Keen watchers of marching-protests-by-Christians-in-inner-Sydney, (and we know there’s at least one of you out there) would have noticed that last week, Fred Nile dramatically collapsed in front of news cameras.
Now The Shot is not in the business of mocking elderly powerful males, we only do that to Rupert Murdoch, so let’s not get into the business of making fun of them now. What we are in the business of doing, is questioning where the world is heading and how all the signs reveal an increasing downward trend towards right-wing populism.
If all that sounds a bit dramatic for you and you’d like to ignore the rise of Putin, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Erdogan, et al then let’s start with that marching-protest-by-Christians-in-inner-Sydney and the alleged issue that “instigated” it, (and yes the quote marks are deliberate).
For those who don’t watch The Project, which if ratings are correct is pretty much everybody, a comedian by the name of Reuben Kaye told a Jesus joke that may or may not have been funny depending on your point of view. Reuben has told the same joke apparently on other occasions without much fanfare.
But this time, the right-wing spinners got hold of Reuben Kaye and held his head aloft on a stick as part of the right’s continual fanning of the culture wars flame and the battle for your morals.
This is increasingly part of the political landscape in the USA, in fact their politics appear to consist of nothing else, and it is leaking in under the door in Australian politics like an acrid deadly smoke while you sleep.
But back to Reuben Kaye. If you search the Daily Mail Australia, and I strongly suggest you don’t, you’ll find an astonishing, and suspiciously disproportionate, number of articles dedicated to a 30 second joke on a weekday television program with fairly low ratings.
Yes, in the space of 12 days, the Daily Mail has published 17 articles on the Reuben Kaye non-issue, all of them featuring and quoting a variety of pearl clutching priests, offended mothers and fainting politicians.
Then there’s Sky News Australia whose main audience forum is YouTube where they have a staggering 3.12 million subscribers, which just goes to show how many people need more fibre in their diet.
On Sky’s YouTube channel the non-issue of Reuben Kaye’s joke has sparked 13 news pieces in 12 days.
One of those 13 segments includes the spitting Shih Tzu, Sophie Ellsworth, hyperventilating about families eating their dinner at the same time a gay man appeared on live television, the logic of which escapes me, but then logic and Sophie rarely appear in the same sentence.
Two weeks after the non-event, Reuben Kaye’s 30 second joke is still being fanned, pushed, promoted and even fainted over. The only important question is why?
Last week, I chatted with a journalist who appeared to believe all the outrage over Reuben Kaye’s 30 second joke is fuelled by one group, an online collection called Christian Lives Matter. After reviewing CLM and their patchy history, the skills needed to promote, connect and organise the constant media barrage of articles about this non-issue is frankly, beyond them.
In one example, a Daily Mail article that quoted an avalanche of hashtags on twitter seemingly calling for The Project to be banned, the amount of tweets using the quoted hashtag numbered about a dozen. Hardly an avalanche, more of a manufactured story. The larger point here is, that type of cross-connection and story seeding takes a degree of skill.
Given the dark art of spin was an area I worked in for some time, the waft of spin meisters at play is strong here. It takes considerable contacts, time and expertise to keep a non-issue like Reuben Kaye’s joke bubbling along for two weeks or more. Yes CLM are involved in some of the outrage, but this is being pushed along with some very strong help from masters of the dark arts from the right-hand side of politics.
And here’s the thing, the amount of people working in journalism, as well as progressives in general, who do not, or will not believe how many spinners and news manipulators are behind the seeding and fanning of media stories is actually staggering. There’s a simplistic, black-and-white view among some progressives that anyone even suggesting other players are pushing or manufacturing a news story is somehow a conspiracy theorist.
Not only is this simplistic and sadly naïve, it shows a distinct lack of understanding of how the business of information manipulation works and the nuance behind it.
There are an estimated 22,000 public relations advisors, lobbyists, communication consultants and dirt-unit diggers employed in Australia alone, and even that figure is a wild guess. If earnest-faced progressives don’t believe in the existence of professionally promulgated bullshit, what do they think some of these 22,000 people do? They’re not all organising pretty photos in fashion spreads.
Do these uber-hip progressives genuinely believe everything that appears in traditional media gets there organically? Their anti-conspiracy glasses have corrupted their thinking. Of course none of it is a vast, connected conspiracy. A conspiracy implies a central master-mind controlling thousands of forces which is frankly ridiculous, unless you’ve been to one of my vodka parties.
It’s more than that. It’s organisations like CCHQ (Conservative Campaign Headquarters) in the UK, or the Heartland Institute in the USA, or the Institute of Public Affairs in Australia helping fund astro-turfing groups, embedding help-mates into organisations like Binary Australia and generally flinging the chaos seeds of right-wing outrage wherever and however they can.
It’s constant, it’s highly funded, sometimes it’s sophisticated, sometimes it’s not – but it is here. There isn’t an issue or a news story in Australia that does not have the fingerprints of a right-wing apparatchik on it, pushing an agenda on behalf of their power base.
Look at Bruce Lehrmann, and this sentence makes no inference about any allegations, but Mr Lehrmann has now become a trophy boy for the right in the same way shooter-boy Kyle Rittenhouse was hijacked and manipulated in the USA. Increasingly the issue has nothing to do with the subject under discussion and everything to do with the right’s constant strategy to push and promote the culture war of values and rampant ideologies, and create mayhem.
Steve Bannon, one of the right’s most nefarious dark arts peddlers, told a journalist in 2018: “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.” As American journalist Sean Illing accurately commented during Trump’s impeachment in 2020, “We are in an age of manufactured nihilism.”
Our world is now a 24 hour media machine that overwhelms people with constant “news”, some of which is organic, but a great deal of which is set-up, or fabricated, or pushed and promoted by a right-wing newsrage machine whose job it is to overwhelm people until they become numb to the truth.
The right’s agenda is no longer about manipulating the media, it’s about manipulating reality.
And it is not a conspiracy – it is business. It’s the business of pushing right-wing agendas, the business of creating chaos, the business of maintaining power. If progressives don’t start understanding and accepting that this is now part of how you maintain political power, if they don’t accept that this is happening, if they don’t start pushing and spinning the ball of manipulation back, they will ultimately lose.