The ABC is under intense scrutiny from News Corp’s battery of scribes to avoid any hint of a leftward lean. Prime Minister Turnbull’s office felt it necessary to directly intervene against Emma Alberici’s analysis of tax paid by corporations. It seems his office thought that too much emphasis was placed on company revenues rather than profits, creating the impression that these companies were tax dodging freeloaders, rather than legitimately tax minimising freeloaders.
So in the wake of such scrutiny on ABC partisanship, I was intrigued to see this week’s edition of their flagship discussion program, Q&A. Q&A brings together a panel of guests from across the political and media spectrum to face questions from a general public audience, and in concept is an excellent idea to encourage political accountability and debate within the country. In practice, it felt like I’d stepped into a Sargon of Akkad live stream.
The program started off as you might expect, with discussion of the new Nationals leader and of course, the ever present spectre of Russian election hacking. As time went on however, the show went increasingly off the rails. Nevermind offering equal time for left and right, the ABC happily devoted three out of its seven discussion questions to Alt-Right talking points. I can only echo Harriet Harman’s bemusement at being asked whether Europeans are being wiped out by waves of Islamic immigrants forming enclaves of Sharia law.
This is the ‘White Genocide‘ conspiracy theory developed and fostered by neo-nazis, being given a platform and seriously discussed on our national broadcaster. Not Mark Latham’s Outsiders, not Dingo Twitter, but in prime time on the ABC. The author mentioned, Douglas Murray, was too racist for even the British Conservative Party to associate with, though the far-right English Defence League were happy to have him in their corner. Are the rantings of this fringe lunatic worth devoting national air time to? Are there no bigger issues at stake for Australia, a country half a world away from this supposed European suicide?
Apparently not, because next the ABC picked out another whining alt-righter, annoyed that the ‘aura of fear’ around his right wing populism wasn’t being equally applied to the left wing populism of democratic socialists Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, given the crimes of 20th century communism. Now I might have my Overton Window screwed loose, but I wouldn’t exactly call Stalin or Mao left wing populists. Left wing, sure. But when someone’s policy prescription is genocide, I think that deserves a somewhat stronger word than populist.
I’d call Tony Abbott, Cory Bernardi and Clive Palmer right wing populists. I might not like them, but it is fair that they be represented in parliament. And those folks, like Sanders and Corbyn, don’t have an ‘aura of fear’ around them. The Alt-Right, though, just like those 20th century Marxist-Leninists whose spectre they love to raise, aren’t simply populists. The American media simply likes to use the term because these alt-righters are their customers, and the easiest way to piss off a racist is to call them racist. But invoking the spectre of an even scarier alt-left is an old tradition of white nationalists, from Donald Trump right back to Nazi propaganda.
The night finished with another alt-right parrot, this time repeating the prescription of their ‘respectable’ voice, Jordan Peterson. The gender pay gap isn’t real, screeches the boy who for once deigns to leave his mum’s basement, women are just lower in a particular psychological statistic. This isn’t just a pseudoscientific cover to astrological babblings, no sir.
From ignominious beginnings misgendering trans students, Professor Peterson’s star has continued to rise, providing a respectable cover to old, ugly ideas. The oppression of straight white cis men, threats to western civilisation and the colonisation of higher education by Social Justice Warriors provide plenty of fodder for interminable YouTube lectures where he lends his ideas a thin veneer of intellectualism by, as Macleans puts it, never seeming to say “know” where he could instead say “cognizant of”. The real enemy in Peterson’s war is what he calls post-modern neo-Marxism, which has infiltrated academia and undermines what he terms western values with cultural relativism. Now stop me if I’m getting repetitive, but this is exactly the same as ‘cultural bolshevism‘, a nazi conspiracy theory.
Why is the ABC devoting one of its flagship programs to sober discussions of rebranded nazi conspiracy theories? Sadly, it comes down to that classic bad motivator, the seeking of attention. Controversy sells, and under the leadership of Michelle Guthrie, ex-News Corp executive, the ABC is increasingly happy to pursue short term outrage in pursuit of viewers.
Triple J’s youth focused current affairs program Hack has repeatedly offered a platform to the radical right, from Thomas Sewell and Blair Cottrell of the UPF to Eli Mosley, an organiser of the the Charlottesville rally in the US where Heather Heyer was killed. With the conservatives and their News Corp allies alert for any suggestions of bias to the left wing, the ABC instead opted to seek controversy by pandering to the far right. But these attempts seem to have failed to light the flames of indignation at Fairfax or anywhere else, leaving us with one remaining question:
Are these Alt-Right conspiracy theories mainstream now?