‘ABC bias’ and the right wing war on rationalism

The relentless campaign in the Murdoch press and other right wing media outlets accusing the ABC of ideological bias and groupthink are so laughably hypocritical that it would be easy to conclude the lot of them were a cutting new satire from the people who brought us The Onion.

“The ABC of treachery” screamed the Daily Telegraph. “Why does the ABC hate our Navy?” asked Miranda Devine. “These blokes and these women get away with this on a daily basis and no-one holds them accountable”, thundered 2GB’s Ray Hadley. That’s right Ray, no-one.

Andrew Bolt, as usual, trumped the lot. He claimed that the fact the crazy-eyed right hates the ABC is in itself proof that the broadcaster is run by a bunch of communists.

Citing an IPA headline “It’s time we privatised the tone-deaf, left-leaning ABC” Bolt asked “If the far left [by which he means Get Up!] considers the ABC friendly and conservatives consider it hostile, can Mark Scott really maintain both have got it wrong?”

Even the least flamboyant doyens of the liberal establishment, like 774 Melbourne’s Jon Faine, have found it easy to point out that there is something amiss when half a dozen opinion writers from Murdoch papers across the country all come out with virtually identical polemics about systematic ideological bias at the ABC.

The anti-ABC campaign, led by a feverish right wing press and eagerly endorsed by an otherwise directionless Liberal government, can seem too ridiculous to be taken seriously. But this latest outbreak of the “culture wars” is part of a long term strategy of the right wing over the last decade and a half that has been remarkably successful in dragging political discourse to the right, intimidating liberals and social democrats, and making it harder to establish any genuinely left alternative to the status quo.

The basic strategy, imported more or less directly from the US, is this. Abandon any pretence of reasoned or logical argument. Treat facts with derision. Castigate mainstream, thoroughly bourgeois concepts about journalistic freedom and media ethics as dangerous Marxist ideology. Redefine “left” and “far left” to encompass anything to the left of (or even on the left of) the Liberal Party.

The problem with this is not that the right’s narrative is the slightest bit compelling, but that the institutions in their line of fire have, by and large, capitulated all the way down the line, falling over themselves to prove how unbiased they are.

In the case of the ABC this has meant stacking the board with notorious right wingers, and running a mile when their stories are challenged.

Even Media Watch – which has done a better job than many in exposing the  lies of the lunar right – got in on the grovelling on 3 February, attacking the ABC for running allegations that the navy torured refugees in their custody. These allegations have since been backed up by additional reporting in the Fairfax press, but not before Mark Scott gave a grovelling apology for his journalists who were brave enough to pursue a story.

The left needs to defend the ABC from scurrilous attempts by the right to delegitimise any challenge to the Liberal government’s agenda. But by the same token, we need to recognise that the ABC, and the liberal wing of the political establishment in general, cannot be relied upon to stand up to Murdoch’s attack dogs.

You only need to look at the US, where the process of lunatic right wing claims followed by shameful liberal capitulation has played out more fully, to see that all attempts to accommodate the right in order to appear “reasonable” only strengthen the hand  of these latter-day Spanish inquisitionists.

If the left wants to put the right on the back foot, we need to stand up and defend an unashamedly radical left agenda.