#HeSaidSheSaid squared: Tony’s ‘gaffe’

Tony Abbott

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.

Abbott gaffe mars baby policy launch

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dorinny
11 years ago

In all honesty, I associate the phrase “no means no” more closely to admonishing a whinging child, than with date rape.

The whole thing is blown way out of proportion. People can read into it however they like, but it doesnt actually change anything about either Tony Abbott or the Liberal party.

It wouldnt be the first time that Tony Abbott’s remarks were blown way out of proportion, or taken out of context, or said to have some sort of double entendre.

If this is the best that Labor can do, its pretty pathetic.

Tim Watts
11 years ago

I definitely support the #hesaidshesaid campaign, but I’m not sure this is an example of it.

I think this is something that’s just as common and much more invidious. I think of this kind of thing as “Cookie Cutter” journalism ie forcing reality through the cookie cutter of the journalists narrative (alternatively could be described as Round Peg Square Hole journalism – same point). As a result, the ‘message’ that the story contains is frequently totally foreign to what actually occurred, or even (as is the case in your example above) the direct quotes used in the story in the story.

You can see why many on the political side of the relationship feel more spinned against than spinning.

Tim Watts
11 years ago

dorinny – did you even read Nick’s post? No one on the Labor side has been beating this up. It’s not ‘the best Labor can do’ – it’s not even something that they ARE doing.

Ozymandias
Ozymandias
11 years ago

I’m sorry, but I disagree that Abbott’s joke was “a good line”, especially given that he repeated it four times in the same interview so it was obviously not just an off-the-cuff expression, and given his history of demeaning women.

Check the Get Up advert: The man is a serial misogynist, and no amount of “taken out of context” excuses will suffice.

BTW, Abbott’s claim of a “typical Labor smear” is entirely unfounded. He said the words himself -four times, each time in his own context- and then it was journalists’ tweeting that established the “gaffe” meme. When Gillard was asked to comment, she wisely did not rise to the bait.

dorinny
11 years ago

Tim, my apologies, I meant to say – “if this is the best that the labor-leaning mainstream media can do, its pretty pathetic”.

Tim Watts
11 years ago

dorinny, I think you’ll find that the first journalist to run with this story was Samantha Maiden. I think she would have issues if you, or anyone, described her as labor-leaning.

Tim Watts
11 years ago

Nick,

My initial reaction to the generic hashtag was #4thEstateFAIL , which is satisfying in terms of snark, but doesn’t really convey a message.

Essentially, He Said She Said, Horse Race and Cookie Cutter journalism are all a function of the same root cause – namely a misguided attempt to avoid perceptions of bias. In he said she said, you don’t make a value judgement, you just report the facts. In horse-race journalism, you don’t say that either party is substantively better or worse than the other, just that they are playing the game better or worse worse than the other (the rules of which are implicitly assumed to be accepted by all sides). And for Cookie Cutter journalism, the narrative that you are trying to make events fit within has been written so many times before that you are so safely ensconced within the media group think that no one could criticise you for being biased (any more so than everyone is).

There’s a fair bit of literature looking at this question (though some of it could be described as being from the field of Media Studies so grain of salt may be required).

So a generic hashtag that didn’t pick up on this common root cause would be a wasted opportunity I think. I don’t have a better hashtag off the top of my head but I’ll think about it through the afternoon and repost at the end of the day…

Cheers,
Tim

Tim Watts
11 years ago

Still not inspired. #4thEstateFAIL best I can come up with.

Maybe:

#FailureOfthePress

#UReportWeDecide

#UrKillingDemocracy

#SouffléJournalism

Tim Watts
11 years ago

Nothing so wrong in my book!

Was just trying to generate additional ideas…

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[…] comprehend quite a few moves, not all of which fit properly within the HSSS description, and, as my last post on the subject illustrates, sometimes bring on something resembling the opposite of HSSS which is […]

Tel
Tel
11 years ago

Perhaps it makes sense to just finish the job — get rid of the journalists completely and just publish transcripts of whatever public speeches and debates come along. It would be a more useful body of work, more honest, and cheaper to produce. Facts sans pretension.

Get google to index the thing, whack a banner ad at the top and bottom of the page to pull in enough to pay for a bit of hosting. You could run a full media empire with half a dozen employees. All the bloggers would want to link to your page so they can cite quotes or whatever to have an opinion on.

Dave
Dave
11 years ago

I notice that the Age story is followed up by an on-line poll on its website: “do you think Tony Abbott’s comments were inappropriate?”.

Is this an example of “he said, she said, they said” journalism?

TimT
11 years ago

I get the feeling that the offence at Tony Abbott came first and his use of this phrase gave people an excuse to be publicly offended. After all – there was no offense at Greens Senator Scott Ludlum when he used the phrase.

Besides which I don’t see why this phrase should be inevitably associated with a publicity campaign, however worthwhile that particular publicity campaign may be. Language is for communication first, not commercialism.

Left hatred of Tony Abbott is, potentially, so misplaced and exaggerated that it could end up letting Abbott win – by polarising otherwise apolotical voters, and by encouraging exaggerated responses to minor slip ups, thus averting attention away from more important campaign issues.

doctorpat
doctorpat
11 years ago

This hits me as a win for Abbott.
Once again everyone is slapped in the face with “political correctness” where a sensible comment about a straightforward matter is suddenly twisted and reinterpreted to have some sort of hidden meaning that rules a lot of words and phrases off limits for those who aren’t the illuminated select.
No, the labor party has not been involved, very carefully so. Because they know that this is a subject that people will automatically hand to the coalition, regardless of the facts of the particular case.
Just like the coalition would not want to bring up the subject of, for example, damage to the environment. Voters tend to automatically award that subject to Labor (regardless of the facts of that particular case once again) and so the best thing for the coalition is to not mention it and hope people don’t think about it.