ALAN RM JONES
Media Watch pays homage to Phillip Adams
Australian perceptions of the media are incredibly poor. According to a Roy Morgan poll conducted last September for The Reader, only 18 percent of Australians believe the media is doing an unbiased job reporting on controversial issues; nearly 70 percent believe newspapers do not accurately and fairly report the news. No Australian media organisation escaped a mention.
With such consumer discontent evident one might expect a program like ABC Television’s Media Watch to make the most of what appears to be a target-rich environment. Yet the vista – or at least one side of it – from Media Watch’s studio appears sparse. Such is the state of the state-owned broadcaster’s optics.
While Fairfax (with the exception of conservative columnist Miranda Devine) and the ABC itself never get hit with anything firmer than Paul Keating’s famous piece of wet lettuce, the so-called ‘Murdoch press’ and its conservative columnists remain the show’s perennial target. True, The Australian’s most conspicuous lefty, Phillip Adams, has felt the romaine and radicchio lash, but only just. And the attention he once received was only a convenient artifice to launch another attack on Media Watch’s favourite right wing target, columnist and now ABC board member Janet Albrechtsen.
Weblogger ‘Professor Bunyip’ (http://bunyip. blogspot.com), as he is known, imagined former Media Watch Host David Marr stitching the program up with Adams: ‘We’ll pretend that the item is about you, but what we’ll really present is another attack on Janet Jackboots.’ And, on that occasion, when Media Watch bothered to take any notice of the sins committed by a fellow traveler, the case was weakly presented and was indeed used to attack Albrechtsen (who now has a Media Watch hat-trick to her credit).
In a 1997 speech to the International Documentary Conference in Brisbane, Adams said paying homage was merely a posh term for plagiarism.
What animates Adams’ critics so much is not that he has borrowed a phrase or two now and then; it is that he is seen to be habitually ‘paying homage’. And even when Adams is caught out, he re-offends.
If you like to read the fortnightly New York Review of Books (NYROB), at A$6.00 a copy on the street in New York (far more in Oz), in addition to plenty of time, you have an expensive reading habit. So here’s a tip: affluent Adams reads the NYROB, too – though I expect his copy is paid for by the ABC Radio where he hosts Late Night. Fortunately, you can get theReader’s Digest version in his Australian column.
Evidently, the ABC gets just one copy of the NYROB and Adams permanently absconds with it as he leaves his Radio National studio to write his column, and the ABC, with its beggar budget of $750 million, apparently can’t afford a second copy for Media Watch. Just as well for Adams, lest it fall into Media Watch executive producer Peter McEvoy’s deft hands.
But something tells me it’s not lack of resources that keeps Media Watch from focusing on filching Phil; rather, it is the ABC’s institutional bias and lack of regard for journalistic standards and the ABC’s code of practice which is to blame. How else to explain the rubber glove and cavity search treatment reserved for conservative columnists like Albrechsen or Miranda Devine?
When shown the goods on Adams, McEvoy finds reasons to look the other way. On one occasion he defended Adams by lamely claiming he had ‘sufficiently re-written’ the work (a 2003 NYROB piece) he was alleged to have lifted and that he had cited the work with the words ‘history tells us’.
When Adams is not technically committing plagiarism, even those who share his worldview should feel cheated. Adams is not overworked (he puts in four hours a week on air at the ABC in addition to his newspaper column). Yet his work product is either fundamentally dishonest (i.e., pilfered), or it looks as though it has been.
Here’s one example, provided by the aforementioned Bunyip, involving a piece by Michael Massing in the 29 May 2003 edition of the NYROB, followed by Adams, six weeks later in the Australian. In this case, Adams lets on that he has read Massing’s piece, but he then either paraphrases or copies Massing verbatim:
Massing: The Coalition Media Center is managed by Jim Wilkinson, a fresh-faced, thirty-two-year-old Texan and a protégé of Bush’s adviser Karen Hughes. Wilkinson made his mark during the 2000 presidential election when he spoke on behalf of GOP activists protesting the Florida ballot recount. To run the media center in Doha, Wilkinson, a member of the naval reserve, appeared in the same beige fatigues as the career officers working under him.
Adams: The centre was managed by Jim Wilkinson, a 32-year-old Texan and protégé of the brothers Bush. When last seen, Wilkinson had been speaking on behalf of Republican activists protesting against the Florida ballot recount…In Doha, the Bush activist was repackaged as a member of the Naval Reserve, appearing in beige fatigues identical to the career officers working beneath him.
