A four part review of the media reception of Greg Sheridan’s book “When we were Young
and Foolish”. (Allen & Unwin 2015)
….by someone who was there before and after….Jefferson Lee
Rupert Murdoch’s ABC?
This book was launched at State Parliament House in NSW (26/07/15) with a glitterati of past and present mainstream politicians and journalists.The media coverage the next day was extensive. Here I look mainly at the uncritical ABC response to the book. On the respected Sydney 702 Richard Glover “Drive Show” ABC Radio talkback program (702, Radio, 28/07/15) soon after the official launch, Greg Sheridan received almost 20 minutes of taxpayer funded air-time to promote his tell-all testimony of his wayward youth as an extreme right-wing National Civic Council functionary in both the student and trade union movement in the 1970s and 1980s. That Glover praises Sheridan throughout his cosy and matey interview, (note Sheridan is a regular on Glover’s Tuesday afternoon “Journos Forum” segment), and concludes with his summation that Sheridan’s book is “anything but self-serving”, shows how far “our ABC” has drifted into the camp of political conservatism in the face of financial cut-backs and political intimidation from the Abbott Government. Note here, Humphrey McQueen’s 1970 text ‘Australia’s Media Monopolies’ (Widescope
Publishers) maintained that the so-called “independence” of the ABC was always a myth and ultimately their staff operated within parameters that effectively made them “public servants” who served the government of the day and the ideology of Capitalism through gate-keeping who and what went to air.
The McQueen thesis is not out of date in my opinion. Despite Richard Glovers’ public image as a “baby boomer soft-Lefty” Glover, along with the likes of Tony Jones on Q&A ABC-TV, invariably exclude anything outside the ALP-Liberal paradigm and diligently kowtow to the powerful and not the “eight cents a day mob”. Glover glibly drops references in his program to the anti-Vietnam War days and pop culture of the 1960s-70s Generation. But there is never any substance or details of the depth of class struggle from those days. He complains to me that I am “nasty” and unfair when I send him a critique of his Sheridan sycophantic interview. He claims the Right wing commentators attack him whenever he lets a progressive view to air. Where was his interview with Mike Hyde over his memoir of the Seventies Australian protest era when ‘It is Right to Rebel’ and then more recently ‘At the Barricades’ were released? Or Brian Pola’s memoir? Or Barry York’s….to mention two of the three students gaoled in Pentridge Gaol from La Trobe Uni “at the Governor’s pleasure” for daring to enter La Trobe campus after the 1971 bockade against Chancellor of La Trobe, Sir Archbald Glenn (chair of Imperial Chemical Industries and the Lower Yarra Crossing Authority) during the cover up of the cause of the Westgate Bridge crash? Glover’s claim to sit in the “middle” between Left and Right is more a case of between the middle of “ALP and Liberal” political views, I suspect? A much narrower prism, indeed.
Geraldine Doogue, (30/07/15), was a little more subtle on ABC Radio National’s ‘Saturday Extra’, (whilst effusive in her praise as well of Sheridan she at least was able to tease out a tiny fraction of the internal contradictions of Sheridan’s ‘All the way with the USA’ foreign policy line with the Sheridan’s much touted ‘Australia’s place in the Asian Century’ line. She would have been better armed in this regard had she cited Malcolm Fraser’s ‘mea culpa’ on Anzus, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, etc from his seminal Australian Institute of International Affairs lecture (“Global Perspectives” 10/11/2010). Instead she let Sheridan slide out from under with “I was poorly advised to study French instead of Indonesian at Sydney Uni” side-tracking. She also lets slide Sheridan’s “pro-Jewish” position with not a word on his abject apologia for Zionism and the arch-Conservatives of Israel who have feted him and other journalists and politicians on so-called ‘fact finding missions’. Again she could have raised David Brull’s dissection of the Sheridan ‘Dr Strangelove’ long-standing view on the constant necessity for “bombing Iran” no matter what (New Matilda, 2006). But that sounds too much like hard work for Kim Beasley’s old Catholic class mate, who also gets a big tick in Sheridan’s book!
Doing the media rounds, in Brisbane, after a recruiting spruik there for the local chapter of the Institute for Public Affairs, Sheridan is interviewed with kid gloves by a 612 ABC local panelist, a young man, who is in awe of Sheridan. Not much spent on background research here. He swallows with glee and approval Sheridan’s innacurate assertion that “all the violence” from the workers and student movement in the 1970s came from the Left and lunatic “Maoists and Trotskyists”. I wasn’t even born yet, claims the announcer, but as you are the foreign editor of The Australian, by golly gosh, you’d never tell a lie would you Mr Sheridan. It must have been horrible for you and Tony Abbott is the sentiment! What brave boys you were to stand up to such thuggery, etc etc.
Sheridan then pops in at the trendy, middle class, winter retreat for retired, wealthy Southerners from Sydney and Canberra, at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. Not to be outdone, the ABC Radio National editors of ‘Big Ideas’ program aired this one too (1/9/15). Moderator here is another pseudo-Left darling Maxine McHugh with her direct links to the ALP hierarchy and more corporate interests. To her she had to humour the crowd retelling that Glen Campbell and John Wayne are the “Australian” cultural icons of a young Tony Abbott which even Sheridan deplores, on taste grounds alone. Maxine baths in Greg’s “working class Irish Catholic youth” in a re-run of Nixon’s Checkers speech or John Howard’s dad the service station owner election ploy. Wow ! Greg can easily revert to personality politics of “the insider” here with Tony Abbott the “romantic”, Frank Knophmacher “the intellectual”, and “kind and gentle” old Bob Santamaria. And Hitler was a vegetarian is all that’s missing? It would be too impolite for McHugh to pop in something like “But weren’t they all apologists for fascism”?, the destruction of Cambodia by Nixon’s carpet bombing? the Kerr coup?, the CIA in Indonesia? El Salvador? Not on “our” ABC.
