ANOTHER AUSTRALIAN TRIUMPH: Instapundit's Dropping the Ball contest - for the boldest errors in post-September 11 coverage – deserves some Australian input. This proud nation yields to none in its wealth of error-prone commentators.
But one towers above them all. Margo Kingston, Webdiarist for the Sydney Morning Herald, is the Empress of Error, a Monarch of Misunderstanding, and also, as you will see, the Queen of Denial.
Dropping the ball? Hell, Margo didn’t so much drop the ball as kick it out of play and refuse to retrieve it. Here’s how her coverage of September 11 and its aftermath evolved:
"I am still in the shock phase of grief. Fear isn't allowed in yet. Some people in Australia have hit out and are threatening fellow Australians. Others have used the tragedy to bolster their case against allowing any Muslims into Australia, including the Tampa boat people … others have written making judgements about the United States and suggesting it is responsible for last night's events."
A reasonable start. The Tampa boat people issue - Afghan refugees boarded the Norwegian vessel in Indonesian waters and compelled its captain to take them to Australia - was a big deal here, and people reacted as Margo says. The anti-Americanism kicked in early, but that was Margo’s readers, not her. Let’s move on …
"I can't stop crying. I know - we all know - that we are at the beginning of a journey which could destroy our hopes for a better world and plunge us into a religious war. I don't believe in God, but I'm praying that the world's leaders - including the leaders of the Muslim world - will find a way to avoid world catastrophe."
Now we’re getting somewhere. Military reaction to the attacks is a Bad Thing and will only have awful consequences. Nice of her to point out that it’s not just Western leaders who might be capable of causing "world catastrophe".
"Discussion deepens on the why of it and how to respond. Many readers have recommended the website of Mike Moore, of 'The Awful Truth' TV fame for his views on the New York bombing. His website is http://www.michaelmoore.com"
Moore alert! Moore alert! (also Crap Writing alert! and Don’t Know How To Do Links alert!) From here on, you know where we’re headed …
"A Webdiary debate is unfolding on the causes of the catastrophe, and whether the United States must take some responsibility for it."
Great work, Detective Kingston! Only seven days since the attacks and the responsible party has already been identified.
"Bush's rhetoric gets more disturbing each day."
I guess it was, if you were Osama bin Laden. A couple of days later Margo wrote that she’d decided to ignore the subject: "I was deliberately not keeping up with this topic because I couldn't see the validity of comments on a phoney war."
It was all becoming too much to cope with:
"Sitting in news conference this morning, I realised I didn't want to hear the news. The war begins. We fire our first actual shots in the war against refugees. Coles Myer profit tumbles. A tourism rescue package to be announced. The police integrity commission inquiry opens … Too much news. All of it bad."
All of it? Even the tourism deal?
"Now our troops are heading off, everything changes. Today, as the young men in my office worried about conscription, I finally rejected the separation of international and domestic issues in the campaign, and realised the [Australian federal] election is about our place in the world … Today, we commit 1,550 defence personnel to ‘the operation'. What is it? … How will we know when the war is over? How will the world have changed when that day comes?
"The enemy is stateless. Just as global capital is stateless. Just as the world's ever growing hordes of refugees are stateless. The enemy uses the mechanisms of a globalised world to wreak its havoc, and plays the global capital market to finance its evil. Revenge is pointless - the enemy wants to die to destroy us."
I don’t know where she got the conscription idea, but Margo may as well panic over that while she’s panicking over everything else. And what’s the big problem with statelessness? Hey, Margo – oysters are stateless! Duct tape is stateless! Coleslaw is stateless! Run for your life!
"Do WE support the overthrow of the Afghani government? What do WE want to replace it with? How do WE want to handle the war's victims? What is OUR vision for a new world order? What role can WE usefully play? Why should WE send our troops when only the rest of the Anglo-Saxon world - the Brits and the Canadians - are with us? What is OUR plan to handle Indonesian instability?"
What is this, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire"? How many questions do I have to answer before I score the cash? And do I get a bonus for pointing out that the correct word is Afghan, not Afghani?
"The war is getting messy. It's hard to find victory or exit strategies or any other sanity in what's happening. Innocent bodies pile up. Moral certainties dissolve. Regional tensions mount. As expected by everyone except the Yanks, the Afghans are too tough to avoid sending US troops in. As predicted by everyone except the Yanks, it appears, it's supposed be a LONG war, requiring PATIENCE and INTELLIGENCE. American double standards now scream for attention."
This was written shortly before America began to take control in Afghanistan. Because Margo had been so upset about "moral certainties dissolving" and "innocent bodies piling up", I looked forward to her ecstatic relief as Kabul was liberated and the Taliban was driven from power.
But when these things happened, Margo didn’t write about them.
In fact, she never wrote about the war again.
Oh, she sometimes mentioned it in passing, as on November 6:
"The boat people sure have dominated the Webdiary during the election. When the SAS boarded the Tampa, my readership trebled overnight and contributors buried me in emails. It didn't let go even when the bombs hit America."
Essentially, Margo's war ended when the first burqa was joyously cast aside. (By the way, when did those bombs hit America? I remember some jets, and the anthrax, but I’m drawing a complete blank on bombs.) It was as though the campaign’s success somehow displeased her.
By yesterday, she’d seemingly scrubbed the entire event from her mind. September 11 and the successful assault on the Taliban didn’t even make into her list of Major Happenings for 2001:
"The big four events for me, apart from the election, were the Geoff Clark scandal, the instant death of the Knowledge Nation manifesto through a laugh-in on the diagram, Peter Costello's decision to stop Shell taking over Woodside in the ‘national interest’ and, of course, the Tampa. I'd love some personal wrap-ups."
I’m sure I don’t have to explain those events to anyone. They all received massive global coverage. The Swiss have had it up to here with the Geoff Clark scandal, and could all you Americans please stop bothering us about Shell and Woodside?
Here’s a personal wrap-up, Margo: I'm happy that we're winning. And I'd like to think that makes you happy, too.