There are times I wholeheartedly agree with Gerard Henderson, but I do think he is often shrill. His correspondence with ideological foes is painfully pedantic and repetitive.
Nonetheless, I read his Media Watch Dog blog because it keeps me alert to a media bias which is so overriding that it might otherwise become undetectable. “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.”
This week he reviews ABC Radio’s coverage of Pope Benedict’s resignation. He was dismayed to hear one guest after another criticise the outgoing pontiff — not because he doesn’t like contrary opinions, but because he expects the ABC to provide a balance of opinions. Linda Mottram, Paul Collins, Fr Frank Brennan, The Tablet‘s Robert Mickens, and Fr Bob Maguire are by no means a uniform chorus of voices. But as you can easily imagine, they do harmonise on the note that Pope Benedict is “too conservative.”
So in an hour and a half across several ABC Radio outlets, only critics of the Vatican were heard discussing Benedict XVI’s papacy. The prevailing ABC group-think did not lead to a realisation that there are some Catholics who support the Church’s teachings and some non-Catholics who admire Pope Benedict XVI.
Henderson especially gets stuck into Linda Mottram’s claim that Pope Benedict “has been very divisive.” And he praises Scott Stephens, ABC Online’s religion and ethics editor, for his defence of Pope Benedict’s legacy:
Scott Stephens: Wow. I’ve heard Peter Fitzsimons say some pretty stupid things about the Pope but I think that just about takes the cake. And I’m sure that we could find some better, some more intelligent, certainly some better informed people to assess the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI apart from someone like Christopher Hitchens. Some really awful and ill-informed and derogatory things – [Interrupted]
Peter FitzSimons: [interjecting] Go on get to it, what? What? Spread ‘em out.
Scott Stephens: What, what? For instance, I’m not sure if Paul Collins would agree but it seems to me from the research that I’ve done – from the immense reading that I’ve done on this topic – that there’s no one in the life of the Church today that can claim to have done more to eradicate the cancer of sexual abuse – and that’s Pope Benedict’s own phrase “The Cancer of Sexual Abuse”, from the life of the Church and the whole culture of cover-up and craven and cowardly bishops from the life of the Church than Joseph Ratzinger – in his initial role as prefect and his subsequent role as Benedict XVI.
Peter Fitzsimons: So was Hitchens wrong? Was Hitchens wrong in what was published in the Sydney Morning Herald?
Scott Stephens: Absolutely.
Peter Fitzsimons: So Hitchens was wrong?
Scott Stephens: Absolutely. My God! Absolutely. As wrong as someone like Richard Dawkins who described Pope Benedict as this ‘leering old villain whose first instinct when he heard of children with their pants down was to cover up the crime,’ and as wrong as someone like Geoffrey Robertson QC who described the Pope as –
Peter Fitzsimons: [interjecting] If I may —
Scott Stephens: — No hang on — as ‘the global CEO over a global paedophile trafficking network.’
Peter Fitzsimons: Okay.
Scott Stephens: This is quite preposterous.
You can read Henderson’s column at The Sydney Institute. . . If you can bear it.
I can’t bear it.
Why listen to or read the evil voice of the world?
No, Father John, I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t bear Gerard one more sentence. You should read Mark Latham’s “HendoWatch” for a salutary perspective on dear Gerard. This mantra about the ABC’s bias is very wearying. You will encounter many biases on the ABC but in my experience they spray in all directions. I would agree that you will find “left-wing” and “modern” views predominate the Arts programmes, although in my opinion true socialists are, in my view, few and far between (most of the ‘smart’ people are self-preservationally conservative when boiled down).
On the other hand, the current affairs and political programmes appear on the whole to favour the cynical, materialistic and economic rationalist viewpoint. I ceased watching current affairs and the 7.30 report after a particularly and revealingly partisan interview of Anthony Albanese by Leigh Sales. And Bob Brown never got a fair shake (he was, annoyingly for the ABC , able to never lose his composure).
I can sympathise with those who cringe when people churn out what appear ill-informed opinions about religious issues and recognise myself that there is a great deal of ignorance and confusion about them, but the usual TV format does not favour indepth and non-polemic presentations. So why get upset too much?
Gerard jumps up and own about bias but is really complaining about people thinking differently to him. There may be a preponderance of middle class university educated journalists and writers who can afford to indulge in criticising the non-U and the un-smart and anything resembling middle-of-the-road suburban conservatism, but our political and business worlds are inhabited by a seeming prepondrance of ruthless rationalists who think freedom means the freedom to make as much money as possible at the expense of as many as possible and whose idea of the common good is a very narrow one. Don’t try to argue that the Coalition’s vision of the common is more expansive than its’ opposition, either! The campaign against the Mining Resources Tax is a prime example where a commitment to a notion of private goodthat benefits a few overrides a concept of greater longterm benefit for the polis as a whole and the weaker in particular. The predominant media discourse where it counts is anything but genuinely left-wing. Aren’t people around this precinct fans of Andrew Bolt and his northern counterparts?
No, for some considerable time now, I have confined my ABC viewing to Mystery Dramas like Midsomer Murders, Inspector Blake etc. One will always find things one disagrees with but when it gets too much, one can just turn off the switch.
Stephen K makes many good points but underplays the extent to which the ABC is dominated by the Balmain/Glebe/Carlton/Fitzroy left. The problem is that this species of lefty are, for the most part, self-indulgent bourgeois frauds. So too are a good many of their ecclesiastical fellow-travellers.
“self-indulgent bourgeois frauds” – I almost used the same words myself, PM, but I hesitated because it can apply to all and any who have a bit of education if we let our own guard and empathy fail us. The dilemma arises because to articulate a vision or philosophy or program for action that has some ideological coherence and is above the navel and the hip-pocket takes some articulation and some degree of removal from the hunger and deprivation that gives a sound socialising or re-distributist vision its most eloquent justification. The marginalised do not voice the rallying cry, they have barely enough resources generally to feel angry. This is the tragedy. But, for all that, I mantain you cannot mouth Marx with a glass of chardonnay in your right hand. You have to have greater purity or greater pain for it to sound authentic. The conservative free marketers who sprout Jesus as they casualise and reduce fair wages make me just as sick. It goes both ways. The perils of hypocrisy can strike all of us, and we have to keep grounding ourselves in real justice and compassion at our own daily coalfaces.
Scott Stephens is one of the most blatantly biased talking heads on the topic of religion in Australia.
He uses the ABC Religion & Ethics site to promote his essentially right-wing “Catholic” ideology. Which is to say that, with rare exceptions most of the writers he features (again and again) promote a very dogmatic right-wing point of view. He uniformly dismisses any and every one who is either an atheist, agnostic or liberal as being irrational.
George Weigel for instance is so right-wing as to be a painful embarassment to anyone who is capable of using any kind of comprehensively informed discriminatory intelligence.
As for Gerald – he really missed his calling. He is really a failed entirely unfunny comedian.
I don’t really listen to Scott Stephens, so I can’t comment.
I do, though, read George Weigel. I like to think I’m a critical thinker. I can’t say he’s ‘embarrassed’ me. I suspect anyone who calls right-wing opinions innately embarrassing is speaking from . . . a bias?