Home » Gary Mallin, Politics and Media

Not ‘The Dearborn Independent’

August 10, 2009 – 1:45 pm8 Comments

dearborn2Gary Mallin, sub-editor at The Age, gives an inside perspective on reporting about Jews.

A couple of observations: when someone who is a Jew (and to a lesser extent a Moslem, for that matter) makes the news, his religion is invariably mentioned in news reports. Further, the newsmaker’s mode of dress is usually added as a corollary.

Take, for example, the reports surrounding the arrest of public officials and rabbis in New Jersey, last month. The Australian, in part, reported thus: ”On display yesterday were handcuffed politicians and rabbis in traditional garb who were led into a federal building to be charged, and then transported by bus to court.”

On August 5, The Age reported that one of the Melbourne terrorist suspects appeared in court in “sockless sandals”.

I am incredulous. What are sockless sandals? Are they manifest of someone who is Moslem, someone who is from the Middle East, a poor person, a surfie bum, a terrorist or some new fashion? Which? Perhaps the report, without the benefit of moving images, was trying to paint a picture for the reader, but in doing so it began sketching stereotypes.

And what are rabbis in traditional garb? Maybe traditional garb is now yarmulke and handcuffs. Really, does anyone, inside or outside the Jewish community, know what a rabbi’s traditional garb is? And does it matter?

Most rabbis I know wear a sober dark suit and tie. So, does this mean, by extension, Melbourne’s thousands of businessmen, most of whom wear a suit and tie, are rabbis? I think not. Is everyone with a long, grey beard a Jew? I think not. Is every bald man a skinhead? I think not.

Idiosyncratically, the media likes to mention Jews and Moslems whenever they can in news reports. It is rare that the faith of others is mentioned. (Those bestial Catholic priests and their abuse of childen is an exception.) But when was the last time you read a report where the religion of a Buddhist or a Hindu, for example, was made a prominent part of the story? In most cases it is irrelevant, a bad guy is a bad guy, no matter what faith they follow. We always seem to know that someone is Jewish, but not what his Christian denomination is.

Be that as it may, there are times when mentioning a person’s faith is relevant. The stories about Richard Pratt’s last few days and life would have seemed to have been missing an important fact, if his Jewishness were not mentioned. Can you image the hue and cry in the Jewish community if this were the case?

Activists in the Melbourne Jewish community seem to rail against The Age on occasions when Judaism or Israel is reported upon. Unfair, biased, anti-Semitic are the main accusations flung in The Age‘s direction.

In my association with The Age since the late 1980s, I have not seen an practical evidence of any of these accusations. Sure, The Age gets a few things wrong every now and then and reports what is perceived to be “the other side” too often and occasionally makes a howler (the Backman issue), but, contrary to what some in the Jewish community might believe, Age staff do not sit around daily and ask, what anti-Semitic, anti-Israel articles can we publish today?

The Age is not The Dearborn Independent of the Henry Ford era. Far from it.

Gary Mallin is a sub-editor at The Age.

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8 Comments »

  • jewinthefat says:

    Gary, you are right. The Age as a whole is no better or worse than most other Australian newspapers, and cries of anti-Semitism are not useful criticisms or purposeful in eliciting change in editorial policy.

    And that is where the focus should be – with the editorial staff. While accusations of racism are a little excessive, this is the news paper that has in the past appeared (from an outsider’s perspective of course) to have had a “print first, ask questions later” policy – case in point, the Michael Backman article, which read like an adaptation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – to repeat his claims is not worth it, but you get the idea.

    I am not from Melbourne, so I only read The Age because I am paid to – but it doesn’t make it any better or worse. It is worth remembering that the Sydney Morning Herald prints the same stories, albeit with different images/headlines attached (if at all).

    I think what The Age is doing is capitalising on their large vocal Jewish and Zionist audience/s, and instead of printing just the article (as in the SMH) there is a large colour photo printed alongside, because let’s face it – this is not racism people, this is pure economic motive. The more people are talking about ‘that shocking article in The Age’ the more newspapers will shoot off the stands tomorrow.

    And The Age is nothing if not consistent.

  • cyberjew says:

    Not sure about that, jewinthefat. The problem is that the economic motivation and the racist factor sometimes overlap. People like hearing what they already think confirmed: They like to hear that terrorists and rapists are Muslim; and they like to hear that corrupt bankers, white-collar criminals and rich media moguls are Jews. Unfortunately, racism sells.

    I’m also not sure i agree that this happens any less with Muslims. I think that if someone’s name is “Muhammad ‘Abdulkareem al-Khalili” it’s just a tad unnecessary to mention that he’s Muslim. A little tautological even. Whereas “Pratt”, or “Green” – or even very Jewish names like “Safran”, “Cohen”, etc. – are not identifiable to most Aussies as Jewish. So in order to sell, it has to be made explicit.

    I agree tho that I don’t think that the newspapers sit around plotting how to take sides – but they do tend to like an angle that sells, and getting people worried about dangerous foreigners achieves that pretty well.

    Many good things to you all.

  • rachsd says:

    The question of whether the media is influenced by its audience or vice-versa is a difficult one. Whilst I’m sure that economic drivers are major determinants of what is published in The Age, this doesn’t rule out the possibility of staff-driven anti-Semitism (or racism again Muslims). Of course the writers and editors are not consciously sitting around looking for anti-Semitic stories. Nonetheless, the question of prejudice remains.

    As Jewin’ the fat says, the content of The Age is usually virtually identical to the content of the SMH. However, both of these papers are quite different to the other major Australian broadsheet, The Australian.

    I tend not to see the same cheap racial / ethnic references in The Australian. This might be because the audience is different, but the audience might also be different because a different audience is attracted to a different type of reporting.

  • ariel says:

    Interestingly, someone pointed out to me that we are blessed to live in a society where noone gives a bugger how you dress: pink dreadlocks, body piercings, tartan kilt, leather pants, jeans which are 3 sizes too small, gothic makeup, etc.

    The exception is the Jew. When the garb is seemingly to the uninformed due to “religion” rather than simply worn by the individual to “express him/herself”, a red line has been crossed.
    What is not understood by most people is that Judaism is not a religion. It can probably best be described as a legal system with a religious aspect. But this may be opening another can of worms…

    When a Sikh wears a turban, it’s exotic.
    When a man dresses as a woman, it’s artistic.
    When a Jew wears a kippah and tzitzit, it’s discomforting.

  • rachsd says:

    Ariel, I would think that Muslims (especially women) would also fit into that category, and incidently you could probably say a similar thing about Islam being a legal system rather than a religion in the Christian sense.

  • The Hasid says:

    Gary:

    Could you perhaps shed some light on the editorial ‘paces’ that an article is put through before it actually goes to print?

    For example: with a fairly ‘standard’ piece of reporting such as the item critiqued here, would the article have been read by a sub-editor and/or a senior editor? If yes, could you clarify if it is read closely, or simply given a cursory glance? Or perhaps not reviewed at all?

    I’m under the impression that articles such as the one covering Rotenberg’s death wouldn’t be scrutinised especially closely, as they’re not hot topics or lead articles. But I could be wrong…?

  • Gary Mallin says:

    I will compose a response about so-called editorial paces and publish it soon.

    Editor’s note: Gary has now done this, and it appears here:

  • Santa Monica says:

    Having become a regular peruser of new local blog AJN Watch, it seems to me that the observant Jews [or maybe the charedim – if there is any difference] in Australia have far more complaints abouyt their treatment by the Jewish News than we generally have about the Age.

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