June 19, 2003


Bernie Slattery, recently moved to a sparkling new Movable Type home, has been hectoring Media Watch over the program’s reluctance to investigate its commie pals. On Monday he posted this at the MW guestbook:

Again I await tonight's MW to see if there's any mention of Phillip Adams' plagiarism. Will I be doubly surprised and see Margot Kingston castigated for delivering a racist slur on Radio National? I think not. MW unfailingly delivers proof of its left wing bias by never pursuing bad journalism if it comes from the flat earth of socialism.

Bernie received this reply from the guestbook’s moderator, MW exec producer Peter McEvoy:

We had a look at these tips and don't think either of them is worth a story. It's not plagiarism. It's not a racist slur. You have to come up with better stuff.

UPDATE. McEvoy now defends the use of “nigger in the woodpile”:

Media Watch is a program about the media and journalism that promotes a number of principles, including free speech. The phrase "nigger in the woodpile" is a colloquialism, which means a hidden or unacknowledged problem. Some people may feel it's in bad taste, but we wouldn't pick up someone for using the term in context.

What “context” does he mean? The speaker was talking about the abberant nature of NSW in Australian politics, or somesuch. Any number of less offensive terms may have been chosen to describe this. There’s no way “nigger in the woodpile” can be used in an accurate context unless you’re talking about ... well, an actual nigger in a woodpile.

As for promoting free speech, Media Watch criticised Miranda Devine for using the word “cockroaches” to describe terrorists, and Fox’s Neil Cavuto for the phrase “Shi’ites have hit the fan”. Some people - Media Watch, obviously - believed these to be in such poor taste that they should be highlighted and condemned. “Niggers” is OK, though. In context.

Regarding Adams, Media Watch once defined plagiarism as “taking other people’s work and passing it off as your own”. Sounds simple enough. Here’s an example, as broadcast by Media Watch last June. Note the substantial differences between the original SMH piece and Matt Sun’s re-write; by comparison, Adams' lifting from the New York Review of Books is far more blatant. If Matt is guilty, so must be Phil.

Posted by Tim Blair at June 19, 2003 12:14 PM

How could using the word "nigger" possibly be racist?

How could using a whole bunch of somebody else's words in the exact same order possibly be plagiarism?

You're just bitter, Blair, that the left is so vibrant and rich with ideas.

Posted by: Mike G at June 19, 2003 at 12:38 PM

I'd like MW to post Margot's comments and let readers/viewers decide. Even better, why not insert 'nigger in the woodpile' into Marr's script next week and see if others agree with McEvoy's assertion it's not racist.

Posted by: Preston Whip at June 19, 2003 at 12:53 PM

Kingston's use of the word 'nigger in the wordpile' is hardly rascist. It is offensive and certainly inappropriate, but rascist? No.
However, had a conservative uttered the phrase, no doubt Kingston would have gleefully used it as evidence of the right's supposed inherent rascism. But that is another story.
Dare I say it, but for once MW is right.

Posted by: Anon at June 19, 2003 at 01:17 PM

What makes it even more galling is that the swipe at "The Block" on Monday night - for what I didn't know until Uncle enlightened me - apparently IS a story!
So plagiarism (or blatant recycling of other peoples work)from a nationally recognised columnist isn't worth a mention but it's gloves off on a commercial production featuring paid sponsorship which is acknowledged by the station.
Funny priorities at MW.

Posted by: Jim at June 19, 2003 at 01:17 PM

This reminds me of an exchange in the SA Parliament 9 years ago. Extracts from Hansard follow. Mike Rann says the expression in question is offensive. But what would he know, eh Margo?

Tuesday 22 November 1994

The Hon. M.H. ARMITAGE: The South Australian public will have improved health services [...] provided at a saving of $6.5 million. The only nigger in the woodpile at the moment in this whole scenario is that the Federal Minister for Health is apparently attempting to put political obstacles in the way of a process that will make sure that $6 million is saved and better services provided.


The Hon. M.D. RANN (Leader of the Opposition): I want to draw to the attention of the House a number of statements made by Government members in recent days. […]

I am also concerned to hear the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in this State using the word ‘nigger'. On three occasions today he used that word, that racist insult, which I have never heard used in this Parliament previously, either as a staffer over the years observing this Parliament or, indeed, as a member of this House.

Wednesday 23 November 1994

Mr CLARKE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Will the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs now apologise unreservedly to Aboriginal people and to all South Australians for his use of racially offensive words yesterday, and will he agree to meet with Aboriginal groups and with African and African-American people living in South Australia and their families to apologise personally to them? The Opposition has received a letter from an African-Australian child living in South Australia which states:
I've been called a nigger by people at school and it's not very nice. The people who called me that got their parents called in and were put in detention. When Mr Armitage said the word nigger in Parliament it made me cry inside especially because Mr Armitage is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. He should be sacked from his job—

The SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member is now commenting ...

