New Matilda spins against Mal Brough

As Troppodillians may know, I don’t follow the daily political chit chat unless I somehow get inveigled into it which I usually do at election time and also when debates seem to carry electric cultural significance about something that I have some particular interest in. I wasn’t particularly interested in “menugate” but this story makes it look like an nice little illustration of all that is wrong with our media.

Of course I know that politicians tell flat lies – I’ve watched them do it knowing the truth. But they try to keep it to a minimum because it’s hard to avoid being caught if you tell lots of straight out lies, especially if you do it in public where there are people who’ve got good incentives and motivation to put some effort into proving you’re a liar. So my operating procedure is to assume that most politicians tell flat lies reluctantly for pragmatic reasons if for no other.

And if we believe Mal Brough’s side of the story, that infamous menu was produced by someone else for a joke and was not distributed at the fund raiser. (That would explain why Joe Hockey said on PM that he didn’t remember it – because he didn’t. He hadn’t seen it.) So here are the most likely facts as it seems to me having read the story: 

  1. An ideological low lifer created a menu for a joke.
  2. He knew it was off and so did not distribute it at Mal Brough’s fund-raiser.
  3. The press’s front page coverage means that everyone who’s been near the media in the relevant period thinks that Mal Brough’s fund raiser had a low life menu at it.
  4. Mal Brough has been pretty upset about all this. He’s taken it personally and has vigorously and personally but at least on the evidence not discourteously, sought to clear his name, including with all those who have directly communicated their objection to the menu to him. He’s made repeated personal phone calls when emails have not been responded to.
  5. Sufficient information has come to light for points 1-3 to be a reasonable interpretation of the facts.
  6. The media having writ, have moved on. It is not as entertaining to report their own sloppy impatience to get at the truth of allegations as it was to report allegations with sloppy impatience. So everyone thinks that the front page stories and news stories on the tele reflect what happened.
  7. So only those who pay a lot of attention know that Mal Brough is probably innocent of what he has been accused of and rightly aggrieved.

Fortunately Ben Eltham’s reporting of this in New Matilda gives me enough information to deduce these things. But the article is ‘spun’ the other way. It rehearses Brough’s involvement in trying to do in Peter Slipper, reports Brough’s vigour in personally calling Amanda Boyd to protest his innocence and seek an apology from her (since she was seeking an apology from him). Reports and makes a feature of the story that Boyd found this “weird” and “creepy”.

This is how the report ends:

Brough has claimed he didn’t see the menu. “Rather than going off half-cocked and making statements which I may well have been incorrect on, I said as it was; I had not seen it, I condemned it,” he told journalists last week.

“I’m being linked to something which wasn’t there. It didn’t occur.”

Now it appears Brough is trying to convince ordinary voters of that point with personal phone calls. It’s not clear whether the tactic will be successful.

“Maybe he’s under a lot of stress,” Boyd said.

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13 Responses to New Matilda spins against Mal Brough

  1. Phil says:

    Given the lies he told about the slipper/ashby case, why would ypou believe he is telling the truth now?

  2. zoot says:

    Has anybody seen the menu they did use?

  3. Mel says:

    Boyd’s email to Brough contained the line:

    “I expect to hear from you soon.”

    Ben Eltham’s claim that Brough has tried to get an apology out of Boyd is suspect and possibly a lie. Boyd has said:

    “I didn’t want to talk to him because it just seemed crazy lengths to go to get an apology from a nobody,” she told Fairfax Media.

    So Boyd first accuses Brough of knowing about the menu and indirectly contributing to an environment in which women are raped, demands Brough contact her and when he tries to do so, she goes to an anti-Coalition media functionary- Ben Eltham- to complain that Brough is being weird.

    As you know, I’m centre-left on most issues but I hate it when “my side” behaves like the Right.

    BTW, I usually pay no attention to stories like this but sometimes it is an interesting exercise to try to work out who is most likely telling lies.

