Is this the Jones debate we had to have?

Its been harrumphing and gasping aplenty in Australia’s two ring media circus this week, as the Alan Jones Biography hits the stands, and the pundit-o-rama gets all precious about Mr. Jones’ secret life being public fodder.

A loathsome attack bleats Tim Blair. Rank homophobia honks Andrew Bolt. Fairfax are pandering to those titivated by salacious innuendo quacks Piers Ackerman (titillated you nong), and its not dissimilar if you look around the rest of the gaggle.

Well whoopee-do! I’m not sure when I first concluded that Mr. Jones batted for the other side, perhaps around the time of the London dunny incident, but there’s nothing startlingly new in anything that I’ve read in the papers so far. Certainly nothing to warrant the tsunami of shock, awe and opprobrium being hurled at the usual suspects.

That Mr. Jones is a friend of Dorothy would surely be old news to Messers Bolt, Ackerman and Blair. Information is currency in the media world and these gentlemen are all insiders. So it’s a fair bet indeed that these blokes had long passed the “nudge nudge wink wink” stage themselves and had pretty much accepted the evidence already in the public domain, not to mention the rumours that must certainly swirl around the media feeding trough.

It’s pretty ironic then to see all this explosive outrage about Jones’ sexuality becoming public. What, these blokes are allowed to know, but the rest of the public aren’t? Jones’s audience is not allowed to know he’s gay, but the media insiders are? How’s that for elitist?

Of course the real truth behind these guys going all “drama queen” on us is their visceral hatred of the Fairfax Press and the ABC. That’s the truth. It’s a performance. A political fire and light show designed to score a few more points in the culture wars A diversionary tactic perhaps to distract from the fact that their own real war in Iraq, that they’ve invested so much in, is going so badly, and their war against the truth of climate change is faltering too. And this is something that some good commentators should have perhaps realised before they fell for this cheap faux outrage.

Was this the Jones debate we had to have? Hardly! It’s all a load of rubbish and we should get back to debating important things, and sticking it to those dangerous neo-cons good and proper, just as soon as I make this last point.

Mr. Jones shouldn’t feel too bad. He’s not the only one whose been outed against their will. In fact Mr. Jones should feel proud. Proud that his name is out there and up there with those other famous cartoon characters. Spongebob Squarepants and Twinky Winky from the Teletubbies.

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Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

John Heard accused Masters of homophobia perhaps without reading what Masters wrote or hearing Masters himself.
A ludricious statement. In fact I think Jones’s homosexuality is portrayed rather sympathetically.

Big Ben saw phaedophilia where anyone who understands English could not.

Even the sensible Jason Soon saw a hatchet job without supplying any evidence to back that up.
People say Jones should sue without stating what he can sue about.

A rather hysterical reaction to be honest.

James Farrell
15 years ago

Masters’ thinks that (1) Jones exerts a powerful destructive influence on public life, and (2) this is largely due to aspects of a complex personality and tortured ego. Many agree that (1) is true, and Masters provides plenty of evidence and examples. Investigating (2) as a hypothesis is legitimate exercise – it’s what biography is all about, one would have thought. There’s no question of outing Jones, since everyone already knew his sexual preference. The only grounds for objecting to the book would be that it’s gratuitously cruel to embarrass Jones, and since his motivations (as opposed to his actions) are of mainly academic interest it would be kinder to wait until he’s dead.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
15 years ago

I finished reading “Jonestown” last night. It’s certainly a racy read though hardly the stuff of great biographical craftsmanship. I don’t agree with the “homophobic” assertions that have been applied to Masters himself but I do think that the treatment of homosexuality in the book has been crafted with an eye to damaging Jones (Masters is pretty open about “taking Jones down”) and that does raise legitimate questions for me about sexuality being used to specifically denigrate ideological opponents by those who would otherwise be fierce opponents of the practice.

Jones hasn’t run any specifically anti-gay agenda himself that I’m aware of, (being other than on the Left is not in and of itself “anti-gay” though many people seem to think otherwise) nor has he publicly claimed to be other than homosexual in the last 10 or 15 years. He uses the “none of your business” approach much favoured by the pre-bisexual moment, emergent gay celeb….

How closeted can a guy be who is regularly referred to as Gloria and is the subject of a very funny Roy and HG skit from the time that Bob Carr was looking to appoint Michael Costa as Police Minister when Jones was trying to run Peter Ryan out of the Commissioner’s role.

