(Image: Tom Red/Private Media)

We do not usually bestow our prestigious Clown of the Week on organisations, but this week was not a usual week in clownery. Think of how many levels of management the footage of 101 Doll Squadron performing at the launch of HMAS Supply had to go through to get us to this point.

Perhaps the choice of dance troupe would have caused a stir anyway (although we note that Alex Bruce-Smith of Pedestrian shared footage of the performance days before the ABC did, to relatively little outcry), but the ABC’s use of the footage is inarguably what blew the performance up.

It juxtaposed the group dancing with shots of military dignitaries apparently reacting with stony faces and awkwardness, and shot the dancers from angles they have since said they found “creepy”. It was certainly utilised as such for a truly gross feature in The Daily Telegraph. But it was later revealed the dignitaries — including Governor-General David Hurley — had not witnessed the performance at all, having arrived after it was done.

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And look, mistakes happen. Maybe the whole thing could have been an amusing embarrassment, which would still qualify for Clown of the Week in the classic sense. Except the whole exercise humiliated and clearly distressed a group of young women whose only crime was turning up and doing the job they were hired to do. That their style is an eccentric choice for the military is no fault of theirs.

So it’s noteworthy that the ABC correction (which singles out the governor-general, chief of navy and viewers for apologies) not only neglects to express any regret for how the troupe feels it was portrayed but appears to actively dismiss one of their concerns — why else would it specify that “the ABC’s footage of the dance performance was shot in a standard manner, from the same position as other parts of the ceremony”?

Yep, by shocking coincidence, it’s the least powerful offended party who misses out on an apology. Which is another reason it’s the ABC, rather some individual editor or news producer, who gets clown status this week; at every point, from the misleading cutting to the handling of the aftermath, there have been many sets of hands grasping for the prize

This is in no way to endorse anti-ABC opportunists who are chucking this out of the trenches with the other culture war ordinance. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s attack is hollow and opportunistic, and the Tele‘s sympathetic coverage of the dancer’s statement is laughable given their gleeful use of the creepiest freeze frames they could get their clammy hands on. As for Sky News’ Paul Murray and his annoyance at misleading reporting, well, we’re glad to see his eye for detail remains undiminished.

No winners here, unfortunately.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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