Where are we going with this thing we’re doing?

I’m uncomfortable about this thing we’re doing at the moment, where we dig up something from decades ago and hold it up in front of everyone, crying, ‘See? See? This is what they are really like!’. Because while it does give me joy to see Tony Abbott in the shit, this, and the Slater and Gordon stuff the MSM hounded Julia Gillard with, makes me nervous about what it means to be a public figure, and about what kind of politicians we’re going to have in the future. I don’t know about you, but when I was in my teens and early 20s, I did and said some pretty dumb shit and I’d hate for someone to use it to illustrate what I am like now, as an adult.

When I was a journalist I turned down some stories that seemed to be about getting back at someone – which goes some way towards explaining why I wasn’t a very good journalist. I’d like to think that other journalists would see negative comments from a long-past boyfriend/colleague for what they are, rather than saying ‘wa-hey News with Nipples was a dickhead when she was 21, we got us some NEWS’, but it seems increasingly unlikely. With the Slater and Gordon story, if the journos had put in a call to the law firm before publishing, they would have realised that they were being used maliciously, with a story that turned out to be a load of rubbish. The first story was published without comment from Slater and Gordon – making it gossip masquerading as political journalism – and the second story was ‘we’re not falling for Pickering’s grubbiness but here, read all of this grubbiness’. Again, without comment from Slater and Gordon. How embarrassing for them.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s revolting that Tony Abbott punched the wall on either side of a woman’s head to intimidate her. Violence – which includes making someone think you’d hit them – is very serious, and around one in three women will be physically or sexually assaulted by a man at some point in their lives. Some estimates put it at one in two. Hell, if you still don’t think it’s a problem we can talk about money: violence against women costs the economy $13.6 billion a year (2008-2009 figure). That’s the same amount of money the resources industry contributed to the WA economy in 1999-2000, and it’s the same amount the Federal Government will give to universities this year. In other words, it’s a fuckload of money.

That he hid from the media for a week is evidence – more evidence – that Tony Abbott is not a leader.

It’s also evidence that Tony Abbott thinks women should be controlled – mainly by him – but there’s already an awful lot of evidence for that. Just because his wife and daughters are women, and he works with women, doesn’t mean that he’s Mr Equality.

And that Abbott referred to SRC president Barbara Ramjan as “chairthing” because she asked to be called “chairperson” and not “chairman” is evidence that, at 19 or 20 years old, he had a petty little mind. But I think his response is fair enough:

“It was silly, childish, embarrassing. It shouldn’t have happened but this is 35 years ago, a lot of silly things happen in student politics.”

I think almost all of us said some pretty dumb shit when we were that age. Of course, that doesn’t excuse being physically aggressive. (Lindsay Foyle has more about Abbott being a tough guy when he’s got a gang to back him up.)

But I can’t help feeling a bit icky about all of this. Every time the MSM publishes old dirt on someone – particularly dirt that’s unrelated to their ability to do their job, like going to a strip club in their own time – it makes me wonder, who the hell would get into politics? The answer: people who haven’t done anything silly/dodgy/illegal/fun/kinky/wrong in their entire lives. People whose youth can withstand the MSM. And how representative is that going to be?

I’m not saying that the MSM shouldn’t have published the story about Tony Abbott punching the wall beside Barbara Ramjan’s head in order to make her scared of him. At uni, he was a beefed-up boxer and rugby player with a reputation for aggression and it’s hard to imagine someone not being scared by the wall-punching. I’m just looking at the story in the wider context of what passes for political reporting these days. And no, I’m not saying it’s the MSM’s job to report on politics in a way that makes people want to be politicians. But it is their job to report accurately and fairly, and I don’t see a lot of that going on. Besides, I’d much prefer journalists to be asking Tony Abbott questions about what he says and does now, rather than about what he said and did in the 70s.

23 responses to “Where are we going with this thing we’re doing?

  1. I’m kinda torn too, but (much as I dislike Abbott), I’m inclined to go with it being more than a decade ago and so not really that relevant now. The fact that he is still a berk (that “6 reasons…” link is a nice summary) is a far better reason not to support him as far as I’m concerned.

    • I know what you mean. On the one hand, no one was physically hurt, but on the other hand, you can hurt someone without laying a finger on them. It was a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t important for the people involved. It was something he did when he was young, but there’s evidence that he hasn’t changed all that much. I think we can have quite an interesting, nuanced discussion about it. But if he gets dumped as leader of the Opposition for this (and it seems highly unlikely), I’m gonna feel a bit ripped off.

      • Agreed. It’s not something that I’d condone, it was probably quite important to the person threatened, potentially illegal (pretty close if it wasn’t), and a classic case of someone trying to bully their way out of a situation… however it doesn’t really reflect on his current abilities as a politician. There’s enough other evidence on that front.

        And yeah, if they dump him for that, it’ll make me wonder why the rest of the list wasn’t enough.

  2. I definitely know what you mean. Everyone fucks up in their life sometimes, I don’t know if there is anyone out there who has a totally clean record. I have also done some ridiculous stuff in my time so I do think there should be limits on what the media digs up.

