It’s been interesting to watch Australia’s commentariat largely misread Israel Folau’s recent travails. Folau’s ordeal isn’t, in substance, a sterile technical argument about freedom of speech, freedom of religion or employment law. Folau’s torment is about the politics of personal destruction.
As a prominent Australian sportsman, Folau’s transgression against the pieties of the progressive’s new moral code wasn’t to go unpunished. The purveyors of that new morality demand obedience and dissent is unacceptable, in private or public. This is despite their moral edicts being a system of values that are alien to everyday people and constantly changing.
The instinctive reaction of the left was to destroy Folau. His downfall serves as an end in itself, but more importantly, it is the mechanism by which they intimidate and silence the rest of the country. The full court press against Folau should be viewed for what it is, an exercise in the use of power. For many Australians, watching the spectacle was horrifying, irrespective of whether they shared his beliefs.
Of course, it’s the usual suspects orchestrating this campaign against Folau. The immediate instrument of his persecution are journalists. Israel Folau is controversial, because the media made him controversial. His views are unacceptable, because they deem them to be unacceptable. He should be sacked, because they say he should be sacked.
Anything else, in terms of appeals to his employment contract or arguments about jeopardizing sponsorship arrangements, is essentially intellectual window dressing for the main event: destroying Israel Folau and sending his views to the fringes of society.
We all saw how relentless the media were in hounding Folau. First, they went after his livelihood, next they even went after his wife, and then they successfully denied him the means to crowdsource funds to defend his legal position. It’s a wonder they haven’t sought to deny him legal counsel entirely. After all, why should he have any right to defend his views when they are so far beyond the pale?
Watching conservative politicians duck this issue by saying it’s a matter of employment law for the courts to decide may be legally correct, but it doesn’t address the fundamental point of contention. Stepping back from the legalities, the real issue is whether you support an individual being destroyed on a personal level for expressing an opinion.
Folau’s real battle won’t be played out in court, it has already been decided. The effort to disenfranchise him economically has been successful and any potential court award of damages will simply be compensation for lost income the press has already denied him the opportunity to earn.
The process has been an extrajudicial one. The move against Folau was instigated and prosecuted by the media, conducted without reference to any notion of due process. The press guard their power to dispense these sanctions by attacking against anyone who would defend Folau. Media rule is cemented by widespread deference toward it by the managerial and political class.
As far as campaigns go, it has been an ominously successful one for the left. The implication of that success is that we will see more of the same. The current climate of fear will only deepen while these increasingly intense attack patterns remain unchallenged.
If it’s so easy to do this to Folau under the current legal framework, then people might reasonably begin to ask whether the legal system provides them adequate protection or needs to be changed. This is a policy conversation that we are only beginning to understand the necessity of having.
The contrast between how Australian and American conservative politicians regard and discuss the media is telling. Americans are well ahead of the curve in recognising the role the mainstream press plays in persecuting their fellow countrymen. Donald Trump spoke for many when he labelled the press the enemy of the people.
One imagines that those who donated to Folau’s legal cause regard it as relatively uncontentious that the media are the enemy of the Australian people. Across a range of policy issues, they have seen activists masquerading as journalists campaigning against their interests for decades.
For some, the deeper question is whether the press is evil. The stunning success of the fundraising effort on behalf of Folau demonstrates that good men are no longer content to do nothing.
Burchell Wilson is a consulting economist with Freshwater Economics.
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