June 30, 2003


What the hell was 7.30 Report host Kerry O’Brien thinking? At the conclusion of a segment featuring young Harry Potter readers, old Kerry had this to say about one pre-teen Potter fan:

I don't know how Harry scrubs up at 15 but Judith Torzillo isn't bad for 11.

The Sydney Sun Herald’s Rachel Browne mentioned O’Brien’s creepy comment in her Sunday column (no link available). For the benefit of US readers, “scrubs up” is Brit-Australianese for “looks”; such a remark usually refers to a person's attractiveness or desirability. Imagine Dan Rather describing an 11-year-old as “hot”.

To make matters worse, an earlier segment on the same show covered a grisly pedophilia case. Viewers were unhappy:

“I would like to say that I think the comment by Kerry O'Brien regarding how well the 11 year old girl interviewed for the Harry Potter sequence 'scrubbed up' was totally inappropriate and offensive. This is not the way that one of Australia's pre-eminent media personalities should be seen to regard an 11 year old child.”

“Expressing an explicitly sexual assessment of the appearance of an eleven year old girl with the implication that she looked much older than her years is more aligned with the thinking of a pedophile than a well adjusted adult.”

“I think I have just witnessed the biggest faux-pas ever by Kerry on tonight's episode of the 7.30 Report. The show opened with a shocking story about paedophilia and one man's struggle for justice. Then to close the show after the Harry Potter segment, Kerry utters: 'I don't know about Harry Potter at fifteen, but Judith (Forgot surname) scrubs up pretty well for eleven.' For God's sake, I think we at the very least deserve an explanation of that comment, and the context in which it was meant.”

Over to Media Watch for its verdict. Was O’Brien’s remark in context?

Posted by Tim Blair at June 30, 2003 04:52 AM

Oh my.

Posted by: Yobbo at June 30, 2003 at 05:01 AM

Uhh... ew. I just keep thinking about one of Lilek's recent entries, where he's talking about what people say "off the top of their heads."

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 30, 2003 at 05:10 AM

Only "in context" for a jerk of the highest order; any sane person would have kept fat mouth shut!

Posted by: MommaBear at June 30, 2003 at 05:24 AM

I have heard the phrase "scrubbed up" used by people who seem to think it means well turned out or smart. Given that it is hard to believe that anyone would knowingly describe an eleven year old as scrubbed up on national televeision if they knew what it meant I think stupidity on the part of Kerry O’Brien is a strong possibility.

Posted by: Wookie at June 30, 2003 at 08:13 AM

I don't see what the problem is. It's not like she's his daughter or anything.

Posted by: Woody Allen at June 30, 2003 at 08:17 AM

I don't see what the problem is. It's not like she's his daughter or anything.

Posted by: Woody Allen at June 30, 2003 at 08:18 AM

Oh come on. Everybody's in a tizzy because an old dude refers to a young girl as attractive? We all know pedophilia is bad so there's no reason to illustrate our distaste for it by inventing reasons to be offended! In the States we use the term "cleans up" to mean a person can be attractive if they choose to make the effort. It's a term of endearment and doesn't mean we want to have sex with them.

I think you're all overreacting.

Posted by: bruce bri at June 30, 2003 at 10:22 AM

Yeah, much as I appreciate any opportunity to have a go at Red Kerry, this criticism is just silly and unfair.

The viewer's rant about "Expressing an explicitly sexual assessment of the appearance of an eleven year old girl" says more about his/her fevered imagination than Kerry O'Brien. The pitch of hysteria about paedophilia shown by this person and the Hetty Johnsons of the world is almost as pathological and neurotic as the people they condemn.

O'Brien was silly to use the phrase "scrubs up" in the same sentence but his meaning was pretty clear to any fair-minded person who actually saw the show. Young Judith would have left the same impression on most of the men and women who were watching that night - she was lively, smart and articulate and showed an understanding of the novel that was quite advanced for an 11 year old.

