MARGO'S WORLD OF WONDER: Part Three
The final part of a three-part series examining the work of Margo Kingston, Webdiarist for the Sydney Morning Herald. Please scroll down the page to read the first two instalments.
This section begins with Margo's panic over the arrival of illegal immigrants …
"From the very beginning, the Government treated it as an act of war by the boat people. Now, we're at war with Norway."
Margo's talking about the Tampa boat people debacle, in which a Norwegian ship rescued some asylum seekers from a sinking ferry in Indonesian waters. The asylum seekers coerced the ship's captain into taking them to Australia rather than back to Indonesia. That much I know about, but the war with Norway I don't remember at all. Did we win?
"Clearly something primal is going on, something that hits the heart of the Australian psyche … It's the fear of non-white, non-Christian invasion from the north by a young nation with no experience of the real thing. This fear is so fundamental that it overcame other basic Australian traits - compassion, a helping hand, a fair go."
According to Margo, we're being invaded by an unnamed young nation to our north. We shouldn't have too much trouble repelling them, though, because they’ve got no experience. This might be over even faster than our war with Norway.
"I'm overwhelmed. Two hundred emails since I left work last night, from people around Australia, Australians round the world, and Norwegians in Norway and Australia. I'm culling a bit, but I want to publish as many emails as possible as a contemporary record of our reactions to this extraordinary event. So far, emails are running at about eight to one against Howard's stand."
Margo actually believes her email is representative of broad public opinion.
"I'm sorry. Another 100 emails - I can't even read them all today, let alone publish. It seems many people feel so strongly about this matter that they want to have their views on record. Perhaps the Tampa will transform the federal election campaign … The balance of sentiment in Webdiary has shifted - now it's anti-Howard by about six to one, down from eight to one."
"Perhaps the Tampa will transform the election campaign." Sure it will – if the election is held in Crazyville, capital city of Margostan.
"Here's the latest batch of emails to Webdiary. I'll post another batch later tonight. The Tampe crisis has seen visitors to Webdiary jump from the usual 9,000 to 40,000, and for the first time ever it's one of smh.com.au's most-visited pages!"
Hooray! Webdiary is more popular than "Conditions of Use"!
"Many Australians think Howard's actions over the Tampa have defended our national honour. Many others think they have seriously stained it. Howard is a danger to himself and his country for creating such a bitter split."
Bitter split? Nearly 80 per cent of Australians supported Howard.
"The polls are in and current public opinion is clear. A whopping 77% of Australians support John Howard's decision to refuse the Tampa asylum seekers entry to Australia and 74 percent approve of his handling of the subsequent crisis. Seventy one percent prefer detaining asylum seekers in camps."
But your emails, Margo! How could they be wrong?
"Hi. It's a strange and scary feeling realising you are in a minority group increasingly vilified by people who don't share your views. At least it makes it easier to empathise with those Muslim, Lebanese and Australians of 'middle Eastern appearance' now under vicious public attack …"
Wealthy white chick Margo feels their pain.
"Since the Tampe crisis broke, a caller has expressed the hope that I be raped by a 'middle eastern gang', some have told me I am a traitor and should be deported, and others have told me to shut up. I've never felt UnAustralian before. What am I?"
Must … resist … answering …
"Kimberley Brandt wrote to Webdiary last week saying she was moved to get active on the Tampa crisis. She's been hard at it since, working with Amnesty International and others to organise a public meeting. It's on Sunday at First Fleet Park, Circular Quay at 2.30pm."
Is that for the Tampa crisis or the Tampe crisis?
"The identity debate has exploded, with questions about the state of our democratic traditions, particularly the rule of law, entering the picture. But the racism debate is still creating all the angst - it's raw, it's emotional, it's genuine, it's reaching out, and it's engaged."
It's married, it's divorced, it's cruising singles bars, it's hitting on a dental hygienist, it's going home alone.
"To me, the Tampa marks the end point of the era of ‘political correctness’, which has been in continual decline since 1996. The squashed minority which bred Hanson in 1996 has won its final victory. Now Hanson's social vision rules. I believe that the nation will come to regret the end of the politically correct era, in retrospect."
A few posts earlier, Hanson was toasted for bring a breath of fresh air to Australian politics. Now her "social vision" is condemned. Which Margo is writing today?
"A request. Clearly Webdiary has outgrown its design. A new design - easier for you, less time-consuming for me - was ready to go before we suffered a 25 percent budget cut before June 30. I need your help."
Why don't you ask your $90 subscribers to pony up some more cash?
"He's no conservative, John Howard. He's a radical man, prepared to challenge the basis of our legal and political system and the confidence of citizens in it to get his way. Tear it all down, tear us all apart, John."
It's true. Since the election Howard has declared himself Caesar, and demolished all the courts. Nobody saw it coming. Nobody - except Margo.
"Don't get sucked into the inevitable Howard argument that it's all Labor's fault for not passing the Border Protection Bill a couple of weeks ago. That was to retrospectively authorise the Defence forces forcing the Tampa outside Australian territorial waters, not to board the Tampa and hold the boat people prisoner."
