Features Australia

Laughs on the way to the guillotine

The ABC is yet again mired in confusion and misinformation

14 November 2020

9:00 AM

14 November 2020

9:00 AM

Who says the ABC can’t do comedy? Their US election coverage was hilarious. The look on the faces of their hosts when it dawned on them that once again they hadn’t a clue what was going on is the only value for money that most Spectator Australia readers will get from the national broadcaster this year. It’s a pity this serving of schadenfreude comes so infrequently; as Bob Dylan sang of an early social revolution, ‘something is happening here, but ya don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?’

The entertainment started on RN Breakfast when Fran Kelly asked journalist Jonathan Swan what the mood was like in Washington on Election Day? Swan said there was a real sense of foreboding that there could be violence, whatever the outcome but particularly if there was a Trump victory. ‘If there’s a Trump victory? Who would be causing the unrest if there’s a Trump victory?’ asked Kelly, struggling to comprehend this riddle, wrapped in mystery, inside an enigma. It must have come as a shock to listeners when Swan said the violence would come from ‘people protesting the election of Donald Trump’; the good guys according to the ABC’s Manichean view of the world. The ABC has spent months following the script of America’s mainstream anti-Trump media that all protests were peaceful except for those attended by neo-Nazis and white supremacists egged on by the ‘divisive’ Donald Trump.

The mirth continued as Ellen Fanning tried to make sense of Trump’s early lead. ‘It’s confounding,’ she moaned. How to explain the unthinkable — that the president might be re-elected? One of the panelists blamed ‘the influence of Fox News in that bubble that that world just lives inside.’ ‘I sit here and my head spins at this record turnout for Donald Trump,’ confessed Fanning, ‘if that turns out to be what it is.’ It was. Trump was polling more votes than any other president, living or dead. As the red wave threatened to engulf them, key battleground states stopped counting and went to bed. Yet, when they resumed, the Trump-mentum was bogged down in bags of mail-in ballots. Biden, the man who put a lid on campaign activities each day before lunch and struggled to fill a car park, went on to trump Trump on votes.

Who knew, joked the Trumpistas? While the president was raising a ruckus at rallies like a rockstar, Biden was raising the dead. He wasn’t hiding in his bunker, he was running an underground outreach program for deceased voters. ‘I’m so mad my grandparents voted for Biden,’ tweeted one, ‘that I’m never visiting their graves again!’

Fraud and error are a fact of life in US presidential elections but are only significant if they change the outcome as they did in 1876, 1888 and probably 1960. In 2000, the media waited 37 days before Bush was officially declared the winner. Until then, the New York Times referred to him as Governor Bush. In 2016, Hillary Clinton joined the Greens candidate in a recount in late November even though her campaign hadn’t uncovered any evidence of hacking of voting systems. Yet in 2019 she was still claiming Trump was an ‘illegitimate president,’ and accused him of voter suppression, voter purging and hacking.’ In 2018, the ABC’s Four Corners produced a three-part investigation into Clinton’s false allegation that Trump colluded with Russia to subvert the election outcome. Yet without any investigation, the ABC not only claimed that Trump’s allegations of fraud are ‘baseless,’ 7:30 anchor Leigh Sales tweeted, ‘Robert Mugabe keeps coming to my mind.’ For a rational person watching the ABC, Pravda keeps coming to mind. Sales is one of the ABC’s highest-paid journalists, earning around half a million dollars, and has a statutory obligation to ensure that the presentation of news has at least a passing resemblance to reality. Comparing the democratically elected leader of the free world to a murderous Marxist whose 37-year dictatorship bankrupted a nation and terrorised its people would, at first blush, seem to fall short of that standard.

Yet, it was Sky News that attracted the wrath of the ABC’s Media Watch host Paul Barry, outraged that no one at the broadcaster ‘slapped down’ the president’s ‘attack on American democracy.’ Barry was indignant that while CNN anchor Anderson Cooper called Trump ‘an obese turtle on his back’ whose time was over, Sky News hosts refused to ‘damp down their rhetoric’ calling for an investigation of electoral irregularities.

Ignoring the ongoing counts, recounts and investigations, the ABC declared Biden the victor and Biden declared that it was ‘Time to Heal,’ although a photo published of him with his pet German shepherd suggested that he actually meant it was time to heel, a message to Trump supporters not to question his legitimacy, as Democrats had questioned Trump’s for the last four years. There was no need to dogwhistle to Antifa to cancel the looting; leftists, who had insisted it was too dangerous to vote in person, suddenly thronged the streets of New York. ‘I’ve been to so many protests,’ one reveller told the New York Times, ‘but now it’s like, finally something to celebrate.’ There was no mention of the virus in the coverage but the ABC was quick to report that the White House election night party was a potential super spreader event.

When Channel 10’s political editor Peter van Onselen tweeted that he was backing Trump because of his unbroken record of backing the loser, Barry didn’t get the joke and tweeted, ‘Is that your money or just your reputation you’re staking here?’ ‘Just trying to help get the right result,’ van Onselen replied. ‘Nicely done,’ chimed in the ABC’s in-house satirist Mark Humphries.

There is nothing new about media bias. Archie Bunker, the lead character in the 1970s sitcom All in the Family, would complain about that ‘Pinko Cronkite,’ but the CBS News anchor was the most trusted man in American news because he endeavoured to dispassionately present two sides of a story. Not any more. Why bother when, as one columnist tweeted, he ‘despised’ Trump.

Despite Biden’s call for an end to the ‘grim era of demonisation,’ ‘Trump chumps’ as Biden calls them, are in for a rough time. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has already called for a list of ‘Trump sycophants’; ex-Republican turned Never Trumper Steve Schmidt, who worked on George W. Bush’s campaign, tweeted that anyone complicit in Trump’s ‘assault’ against American democracy should pay a ‘brutal price for betraying the American ideal.’ Fun times. It was Horace Walpole who observed, ‘the world is a comedy to those that think; a tragedy to those that feel.’ There is no shortage of woke millennials of the Jacobin left who are full of passionate intensity and are getting out their knitting; its a dangerous time for those who use their brains, but there should be plenty of laughs on the way to the guillotine.

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