This paedophilia hysteria is getting so ridiculous that many people wouldn't be game to add that she was a pretty little girl as well. She was (like a lot of other kids are) but I don't think even that was what Red Kerry was saying, let alone "expressing an explicitly sexual assessment" of her. It sounds to me that the viewer who made those comments is the one with the deep problem.


Posted by: Bob Bunnett at June 30, 2003 at 11:07 AM

You can never trust those bloodnuts.

Posted by: paul bickford at June 30, 2003 at 11:43 AM

I don't think anyone seriously believes he found the girl attractive. It's just funny to imagine that someone would phrase it that way. By "scrubs up", I'm sure he meant "presents herself" (her demeanour, her confidence, how articulate she was). It's as if someone took over his mouth for a second just to make him say something stupid (I wish I had that power).

I don't understand why, though, he implies Harry Potter "scrubs up" or 'presents himself' well. He's just a stupid git with a cape.

I think people are just having a bit of fun at his expense. Most journalists criticise what others say based not on what they most likely meant, but on how readily the remark can be moulded into a contriversial form.

Posted by: Tysen at June 30, 2003 at 12:28 PM

Concur Tysen, but it's an interesting exercise speculating on the probable media reaction had the comment been made by Justice Callinan, Alan Jones or, God forbid, Hollingsworth. Hue and/or cry anyone?

Posted by: Fidens at June 30, 2003 at 01:35 PM

Spot on, Fidens.

Hollingworth would have been lynched by the mob (he was anyway, but oh well) if he had said something like that.

Posted by: Gabor at June 30, 2003 at 02:33 PM

And I've never heard Kerry make any of those little side comments and felt it added anything to the programme. He must get bored, not actually doing the stories and all and feel he has to earn his salary.

Posted by: Gabor at June 30, 2003 at 02:36 PM

According to the Macquarie Dictionary the phrase in question means, "Colloquial to look surprisingly well-dressed and presentable when washed and changed into more formal clothes: you scrub up well! " However, I cannot recall the phrase being used in a situation other than when sexual appeal applied.

All things considered, much ado about nothing much. Nonetheless, O'Brien is an idiot and will remain so until the day he dies.

Posted by: ZsaZsa at June 30, 2003 at 08:25 PM

ZsaZsa, I *have* heard it used that way, many times. Hell, even in ways totally divorced from physical appearance -- "after all that studying, I scrubbed up pretty well for that exam...", sort of thing.

I didn't hear O'Brien's remark in context, but it sounds pretty stupid.

Posted by: mark at June 30, 2003 at 10:24 PM

?Expressing an explicitly sexual assessment of the appearance of an eleven year old girl..."

I don't think it could be called "explicitly sexual" at all. If we're going to start making those wankers at the ABC look bad, let's actually wait for them to fuck up and not get hypersensitive.

Because IMO being hypersensitive is descending to their level.

Posted by: Korgmeister at July 1, 2003 at 12:54 AM

I'm with Korgmeister.

This is faux outrage from the "opposing team". And kinda gross, too, using a real social problem to score cheap points.

Maybe yer all too young, but the term to one of his age means nothing more than "presents well". Something he's probably often said to his own kids. And maybe to his car.

What the hell... my outrage is better than your outrage!!

Posted by: The at July 1, 2003 at 08:31 AM

Imagine Dan Rather describing an 11-year-old as “hot”. --- we Americans like a good witch hunt, and being suspected of pedophilia is the next best thing to being guilty until proven innocent. Sharpen up the pitchforks and pass out the torches were hunting Anchormen.

Posted by: James D at July 1, 2003 at 10:46 AM

Kerry probably thought he was being hip, talking like that. In fact, he's just a boring old fart who couldn't relate to anyone under 60.

Posted by: Rob at July 1, 2003 at 11:59 AM

The only disappointment is that it's not a comical enough blooper to replayed endlessly on "World's Wackiest TV Cock-Ups" type shows for the next ten years. We'll have to put up with the shots of Marty Monster being bashed by a Kangaroo again.

Posted by: Adam at July 1, 2003 at 04:13 PM