"A correction to my last post. It looks like the Border Protection Bill COULD have retrospectively allowed our troops to detain people and force them out of our waters."
Before becoming a journalist, Margo was a lawyer. No lie.
"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 … Some others have written making judgements about the United States and suggesting it is responsible for last night's events."
I've already dealt with Margo’s coverage of September 11 in a previous post. This was her initial response.
"Being one of the ludicrously out of touch minority I realise I now am, I had thought the atrocity may have softened our attitude to the boat people - they are, after all, fleeing terror."
Here Margo is beginning to turn against her previous beliefs that journalists should "reconnect" with the readers.
"Australia is conducting its own dirty little war now, against boat people, flouting international treaties on refugees as well as our own laws. This is not the action of a responsible world citizen. It is isolationism. It inflames fear … It cannot be undone now. Boat people are doomed. Politicians cannot see the incongruity of their rhetoric and their actions. Neither can most Australians."
So "most Australians" are wrong. Remember when Margo was demanding that journalists must "become reader identified"? To hell with that idea.
"There is no mainstream political debate on the merits of this crazy farce. In the vacuum, prejudice, hatred and ignorance flourish. There is no space for reason."
A crazy farce can have merits?
"In this entry, contributors continue to explore the ramifications - military, economic and cultural - of the new York bombing. I begin with a piece by Christopher Selth, who believes that the financial markets are beginning to realise that it signals the end of naive global capitalism."
She can't even be bothered to spell New York correctly. And, like every other Webdiary mistake, she simply leaves it there, uncorrected, forever. Has Margo no pride in her work?
"The Tampa crisis and its aftermath has been an extraordinary time for the Webdiary. Before the story broke, readership had settled at about 9,000 unique visitors a month. An unprecedented surge when Tampa broke saw readership soar to 23,000 in August."
Those numbers are lame.
"I was in Canberra for the last two weeks of sittings, and was almost overwhelmed by the sense that our national political system has collapsed in on itself. There are no big ideas, there is no questioning of norms now so obviously under threat and there is unthinking overthrow of norms like the rule of law without rationale or discussion."
Someone's been listening to Leonard Cohen again. From here on in, Webdiary ceased to be a political website and became more like a nervous breakdown in instalments.
"Those who dare contextualise the bombing and seek long term solutions to the challenge to Western democracy posed by the terrorists are literally ‘named’ by the blathering right, told they are traitors and sent to rhetorical hell. There is little or no engagement from 'the right' with the strategic and other challenges we face. Do Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt, Imre et al advocate the newking of Afghanistan or the razing of the country as do some on the right in the United States? We don't know. Their contribution is smear, distortion, abusive emotionalism and condemnation without engagement. In short, McCarthyism."
Upset at being named, Margo names the namers (although she omits Imre's surname – Salusinszky – presumably because it's too difficult to spell). What is "newking"?
"The campaign opener says it all about the dark dead end to which John Howard has taken us … This is John Howard's address to the nation post terror. The world's troubles have closed in on us, fading our prospects to black. Nothing about the way through. Nothing about how we can make the world or our nation a better, safer, place … The politics of fear. The politics of closure."
The journalism of dumb.
"From Howard, not one scrap of forward thinking, not a hint of new policy, not a smidgen of the vision thing. Instead, the endless repetition of him being the man to 'see the Australian people through these very difficult security and economic challenges that face our nation' … Behind it, nothing. Literally nothing. And the style - awkward, stilted, blinking, lip-licking, defensive, tired. The antithesis of the leadership qualities he's been projecting for more than a month."
Margo's ideal leader would never blink. Great mounds of grit may accumulate, welding closed his tear ducts, but blink he will not. And his lips … why, he'll let them split and bleed rather than disgrace himself with cowardly licking.
"Now our troops are heading off, everything changes."
More chaos, as usual.
"The isolationist Howard, who's walked away from human rights treaties and Kyoto, turned his back on our region, thumbed his nose at the refugee crisis and refused to attempt to tell us an Australian story of the crisis to unite us, is bad for us."
Strange to call Howard an isolationist over Kyoto when hardly anyone else has signed it. He'd have been isolated if he'd agreed with it.
"This election campaign is sickening … Any sane analysis would conclude that if we want security in these crazy, scary times, we'd vote Labor … The Australian people are being played for suckers. In darker moments I think we deserve what we get if Howard romps home. Then I realise the media is aiding and abetting his fraud."
As I said: Try to keep in mind that Margo is a serious, influential political journalist, and not some Indymedia midget.
"Beazley's daily policy announcements, rock solid on costings and focused on improving services, is working."
What's that great Dandy Warhols lyric? "You never get wise, you just get older."
"I got lots of emails on the boat people - for and against - but I'm leaving them alone for a couple of days. It's becoming almost unbearable to think about."
But Margo – that's your job.