“Carr: Let me give you a hypothetical. Let’s say you enter a public toilet to see Alan Jones massaging his truncheon. What do you do?”

“Costa: I get my truncheon out too and massage it alongside him.”

“Carr: You’ve got the job.”

Anyway, he lived in a converted warehouse in Newtown till relatively recently. If that’s not gay, what is ?:)

There’s no doubt that Alan Jones is a deeply unattractive character on many levels but I’m not sure that being a closeted schoolteacher in the 1970’s was all that exceptional – in fact it was probably an absolute necessity. To locate Jones’ idiosyncratic behaviour – bullying, controlling, enthusiastic use of the cane, pushing his students, favouring students – entirely in his closted sexuality looks to me to like post-Freudian psychobabble taken a bit too far. Masters is meticulous in his constant references to the fact that Jones’ has never been accused of doing anything illegal in his schoolteaching days (in itself, a bit of a dogwhistle) but he’s also mastered the Kitty Kelley art of framing a series of situations where it probably could have – not that he’s saying it did or anything.

I had innumerable teachers in all male teacher teaching environments in the late 60’s and 70’s who did the Joneslike stuff that Masters attributes to his hidden persona: throwing chalk and dusters at students, shouting at them, humiliating them, caning them and favouring some students over others. They weren’t all closeted poofs.

He certainly seems to have particular passions for some of his football players in both Union and League but they were evidenced more in giving them cars and houses, being godfather to their kids, etc than in power-induced “hot action.”

There’s actually only one vignette in the book that relates to Jones maybe having sex with a guy and that’s a few years back with a gay guy in his 20’s who deliberately set out to have sex with Jones in order to profit by it. Interestingly, Jones comes out of it looking better than the hooker in question.

In some ways he shapes very similarly to the late John Marsden (though marginally less appalling IMO) and I recall commenting here that Paul Sheehan’s vitriolic Marsden obit in the SMH was right in pointing to Marsden as a vile piece of professionally flawed legal and ethical practice but wrong in sourcing that principally in Marsden’s sexuality. It’s equally the same in this case.

It’s absolutely appropriate for Masters to raise Jones’ sexuality. I just think that his treatment of it is problematic.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
15 years ago

“There’s no question of outing Jones, since everyone already knew his sexual preference.”

Masters alludes (hopefully perhaps) to the fact that Jones’ listener demographic – older, suburban, socially conservative – might not be aware of this but I think he might be underestimating the understanding of how a “confirmed bachelor” in his 60’s has long framed for older Australians. Whatever his inclination, they probably wouldn’t see Jones as “gay” in the sense that it’s popularly imagined – and a sense that they would be uncomfortable with.

keith
keith
15 years ago

I’m sick of psuedo intellectual sycophants! Instead of examining one’s own ego and trying to top one’s peers as to the replies one needs to satisy one’s ego, the fact is that people of inexact chromosomal deficiencies will always display an illogical psychic phenomenon not attributed to the creation of life as we expect it to be. Life ain’t perfect but there you are.

derrida derider
derrida derider
15 years ago

Jones’ sexuality is indeed hardly a secret – I remember tales of him circulating when he was Wallaby coach along the lines that some players did not appreciate his – err – enthusiasm for them. though given the homophobic tendencies of rugby players of the time this does not necessarily reflect too badly on Jones.

But I too can’t understand his political influence – classic swing voters are not his demographic and his audience is just not that large anyway in national, or even state, perspective. And I reckon he’s more ethically challenged than Marsden was too – in his early years I know for a fact that Marsden did some really brave and selfless things fighting corrupt coppers and courts. Gloria only ever looks after number one.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
15 years ago

“Gloria only ever looks after number one.”

I think one aspect of Jones that Masters does highlight is his personal generosity – the extent of which did surprise me. I guess you could legitimately argue that it’s still all about his own self-regard but there’s certainly light and shadow there.

I wouldn’t want top debate the Marsden/Jones ethical comparison. I guess my point is that they’re both self-regarding, bullying, intimidating characters who don’t necessarily see “the rules” applying to them.

Rex
Rex
15 years ago

Thanks for your reasoned assessment Geoff. Fancy that, someone whose read the book before making a judgement. What a novel approach.

Guy
Guy
15 years ago

Good post Rex. I think your analysis is spot on. Geoff argues his perspective well, but it’s plain to see that the hysterical reactions of the Bolts and Ackermans are a product of their own prejudices rather than any sort of rational analysis.

