The one about newspaper editors [war on journalism]

To comment on news that I was pretty sure broke a month ago (because I totally thought I saw WAN celebrating it on the rooftop of my gym lifestyle club before Christmas… or was that just an [un]fortunately-timed End Of Year Party?): HURRAH!!!

The state of Western Australia is a better place now that Paul Armstrong is no longer at the helm of The West Australian “newspaper”.

But I guess the whole late-scoop thing is fitting to [dis]honour the journalistic “standards” of every sandgroper’s fave fish’n’chip wrapper.

Margaret Simons (have I mentioned my epic blogger-crush on her yet?) mentions the “lack of surprise” and “why-did-Stoksie-wait-a-month” elements of the story in the lead story of today’s Crikey email as well as discussing that old-school ideal of newspaper editors as “the sort of people who kindled fire in the bellies of their staff, and who helped set the agenda of a city or a nation”.

The late Lasantha Wickrematunge of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader was in that category.  Paul Armstrong was probably in the “arrogant, inept, biased, douche-bag” category.  But all that is over now.  Thank heavens.

The only disappointing thing about this whole chapter has been ABC News’ failure to properly quote Journalists Union President David Cohen on the only adequate description of the ex-ed: that he was a “F***ing Outrage”.

The one about an assassinated editor from Sri Lanka [war on journalism]

Oh no. Oh no, on no, oh no.

There was an article on New Matilda a little while ago about the forgotten war in Sri Lanka that gets missed by the mainstream media.

And it took a story on boingboing.net for me to find out about the murder of a Sri Lankan journalist last week.

This makes me so sad.

Firstly, gah; I am so embarrassed that I had not subscribed to a Sri Lankan news service, after all my pontificating.  This has now been resolved.

Secondly. Oh my gods.

The murder is the worst of what I wrote about in my banned Quasi editorial about the importance of freedom of the press.

Creepily (sadly, really), Lasantha Wickrematunge (who was a lawyer before he became a journalist and editor at the Sunday Leader) wrote an editorial entitled ‘They Came for Me’, which was published on Sunday after his death.  It seems that he knew he would be killed and I assume he’d written it long before it happened.

In the editorial, he outlines the problems facing journalists and media services in Sri Lanka, emphasises the importance of a free media, and presents warnings about the dangers of staying silent:

No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last. …

The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it. …

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niem”ller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw Nazism for what it was: it was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niem”ller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, Niem”ller wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:

First they came for the Jews

and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists

and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists

and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If people want to know why it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut some times; why I have issues with accepting authority that shows no good cause for being obeyed; why I question everything and don’t stop hounding until I get a decent answer; and why I don’t care if that gets me in to a bit of trouble — then I would really encourage them to read Wickrematunge’s final editorial.

Update: New Matilda has published another great story on the background to the whole mess.

Crikey! [required reading]

No, this post has nothing to do with Steve Irwin (RIP).

Since I am on my grown-up-responsibilities kick, I decided that I should subscribe to Crikey, the über-awesome online media service that exists to keep the bastards honest.  Look at me go with all these premium services!

Choosing to sign up for Crikey was a pretty easy decision–its raison d’être is incredibly in sync with my own:

Crikey irritates the powerful by revealing how they operate behind the scenes, and it tackles the stories insiders are talking about but other media can’t or won’t cover.

Ok, sure, I’ve never done it to the extent of Crikey, but, in my own small way, I’ve irritated a couple of small-time power-players by refusing to keep my mouth shut on the basis that talking about <issue> is  in the interest of my teeny-tiny sphere of influence.

It’s just what I do.

Over the years I’ve really enjoyed reading bits of it here and there when various scandals asploded in the blogosphere/Op-Ed community (see, for example: Pandagate) and now that I quit news.com.au (which went out even before Facebook) I needed some fun stuff to read at lunch time anyway.

But wow, what I great time to join up and get all the action!

For those who probably had no idea that this occurred, let me put together a teeny summary…

On Tuesday, Margaret Simons (a journo I’ve been following on Twitter for a little while) revealed quite the fun story.

Keith Windshuttle, the editor of the right-wing journal Quadrant who believes that indigenous Australians have forever-and-always been loved and never-ever hurt in any way by Europeans (I paraphrase), let a hoax article about climate change, get published in the most recent issue:

Keith Windschuttle, the editor of the conservative magazine Quadrant, has been taken in by a hoax intended to show that he will print outrageous propositions.

This month’s edition of Quadrant contains a hoax article purporting to be by “Sharon Gould”, a Brisbane based New York biotechnologist.

But in the tradition of Ern Malley – the famous literary hoax perpetrated by Quadrant’s first editor, James McAuley – the Sharon Gould persona is entirely fictitious and the article is studded with false science, logical leaps, outrageous claims and a mixture of genuine and bogus footnotes. [link]

The hoaxer (who’s since been identified as a lefty-freelancer who goes by the name Katherine Wilson) put together a quite the elaborate ruse in order to expose Windshuttle as, essentially, a pompous hypocrite who’s happy to push any line of argument as long as it fits in with their particular paradigm or ideology.  Simons puts it like this:

The sting of this hoax as I understand it is to establish that despite its attacks on post-modern slackness, and despite Windschuttle’s nitpicking of other people’s research, despite the fulminating against academic slackness from the right, it is possible for Quadrant and Windschuttle to publish pseudo-scientific nonsense, so long as it appears to fit in with their ideological view. In other words, that zealotry of all kinds has the potential to make people blind to evidence that doesn’t fit in with their preconceptions, and more liable to accept and privilege evidence that pleases them.

As Rob points out:

The man who built a huge media profile by scouring the footnotes of his political opponents and accusing them of academic dishonesty and fraud has decided that when it comes to his own magazine, there’s no need to bother.

My favourite bit is the first paragraph of the bogus article, as it appears on news stands around the country this week, which reads:

Quadrant readers will remember America’s “science wars”, spearheaded by the masterful Sokal hoax, a “hodgepodge of unsupported arguments, outright mistakes, and impenetrable jargon” designed to challenge standards of logic, truth and intellectual enquiry in scientific debate. [link]

Crikey’s put up the blog called “Diary of a hoax” where Sharon/Katherine outlines her little plot as it was happening and it’s hilarious:

Dear Quadrant,

I think I’ll attempt a pseudoscience article: kind of the Sokal hoax in reverse. Don’t get me wrong: I liked the Sokal prank as much as Windschuttle did. Showing up hogwash from any ideological stand is a valuable exercise. But I think Australia needs the opposite experiment.

I don’t think I can be arsed being as masterful as Professor Sokal, but still, I’ll devise an experiment to see if you will publish (to quote Sokal himself)

“an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.”

Just to be a bit pomo about it, I think I’ll put the word ‘hoax’ in the opening sentence: one of many clues, including bogus references. I think I’ll employ some of Quadrant’s sleight-of-hand reasoning devices to argue something ludicrous — something like the importance of putting human genes into food crops to save civilisation from its own ills, and how this sort of science shouldn’t be scrutinised by the media, because, you know, it’s empirical.

The trick would be to argue something both ludicrous and perfectly plausible (at least to the uninquiring mind); using dodgy logic, unsupported arguments and untruthful assertions.

And it worked! It worked like an awesome, sweet row of dominoes falling down. Katherine Wilson, you are a bloody legend and I salute you!