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Part One

Australian journalism’s freak show: how a serious newspaper deals with its enemies

Journalism is in crisis, we’re told constantly.

But there’s another journalism crisis that has been disrupting and polluting the Australian media for more than a decade, a crisis that has nothing to do with broken business models, Facebook or the rise of so-called fake news.

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Part Two

The targets-in-chief: elites, academics, social reformers, media enemies, leftists and pussy feminists

Academic and journalist Margaret Simons

How does The Australian select targets for its holy wars? It’s not exactly complicated, says journalist and former Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes — the paper attacks “anyone whom it perceives to be a critic”. It’s about “whether you are on the Left or the Right and whether you fit with its commercial objectives or stand in their way,” says journalism professor Mark Pearson. “Like a true narcissist, it lets its own interests, agendas and catfights affect the quality of the journalism in its pages.”

These are The Australian‘s public enemies #1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6:

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Part Three

Rules of engagement: the tactics that inflict maximum damage and embarrassment

How does The Australian inflict damage on its enemies? There are four main weapons, say media academics Matthew Ricketson and Andrew Dodd: “First, it unleashes a torrent of articles contesting even of the tiniest points, so as to wipe the critic’s original point from everyone’s mind; second, it attacks the critic personally and pitilessly; third — somewhat paradoxically — it ignores the critic; and fourth, when all else fails, it simply continues asserting something as true as if no one has ever shown it was false.”

The paper’s Holy Wars are quasi-military campaigns: strategic, tactical and psychological. They are unrelenting and take no prisoners. Here’s how it works:

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Part Four

The war against sandal-wearing greenie climate alarmist Tim Flannery

On Australia Day 2007, scientist Tim Flannery was named Australian of the Year at a ceremony on the lawns of Parliament House. “He has encouraged Australians into new ways of thinking about our environmental history and future ecological challenges,” declared then-prime minister John Howard as he presented Flannery with the award.

For The Australian, this was too much to take. In its news story, the Oz reported Howard as having “embraced his inner greenie”, and in its editorial said the decision would be “a controversial choice for some”.

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Part Five

The man behind the Holy Wars: it's about 'values', not ideology

The architect of The Australian Holy Wars is a bluntly spoken, highly intelligent, intuitive newspaperman who adores Rupert Murdoch, despises the soft-left pretentiousness of rivals Fairfax and the ABC, and loves ink on paper.

In 2002, when he became The Australian‘s editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell harnessed all those passions to create what he describes as a “campaigning” newspaper — and, in the process, changed the ethical framework of Australian journalism forever.

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Chapter Six

How to undermine a partisan public servant drunk on power

On a Sunday morning, soon after The Australian first launched what would become a five-year personal vendetta of almost 30,000 words against her, Gillian Triggs got a call from her son living in Paris. Why, he wanted to know, was she trending on Twitter ahead of pop megastar Taylor Swift?

Triggs was appointed as president of the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2012, and was previously dean of the Faculty of Law and challis professor of international law at the University of Sydney. The long-running campaign against Triggs flared up regularly during her tenure — especially during Senate estimates, but also in relation to The Australian‘s prolific writings on section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

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Chapter Seven

Yes, the Oz is capable of important investigative journalism (when it's not trashing its enemies)

It was The Australian‘s classic investigative journalism that revealed war criminal and former Australian army reservist Dragan Vasiljkovic had changed his name and was working and living in Perth in 2005. He has just been sentenced to 15 years in jail in Croatia for his war crimes. And the Oz‘s recent pursuit of GetUp board member Carla McGrath, after her appointment to the Australian Press Council created an obvious conflict of interest, was supported by respected figures in journalism from all quarters.

That’s right. The Australian’s campaigns are not always irrational beat-ups or vicious personal attacks against ideological enemies. Often they’re genuine news stories that do the important work of civic journalism.

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Chapter Eight

The war against the leading inner-city, anti-Murdoch media critic wanker (AKA Paul Barry)

“Writing about Rupert Murdoch and his family is perhaps not a great career move, given that they have such power and patronage in the media in Australia, the UK, the US and rest of the world.” When Paul Barry wrote those words, in his 2013 book Breaking News: Sex, Lies and the Murdoch Succession, he was prophetically charting his own fate at the hands of the the Murdoch family and their editorial retainers. Since then, Barry has become one of the highest-ranking public enemies on News Corp’s wanted list.

