The Culture Gap

Nigel-Freitas

Mainstream media dislikes Abbott, but mainstream Australia approves, writes Nigel Freitas.

It took only moments after the election of Tony Abbott as Opposition Leader for the tirade of abuse to begin.

Labor’s Greg Combet was first off the rank, thundering “extremists have gained control of the Liberal party.” The Fairfax papers were next, frantically dog whistling to their readers that Abbott was a “conservative Catholic” and liberally sprinkling their commentary with the “Mad Monk” moniker. Political failure John Hewson sniped that Abbott was “divisive” and “ideological” with intellectual Robert Manne heralding the rise of the “troglodyte-in-chief” for Abbott’s anti-ETS stance.

Meanwhile, just about everyone agreed he had a ‘serious problem’ with women. Outspoken feminist Eva Cox fretted about returning "back to the 1950s". The ABC’s Virginia Haussegger screeched "women are angry" while former Democrats leader Lyn Allison moaned that Abbott’s leadership was “an alarming prospect for women.”
 
The message from the political and media establishment was clear: This man is not one of us.
 
Tony Abbott’s cardinal sin was to be the one thing the self appointed bastions of inclusivity and diversity cannot tolerate – a social conservative.
 
Social conservatives are those appallingly backward people who cling to outdated notions like the importance of the traditional family, the value of faith and the love of one’s country. This old fashioned nonsense is completely anathema to the secular transnational urban elites who comprise much of the media, arts, politics and academia – our self-proclaimed 'intelligentsia'.
 
The demonization of Tony Abbott is no surprise and reflects a larger trend to marginalise and exclude social conservatives from the public sphere. In modern political discourse, they come in only one of two flavours – evil, or stupid.
 
John Howard, for example, was “mean and tricky”. Ronald Reagan an ignorant hick. Margaret Thatcher was the malevolent "Iron Lady" while George W Bush had the distinction of being both immensely evil and breathtakingly stupid at the same time.
 
The playbook is always the same. Labelled as “dangerous”, “backward”, “extreme”, “radical” and cast as one-dimensional characters with no redeeming features, they are first dehumanized so they can be demonized.  The so-called intelligentsia for all their talk of diversity, march in mind-numbing conformity to a leftist drumbeat.
 
Nothing in recent history better illustrates the sneering contempt of the urban elites for mainstream values than the media assassination of Sarah Palin.
 
Palin personified the modern day unholy trinity – white, middle class and worst of all, a Christian.  While veteran interviewers were lobbing softballs at Obama over the “unshakeable confidence”, Palin was being journalistically raped for her inexperience, her grammar, her wardrobe, her looks, her church, her Down Syndrome child – nothing was off limits.
 
Most damning of all however, was the calculated portrayal of Palin as stupid. From Tina Fey's mocking skits to the snide condescension of Katie Couric, the underlying message of Palin's stupidity was abundantly clear.
 
This is how news is 'shaped', not just by individual stories, but by the construction of a narrative – a dominant theme used in story after story so it becomes indelibly associated with that person. After weeks of watching election coverage on the BBC and CNN, the majority of people had successfully absorbed the message that Palin was nothing more than a dangerous, illiterate extremist. Mission accomplished.
 
Some on the Left were appalled at the media malpractice. "One of the most idiotic allegations among urban media insiders is that Palin is dumb,” lamented Camille LaPaglia. "People who can't see how smart Palin is are trapped in their own narrow parochialism – the tedious, hackneyed forms of their upper-middle-class syntax and vocabulary."

Contrast this with the fawning and complimentary coverage of left-of-centre politicians and what you have is a glaring double standard, which ultimately boils down to one thing – worldviews.
 
While much has been made recently of the financial divide between "Wall Street" and "Main Street", the cultural gulf between the "Hollywood values" of the establishment and traditional values of community is larger.
 
For a local example of this “culture gap”, look no further than the Bill Henson affair. To the vast majority of Australians, nude photographs of underage children were crossing the line. To the exceedingly enlightened arts community however, censuring Henson was nothing more than an exercise in philistine repression.
 
To defend Henson to the great unwashed, the Herald wheeled out ageing culture warrior David Marr, who inadvertently disclosed that Henson visited primary schools to scout for children. Tellingly, Marr did not anticipate nor comprehend the outrage that followed this revelation. This is simply because Marr, like so many others in the establishment, is fundamentally disconnected from the values of mainstream Australia.
 
There is no longer any doubt the viewpoints of the Left are inordinately overrepresented in the media.  According to former BBC journalist Robin Aitken "the BBC is staffed by like-minded individuals who are overwhelmingly university graduates, usually in the liberal arts … [who] subscribe to the same opinions." Opinions like almost universal support for gay marriage, which has to date, been rejected 31 times in the 31 occasions it’s been put to the vote.
 
Former BBC political editor Andrew Marr goes further "The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It's a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people. It has a liberal bias not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias."
 
This "cultural bias", sympathetic towards “progressive” causes and hostile to traditionalism, is reflected in the culture of most mainstream news outlets.  It is the reason politicians from the Right are subjected to greater scrutiny and cynicism than their counterparts on the Left. Far too often such criticism crosses the line from the simply political to viciously personal.
 
It also means is that the voices of the minority drown out the mainstream, as in the case of Tony Abbott.
 
The most recent Galaxy poll shows that in actual fact, 42 per cent of women felt they didn't know much about Abbott and just 13 per cent thought he was an ‘extremist’. So much for the “serious problem’ with women.”
 
Meanwhile, the positive by-election results in Higgins and Bradfield demonstrate that far from the dire predictions of apocalyptic doom over Abbott’s rejection of an ETS, the Liberal party base is rallying behind him.  Yet again, the insular concerns of the inner city sophisticates have failed to resonate with the broader community.
 
Abbott should take comfort from this, and from the fact that his mentor John Howard managed to win election after election supported by the mainstream, despite being thoroughly reviled by the cultural establishment. At the same time he should realize he has two battles on his hands – one against Labor and one against a hostile establishment willing him to fail.
 
Nigel Freitas is a Sydney writer and former Director of the Young Liberal’s Make Education Fair Campaign.