Tribal Colours

On Insiders last Sunday, the topic of the day was the growing debacle in Iraq. It included sound bites from the PM, a longer interview with Paul Kelly and some predictable political tap dancing from Kevin stay-on-message Rudd. The armchair discussants included David Marr and Andrew Bolt. The fact that people such as Andrew Bolt and Piers Ackerman are regulars on this much maligned program demonstrate that the ABC has much less problem with bias than some other foxy networks.

Bolt is a cultural warrior, who never concedes a point, lest he embolden the blood thirsty hoards of the left. So, when David Marr described the situation in Iraq as catastrophic*, Bolt would have none of it. Troublesome was his adjective of choice. And when Marr mentioned the 650000 dead, Bolt shifted into his full impression of the irritated private school master:

It’s so difficult to discuss these issues rationally with the left, when they are so disposed to exaggeration and hysteria“ (my paraphrasing)

he lamented. David Marr responded by asking whether the British medical journal (the Lancet) that published the estimate was leftist. Bolt replied that yes, the editor of Lancet, was a leftie and “all the details were on his blog.” The details which Bolt was referring to are a speech made by Lancet editor Richard Horton made at a Stop-the-War rally which you can listen to HERE. Let’s leave aside whether editors of learned scientific journals are permitted to have political opinions and still maintain some professional detachment – a concept foreign to Bolt. Let’s leave aside the fact that editors of journals do not decide which articles are to be published – this is done by anonymous peer review – another notion that Bolt is unlikely to embrace. What is so strange about a leading researcher in the science of human health having a natural tendency towards an anti-war position?

Bolt‘s blog also has takes aim at Professor Gilbert Burnham who is the leading author of the report. This is not a post at all but rather a link to another blog called Pajamas Media. The purpose of this non-post was no doubt to elicit a response from commenters. It is this unaccountable rabble that are presumably supplying all the details that Bolt referred to. Yet Bolt is supposed to be a journalist. Why not properly investigate the substantive claims of bias? Why not interview the authors and put the accusations to them? His cavalier dismissal of the Lancet study is disgraceful – akin to a senior health professional dismissing the thalidomide study on the basis that McBride was a bit of a self-promoter.

Closer to home, on this very blog Currency lad opined “About the Lancet‘s new “estimate” of 650 trillion(sic) casualties, the less said the better.” I replied by inviting him to comment on my earlier post on the study. “Don’t be shy” I offered. “Say as much as you want.” But true to his word, the Lad offered nowt.

Plenty of credible people have supported the basic standard of the science in the Lancet article. Lefties all, like Professors Jim Angus, Bruce Armstrong and other pinko Deans of Science and Medicine. There are some inevitable weaknesses in the sampling techniques employed within a war-zone and there are some possible sources of bias. But there is no evidence so far of any systematic or deliberate bias in the design. And the plausible sizes of the biases are not sufficient to produce a figure more palatable – sorry “credible” – to those who refuse to believe any number that will make an inconvenient headline.

At the end of the day you have to decide who you would trust. A team of professional scientists whose reputations and ultimately living would be demolished if it could be demonstrated that they published negligently incompetent or, much worse, deliberately skewed results. Or you could trust politicians and war mongering ideologues who see every issue as a line in the sand to be defended and for whom truth and objectivity are just acceptable collateral damage in the great fight.

Regular contributor Rafe Champion has commented several times that he thinks that the right wing and left wing labels are becoming meaningless. I understand why he says this but he is dead wrong. These political labels are about as meaningless as are the Catholic and Protestant labels in Northern Ireland. Meaningless in terms of theological distinction perhaps, but meaningful enough to those who see life in orange and green to motivate murder. Those who see life in terms of blue and red are also happy to sanction the taking of life in the name of their tribe and to deny the consequences of their implacable resolve to crush the enemy everywhere he appears.

In this great southern city long defined by sporting tribal colours, I support Melbourne football club, whose colours are… red and blue. But in the minds of some who read this post, I will now forever be coloured red. As we approach the 50th anniversary of Prague (on November 4), during this time of unnecessary but predictable slaughter in Iraq, let us not forget respectively the communists and neo-cons who bear responsibility and yet refuse to express regret or acknowledge error.
* The account is my best recollection of what was said on the program. I am unable to find a transcript of the discussion section of the show.