Jennifer
15 years ago

I haven’t read the book, but I found the scary thing in the SMH coverage on the weekend to be the small article about his influence over the immigration process. The gay thing seems to be a side issue to me, compared with the inappropriate influence he has over all sorts of decision making, particularly in NSW (e.g. the police) but also federally – persuading Philip Ruddock to intervene on deportation decisions.

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

As always Geoff has given a rational response to this “issue”. As for reading the book, well there is too far too much good reading matter in the world to read without wasting time on this shit.

As for “are a product of their own prejudices rather than any sort of rational analysis” – that’s a pretty fair assessment of your own post, Rex.

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

The problem with the Master approach is not the so-called “outing” of Jones’ sexuality (as other commenters have noted, Jones’ reputed sexuality has been common knowledge in Sydney for at least 18 years), but the crude innuendo of paedophilia, despite Master’s and John Laws’ pious disclaimers on Laws’show on Monday which occurred after an extended discussion on the subject of Jones’ “interest” in boys.

The extracts I’ve read, the interviews I’ve heard with Masters and the numerous commentaries from the book’s supporters and detractors constitute sufficient evidence of Masters’ base motives without having to spend valuable time reading the book itself.

James Farrell
James Farrell
15 years ago

It depends on what you mean by boys, doesn’t it, Whyisitso? Do you find 16 and 17 year old girls attractive, or at least some of them? Would anyone call you a paedophile? I don’t think so. If you were a boarding school teacher, would you have them in your room watching TV until all hours? Probably you’d realise it’s not a good idea.

Maybe I’m naive, but I read all the extracts in the SMH and I must say it never even crossed my mind that paedophilia was the issue.

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

The issue is the innuendo, James. It was so clear in Master’s interview with Laws that they felt the need to claim jointly towards the end of the interview that “nothing improper” was being alleged, an obvious reference to paedophilia. There’s no doubt that the impression in most people’s mind was meant to be about Jones’ “queer” affection for certain boys.

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

Geoff (comment 3 above), I think puts his finger right on it: “Masters is meticulous in his constant references to the fact that Jones’ has never been accused of doing anything illegal in his schoolteaching days (in itself, a bit of a dogwhistle) but he’s also mastered the Kitty Kelley art of framing a series of situations where it probably could have – not that he’s saying it did or anything.”

Master’s technique may be thought of as clever, but as dogwhistles go it’s pretty transparent. It really is a classic case of saying one thing and expecting you to believe the exact opposite. An old trick but getting a bit worn and tatty these days. James, I certainly wouldn’t say you were naive (heaven forbid!), but…

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

horse petunias as William Sherman used to say.

I didn’t hear Laws but I have heard Masters on ABC radio and on the 7.30 report and have merely read the extracts.

With the greatest respect whyisitso you are reading into something that isn’t there.
You are as bad as the people you are bagging.

Geoff makes a good point in that jones does indeed help out people frequently however for each person he gets a job he gets people sacked,

whyisitso
whyisitso
15 years ago

It’s early days yet, but I can see a bit of a backlash against Masters building. There are real similarities between this book and Paul Barry’s attempted demolition of Shane Warne not long ago. Both subjects are no doubt flawed personalities that have polarised people’s opinions.

The Left have a fairly contemptuous attitude to the lumpen masses, but the public in general are pretty acute in seeing behind what is being put about. Paul Barry damaged his own reputation a lot more than he damaged Warne’s and I can see the beginning of a similar trend against Masters.

Rex
Rex
15 years ago

Prejudiced Whyisitso? I think of it more as “Fair and Balanced”.

Richard Phillipps
Richard Phillipps
15 years ago

It is, I suppose, always helpful to criticise a book without bothering to read it; then the facts don’t get in the way. Here I have to make an admission, I’m only up to page 243, and for all I know, the remaining couple of hundred may be chock full of titillating (and, for that matter, titivating, tantalising, and tergiversating) allusions.

But so far that hasn’t happened. There is reference to Mr Jone’s assumed sexual inclinations as providing an explanation for some of his behavioural modes. This is not uncommon in biographies of powerful men (and sometimes women): consider Clinton, John F Kennedy, Picasso, Rasputin, Cleopatra and Hitler.