The Hon. M.H. ARMITAGE: I am absolutely delighted to have been asked this question, because I have apologised freely in public for any racist allusion that was made. The comment was not intended in a racist way and I have absolutely no hesitation in apologising to anyone who has taken any racist—

There being a disturbance in the strangers' gallery:

The Hon. M.H. ARMITAGE: I am only too delighted to meet with people—

The SPEAKER: Order! Clear those people. The Minister for Health.

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Order! Does the Minister for Health wish to complete answering the question?

The Hon. M.H. ARMITAGE: I most certainly do. Having apologised in public for any—
Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Order! The situation is not being helped by people interjecting across the Chamber. The honourable Minister.

The Hon. M.H. ARMITAGE: I have apologised publicly if there has been any offence taken. The remark was not meant in a racist tone. I am only too happy to indicate to the House that I have arranged with the Premier to meet with a large delegation of Aboriginal people who are meeting with him tomorrow.

Posted by: DF at June 19, 2003 at 01:45 PM

If it's not plagiarism then what pray tell, is it to be called instead?


Posted by: bargarz at June 19, 2003 at 02:24 PM

A question for those who think that Kingston's use of the term deserved censure: what did they think about the Armitage controversy at the time (if they noticed it).

Were you shocked and appalled?

Or did you think that the whole thing was a stupid beat-up by an opposition desperate for an issue and prepared to cynically activate a chorus of politically correct hand-wringers in order to create one?

My point being that this sort of faux-outrage is more usually a tactic of the left, which is correctly denounced by non-lefties.

But you can hardly say it's silly when the handwringers do it and then get upset at Margo, can you?

And by lumping a triviality together with a substantive complaint - Adams' ongoing sloppiness - you give people like McEvoy a reason to dismiss you.

Posted by: Mork at June 19, 2003 at 03:04 PM

I understand that Adams, P., dicates his columns -- which is why he restrains himself to commentary on the five topics that constitute the great part of his oeuvre. Now where did I read that bit about the shitting duck? That was colourful.

Posted by: Mark at June 19, 2003 at 04:20 PM

Armitage's usage seems quite correct, contained in his answer to a question 22/11/94.Nigger in the woodpile, an expression for: a hidden snag or hindrance.Armitage stated what he asserted to be the nigger in the woodpile.

One has to re-read Conrad's Nigger of the Narcissus and his usage again ( long time since one last read it) but, the sense is not rascist either. Predicated of the anti-hero, it is the sense of metaphocrical darkness one might say.

The above two instances are not good guides to Kingston's usage nor Adam's, unless, in Kingston's case, following the citation, that is indeed the usage, hindrance.A case of the pot calling the kettle black, Margot is a nigger in the woodpile to good journalism; perhaps Adams recognised the force of the expression and tried to fend off the implications by a crude innuendo, snigger snigger.Backfired.

Posted by: d at June 19, 2003 at 04:26 PM

Nigger, niggger, nigger, nigger, nigger - doesn't matter how many times you say it still sounds offensive. Shame Margot shame. Shit I think I just channeled Derin Hinch

Posted by: Jake D at June 19, 2003 at 08:35 PM

This one's for Bernie "MW unfailingly delivers proof of its left wing bias by never pursuing bad journalism if it comes from the flat earth of socialism" Slattery:

Media Watch mocked 2BL morning presenter Sally Loane, denounced the Age and the SMH for not correcting the stories they ran by Jayson Blair, attacked sloppiness at the ABC, mocked "Fairfax porn", attacked censorship at the ABC, called Bob Carr "the most media combatant and media manipulating politician in Australia today", attacked plagarism at the Age, took John Pilger to task for his tendency to grandstand, etc etc. And that's just this year. Bring on more Media Watch, I say. And Slattery, you might want to make sure the facts don't get in the way of your gross generalisations.

Posted by: adam at June 19, 2003 at 10:54 PM

Hell, Margo can use nigger in the woodpile, and its all relative.

Robert Byrd can refer to 'white niggers' and no one blinks or notices

an unknown policy wonk drops the term niggardly, used contectually correctly to describe frugality, or a school sends home a reading assignment with the word used in the same manner, and good lord the world has to stop turning while the left screeches in outrage.


Posted by: Wind Rider at June 19, 2003 at 11:12 PM

Comment wasn't racist, and we do still have some free speech left in this country I think. However, I think the point made is the blatant hypocrasy of MW - if Miranda made the same comment she would, not doubt, have a whole episode dedicated to her.

Posted by: Tim at June 19, 2003 at 11:56 PM

Adam: Since Marr took over, MW has made negative calls on right-wing commentators more than 60 times.