The uncritical ABC reception of the Sheridan book (‘The Drum’ on-line debate aside), just shows how far to the Right our national broadcaster has become although some will argue it is just fulfilling its ABC Charter by being sympathetic to its interviewees. Occasionally Nick Xenophon or a Green politician may pop up, but anything to the Left of that is ‘prohibado’, give or take the odd “muslim extremist” who slips through the vetting, or is given a quick spot on heretic Phillip Adams on ‘Late Night Live’. Even there, the idea of ‘balance’ last week was letting Gerard Henderson sing the praises of B.A. Santamaria in a dialogue of his biography of “a contradictory man” who we are told did not support “Mussolini’s Fascism” and was justified in backing Franco because of the atrocities “on all sides”. Next thing you know old Santa will be redeemed as a true agrarian socialist, eh
As was noted in one commentary on PM Abbott’s generous comments at the Sheridan launch in NSW Parliament House (26/07/15), politicians used
to only launch books for charity and the public good, not to back-scratch old political mates and best religious buddies. As for the Alan Jones 2GB/Macquarie Network interview (27/07/15), Jones read out huge slabs of Sheridan’s confessional, between the paens of praise, Sheridan would embarrassingly butt in occasionally, but only to reinforce the message. It was the closest thing to mutual masturbation on air since Jones fell in love with Michael Buble.
But the book is not all froth and Buble. Sheridan has openness and candour in explaining how his conservative “reds under the beds” Catholic politics,(aligned with Tony Abbott’s), were drummed into him from such an early age. His confession that anti-communism was the prism through which his entire ideological perspectives were formed and maintained gives him the right to claim at least that he has been consistent. Yes from backing the Americans and other foreign plunderers of Australia’s economy and culture, backing a subservient foreign policy from Vietnam War to the “war on terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq, to falling in behind B.A.Santamaria in supporting the Indonesian Army “war on terror” in East Timor and West Papua, (right down to compromising real Australian “national security” by endorsing an Indonesian intelligence informant and niece of Suharto, one Rati Hardjorno, who wormed her way into a restricted area of Jindalee ‘Over the Horizon’ Base in the N.T. allegedly with camera in hand), to supporting the CIA’s role in the Allende Chile coup and South America generally over decades, to promoting the nuclear industry and nuclear weapons Arms race and Western Alliance brinkmanship everywhere! Sheridan is indeed, consistent!
Sheridan acknowledges his father’s “industrial grouper” actions in falsely claiming Union membership tickets (12 in all we are told in Byron Bay interview) to stack other workers trade union meetings to rid the Communist-led unions of the Left no matter how well they served their members. Shades of Ted Bull finding the ‘Grouper’ false bottoms to wharfie ballot boxes in his “Nine stone and wringing wet” interview in The Independent Australian magazine (Dan Hellier editor) back in 1980. Sheridan also acknowledges false enrolment by himself in an ALP branch in Gosford with the same ultimate goal, albeit to secure his short term career moves i.e. to help Bob Carr role the left in a state election. In doing so he constantly sings the praises of the moderate Catholics of the labour movement like John Ducker, Michael Easson, Barry Unsworth et. al. of the NSW ALP Right Machine and their fellow travellers like Bob Carr, who judging from the 1980’s Peter Baldwin ALP Conference booklet exposures on branch stacking and ballot rigging can now be regarded as standard operating procedure from Head Office? Although Sheridan insists his “ALP Mates” are all squeaky clean, the continuous revelations from ICAC and else where say otherwise about these factional warlord’s friends and fellow travellers.. There is even a smell around the most recent train and bus union elections where some very dubious practices were rubber stamped by a so-called impartial Australian Electoral Commission. (The same AEC that covered up for Abbott’s Liberals Woollahra luncheon that bank-rolled the legal challenge to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party).
Greg defends his old man’s tradition along the lines of the greater necessity. It was all in the name of anti-Communism. Any trick or fraud will do? It’s all as though the “Soviet threat” and Moscow bank-rolling of certain Lefty union leaders was occurring in a political vacuum? It’s almost as if the CIA-backed Harvard University Trade Union Training Course was a right of passage for the NSW Right, and the close liaison with the Sydney American Chamber of Commerce with Sussex Street never existed? Clean-skins all, professes Sheridan in his book. Ducker’s belated post-retirement confession of reporting to the CIA on Lefty unionists? The resignation of Karl Bitar and Mark Habib from the sinking NSW Government as they jumped ship for
Canberra and the Rudd Government? Didn’t Habib confess to reporting weekly to the US Embassy on machinations inside the ALP, (Crickey? or was it Snowden’s Wikileaks? as source), just to keep them abreast of current ALP developments? As a 1970s “Student for Australian Independence” but
never a “Maoist”, I remember the CIA Richard Stallings, Pine Gap and the Doug Anthony Affair during the Kerr Coup on November 11th
1975. I so remember the Christopher Boyce whistle blower from ‘The Falcon and the Snowman’ movie? The more things change……?
Hey, I also remember P.P. McGuinness working for the Moscow Narodny Bank in Paris about the same time the bank floated a $300 million deal
to redevelop working class Wooloomooloo back in 1973. I also remember opposing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. But had I known
with hindsight the CIA were going to fund the Taliban and Bin Ladin to overthrow the new regime I would not have bothered. You should have
followed Knopfelmacher’s advice then Greg. Despite his ideological conservatism your book informs us that he believed there were “two
superpowers” until the Soviet’s followed the Brits before them into ignomious defeat in Afghanistan. A lesson still not learnt today by Abbott and Obama, Howard and Bush before them when it comes to Afghanistan and elsewhere.