"Australia will regret condemning as 'elite' the voices of scholarship, experience, and the wisdom born of deep thought about our nation's interests. The new elite values none of these qualities. The voices of reason, young and old, across the political spectrum, have done their best. They lost with honour."
And there we have it: Margo now completely rejects the readers. They didn't listen to her, so they can sod off.
"I was in a strange space on Saturday night. I'd cried every day since the Liberal and Labor launches, so the grieving was already done. For me, the result was expected and I had emotionally reconciled myself to it. So the night itself was calm."
This is Margo's reaction to the election result. Send your spare Prozac to the Help Margo Learn to Live Again Appeal.
"Among my circle, most cried when Howard said in his victory speech that 'Australia is the best country in the world'. The worst moment for me was when he said that 'the things that unite us are more important than the things which divide us'. Not to me, John. The things that divide us are now more important."
Spoken like a true friend of democracy.
"Imre Salusinszky in Monday's Herald, after quoting from a writer to Webdiary, said 'Fine, drop 'round any time. Only, I have mace.' Is he trying to be funny? Mace is a form of tear gas used by police to temporarily disable protesters. Salusinszky is, consciously or otherwise, identifying with the state to label people of different views to him so dangerous they must be physically shut down."
Imre's father was kidnapped and imprisoned by Hungary's secret police in the 1950s. That is an example of the state physically shutting a person down because of "different views". Margo hasn't got a clue.
"I also think there has long been a real need to articulate core Australian values to which all migrants need to subscribe."
Many migrants supported the government's stand against illegal immigrants. This is Margo's solution. What would she do to migrants who refused to sign her Pledge of Margonian Values? Deport them?
"Mark Latham's views hold sway. Here's what he said in Saturday's Australian: ‘Working families working hard want to be rewarded for effort. On the flip side of that they have zero tolerance for illegality. They don't support illegal migration ... I've got to say I haven't got much sympathy for people who pay people smugglers and arrive in boats that are funded by corruption.'
"What Latham is really saying is that the aspirationals care concerned only with self-interest - ie more money in their pockets - and eschew empathy for people in different circumstances. Us and them. We and Other. This is the antithesis of the progressive vision."
The love affair with Latham is over. Margo's ability to decipher what people "are really saying" is astounding.
"The core values debate is not just something migrants must 'subscribe' to, an unfortunate term which I regret, but that we as a nation agree to. A set of guiding principles."
What Margo is really saying is that she's a tyrant who would impose upon other people her rules and values, and close down debate on subjects she believes should not be discussed.
"Thanks for reading, thanks for writing and have a good Christmas. Back January 4."
Promises, promises …
Thursday, January 10, 2001: "Happy new year, and thanks for coming back."
Only six days late. Does the Herald ever dock Margo's pay?
"So she's gone. I've talked about her, her meaning and her impact since this diary began, so over to you. How will Pauline Hanson be remembered? … Looking back, Pauline Hanson has been the most influential person on my work since I became a journalist in 1987 … After following her in the 1998 election, I examined all my assumptions and began changing my views on reporting politics and the optimum relationship between journalists and readers."
Hanson, a footnote in Australian political history, is "the most influential person" in Margo's career. Imagine a rock writer whose greatest influence is Supertramp's "Crime of the Century".
"I think the government is in a state of psychological siege. They complain that the boat people are trading on our decency. They have responded by losing it. This is impossible to accept, so they pretend we are still decent by saying that the boat people are not human, and therefore our decency is not engaged. So a lip sewing episode is portrayed as an insult to us - we who have human feelings, not an act of desperation by them - who have none."
I'm confused. Who's pretending to be decent? What am I meant to be sewing? Who has no lips?
"We are now seeing a leakage of this mindset to demonise those who support the refugees cause. Now we too are unAustralian, etc etc … This leakage is also infecting the official attitude towards the fate of David Hicks. He too, has lost his rights as an Australian citizen, as have all the Taliban fighters captured during the war in Afghanistan."
All the Taliban fighters have lost their rights as Australian citizens. Tough break.
"[Hicks] is not one of us because what he did was not decent. It's strange, isn't it, that people fleeing the Taliban regime are detained in similar, disgusting conditions as those who fought for them! Just what are we proving to ourselves here? And how much further can this infection go before we realise we're becoming no different to the enemy we just conquered?"
We're no different at all. Why, only yesterday I destroyed a few Buddha statues, crashed a jet into an office building, and moved to Tora Bora.
"I fear that some Australians will attempt a breakout at Woomera, and that some Australians will harbour escapees. This issue could literally tear our country apart."
"This matter is out of control. It could go anywhere. There's talk that at least one group is planning to attack the Woomera camp and free the detainees. Several people I've spoken to would seriously consider harbouring an escapee.''
Onegroup. Severalpeople. Yep, that'll get those tectonic plates jumping.
"I'm off to South Africa, back April 2. I hope to be full of new ideas and new energy for the year ahead by the time I get back. I've received many ideas to redesign the Webdiary, and hope we can get into that too. Now is a time for hope."
You've left the country, Margo. It's time for a celebration!