Adams goes on like this for paragraphs, until near then end when he finally puts quotes around a few of Massing’s words – leading readers to believe everything else Adams has written is his own:
Massing: CNN International bore more resemblance to the BBC than to its domestic edition -– a difference that showed just how market-driven were the tone and content of the broadcasts. For the most part, US news organizations gave Americans the war they thought Americans wanted to see.
Adams: CNN’s international service was repackaged, bearing more resemblance to the BBC than to its domestic – and domesticated – edition. Massing emphasises how market driven was the tone and content of the broadcast. ‘For the most part US news organisations gave Americans the war they thought Americans wanted to see,’ he says.
Adams’ column is, at the very least, an abject embarrassment to The Australian. That is, unless you subscribe to the Adams school of conspiracy. In which case, Rupert Murdoch has taken a page out of Karl Rove’s play book and instructed The Australian’s editors to keep Adams right where he is in order to discredit the left.
And what of Media Watch? Professional review is one thing, but there is something odious about a state-owned broadcaster sitting in judgment of private news broadcasters and newspapers. Sure, the ABC is not the same thing as the government swinging the billy club. But the ABC is a state habitat, populated overwhelmingly by leftists and funded by taxpayers, and Media Watch uses its resources to advance elite left-wing biases in a shrill, predictable and boring way which no commercial broadcaster would dare do.
Media Watch’s supporters would say that’s precisely why state-owned broadcasting is necessary. Well, no, actually. The ABC enjoys its budget, free of commercial constraints, not so it can fill the airwaves with ‘soft lefty’ attitudes masquerading as upholding professional standards. It is required to be fair. Entertaining would be okay, too.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST
At the time of this writing, The Australian published another Adams piece, which looks … well, over to you Media Watch. On 4 May, retired U.S. Army Colonel David Hackworth died. Hackworth, who became a trenchant Pentagon critic, lived for a time in Australia, where he apparently befriended Adams. Six weeks after Last Post was played for his buddy ‘Hack’, Adams finally got around to eulogizing him. That was a cinch, because Hackworth’s obit writers at the Toledo (Ohio) Blade had done Adams’ homework for him…
Toledo Blade, 7 May 2005
As a 15-year-old orphan in Southern California, Mr. Hackworth joined the Army at the end of World War II, surviving four battle wounds in Korea. His heroics earned him a Silver Star, a battlefield commission to second lieutenant, and his own commando unit.
Colonel Hackworth, then a major, was promoted out of Vietnam in June, 1966 – 11 months before the unit’s first documented war crime. From May to November, 1967, some soldiers turned their rifles on hundreds of unarmed men, women, and children in what became the longest-known string of war crimes by a battle unit in Vietnam.During his fourth tour of duty in Vietnam, he spoke out against the war in June, 1971, prompting an Army investigation of his background.
He and his supporters portrayed the probe as retaliation against a whistleblower, but investigators uncovered widespread rule-breaking, including operating a gambling house and a brothel for his troops.
He defended both, arguing that it kept his soldiers disease-free, and the profits helped buy supplies for his men and local schoolchildren.
However, investigators concluded that the colonel enlisted his men in a black-market currency scheme that netted him tens of thousands of dollars. He would admit only that the men smuggled $100,000 of his poker winnings out of the country.
The Secretary of the Army allowed the colonel to retire to Australia, where he made millions in a restaurant business and duck farm.
Phillip Adams, The Australian, 18 June 2005
Born and orphaned in 1930, Hack was raised by a grandmother whose bedtime stories were about the family’s military history, going back to the American Revolutionary War. Faking ID papers, Hackworth joined the army in 1946, aged 15. He served in Korea and by Vietnam was regarded as one of the United States’ most brilliant commanding officers.
During his fourth tour of duty he went public with criticisms of the Pentagon. The army tried to discredit him, threatening him with a court martial for operating a gambling house and brothel for his men. Hack’s defence? The brothel had saved his men from disease, while profits from the little casino were used to buy supplies for the troops and local schoolkids.
Nonetheless, there was evidence of smuggling $200,000 out of the country.
To avoid scandal, the Secretary of the Army allowed Hack to retire to Australia where he continued his winning ways, making millions out of a restaurant and, of all things, a duck farm…
With Desert Storm, Hack once more became a Pentagon critic. Describing the war as ‘a raging atrocity’, David fought for ‘the young soldiers that our country sends to bleed and die on our behalf’…
It seemed that a unit called Tiger Force, established in 1965, had committed escalating atrocities – including turning their guns on more than 100 unarmed civilians…