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pablo
pablo
15 years ago

Chris, your recall of the program is much as I remember it too. My only query on the Lancet study which did also get a mention was the effect of Iraqi migration. I was surprised to hear that perhaps 1.5 million Iraqis have left town since 2003. This is an enormous figure which I can’t dispute, but probably indicative of the pervasive trauma that would be evident in a city the size of Baghdad (7 million).

Tony Harris
Tony Harris(@tony-harris)
15 years ago

Chris, I wouldn’t want to be rude to a fellow Demon supporter but there are a couple of points I need to raise.

The Insiders has a panel of people each week and one of the panel is a non-left person, usually Piers Ackerman or Andrew Bolt. To suggest that this means that the ABC is clear of bias is absurd. The non-left person is always one-out; if the ABC wanted to have the panel representing a cross section of community opinion you would probably need to reverse the numbers and have a solo leftie.

As to the left and right labels, the label ‘right’ means nothing because it is used to cover a number of positions including (a) cultural conservatism (regardless of economic policy), libertarian/anarchism (practically a zero state position and usually atheistic), the Religious Right (probably including cultural conservatism and any position at all on economic policy), One Nation (opposed to discrimination on the grounds of race with economic policies identical to the Greens, Democrats and the Labor left), and classical liberalism.

What can you identify as the common elements in that collection?

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

Rafe

Today they had Ackerman, Malcolm Farr and Fran Kelly. Now I’m prepared to accept that Kelly might be regarded by rightists as marginally to the left of centre, but Malcolm Farr?? Don’t you think you’re pushing the “RWDB as dreadfully persecuted, outnumbered victim” meme to slightly ridiculous lengths?

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

Sndrew Bolt is a socialist who doesn’t respect the private property rights of shopkeepers. He is far to the left of Larvatus Prodeo

http://larvatusprodeo.net/2006/10/23/2896/

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

Rafe,

It is not a matter of whether I can see the commonality among the ‘rightist” groups you mentioned – though I can. It is whether they see a commonality. I think that One Nation is a great example. Nothing clearly rightist in their policy. But they are opposed to the multicultural left. So everyone, including you, calls them rightist. What does Nick Gruen have in common with the average toothless Magpie supporter? But they all still break out in a sweat when you mention Wayne Harmes.

Rafe
Rafe
15 years ago

Phil, I don’t see any community on the non-left, which is why I don’t generally use the term ‘right’ unless the particular reference is clear in the context (ie the Labour right in NSW).

Many of the groups on the non-left have more in common with much of the left (big government, intolerance) than they have with classical liberals.

This old piece may be of interest, flagging the divisions among the non-left that were likely to cause problems after the offical collapse of communism eliminated the main common ground of the different groupings.

Joshua Gans
Joshua Gans(@joshua-gans)
15 years ago

‘…the 50th anniversary of Prague (on November 4)’.

Oh, well, I guess these Eastern European capitals are basically interchangeable.

Nicholas Gruen
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Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
15 years ago

I like Chris’s point. All those groups you mention Rafe are avowedly anti-left, some more explicably than others. One of the unfortunate things about the right is that that part of it that had distain for the market (true conservatives and what I would have called ‘The Quadrant crowd” in the days before Manne was editor in the seventies say) are pretty marginalised. I say that not as an opponent of markets, but as someone who knows that they’re far from everything.

Quadrant used to have lots of articles by cultural critics of capitalism. I’m thinking of people like Manne (well before he became editor) and John Carroll. Both of them became anti-economic rationalists – though Manne has since acknowledged that that was one of the sillier things he did.

Nicholas Gruen
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Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
15 years ago

Chris,

Wayne Harms is one thing but I’m glad you didn’t mention Ted Hopkins. Then you really would have seen a sweat. Or worse still, Barry Breen!

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

I think that the left-right labels have more to do with one’s attitude to power imbalances than economics or traditional values or intrusion of the state. The rest of the left-right definition seems to be reactive – if someone is against the war/immigration then they must be left/right because the right/left a for these things. I reckon this captures about 99% of the classification.

liam
15 years ago

If left and right have to be given colours, please! keep the left red.
Rafe,

economic policies identical to the Greens, Democrats and the Labor left

Please. One Nation were flat-taxers.