such open declarations morally crass, if not actually deluded.

Toohey conceded outright that the true measure of these 13 lives was how pleasant “we” found their preservation. We needed a “good news story” and we craved elevation from “divisions in politics” and “the careless venom of social media”. Who, Toohey asks, “has not been watching for updates”? Whose waking hours were not fully occupied with the ultimately rewarding work of sending our love down that well?

Well, mine, to be frank. It’s not — Jehovah forbid — that I did not care deeply, deeply for the fate of the children. It’s just that I had a bit on this week and mainstream media really didn’t. The chief commitment of our most storied outlets was to offer print and vision of the Toohey type in which our loving human ability to “connect and share” was celebrated. This was not a valuable experiment in underwater rescue so much as it was — ugh — “a lesson in hope, resilience and generosity of human spirit”.

Look. No. “We” didn’t “need” this “good news story”. “We” are not restored by the hashtags our journalists lazily follow and interpret as public opinion and this rescue does not rescue “us from our doubts about the human spirit”. I mean, who is writing this dross? A year nine private schoolboy deluded by youth, wealth and the power of debate club that his compassion alone is sufficient to save the world?

Nothing excuses a sentence like this in The Age’s editorial:

May this rekindling of faith in each other ignite more co-operation and fuel contemplation of the largely unreported but remarkable, restorative reality that most people are good most of the time.

This is testament not only to the tragic loss of Fairfax subeditors who would once not have permitted a public to sniff this Oprah-scented world deodoriser, but to the colossal delusion our most prominent media-makers have that we’re all along with them for the ride.

People, in my view, are not as thick, suggestible and lacking in memory as those who provide them with purported “news” so ardently believe. Honestly, they can’t be. If they were, the capacity to coordinate international rescue efforts, negotiate public transport and/or breathe without an app-assisted reminder would be nil. “We” know that there is no rescue from our doubts about the human spirit and “we” may even know that the “divisions in politics” were not momentarily unified by the spectacle of suffering children.

We know that the suffering of children is ongoing. We know that the events that create the greatest suffering are not generally led by an expedition into a cave, but by a policy and investor class who cannot be rescued by compassion, Paul Toohey or a series of Genuinely Moving “cartoons of hope” featured in the paper. “We” are not complete twits with no faculty to recall past events, which may be why “we” have lost our faith in a news media which manages to wipe its memory of widespread human tragedy on the hour.

It is not my Human Hope but my ardent belief that the gulf between a self-congratulatory media class that empties itself of attachment to the political world and “we” who can detect an Oprah-scent is growing. To say that those who follow and report a story as told on Twitter — a social medium visited by Australians less often than TripAdvisor — and heap poor and purple praise on our Enduring Human Spirit are “out of touch” is a little like saying that the national private debt needs a little reining in.

“We” do not need a “good news story”. “They” do. Good luck to them and their compassionate onanism. May our brave journalists save themselves the bother of reporting on “divisions in politics” and may they all crowdfund the others’ therapy when they are so cruelly assailed with the “careless venom” of social media.

My venom for their self-gratification is in careful attire this week. How they have the gall to take 13 lives and press them into the service of their own moral report card is beyond me.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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