But that is as far as it goes. There is certainly nothing of the prurient in the book. And there are critical references to Mr Jones that do not appear to have any sexual basis. For example, the Kalajzich episode is not explained by any such reference.

The book is critical of Mr Jones, but it is also replete with praise of the man. It praises, among other things, his charity, his almost Stakhanovite work ethic, his prodigious skill as a rugby coach (and his willingness to work in that post for little or no pay, and to put his own money into coaching equipment), his ability to bring boring English texts alive to a room of bored schoolboys, his ability to master radio announcing, his genuine concern for battlers, his love of music, his loyalty (and his ability to command loyalty) and his generosity. None of this is done in a tongue in cheek manner: there is much to admire or, at least, to respect, in the Jones persona.

The heart of the book, for me, and the mystery of Mr Jones, is his power to attract and/or influence politicians. It is paradoxical that so soon after Walter Benjamin saw talk back radio as a major democraticising process, many of us now worry about the power of shock jocks (a term Jones renounces) to influence political decisions. The law and order debates that pollute and degrade NSW parochial politics are a good (in fact a bad) example. There are many others.

The book is, I think, a valuable contribution to knowledge of how it is that politicians are influenced.

It is not a particularly good read. I do not get a sense of “flow” or “build”, and I am not being pulled along by any narrative force. No big deal, but I wish Australian journalists were better at writing.

But it remains (as at page 243) a good book and one which should be widely read, considered and discussed.

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

I think Rex and Geoff should be banned from writing comments on this subject.

They have read the book after-all

Richard Phillipps
Richard Phillipps
15 years ago

I have now finished the book. Hoorah!

Here’s my view, but read it yourself.

First, no one could reasonably say that it is prurient or homophobic. Nor could anyone reasonably say that there is even a “doqwhistle” about pedophilia. None.

What is staggering is the power wielded by Mr Jones over politicians and bureacrats. The proposed policy and campaign outline that a leading politician forwarded to Mr Jones for approval, for example. The influence over policing in NSW. The ability to threaten and even desroy careers.

This is not whether Mr Jones is a good guy or a bad guy, and it is not automatically divided into left or right. He has opposed and supported labour and liberal, and he has opposed some big companies.

It is not even about the ability to change votes. Masters’s view is that Mr Jones has not critically affected the outcome of any elections, and that voting patterns that seem to align with Mr Jones’ views may be explicable on other grounds.

But it is about the power of some media, especially over politicianas (who, as a clase, come out of the book as, overall a set of grovelling toadies) and about the lack of critical skills in much of the listening public.

It is too late now to seek regulation of the media, and as the ABA inquiry showed medial regulation hasn’t worked very well.

It was probably always too late to expect honest, independent, and tough minded politicians, although some exceptions (paul keating, john hewson, peter andren) can be found.

But it is not too late to press hard for the strong inculcation of critical and skeptical listening and reading skills into school children.

Pippa Kay
15 years ago

I am only half way through the book, although I have skimmed some sections further on, so won’t venture an opinion on the whole book.

Masters has got the Alan Jones/Kalajzich thing very wrong, suggesting that Kalajzich funded the broadcasts Alan Jones made in the early 1990s on his case. As Tim Barton has said so eloquently in an article in The Australian this is not the case. Tim Barton was employed by Andrew Kalajzich to oversee the work done by his legal team who were preparing a submission for a 475 Inquiry. At the time Tim Barton was an out of work lawyer who had just returned to Australia after spending some time in England. The link between Alan Jones and Andrew Kalajzich was their accountant – the infamous John Thomas, who managed to “lose” a lot of money for all his clients. When Andrew Kalajzich no longer had funds to pay his legal fees, Tim Barton began work for Alan Jones as a researcher. Alan Jones did have a genuine interest in the Kalajzich case and he used some of the information he learned from Tim Barton in his broadcasts. It was his decision to do so and Andrew Kalajzich had no inflence or power over what was broadcast.

A full account, written by Andrew Kalajzich can be viewed on his website: http://www.kalajzich.com/jonestown.html.

Alan Jones launched my book Doubt and Conviction in 2002 and Chris Masters attended the launch. I am often asked how much I paid to have Alan Jones launch the book, and the answer is – not one cent. I have also taken Chris Masters to visit Andrew Kalajzich in prison, though the topic of discussion was not Alan Jones, it was the accountant John Thomas.

I will post a further opinion when I have finished reading Jonestown.