down the Sydney Morning Herald, laughed quietly to myself and
opened another cider.
Devine's journalism had come to this: its okay not
to let the actual facts stand in the way of a good story if it highlights
what you think is really going on and advances your political message.
That spin came through loud and clear from her piqued defence of police
whistleblower Tim Priest, who had belatedly been exposed
by Herald journalists as, well, a fantasist.
and the rest of the right-wing commentariat grouped around Quadrant
magazine have got a lot of mileage out of the former detective
sergeant and former SAS soldier but, according to
the SMH, he is neither.
importantly, back in 2003, Priest had electrified the assembled Quadrant
faithful with a lecture in which he told the seminal tale of his first
personal experience of the Middle Eastern and Muslim crime gang threat.
Quadrant editor Paddy McGuinness reprinted the Priest talk
and it thereafter became a staple of Howardista propaganda.
told it, the story concerned an early 1980s police raid on the Croydon
haunt of a Lebanese Muslim drug importer. It was a dreadful experience
for the hapless cops. Womenfolk hid heroin in kiddies nappies
and children spat at and wrestled with officers. There was more: the
heroin seized was Bekaa Valley heroin, an exotic type
never before seen by the drug squad. Tim Priest, already a favourite
in Miranda Devines stable of sources, had delivered
the goods again.
turns out it was all a fairy tale. The heroin was actually Golden
Triangle No. 3, and that wasnt the half of Priests fantasy.
The bloke arrested went quietly. True he was Lebanese but he was a
Christian, and there was no spitting, wrestling and hiding of heroin
in nappies because the couple were childless. Oh, and the arrested
man wasnt a recently arrive migrant, hed been here for
about twenty years.
did the other exciting bits come from? Priest fessed up to combining
details from about six police operations to construct his story. For
all we know, the added bits might not involve Middle Eastern men,
might not be related to drug crime, or might just be more figments
of his imagination.
In her defence of Priest, Miranda Devine skated over the central issue
of truth and journalistic integrity. The exposure of Priests
little secret was a miserable attack on her mans
credibility. It apparently matters little to Devine that his thrilling
account of the raid was a lurid melange of unrelated cases
in fact, a lie.
would be fine if she was a pulp fiction writer, but journalists are
supposed to sort fact from fiction.
dont have to be a genius to see what happened. Remember when
Howard first came to power? Way back then his problem was to win back
to the Liberal fold the redneck voters attracted to Pauline Hanson.
His strategy was to appeal to their worst instincts by dog-whistling
about Asian immigration. The suckers fell for it hook, line and sinker,
Howard got in and immigration from China and Vietnam continued apace.
A new scapegoat was urgently required, the Prime Ministers strategists
settled on a tiny but recognizable minority, and the hunt was on to
find experts on Middle Eastern and Muslim crime.
in the late 1990s Priest had some genuine stuff about south-east Asian
crime gangs to peddle to the media, but the whole game had changed.
The focus of Howards wedge politics had shifted from Asians
to men of Middle Eastern appearance and Muslims. Priests
concocted drug raid story matched the new priority perfectly and Howards
media cheer-squad the Devines, Joneses and Sheehans subsequently
made liberal use of his fictions as proof of their claim
that Muslims and Middle Eastern gangs posed a unique and extraordinary
threat to society.
has seen this standard of journalistic truth before and
the effect has always been appalling. Take a look at some defining
cases: In the 1890s, the fact that the evidence against Captain Alfred
Dreyfus was an obvious tissue of lies and forgeries did not matter
to the columnists of the French right: the man was Jewish and they
knew Jews were traitors and spies for Germany the
imperative was to illustrate this fact. To the Stalinist
scribblers covering the Moscow show trials of the 1930s, it didnt
matter that the evidence against the Old Bolsheviks was clearly rubbish
the thing to prove was that they were traitors to the revolution.
More recently we have seen Saddam Husseins certain
possession of weapons of mass destruction. There was no evidence for
them and they proved not to be there ... but it was the sort of thing
the Iraqi strongman might have done, or might have thought about doing.
Whatever. He was one of the bad people and that had to
be proved even if it took lies to do it.
Devines standard of objectivity prevailed, journalism would
become propaganda; history, a set of lies in the service of the highest
bidder and the legal system would be based on prejudice, fiction and
do the Heralds editors put up with her?
Devines defence of Priest was published in the SMH of February
23. The exposure of Priest ran on February 20 and 21].