In many ways Barry is the prototypical target for The Australian:

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Chapter Nine

Is the Oz the Wile E. Coyote of Australian journalism?

It’s a frustrating beast, The Australian. It’s got some great must-read journalism. And then there are its official dispatches from the front line of the culture wars.

Giving a name and putting a face on the enemy is central to how the paper reports the war. It gives a focus to the thousands of words thundering in an unending barrage, paragraph after paragraph. The faces say: “See! See! This is what we’re talking about!”

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Chapter Ten

The war against Julian Disney

It all started so nicely for Julian Disney, the seriously spoken, studious-looking former law professor, when he was appointed chair of the Australian Press Council in late 2009.

“Professor Disney,” noted News Corp in its formal submission to the federal government’s Finkelstein Inquiry into media regulation in 2011, “has brought a fresh set of eyes and really focused on what the council has needed to do in its priorities … in him our industry has the calibre of its leadership that was sorely lacking.”

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Chapter Eleven

'Black is white, up is down … it is nutso': how it feels to be a Holy War casualty

“When it first started to happen to me I was in dread of what was said on Insiders, on The Drum,” said one victim of an Australian Holy War. “I could spend half a weekend in agony over the latest piece on Saturday in The Australian. I don’t read a lot of it now. After a while I just took it as a daily battering.”

Roz Ward says she suffered real physical effects from the stress of the campaign against her. “One of the things that you don’t expect is the persistence of it, the longevity,” she said. As reported in Crikey, in a single month — from February 10 until March 11 — this year The Australian published 27 articles about the Safe Schools program: 18 news articles, three opinion pieces, two editorials and three editions of Cut and Paste. And it quoted more than twice the number of people attacking the program as defending it, led by conservative education academic Kevin Donnelly and senators Cory Bernardi and George Christensen.

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Chapter Twelve

The war against the female Muslim agitator Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Yassmin Abdel-Magied describes herself as the “most publicly-hated Muslim in Australia” — thanks in no small part to a Holy War conducted against her by The Australian.

For someone who is a casual ABC presenter, engineer, writer, and activist, the paper’s coverage of her every move has been frenetic.

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Chapter Thirteen

How The Australian echo chamber influences politics

With its small, elderly, highly conservative readership, The Australian lacks direct influence on the electorate. This is all the more so as staff cuts at the loss-making broadsheet, and a greater focus on campaigning journalism, have resulted in less investigative reporting and news-breaking (there remain plenty of “exclusive” drops, but few actual scoops).

That doesn’t mean the paper lacks clout. It still retains the ability to influence other outlets, especially in the morning news cycle, particularly at ABC Radio, with its wide regional reach, where many producers take their cue from what has appeared in the national broadsheet that morning in determining what issues to discuss. It may not have a large readership, but most journalists, editors and producers read it, ensuring its campaigns are noticed and, often, echo around the country.

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99 thoughts on “Holy Wars – How The Australian targets and attacks its enemies

  1. “[The Australian] may not have a large readership, but most journalists, editors and producers read it, ensuring its campaigns are noticed and, often, echo around the country.” – Yes, this is part of the problem. How about reputable news sources stop amplifying their message? How about the Crikey Worm stops linking to their stories?

    I see it on Twitter all the time – I wouldn’t know who that Miranda lady and that Rita lady and that young kid with a stupid name are except that other people take their bait and retweet them. All I know about that Kenny guy is his love of dogs. Mark Latham?- isn’t he that guy from like 20 years ago who doesn’t know how to shake hands? Stop retweeting nobodies who only write what they write so that people will pay attention to them.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly with Jimbo re the Crikey Worm links.

      The links inevitably hit a paywall &, if anything, are an incentive to subscribe to News Corp to see what we’re missing. Let ‘The Australian’ sink quietly into the abyss due to natural attrition as ageing readers gradually drop off their perches.

      It can be useful to know what the counter-press is publishing but, even without reading it, it’s generally hard to avoid the spin (Murdoch owning 70% of print).

      Stop the links, Crikey, they are an unpaid ad for News Corp.

  2. Agree with Jimbo/Zut about not giving NewsCorpse links to its paywall – we pay Crikey to pick through the execrable entrails of that swamp creature so that we do not have to sully our screens.

