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I used to be ‘neoliberal’, but I’m ‘hard left’ now

AAP/Mick Tsikas

It’s been a long time coming, but hey, it’s well worth the wait.

We Australian journalism academics compete to see who will get denounced next by the News Corp hack pack. Matthew Ricketson at Canberra, Meg Simons at Melbourne, and David McKnight (formerly UTS and UNSW) have led the field thus far. David’s critical biography of the emperor Murdoch produced a wave of smears in The Australian.

I had a brief shot at glory when the Finkelstein report was published (and Ricketson’s service on the Finkelstein committee is the main reason why he has been trolled by News Corp ever since). The Australian’s associate editor Cameron Stewart denounced me for allegedly supporting Finkelstein’s recommendations:

Brian McNair from the Queensland University of Technology … enthusiastically embraced Ray Finkelstein’s central recommendation for a new government-funded regulatory body to sit in judgment of news reporting.

Long before post-truth culture became a thing, this was complete and total tosh, since I had explicitly declared in The Conversation that I disagreed with any such regulatory body being established. I also made similar comments on radio at the time. I wrote privately and politely to Cameron pointing this out, but there was no concession of error on his part.

But now I’ve struck gold. News Corp’s controversialist-in-chief Andrew Bolt has denounced me as a “hard left” journalism professor, and a “comrade” (the Herald Sun changed it to “far left” the next day, but it’s the thought that counts), for pointing out the disturbing parallels between the rise of Donald Trump in 2016 and that of fascism in the 1930s.

For Andrew, apparently seeking to become Australia’s Steve Bannon to Pauline Hanson’s Trump, the Donald deserves respect as a “true businessman”, and all the “Heil Trump” and Nazi salutes reported from US neo-Nazi forums last week, or the celebrations going on within the Ku Klux Klan on Trump’s election, are of no concern.

Actually, if Trump WERE a true businessman, and nothing else, I’d be less anxious about his impact on America and the world. But even on that criterion, Trump is a sham. Would you buy a used car from Donald Trump? Or a degree from Trump University (at $30,000, it was spruiked as a bargain!)?

Andrew’s “true businessman” apologia on his new home, Sky News, doesn’t mention Trump’s fraudulent university scam, or his tax avoidance, or his stiffing of small contractors whom he employs, or the racial discrimination laws of which he was found to be in violation (twice) as a landlord in New York.

To disagree with Andrew on his efforts to sanitise Trump is to be “hard left”, since this avoids the need to confront the facts and debate the issues. And if he can have a pop at journalism academics in passing, all the better. I might just point out that many past and present News Corp editors and journalists are graduates of QUT and other J-schools in Australia (indeed, we have graduated quite a few Walkley Award winners – names available on request).

And then there are his readers, quite a few of whom post-November 8 feel empowered to pile on “liberals” and other enemies in a manner familiar to US critics of Trump (more than 20,000 anti-Semitic tweets have been sent to Jewish media critics of Trump since January).

My current favourite among the trolls is “Jean of MAGA”, or @JeanRespendial. Her Twitter profile highlights the slogan, “Globalism is anti-white”, so you can imagine the kind of stuff she likes.

Overt white supremacists aside, Bolt and his less obviously deplorable readers accuse me of hyperbolic overreaction in suggesting that, if we do not learn the lessons of the past we risk a descent into fascism in the West. Well, Jean of MAGA exists, and her type are growing in number. Will he denounce her white supremacism?

Ten years ago, ironically, I wrote a piece for the UK press extolling the virtues of Rupert Murdoch as a journalist and proprietor. I mentioned in the piece that Rupert Murdoch and I have two things in common – we’re both of Scottish blood, and we both had busts of Lenin on our desks as students. For that I was denounced by the left in my own country as a “neoliberal apologist”.

In The Conversation a while back I defended the courageous Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her writing on the need for a reformation within Islam, and the University of Western Australia’s proposed appointment of environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg as a research professor. My article provoked accusations of Islamophobia, climate change denialism and worse from some readers, although my point was the need for frank and fearless debate of these difficult issues if we don’t want to see the rise of the likes of Trump and, in Australia, One Nation.

That horse has bolted (sorry, Andrew, couldn’t resist it!), and the white nationalists are unleashed. We must now confront them and their trolling. We are in a new culture war, comrades, and this time it’s personal.

Brian McNair is the author of Communication and Political Crisis: media, politics and governance in a globalized public sphere (Peter Lang, 2016).

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