    However, I have to say, I really dislike the excuse of “Oh he was young” It feels so offensive to me because at 16 my boyfriend use to hit me. So when people say that I think, does it not count because he was young?

    I don’t know if it’s just because I have a history of this kind of thing. But violence against women is something we should all be taking seriously, I also think he has a record of bad decisions about women and their health.

    A problem I have with this coming out in the media though is that I feel like people are saying some really nasty stuff to exploit it. I don’t know if they care about The violence thing at all rather just another reason to stay away from Tony Abbott? So on twitter you see people MAKING FUN of the fact he was intimidating a young woman. Horrible.

    I’m not sure if this makes sense. I just woke up 🙂

    • It makes sense. And I think your point about your experience is a great one: just because something happened when people were young, doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. It’s awful that your boyfriend hit you, and I hope you are ok now.

      I think with Abbott it is evidence of his negative attitude towards women/desire to control women, and we have evidence of that throughout his adult life. But within the wider context of the MSM publishing stuff from your youth, it all makes me very uncomfortable, and it’s hard to reconcile that with feeling schadenfreude at the Abbott story. Mind you, it’s gone from the MSM today – unlike the unfounded Slater and Gordon stuff which dominated news coverage for ages.

      Kiki, welcome to the News with Nipples.

  3. So pleased you covered this angle NWN – couldn’t agree more!

    I find myself suffering from blinding pain behind the eyes every time I hear Tony Abbott speak. Pretty sure he telepathically sucks the IQ from us, when we get too near his vacuum of ideas. However, I whole-heartedly agree with you that the MSM focusing on the journalistic equivalent of a punch below the belt, rather than holding the man accountable to his actions in recent times is pretty pathetic.

    It would be nice to think that Tony would be calling Peter Slipper, Julia Gillard, et al making a Robbie Farah style apology now, but the far more likely scenario is that the Shadow Minister for Dirty Tricks will go into a frenzy over the next few months and no doubt we will all be dragged further into the pit.

    Meanwhile, the MSM will continue to feed us editorialised answers to questions we didn’t want asked, all in the name of “Balanced Reporting”. Sigh.

  4. To me, the relevance for now (and I think the reason why the story has persisted) is the way Tony has lied about it and got his friends in the Australian to lie about it.

    If he’d said “yes, I hit the wall behind Ramjan; yes, I threatened to punch Foyle; I was young and stupid and angry and I shouldn’t have done either”, then that would demonstrate honesty and the ability to take responsibility for his actions.

    Instead, he’s demonstrated the opposite. And being a cowardly liar today is undeniably of direct relevance to his fitness for office.

    • I agree that his overall response shows he’s not fit to be PM – but I’ve always thought that. But journalists aren’t pesisting with the story – bloggers and opinion writers are. (By the way, I wasn’t arguing that it shouldn’t have been published. I was thinking about what these kinds of stories mean for the politicians we’ll end up with.)

  5. I guess it’s more of the fact that (a) a person has a running history of agression both verbal and physical who is vying to hold the highest office in the land and from that you can draw several conclusions about their character and their fitness to hold that office and (b) lots of other people got angry and frustrated with fellow students while at university but most of them didn’t feel the need to resort to phsyical violence.

    While many people felt annoyed at someone when we were younger, it draws a very specific picture of Mr Abbott that he chose to lash out NOT with expletives insulting their intelligence (like ‘moron’) or their personality (like ‘f*ckwit). Instead he lashed out with a sexist comment (‘chairthing’). That’s because Tony Abbott is, in fact, a sexist. He always has been and his comments SINCE that incident – as mentioned in the ‘6 reasons’ article – do nothing to change that perception.

    In regards to asking “what kind of politicians will we end up with”: I think there are a HUGE number of people out there who did some silly things but are, deep down, normal nice people who genuinely want to help their community and their country. I’m pretty sure the shit you did when you were younger NWN doesn’t really fall into the same arsehole category as a sexist, violent, fundamentalist bully.

    IMHO. :oP

    • It doesn’t fall into the same category, but it would still be considered news, which is what I was getting at. And considering that most young people now capture everything on their mobile phones, either video or camera, there’s a lot of shit that someone can hand over to a journalist. Or maybe there’s so much of it that a decade or two from now, no one’s gonna give a shit?

      • Maybe they wont – maybe pot will be legal by then or photos of being passed out in the gutter will be commonplace. And while I get your point, I think it’s also important to note the context of this particular example: this wasn’t Tony out on the terps with his mates. He was acting WITHIN a political context (albeit student politics but still…).

        In more general terms I think you’re right. But I don’t think bluntshovels is right in thinking that most people who haven’t had a “protected, privileged upbringing” are necessarily going to have things to hide – at least to the same degree as punching walls when you lose a vote!

        I’ve never been one to care about whether or not a poly is cheating on their wife or whatever because those situations are private and usually more complex than is represented. But it certainly doesn’t effect their ability to deterine economic policy or their ability to run a ministry concerned with the environment (as an example).