      1. Agreed. I took out a subscription to The Australian so I could read those links. Having Crikey paraphrase the stuff would suit me much better and I’d pay Crikey more for the privilege. I win, Crikey wins, The Australian loses and dies in a ditch. Yay!

  3. “With enough of an echo, unreality can take on its own weight and heft.”

    The US in the Age of Trump is the prime example of this phenomenon.

  4. Then come election time, after years of Limited News bad-mouthing PR, the likes of Labor et al have to buy space in these rags, for advertising : to counter such bilious negative Murdoch advertorial politics.
    It’s a money-making political machine – to benefit Rupert.

  5. Thanks for this series. You don’t have to be a big name or major player to be targeted by “the Australian”.
    The technique of selecting a minor point then disparaging a whole story based on a questionable minor discrepancy is a common technique. Next step is they send letters from their on call legal mob threatening hell fire and brimstone.
    Most advice at this point is to back off and give them 1/4 of what they ask for.
    What can you do if your house and livelihood is at stake but try to find a way to shut the monsters down whilst retaining self respect.
    Yes bastards without doubt.

  6. A great series Crikey! Keep the pressure up – start a regular weekly “The Australian / Murdoch News” Fact Check. I have been outraged for years about the lies and refusal to print facts that don’t suit them . Their climate denial and egregious articles by their ‘environment reporter’ Lloyd in particular. Cherry pick a spurious ‘fact’ and blow it up out of context is his method. Not to mention the other right wing propagandist hacks e.g. Albrechtson, Sheriden.
    How do they keep their license to print newspapers? Australia needs much tighter regulations to ensure truth, quality and even handedness in reporting.
    The ‘Fin Review’ and ‘Guradian’ would pass the test, “The Aus” certainly would not

  7. Call to Arms! Read ;
    The Saturday Paper 18 Nov 2017 Rudd expose on News Corp.

  8. Many moons ago, I was a regular reader. Then it became a tabloid that you expect to a topless woman on page 3.

  9. There was a time when journalists would not acquiesce so readily to the evil incarnate’s wishes.

    “Murdoch’s overt interference in the 1975 campaign was so bad that reporters on the Australian went on strike in protest and seventy-five of them wrote to their boss calling the newspaper ‘a propaganda sheet’ and saying it had become ‘a laughing stock’ (Wright 1995).

    ‘You literally could not get a favourable word about Whitlam in the paper. Copy would be cut, lines would be left out,’” one former Australian journalist told Wright’ (1995).

    ~ Tony Wright, ‘On the Wrong Side of Rupert’, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 1995.

    In the early stages of the campaign, there had been criticisms from highly regarded journalists about their copy being so altered that their stories bore no resemblance to articles that had been filed. Placement was pushed back, headlines were deemed by them as scurrilous and not reflective of the content, and so the outraged allegations of not just media bias, but direct editorial interference, precipitated a strike of journalists.

    A letter written by News Limited journalists and presented to management outlines clearly some of the concerns they had resulting in their strike action on 8th-10 December 1975, the last week of the election campaign.

    …’the deliberate and careless slanting of headlines, seemingly blatant imbalance in news presentation, political censorship and, more occasionally, distortion of copy from senior specialist journalists, the political management of news and features, the stifling of dissident and even palatably impartial opinion in the papers’ columns…’

    ~ Denis Cryle; ‘Murdoch’s Flagship: 25 years of The Australian newspaper’; MUP (2008)

  10. Pity America.
    What Rupert Murdoch’s Australian Media has done to bend the minds of the Australian public to his whim pales into insignificance compared with his interference in UK policy ( ie: on Brexit) and in the USA with his FOX NEWS hauntingly dictating policy brainsnaps for his new best friend, Donald trump.
    Such a close symbiotic relationship that one of Fox News presenters, one of Rupert’s chosen newsprompt readers, a Richard Grendel, has been appointed as a Foreign Diplomat to Germany. His stated aim to “empower” conservative forces throughout Europe.
    We recovered from Rupert’s part in Whitlam’s Dismisal and his propaganda wars in the Abbott/Rudd/Gillard/Turnbull fiasco, but will theUK and the US ever recover from Murdoch’s tinkering?

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