The most common defence of ‘he said she said’ journalism is that reporting both sides with wide-eyed ignorance about the merits of their claims is at least ‘objective’ and it’s true in a way. I remember having dinner with some relatives in Italy when a heated argument broke out between a couple who were friends of my rellies – an attractive Italian man and an even more attractive woman. I told them that I could sort out the argument because I couldn’t understand a word of it and so I could be perfectly objective about who won. I picked the woman.
In any event, part of the pathology of current media values is that ‘he said she said’ is really a contest between he and she, so you can also – without offering any evidence or evaluation – racecall the very debate you’re ‘he said she said’ reporting. Yesterday Tony Abbott made a joke about Julia Gillard’s refusal to debate him when she was in front saying that people were suggesting (Julia was suggesting) that “when it comes to Julia, no doesn’t mean no”.
Now there are some people who claim to be offended by this comment – because it makes a reference to a sensitive topic: the idea that sexual consent is not always straightforward. I recall being irritated with that criticism yesterday. I guess some people might disagree, but I thought it was a good line and the mere fact that the expression comes from an area of life that’s sensitive doesn’t mean it’s off limits to a bit of humour.
Given that Tony repeated it several times, and then defended himself vigorously, he presumably liked the idea of this debate and thought of it as a moment he could show himself as the Son of John Howard. In any event the story filed by Kirsty Needham from the Age led “It was designed to be the big day for women” and explaining how this had distracted Tony Abbott’s campaign. Did the writer know this? Nope. She then followed up by reporting that he said that he wasn’t going to cop the smears against his use of the term from the Labor Party, provided no reporting on what the Labor Party had said on this, if anything and then reported that she (a Greens candidate) said that Tone’s comment was ‘inappropriate’.
He said it was OK, she said it was ‘innappropriate’ but the subbie got to sum it all up in the headling.