    • Ian says:

      If I contacted a politician and gave certain reply details (postal address, e-mail) and then said “I expect to hear from you soon”, I too would be offended if that politician then tried to call me after looking up my phone number. It’s just not professional, Mel, and I think you know that. You are being disingenuous saying “he then tried to do so” by looking her up in the phone book. It was simply not one of the methods she (implicitly) gave him permission whereby to contact him.

      • Nicholas Gruen says:

        Ian,

        There are indeed lots of interesting things arising from Brough’s pushing the boundaries. One thing that strikes me is that the initial approach to him was not civil. It was standard stuff – writing to him assuming the worst and demanding responses etc. (Message: you are my democratic representative, and my relation to you is essentially expressive – ie of me and the way I feel – not a human interaction between two equals).

        You might think it was ‘crossing a line’ for Brough to contact the person. I guess in one sense it is. But then I think there’s value to be had in transgressing in a situation sufficiently to take it seriously. If she was really wanting his attention, rather than putting on a show, well he was giving it to her. Lots of people are very flattered that an important person has actually taken the time to respond to them personally.

        On the other hand, I guess I can accept that it’s a pity that Brough’s drive to take it personally, take it seriously was done (it seems) in the cause of his anger and his desire for expression.

        Perhaps one takeout is that we’ve been sold a model of our relationship to our political representatives that is essentially expressive, but it’s transgressive for the politician to actually respond – as an equal – in kind – in an expressive way.

        I recall as a child being brought up to think that Gough Whitlam was right and Billy McMahon was wrong (OK my parents didn’t give me flash cards with that on them, but hopefully you know what I mean.) Anyway as I was looking at this theatre, and doing so from Whitlam’s point of view – I was amazed at how often rarely I detected real indignation in Whitlam’s voice. I gradually worked out that such heightened emotion wasn’t in his interests to show – because it would raise the temperature too much too often to be good politically and it would also deplete his reserves of energy.

        The result is that politicians very often leave their feelings at the door when they do politics. That’s a pity. Assuming Brough isn’t lying – which is obviously something I can’t know – I rather like the fact that Brough did engage – emotionally and as if the issues were of personal significance.

        If he crossed a line, is it good that it’s there?

        • Ian says:

          Thanks Nicholas. I can agree with most of what you write. Re your ‘Perhaps one takeout’ comment, that is the nature of our relationships with public personae, for better or worse. They put themselves out there, invite us to engage with them by any one of a number of means. That does not give them the right to return the favour by any means they choose. It was Brough who published his contact details, not Boyd hers.

          People like Brough have a lot more power and influence than the rest of us, and they should use that power judiciously.

        • Mel says:

          Ian,

          Boyd gave Brough her address but not her phone number.

          Boyd’s phone number was listed in the phone book, which is an implicit invitation to people to look up your number. That is why we have phone books. Also, she did demand to be contacted.

          It would be unprofessional if Brough rung Boyd and then proceeded to lambast her but this didn’t happen.

          Brough’s “power and influence” in this context is irrelevant. I rather doubt that Mighty Mal had the power to beam death rays down the phone line to Ms Boyd, a woman who is no blushing wallflower judging by the contents of her email and her willingness to run to the media with her “scoop”.

          Brough might deserve the black hat in 9 out of 10 polly melodramas in which he figures but on this occasion he deserves the white hat.

    • Ben Eltham’s claim that Brough has tried to get an apology out of Boyd is suspect and possibly a lie.

      Mel, this is what the SMH said (and Eltham quoted the email too):

      Mr Brough replied the next day, forwarding a copy of the restaurateur’s statement, in which he said he had created a mock menu himself ”as a light-hearted joke”, and that it was not produced for public distribution. Ms Boyd did not reply.

      On Monday, five days after his initial email response, Mr Brough wrote again, saying that he had tried to ring Ms Boyd all afternoon with no success. ”Since the full story came out many have apologised to me both publicly via the media and personally,” he wrote. ‘‘Will you admit to having jumped to conclusions and do the same?

