If I had to select an example of what is wrong with the opinion page of the Sydney Morning Herald, a nail in the coffin, as it were, of the paper's precipitous decline into journalistic irrelevence, it'd be Rowan Dean's mendacious and slanderous Fame, not freedom, is the goal of the latest flotilla bound for Gaza (22/6/11).
To begin with, the very reason for its appearance - as a response to a piece by former Greens' MLC Sylvia Hale on why she was joining the second Freedom Flotilla to Gaza - constitutes an enduring outrage, the Herald having long ago adopted the perfectly idiotic and utterly servile position that any opinion piece considered in any way critical of Israel (rare enough in any event) simply cannot be allowed a life of its own on the opinion page without an accompanying right of response, on the very day of its publication, or soon thereafter, by one of the usual suspects from the Israel lobby or one of its useful fools. No other issue gets this kind of treatment.
By what mysterious route, I wonder, does such a response surface in the Herald?
This is how I imagine the process: author sends piece critical of Israel to Herald for publication; alarm bells go off; opinion editor alerts higher up; Herald finally contacts lobby representative; informs him/her that it intends to publish piece in X days time, and presents them with copy; lobby whips up its own or commissions a response; which, often as not, appears on the very same day and page as offending piece.
If I've got the process more or less right, and I'm always open to correction here, I'd still like to know whether the lobby's response is ever subjected to any kind of quality control. Or is it just a matter of gritted teeth and a meek, shamefaced thankyou? Or, even, heaven forbid: Yes, a fine piece indeed! We'd love to publish it.
Actually, I seriously doubt that quality control gets a look in here. After all, why would any halfway serious broadsheet accept a response on this issue from a creature of the advertising industry? I'm talking about the kind of individual who has no problem with inflicting on us all one of the most intensely annoying features of modern life, the televisual variety of which, with its goofy imagery, dumb messages and obscene cacophony, amounting to animated graffiti right there in the privacy of our lounge rooms, drives even those of us with half a brain to lunge for the mute. The kind of individual whose idea of an honest living is to package and perfume the often toxic turds of consumer capitalism. The kind of individual whose bread and butter comes from spinning the often elaborate webs of deception necessary to ensure a purchase. And, yes, the kind of individual who has the chutzpah to accuse others of perpetrating a scam:
"If you want to win lots of international awards and make a name for yourself in the advertising world, there's nothing better than knocking out a quick 'scam ad'. Scam ads are ads designed to be highly provocative*, to whip up controversy and to make the authors famous. The problem is, they are also fakes. Trendy inner-city lefties and Greens have now cottoned on to the scam ad trick. Deprived of anything serious to protest about, three frustrated Australian 'peace' activists have come up with a brilliant scam ad of their own: joining the Freedom Flotilla 2 for Gaza."
[* This from a guy who calls his website 'Rowan Dean Provocations'.]
Yes, just the kind of individual to suggest that the problem here lies not with Israel's genocidal behaviour and apartheid policies but with any manifestation of resistance, however peaceful, to same:
"This protest is a scam because it has no logical or intellectual underpinnings. It is designed solely for the purpose of attempting to recreate the outrage that occurred when last year's flotilla was intercepted by the Israelis and, in the presence of reporters including Paul McGeough, a firefight was provoked that resulted in the tragic, awful and pointless death of 9 activists. So, hey, let's do it again and see what happens!"
The real scam, of course, is Dean's: the vile suggestion that the victims of the Mavi Marmara massacre were responsible for their own deaths because they so provoked the peaceful Israelis falling out of the sky with guns that the poor dears had no option but to shoot them, point blank.
And that supposed responsibility comes by Dean quietly slipping in the word "firefight," feeding the unsuspecting reader the lie that the Turks also had guns and were giving as good as they got. In fact, neither Israel's own sham report into the events nor the UN's report supports this fiction of a firefight.
While Israel's Turkel Committee report on the subject "found that the IHH activists employed firearms against the IDF soldiers in order to prevent the IDF's takeover of the ship," even it wasn't prepared to venture further: "It should be mentioned that the Commission was not able to reach a definitive finding regarding whether the IHH activists brought firearms with them aboard the Mavi Marmara." Presumably then, assuming they even existed, these were weapons wrested from the invading Israeli pirates.
The UN's Fact-finding Mission on the massacre "found no evidence to suggest that any of the passengers used firearms or that any firearms were taken on board the ship. Despite requests, the Mission has not received any medical records or other substantiated information from the Israeli authorities regarding any firearm injuries sustained by soldiers participating in the raid. Doctors examined the three soldiers taken below decks and no firearm injuries were noted. Further, the Mission finds the Israeli accounts so inconsistent and contradictory with regard to evidence of alleged firearms injuries to Israeli soldiers that it has to reject it." (para 116)
But rewriting history is not all Dean does. He also runs a fine line in smears:
"The purpose of this venture is a dangerous attempt to drum up notoriety for the individuals involved, whip up emotions, and pursue the popular Marrickville pastime known as Jew-baiting (sorry, I mean 'protesting against Israeli aggression and Zionist expansion'."
Concludes Dean, "The awful truth about the Freedom Flotilla 2 is that it's only worthwhile if it makes international headlines, and it will only make headlines if and when people get hurt."
Alas, the really awful truth about the Sydney Morning Herald is that, in publishing Dean's latest 'provocation', it's prepared to take on board much the same toxic sludge as the Murdoch press and Quadrant.