"It used to be that to get your own column in a broadsheet, you needed to add some value. Expertise, skill in interpreting social and political developments, or a distinguished history as a journalist were rewarded with a bit more space in the paper. There, you could spin out a longer-form piece analysing burning issues in a little more depth, or you could even act as an advocate for things that weren't on the public radar. As the newspaper business model heads south, though, we've been subjected to the rise of what we might christen the 'trollumnist' - the writer who simply trolls in a multichannel, multimedia environment... Whereas a true columnist might make controversial arguments or challenge common sense, trollumnists merely provoke outrage in order to sell papers, draw links and capture increasingly scarce reader attention. The beauty of it all is that it doesn't take much training to do it, and as media content goes, it's cheap as chips. Any fool can offend people given a reasonably prominent platform... It's not just Fairfax [Miranda Devine and Catherine Deveny are cited], of course - in News Limited's broadsheet, The Australian, for trollumnists like Janet Albrechtsen or David Burchell, one regularly gets the sense that the content of any particular piece is far less important than axe-grinding, and the blunt provocation that gets the bloggers fuming and the tweets ricocheting around the tubes." ('If I make you angry enough, maybe you'll keep reading', Jason Wilson, newmatilda.com.au, 2/11/09)
If Wilson is right about this journalistic mutation, and provoking outrage, like radio shock-jocks, is what it's all about these days, then yesterday's trollumn, That convenient scapegoat, Israel, by The Australian's seriously weird trollumnist, David Burchell, is another fine example of the genre, though essentially rehashing the provocations of his earlier trollumn on the Gaza flotilla massacre, Flotilla rallies terror cheer squad (7/6/10):
"This view of Israel as a kind of devil-state, the spirit of evil made incarnate in the world..." (7/6/10)
"... the never-ending Israel obsession which envelops us all, whether on Cairo's streets or among the self-styled anti-Zionist sophisticates of the contemporary West." (11/1/11)
"At that time [late 60s] the logic of Israel-hatred [by the Western Left] seemed clear enough. The Palestinians were the archetypal injured traveller on the highway... " (7/6/10)
"In all likelihood 2011 will see the apogee of Western Israel-loathing, eclipsing even the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Israel's victories over the Arab armies led to the invention of an imaginary people, the saintly and unstained Palestinians, who forever lie bereft by the side of the road waiting for their Good Samaritan." (11/1/11)
"Of all the signs of the moral decomposition of the progressive intelligentsia in my lifetime, none is more depressing or more shameful than the furtive, dishonest embrace of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood's terrorist arm, by thousands of otherwise intelligent, thoughtful people; people who probably imagine themselves as friends of civilisation and basic human decency. It was observable, first, in those supposed friends of the Palestinian people who began to speak with pity - and then soon enough with admiration - of Palestinian suicide bombers, even as they heard fervent mothers speak of strapping their teenage sons into suicide vests." (7/6/10)
"Hamas, that strange freak of nature which, rather than sustaining its offspring with its blood, actually feeds upon its supporters' blood for its own succour, swells in strength as its international respectability grows. (Why, even now Western activists are assembling funds for a new flotilla in its aid.)" (11/1/11)
I did say seriously weird, didn't I?
And how's this for factual accuracy from someone whose other job is teaching history (at the University of Western Sydney)?
"... when new Israeli prime minister Golda Meir toured Moscow in autumn 1948..." Golda Meir was Israeli PM from 1969-1974.
"... the grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who headed a Muslim division of the Waffen SS... " Shouldn't that have been 'recruited'?
At least shock-jock Jim Ball hasn't been unleashed on Australian university students.
The interesting thing about our trollumnist is that, in a previous life, he was the last editor of the Communist Party of Australia's monthly journal The Australian Left Review (1966-1992), albeit voicing the then-fashionable intellectual position that ideology and left/right divisions had passed their use-by date.
By 2004 Burchell was writing in the Australian Financial Review of Australian opposition to the war in Iraq that "In the burbs people are preoccupied with their financial and personal security. How well-heeled professional types who've been trading up through the property-market to their heart's content could grossly underestimate the political importance of interest rates is a mystery best left to the realms of psychoanalysis. How people obsessed with bloodshed in Iraq could ignore the fear of related bloodshed closer to home is equally hard to fathom." (Two Cultures, 13/10/04, previousleigh.wordpress.com).
Frankly, I'm thinking of another use for psychoanalysis.
Six years later, he's writing in Murdoch's Australian that "It would be hard to imagine a simpler or more self-evidently good cause than Afghanistan. There is scarcely another country on earth where human dignity has been so deliberately and disgracefully trampled upon, or where the progress of one-half of humankind, probably the most signal advance of the past two centuries, has been more casually routed." (M*A*S*H, public sentiment & the war in Afghanistan, 25/10/10)
There is scarcely another country on earth where human dignity has been so deliberately and disgracefully trampled upon. Oh, really? Try Palestine, goose!
Postscript: For those really interested in trampled dignity: "Amer wrote me this (I cite it with his permission): 'I just saw a documentary on Al-Jazeera about a Palestinian man whose house is in the Jewish enclave in Nablus. He has to cross, on foot, 3 different checkpoints every day to get to his house. It takes a couple of hours. Settlers regularly throw stones and eggs at him and his kids, and spit on them. He cannot find employment with his diploma and works as a coffee seller. He relies on international donations and food rations to feed his family. [The settlers] offered him $20 million for his father's house, but he refuses to sell.' Just remember: in dealing with the terrorist state of Israel and all its supporters, never forgive and never ever forget." (As'ad AbuKhalil, angryarab.blogspot.com, 11/1/11)