        Also if the the stuff journos dig up is trivial enough, most people will ignore it anyway. If journos then continue to hunt down and publish more trivial stuff then that just degrades the profile of their publication. I guess the real question then is: where’s the line between trivial and public interest? Will people not vote for the honerable News Withnipples when she runs because there’s a photo of her at a party, grinning and pointing at her boobs after a few beers? Probably not. However, if Mr Abbott wants to promote himself as a feminist champion with quotes like “no one respects women more than I do” (which he used to defend himself after his ‘no doesnt mean no’ gaff in 2010) then the way he behaves around women then and now are important. These discrepancies help illustrate to the electorate that either a politician actaully practices what they preach or whether they’re simply saying what people will want to hear in order to get them elected.

        Moreover [SuperDik says trying not to rant away on a Tuesday evening] it’s when these examples are looked at as a whole and not just individual slip ups or follies that they become important. Politicians shouldn’t be crucified for the odd mistake, ethical failure or mishap. Rather they should be called to account when each of these is reveale to be yet another in a long string of events which highlight a deeper character flaw.

        Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice: and I’ll punch you in the head, bitch!

        • I don’t think it’s as simple as thinking – hoping – that most people will ignore a story about your private life. It’s about whether you want that story known in the first place. I think the threat of having your private life or your past spread across the MSM – and the more stories like this, the more likely it seems – would keep most people out of public life.

          I’m not arguing against the Abbott story being published, by the way.

  6. Thanks for the nuance, NWN, on this. Having just finished David Marr’s essay, I’m not sure I actually know any more about Abbott than I did when I started it.

    The other impact of this kind of scrutiny, though, is that it stops anyone who hasn’t had a protected, privileged upbringing from ever considering putting their hand up for political office. While there is belly-aching about the narrowness of the background of current political reps, it’s hardly a surprise that, given the shellacking that some get, such as Lee Rhiannon, there’s an unwillingness for folks who’ve had an ordinary life to get involved.

    So this intense focus on every aspect of a politician’s life just means that only those who’ve never actually done much, or taken a risk, put their name forward.

  7. For me the issue is if he is lying now about it. I feel the way you react to issues and events is a more telling sign of character. If Mr Abbott did what he is being said to have done then an truly honest sorry man could have said along the lines something like “Since I have daughters I really see the mistake I made in my past ” etc …
    I honestly think that the background knowledge of people who want to hold powerful positions IS important. Added to that is how they respond and have learnt from their past mistakes. We all come with something we have done wrong, silly or regret. Its how we deal with it that shows our true character.
    I also note I have a son at uni that takes it seriously and doesn’t go out partying and drinking like what Greg Sheridan and others suggests he and Abbott and their group did alot.

    • Denise Allen has a great piece that deals with what it reveals about Abbott. Please note, I’m not arguing that the piece shouldn’t have been published. I’m trying to talk about the bigger issue of what this kind of reporting means for those who consider getting into politics.

    • outragedofmarrickville

      Of course if tony did say the ‘since I had daughters etc’ line that would make him Feminist Dad!!!!

  8. As in all things, context is king.

    There’s a difference between “this person who is now a sensible adult did some dumb things when they were young” and “this person, whose recent and current behaviour is that of a sociopathic thug, also has a long history of similar behaviour, which suggests that this is an accurate representation of their essential nature”. I’d argue that the latter case is what we’re seeing presently.

    • I agree. But I don’t think the MSM makes judgements like that, and so the big picture is that if you’re thinking of running for office, you’d better make sure you’re squeaky clean. Or beat the MSM to the punch by telling them first, like the City of Sydney candidate who told journalists straight away about her past as a drug addict (sorry, I can’t for the life of me remember her name), so they can’t dig it up themselves and run a “OH MY GOD THIS PERSON HAS A SCANDALOUS PAST” story.

  9. Pingback: Welcome to Monday ~ 24 September 2012 | feminaust ~ for australian feminism

  10. The thing that irks me is; why is this story only coming out now?

    Why not 3 years ago when he became Opposition Leader? Why not 15 years ago when he became a front bencher?

    I know occam’s razor would suggest that the timing has to do with recent political events, but the cynic in me can’t help but think that this story had been sat on and released at the right political opportunity. Especially considering the Government is gearing up for a “Do you really want Abbott as PM?” election campaign.

    If that is the case, that something as serious as violent intimidation against a woman is being used as a political weapon. That is really disturbing and offensive. It doesn’t excuse the act of violence in the first place, but it belittles the millions of women who suffer on a regular basis.

    If that is what the future of MSM is about, then I’m with you and I feel concerned for the future generations of potential politicians.

    • The cynic in me says that if journos knew about it, they didn’t think it was important (ie, like the Pickering cartoons). Or perhaps they didn’t know about it, which is quite likely, since political journalists don’t tend to talk to people outside of politics.

  11. Pingback: Some of Tony Abbott’s best friends are women | the news with nipples

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