Negatives on lefties? About 10.

By the way, Adam, by pointing out Marr's (occasional) stabs at the ABC, are you trying to undermine Bernie's point about MW never attacking media socialists? I thought the ABC was unbiased ...

Posted by: tim at June 20, 2003 at 12:57 AM

I'm merely pointing out that Slattery's comment was a silly simplification that was easily disproved by easily obtainable facts. I do not believe the ABC to be a socialist publication [the noticeable lack of sectarian screeds attests to this], but you and i know perfectly well that "media socialists" (and variants) is a term used by the right to refer to ABC, fairfax etc. The context in which Slattery uses the term "socialist" clearly shows this, in that it comes right after a mention of a Fairfax journalist's comment on an ABC radio network.

I mean, you can't seriously expect me to believe that Slattery means to criticise Media Watch for its failure to take on actual "socialists", cause then he'd be criticising Media Watch for not going after Green Left Weekly and the World Socialist Website and so forth, and what sort of idiot thinks that it's the job of Media Watch to go after publications read by 2 people per week?

Posted by: adam at June 20, 2003 at 02:21 AM

Would WC Fields' formulation "An Ethiopian in the fuel supply" have been more acceptable?

Posted by: Phil at June 20, 2003 at 06:20 AM

Further, is "There's a chink in my armor" acceptable? In context, of course.

Posted by: Phil at June 20, 2003 at 07:49 AM

Since most of the media is liberal, it makes no sense having a liberal watchdog, unless he/she is extremely fair-minded. With the biased host that Media Watch has, they are excluding errors by 90% of the media.

Media Watch ought to divide its time between its current host and Tim Blair. Not only would errors on both sides get exposed that way, but the ratings would go through the roof.

Posted by: me at June 20, 2003 at 08:50 AM

Here is part of what I just posted to the Media Watch site:

Where I come from, the n-word is a racial slur when made by someone of European descent in ANY context. Most members of the press who used that word would be summarily fired. I could understand a reasonable debate over whether Kingston should be fired or merely suspended, with arguments to be made on both sides. The lesser punishment would seem most appropriate to me.

Media Watch, on the other hand, doesn't think that Kingston's slur rises even to the level of public reporting (though it thought that calling terrorists "cockroaches" deserved comment).

"N-gg-r in the woodpile" in context refers directly to a stereotype of blacks as vicious and evil, lurking in a woodpile to do harm, much as a problem might lurk in the background to do harm. It is not what grammarians call a "dead metaphor." It also uses one of the truly offensive words in the English language ("n-gg-r") in a context reminding people that lurking problems are like lurking blacks.

When you and your staff look at yourselves in the mirror in the morning, can you really say to yourselves that the word "n-gg-r" "is not a racial slur" if it's in a context suggesting that problems are lurking in the background like evil blacks lurking in a woodpile?

If you can't see that you are protecting Kingston (and Adams), then I think that you need to reconsider what the show is about and why you bother to do it. If you don't want to expose media gaffes when made by your political allies, then why have the show? Don't Australians who might be conservative, moderate, non-white race, or simply decent and fairminded deserve simple decency and fairness from you?

Posted by: SteveJohnson at June 20, 2003 at 09:40 AM

Adam: RE WSWS' 2 readers per day.

The people who run the World Socialist Web Site claim it gets 20,000 readers per day and has published over 10,000 articles. Given those numbers and that members of the Socialist Equity Party of Australia are contributors I see no reason why MW shouldn't highlight its online stupidity.

Posted by: Preston Whip at June 20, 2003 at 12:03 PM

"I see no reason why MW shouldn't highlight its online stupidity"

there is too a reason: they're a rightly marginal publication that do a fine job of satirising themselves by being pathologically unable to see beyond their narrow trotskyist worldview. their movie reviews are pretty much the funniest read on the net; every film gets shit-canned for having an emphasis "on personal foibles and individual failings, rather than on a failed society and a failed culture." [about schmidt]

media watch would be stupid to waste any time on such left-sectarian rubbish. also, can you find an actual factual error on wsws.org? there are of course loads of doctrinal errors [it's trotskyist, for one]...

Posted by: adam at June 20, 2003 at 02:26 PM

The ABC is not biased this is bleedin obviously a neo-con conspiracy ..... and for that matter those bastards at Fairfax are obviously a part of the cabal !!!!!
You want evidence of the Fairfax 'QUALITY' press ..... just look at wednesdays AFR .... page 11 ....
Headline "Abbott alleges bribery" ......

Actual story : "Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott has asked his department to investigate claims that the Labor Party's National President Greg Sword, was involved in bribery and vote rigging in a union election."

What would we do without the 'quality press' ??

Posted by: Thersites at June 20, 2003 at 05:40 PM