I love a rollicking book of insults as much as the next person. In typical Australian style they lean towards brutality, with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The NSW Legislative Assembly ‘Bear Pit’ specialises in this kind of insult, such as when Robert Askin said of the Labor MP Cliff Mallam, ‘If you jumped into a cesspool, the maggots would jump out’. Or when the Greiner government Minister Michael Yabsley described one of his opponents as ‘a very selfish person, as by being here today you are depriving a village somewhere of the perfect idiot’. For cleverness, it’s hard to beat House of Commons barbs. Such as when Prime Minister Harold Wilson branded his opposite number Ted Heath as ‘a shiver looking for a spine to run up’. Or when the Conservative party’s David Mellor said of the Liberal Democrats, ‘None of their MPs are household names, not even in their own homes’. Then there was Churchill. In a sea of insults, my favourite was his reaction to the news that the Labour MP Tom Driberg had announced his engagement. Driberg’s homosexuality was well known around Westminster, so eyebrows were raised when a picture of the MP and his plain- looking fiancée appeared in the press. Churchill responded, ‘Ah well, buggers can’t be choosers’.
In the denigration stakes, there’s a new starter. The Canberra press gallery veteran Kerry-Anne Walsh has written a book of insults about Senator Pauline Hanson. Published by Allen and Unwin, it’s called Hoodwinked, How Pauline Hanson Fooled a Nation. It’s the ultimate sledgehammer, with 300 pages of non-stop abuse. The first sentence sets the tone, describing the One Nation leader as looking like ‘she’d been slapped with something wet and smelly from the old days, when she ran a fish and chippery.’ Hanson is variously described as ‘conceited’, ‘narcissistic’, ‘a black widow spider’, ‘the rot at the core (of One Nation)’, ‘a low-flying oddity’, ‘the mistress of the authoritative high-voltage dummy spit’, ‘the Victorian-era mad aunt locked in the attic’, ‘(practicing) a whiff of Scientology and a tad Jonestown-ish’, ‘(as having) a large dead skunk wrapped around her breasts’ and perhaps indulging ‘a little too heavily in her favourite (alcoholic drink) a Ginger Bitch’. It’s not exactly Churchillian, is it?
Those interviewing Hanson also cop it. Sky News’ Paul Murray is labeled a ‘monotonous monologist’, while Peta Credlin is said to be an ‘embittered, failed political advisor thrown a lifeline by News Corp’. That’s Kerry-Anne Walsh for you. Instead of giving her readers a well-researched, analytical account of the Hanson phenomenon, she has written a book mainly for herself. Walsh has a bad case of PDS: Pauline Derangement Syndrome. The only way she can get it out of her system is to spew Hanson hatred onto every page. As she declares on page 4, in the literary equivalent of a psychiatrist’s couch, ‘Welcome to the nightmare, comrades’. The book offers more therapy for the author than information for the reader. I’m amazed Allen and Unwin published it. When future historians are studying the terminal decline of mainstream media, Hoodwinked could provide a useful case study. As a profession, journalism was supposedly founded on the principles of independence and attention to facts. Somewhere in time, it morphed into an exercise in covert ideology, with journalists pushing their own political opinions yet never honestly declaring the partisanship involved. Left-wing bias of this kind, for instance, has become the ABC’s house style.
Walsh’s book also acts out this charade. Despite putting together a politically-loaded hit-job on Hanson, at no time does the author detail her own allegiances and bias. The closest she comes is in addressing her readers as ‘comrades’, a salutation seemingly back in fashion among the Green-Left.For many years the media got away with this deception. But now, in a better-educated, information-savvy society, consumers can readily see through the trick. Nobody likes a two-faced institution and accordingly, public trust in journalism has collapsed.
As one moves through Hoodwinked, the impact of Walsh’s work is diminished. By the end of the prologue, at page 7, it is clear she has written a nasty polemic rather than a proper journalistic analysis. Ultimately, her efforts are self-defeating. Walsh tries to spin a narrative that the Australian people don’t know the real Pauline Hanson. Even at the book’s final page, Walsh is still puzzled, writing of Hanson as ‘whoever she is’. It’s the biggest mystery in Australian politics since The Real Julia hit the campaign trail in 2010. As evidence of Hanson hoodwinking the electorate, Walsh repeatedly draws attention to a phrase Pauline tried to have included in one of her 1996 parliamentary speeches. It read: ‘I wouldn’t mind if there were more Asians in Australia than Anglo-European Australians, as long as they (the Asians) spoke English.’ Hanson’s staffer John Pasquarelli vetoed the words and they were never delivered. Apparently, this is the great Hanson deception: she’s actually a fan of non-Anglo immigration, as long as all Australians can talk to each other in English. Yet this contradicts Walsh’s mantra throughout the rest of the book, that Hanson is a racist. In its final form, Walsh has written a shambolic, inconsistent volume that does nothing to advance our knowledge of Hansonism and its ongoing electoral appeal. If anyone is being hoodwinked, it’s the readers unlucky enough to have purchased this trashy book of insults.
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