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Megaphoning Angrily Grates Always – But No, DanStans aren’t Trumpian

There has been an emerging genre for journalists with some kind of twitter presence. Sledging the #IStandWithDan DanStans. This week, it was Phil Coorey’s turn. Journalists like Coorey are the gatekeepers, they shape how most media consumers see Twitter, because most people don’t know how it works, and don’t use it. So the images of the “extremely online” on twitter are there for the likes of Coorey to present and manipulate. So, deconstructing its premise and examples provides a neat summary of the tricks such pieces have used is important.

For those who are or aren’t extremely online, however, there needs to be a quick revisiting of the notion of the Twitter Megaphone. They are like people at a union picket line or at a process, saying the same lines, gaining comfort and power from being part of a movement, with an amplified voice. I have written about them twice – in 2013 and 2015. Their megaphoning is focused generally on repeating the same lines about the Liberal Party and media bias. They aren’t bots, they aren’t paid, they are enthusiastic amateurs. They get particularly excited when small matters of possible corruption are not grabbing headlines, more skating around the margins of media coverage. Hence, James Ashby’s interactions with Peter Slipper (remember that?) and recently, Angus Taylor’s shambolic activities relating to water. Hence these megaphones have more recently put waterdrops in their names.

My argument about these megaphones hasn’t changed. They are largely harmless. Plus, it’s possible to see where their frustration comes from – because there’s a grain of truth in a lot of what they say, especially about News Ltd media and Sky “News”. They are members of a tribe, angry about biased media coverage. However, as a group, they quickly become too hardline and inflexible, meaning that they lose credibility with each strident tweet. The leaders of these megaphones on twitter – especially Vic Rollison and lately “PR Guy 17”, have used megaphonics this time around to defend the Andrews government. And it’s these people to whom Coorey is referring throughout most of his piece.

Let’s Say Trump! The New Godwin’s Law

Getting back to Coorey, his piece this week attracted a polarised response, and it’s little wonder – that’s what he wanted. His “prediction” at the end of it was laughable especially considering that the title of the piece is “Dan’s fans and Trump’s base: spot the difference”.

“The very publication of this column will invite a similar barrage of invective and apoplexy. Most won’t even read it before reacting.”

No, really? People might be offended by that? That’s performative prediction, invoking Trump, is another example of the lazy new trope infecting opinion pieces: As Bad As Trump.

So, Coorey is asking people to compare a bunch of well meaning Victorians with the lunatics supporting Trump and expect them to accept it. Sure, that’s a rational, reasonable thing to be doing. It was just part of Coorey’s act to gaslight all of the critics of his piece to suggest that anyone wanting to criticise won’t have read all of it. But in reality, the piece is so vacuous that it doesn’t take long to take it apart.

It should almost go without saying that the headline suggestion is a dumb comparison. Even Coorey seems to know that it’s a dumb comparison, as can be seen with this credibility-stretching argument –

Premier Daniel Andrews is not Trump. In terms of character, beliefs, values or performance, he’s not even in the same universe.

But his cult-like followers, who rally around a Twitter hashtag of #IstandwithDan and refuse to countenance any possibility that he is capable of error, are in the same orbit as the Trump legions.

“Same orbit”. It raises the question – which planet are they orbiting? Which planet is Coorey on, witnessing these orbits? But getting away from Coorey’s bad metaphorical gymnastics, no, they are not in “the same orbit”. Trump’s supporters are actively seeking to undermine every single media outlet’s right to report everything, as well as promote conspiracy theories that are dangerous for the future of the US. That is nothing like a group of Victorians clinging to the hope that the Victorian Government’s roadmaps and strategies will work to bring down COVID numbers, even if some of them are repetitive, narrowcasting megaphones.

It is reasonable to suggest that there have been mistakes made by the Victorian government in their pandemic response. I said as much in my previous post about the coverage. Coorey makes these same points, but with a heavily weighted, simplistic take, so he can butcher all critics of the media’s coverage. Here’s some examples.

  • In Victoria, however, there were errors made. Quarantine was contracted to a security company not up to the job. Consequently there was an outbreak. That has not been confirmed – there is an inquiry in place to discern exactly what happened and who was “to blame”. But even if it emerges that private security firms were not suitable for that purpose, the AFR, amongst other media outlets, have actively supported outsourcing public sector activities to the private sector for some years. We shall see if they change this stance if the inquiry has shown that the private sector is not up to doing certain jobs.
  • Even today, with numbers in Victoria very low, the Premier remains reluctant to reopen, indicating the government still does not have faith in its testing and tracing regimes. This is pure speculation, based on no provided evidence. Today’s announcements about the next stage of the roadmap provides a contradiction to that speculation.
  • Moreover, after all these months and hardship, no one in government – including the Premier, his now departed health minister and the public sector chief – claims to know who was responsible for the quarantine contract. There is an inquiry on, we are told, and we must wait for that. Yes, that is how an inquiry works. Coorey would know that, but is performatively suggesting that it’s a smokescreen.
  • But Andrews, in the eyes of his supporters, is beyond criticism or scrutiny. This suggests all supporters. Plenty of the supporters of the government’s actions have been critical of elements of the response. They, however, don’t exist in the false premise behind the piece.

Coorey, like every other writer in this genre, cherry picks examples of random critics, implying that they represent the whole. Cherry picking is the first resort of the desperate columnist – and twitter makes it so easy to do. It’s easy to find these examples:

When an email emerged recently that further suggested he was less than honest in his denials about rejecting offers from Canberra of army assistance, one supporter attacked the journalist who reported it: “Didn’t you hear the Premier’s denial? Stick to the facts.”

That is, a politician’s denial carries more weight than documentary evidence.

“Blah blah – apparently the more you sink the boots into Andrews, the more popular he becomes,” taunted another.

