Thinking pop culture

Thinking pop culture

Latham, Lone Wolves and News Lite

Yahoo7, August 17, 2015

There’s visceral reluctance on my part to write anything about Mark Latham’s latest shenanigans. My default policy is to not feed the delusions of egotists who thrive on attention, be it good, be it bad, be it bloody scathing.

Sometimes however, true nonsense needs to be called out.

I’ve actually no interest in documenting all that is wrong in his “Lathamland” podcast ramblings. Mark Latham is a bully with poor impulse control who is ham-fistedly attempting to excuse his bad behaviour by victim-blaming. No further analysis is required.

Instead, my interest is in why he is still getting airtime. A question, needless to say, that equally extends to Pauline Hanson every time she appears on a show like Sunrise, or to that Clueless woman, Stacey Dash on (surprise, surprise) Fox News.

These people aren’t given a platform because they have depth of knowledge in a given area. They aren’t give airtime because they hold any unique position of power, of continued influence, or because they can put forth a well-constructed counterargument.

No, they’re there simply because they make good copy. Good radio. Good television. “Good” in such cases, being defined as attention-getting, as inflammatory.

Such characters - such caricatures - are called upon because they are guaranteed to say something ridiculous and offensive and sometimes even borderline libellous. And media know that if they give airtime to such views, then they’ll get rebroadcast by other outlets for days to follow. Because the media loves nothing more than talking about itself.

I’m conflicted about the concept of news being dumbed down. While evidence of this is effortlessly found, I’m not sure that there is actually a problem with programs like Sunrise, with Triple M, not doing dense news coverage: audiences will go elsewhere if that’s the content they seek. There is however, a distinct difference between the offering of News Lite and the peddling of News Inflame whereby a scary, fringe-dwelling borderline maniac gets an opportunity to construct and then star in a faux debate.

I don’t have such a naïve understanding of media effects that I’d dare argue that Mark Latham or Pauline Hanson could turn a sane and fair-minded audience member into a raving lunatic. The airing of such fringe views, however, give voice – give legitimacy – to positions that are not only peripheral but perilous.

We don’t live in an equal world, in a fair world, in a world where MRA is merely an acronym for something happily innocuous like the Metal Roofing Alliance. Instead, it’s a world where one in six Australian women will experience violence from a partner and where more than one a week will die from their injuries.

Just this week we’ve seen visas denied for a skulk of pick-up artists who were deemed to have views in conflict with Australian values. Which could perhaps even be considered hate speech.

Where is the consistency? How are Latham’s views any different? No, there’s no visa to revoke, but the same heinousness is happening: he is promulgating views that are out of sync with Australian values - with Australian law - and which promote contempt for women and rationalise their abuse.

Should he not also be rebuked?

I have no interest in shutting Latham up. I don’t want to reform him or rehabilitate him: he isn’t the problem. My interest is in the news outlets that keep giving people of his ilk a platform.

In a world where there is no shortage of folks who have actual expertise in important policy areas like domestic violence, is Latham really the best person to talk to? The best person to give time and space to over an actual specialist?

Something is severely wrong in a mediascape where good content centres not on information provision and nuance, but on the airing of a lone wolf’s deranged musings.