      As this is a quote from the email, I don’t think it any exaggeration to say he “tried to get an apology” from her. (Unless you are going to parse it as “suggesting an apology is due” and claim that is different from “trying to get an apology.”)

      Brough’s reaction, whatever one thinks of these “boundary” issues that are being discussed, appears to me to be very unusual because he was dealing with someone in Victoria, probably about a 1,000 km from his potential electorate.

      If he had been dealing with trying to shore up votes in his own electorate, his effort in contacting her would make more sense.

      As it is, it reads to me as a tad obsessive that he did not merely email his rebuttal, but wanted to do it over the phone.

      • Mel says:

        Boyd is a malign bint who took a cheap shot by linking Mal Brough’s supposed actions to the rape and murder of Jill Meagher. I’m disinclined to take her word for anything. Her claim that Brough tried to bully her into making an apology isn’t even supported by her own version of the facts.

        • Come on, Mel. It appears clear the reports are quoting Brough’s email verbatim.

          Funny how your attacking Eltham for spin; now your counterspin is so strong you won’t admit you’ve gone too far in claiming the bit about Brough seeking an apology is probably made up.

          In fact, your latest comment – if accepted (for the sake of argument) as a fair characterisation of Boyd – only goes to show that Brough was silly to seek to keep contacting by phone someone who was being over the top in the first place. Or do you think it’s good judgement for every politician who gets an email from (say) Graham Bird to try and get him on the phone?

        • Mel says:

          SfB

          “Come on, Mel. It appears clear the reports are quoting Brough’s email verbatim.”

          No it doesn’t. If it is it should say so.

          And it’s Graeme Bird not Graham Bird :)

  4. My, Nicholas is a generous soul.

    There were several features of this story which I immediately raised red flags about the truth:

    1. Has Nicholas forgotten that even News Ltd papers (Samantha Maiden in the Tele, I think it was) outright called Brough a liar over his initial denials that he had any detailed knowledge of Ashby bringing a court action?
    2. Brough’s fast apology (which he says was on the assumption the menu had been used) seems to have been in cahoots with LNP head office in Brisbane, which either also assumed it was true, or (perhaps) someone there knew it was used.
    3. Hockey’s specific use of “I don’t recall seeing the menu” sounded like a formulaic use of the phrase that politicians love to use when there is a possibility that it will later be shown that they had done what they now can’t remember. (It was very much along the lines of Pynes’ approach too when he first denied contact with Ashby, then had to retreat to a “oh, did I email him? I don’t remember that…”)
    3. I think it seems pretty clear now that joke menus are not unknown at private fundraisers, and (I would further assume) that the jokes would usually be produced by a party staffer and supplied to the restaurant to incorporate. On the other hand, the ex-chef did claim in his interview that Richards had inserted jokes at fundraisers before, but he had always been keen to show them to people attending. That makes sense to me: it simply sounds improbable that a restaurant owner would bother creating them just for his son.

    Even at Catallaxy (God forbid), despite Sinclair’s bizarre suggestions (such as we can assume Hockey would not have looked at any menu, since he is on a diet), there was at least one person in the thread who agreed with my suggestion that it seemed quite likely that if the restaurateur alone did create it, he would have at least showed the menu to Brough to see the reaction. Given Hockey’s “I don’t recall” formula, I would not be surprised if he had seen it too.

    One final matter: it has been on twitter, but pretty much completely ignored in the mainstream media, that Abbott was in Brisbane on the day in question, and when asked if he attended the function, his answer was along the lines that he didn’t remember where he was that night, but he would check his diary.

    I have not heard anyone ask him since what his diary revealed.

    As with many things in politics, the scandal is, however, mainly interesting for the possible cover up. Even if the menu had been on the tables, it is possible the “joke” was hardly noticed, or if it was, that no one found it funny.

  5. Ian says:

    ANd yes, I think it’s good that the line’s there.

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