Same with Trump.

Two responses from angry megaphones = Same as Trump.

And then comes the expected reference to the waterdrop megaphones –

Many of the Premier’s supporters incorporate in their Twitter handle a blue water drop, which is a protest against what they believe was a lack of scrutiny of federal minister Angus Taylor over a water deal. Yet they resist any scrutiny of Andrews.”

So, these Trumpian Andrews supporters are now many. There’s a reduction of the contention about Andrews supporters. The reduction becomes even more through the invocation – again – of the trivial Baxendale press conference mistake, which is an issue that was a blip on the landscape of this pandemic.

“A few weeks back, Andrews verballed The Australian’s Rachel Baxendale by insisting she had included a false premise in her question, when she had not. Regardless, his supporters piled on.”

Coorey, aside from raising a non-issue, is just plain wrong. As can be seen in this video, Baxendale asked about findings from the inquiry as if they had been released. In transcript she produced on Twitter, a pair of brackets emerged around a phrase she had intended to include, but didn’t. Andrews wasn’t “verballing” Baxendale, he was correct in his critique of the premise of Baxendale’s question. Coorey is just wrong in his defence of Baxendale. More to the point though, it’s still remarkable how this minor incident is continually referred to by journalists wishing to gaslight the critics.

It’s an irony that this Baxendale incident was the last case Coorey uses against the DanStans – because he ends with this phrase:

“That’s increasingly a consequence of an era in which people can choose their own facts and everyone is expected to be a polemicist, making the middle line the hardest to hold.”

It’s almost as if he has never read The Australian. Coorey seems to have missed the parts where Rachel Baxendale was front and centre in the campaign to hound and harass Yassmin Abdel-Magied so much that she felt as though she needed to leave the country. There is nothing “middle line” about Baxendale and her employer. There is also nothing “middle line” about this piece.

Coorey’s gaslighting hatchet job got support from what has become the usual supporters for this genre – people who have trouble responding to critics on twitter, and just like to place them in the “mad left winger” bucket.

No, it’s not. It’s yet another example of journalists playing the “we are the only sensible centrists” card, trying to point at parallels about online supporters in Victoria and the US that aren’t there. A bit like this tweet, about Joe Biden suggesting that a journalist continually asks the same style of questions makes Biden Just like Trump. No, it doesn’t. It makes him someone with a genuine point to make about the way certain journalists always pursue the same agenda.

Megaphones Do Grate

There is a cautionary note to add at the end of this piece. There are people on the fringes of any campaign that do what Coorey refers to here

“I don’t really want to dwell on the gory details, but there’ve been death threats and rape threats and photos of me circulated on the internet for weeks,” Baxendale told Guardian Australia in a recent article on the dangers of questioning Andrews.

It’s become a boring trope, suggesting that this represents the bulk of Andrews’ supporters, as is inferred in this piece.

It does need to be acknowledged that there are some people who are feeding this perception that all defenders of Andrews are mendacious trolls. An example – these pathetic comments about wanting NSW to have increasing COVID case numbers.

It is clear that this kind of garbage needs to stop. And there’s megaphones that need to realise how their tweets are providing evidence to bad faith operators wanting to gaslight all supporters of the Victorian Government. PR Guy, in particular, provides a double edged sword. His tweets are classic megaphoning, providing comfort to a group of people wanting an optimistic view to the horizon. Many of his tweets raise reasonable points about the agendas of some media outlets in their reporting of the pandemic response in Victoria. But it lacks nuance and relevance. Neither of these things are true – the Ruby Princess matter was given exhaustive coverage, and aged care shortfalls have also been covered for a long time.

Yes, we know there are megaphones. Yes, they can be aggravating. And yet, Phillip Coorey’s suggestion that somehow these megaphones are as bad as Trump’s boosters is offensive. They are, for the most part, Victorians wanting to support a government that has had to learn difficult lessons and work on a response to a pandemic that has resulted in a drop in COVID cases and spread. They might be too enthusiastic in that response. They might be too easily triggered by questions posed at press conferences. Especially by questions about hotel quarantine. Of greater interest is whether Melbourne as a city is ready for the next stage, not who texted who about security guards in March. Plus, there are substantial questions to be asked about the agenda of journalists who work for News Ltd – the same organisation that run anti-ALP campaigns every election, Federally and in Victoria. Twitter is one of those places to ask such questions. Maybe not as much as some do it. Maybe there needs to be more nuance. It doesn’t matter – bad faith columists like Coorey, using the same template as Joe Hildebrand, will continue to find the outliers.

Bad Faith – It Never Ends

Ultimately this comes down to a question of how Australian political journalists use Twitter. It is becoming clear that there are two conclusions to reach about that usage.

Conclusion 1 – They do not know how to filter out the megaphones, the trolls, the disgusting, the clowns. It’s easy to do – blocking and muting tools are there.

Conclusion 2 – They know very well how to filter out the megaphones and the fringe dwellers. They just choose to draw upon them for fodder for their columns. For most media consumers, they don’t know how to use twitter, so it’s really easy to sell that image of the extremely online. They are using them in order to be performatively offended, as well as to protect them against substantive and substantial critiques of their work.

There has been so many pieces like this over the years that the second conclusion is becoming inescapable.

In the next couple of weeks, Trump’s supporters might be rioting and killing people if Trump doesn’t win the election. In Victoria, the megaphones will dash off an angry tweet to a journalist asking a question at a press conference. A bit like a fan of a sporting team tweeting in a frustrated fashion.

People get angry reading the media, Phil. That doesn’t make them Trumpian.

By prestontowers

I had been a teacher observing politics and the media from the outside for some time. I became a political insider, didn't like it much, and hightailed it back to watching it again. And still loving teaching.

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