TRUE OPINION: Be Afraid! The Politics of Fear

TRUE OPINION: It was the supposed riot in Melbourne a few weeks ago on the streets of Collingwood involving almost 200 angry rap fans. Africans. Pacific Islanders. A bloke who had his leg amputated after a car sped at him in a targeted hit. Except, it turned out, he never lost a limb. Our Melbourne correspondent, Gary Johnston, takes a look at what else the local media may have got wrong for its own reasons.

As well as being a fantastic movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, John Ford’s classic western from 1962, has long been used as a teaching aide for aspirant journalists.

In case you haven’t seen it, the film recounts how the titular Liberty, a strutting, swaggering bully, brilliantly portrayed by the incomparable Lee Marvin is given his comeuppance by mild-mannered, greenhorn Rance Stoddard played by – who else – the great James Stewart.

Or, so it seems.

In fact, as the final scenes reveal, Liberty was actually gunned down by crusty cattleman Tom Doniphon – John Wayne – hiding in the shadows, aware that Rance was no marksman and was more likely to shoot himself than successfully take out the bad guy.

As it happened, everyone in the frontier town of Shinbone knew Doniphon was the real hero, but because the editor of the local newspaper bigged up the story, triumphantly lauding the ‘courageous’ Rance Stoddard, they all chose to believe the glamour and sensation of what was, no more, no less, a myth.

Cue the final line which all sagacious journalists habitually take as their credo: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

In other words, if it’s a better story, lie your head off.

Never has this manipulation of the truth been as blatant as right now, right here in Australia. With almost all of the media controlled from a single source – and most of the others running scared of deviating from the Murdoch song sheet – purporting lies as fact has become the predominant norm.

And not only because the story is ‘better’, but rather, if it fits the political agenda of fear, a syllabus not exclusively owned by the forces of the right, though every indication suggests it’s one on which they’ve taken out a long term lease.

As Victoria girds its loins for a state election in November, the Coalition opposition, led by a man named Matthew Guy, who not only looks like a glove puppet, but acts like one too, aided and abetted by the msm, has firmly decided that ‘crime’ and more particularly, the fear of crime, is the number one issue.

Lawless African gangs rampaging through the CBD terrifying the lieges is the preferred blueprint, neatly fulfilling the double whammy of not only out of control crime but out of control immigration as well, ‘send them back where they came from’ being the calculated sub-text, except a sub- text is supposed to be subtle.

TRUE OPINION: “I USED TO BE IN A GANG!”: When is a gang not a gang?

Early in September, the Melbourne media was hot for the story of the ‘Collingwood Riot’. There was carnage and commotion taking place in that inner-city suburb, residents terrified, martial law declared, and police utterly powerless in the face of ‘hundreds of African youth’ who decided to go on a rampage after listening to rap music at a local pub.

Except, the riot didn’t happen.

How do I know?

The ‘riot’ took place (or not) in my street. Outside my window. And I slept through it.
It wasn’t a riot. It was much closer to your run-of-the-mill male machismo pub fight mostly involving two blokes with a few dozen watching; not pleasant or exactly a great night out, but hardly unusual.

And, according to sources of my acquaintance and the word on the street, it was a brawl almost completely brought about by the aggressive actions of a single individual. A fellow who not only doesn’t live in the area, but isn’t of African descent.

The following morning, the mainstream media pack were all over my street, anxious to speak to any resident prepared to put their hand up, just as long as the ‘quotes’ tallied perfectly with the narrative the journalist – or more likely their bosses – had already decided upon.

“It was a riot’. ‘We were scared out of our wits’: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Car Crash near supposed riot.JPG
The aftermath of the supposed riot in Collingwood earlier this month (Image: AAP)

It seems the idea of a riot took hold because one young idiot was involved in a hit and run at the area, where it is alleged he drove his car at a 18-year-old man. Horrifically, the victim was said to have lost his legs in the incident. Except, he hadn’t. It was a claim, completely made up by Victoria Police and dutifully reported on by the media. And it was left to linger until it was retracted, in what The Age newspaper said was  “a series of errors made by the force within a 48-hour period” regarding the so-called riot.

An 18-year-old youth was arrested in the middle of this month for his involvement in the disturbance, charged with a series of driving offences including intentionally cause serious injury, conduct endangering life and assault and other traffic related offences.

What of the ruling Labor administration? Is it too much to ask for a measured response; a dash of common sense? Maybe a soupçon of reality, of perspective? Apparently not.

The worst thing governments can do it seems, when to comes to the reportage of crime, is state the facts. Victoria’s crime rate, as released this month, show that, far from ‘out of control’, the rate is actually dropping, down 7% in the last 12 months, representing an overall figure of less than 6,000 crimes per 100,000 people.

And that’s good news, right?

Not according to the Melbourne media. If it was reported in the papers at all it was hidden somewhere near the middle pages and even on ‘your’ ABC news, it warranted a mention of less than 15 seconds.

The fact is, Labor are scared of reporting the truth about crime for fear of accusations of being ‘soft’. Why else would they suspend a schools programme whereby students debate with convicted prisoners, a highly successful initiative which has been running for over 20 years, prior to being exposed as a ‘disgrace’ in the Murdoch press, because, they ludicrously claim, “our young people are being lectured to by murderers and criminals”.

This programme has been universally praised by educators as a unique opportunity for young people to observe the final, perpetually broken phase of the criminal justice system – one which as future tax payers – they should be made aware of, not least because of its exorbitant cost and limited successful outcomes.

The programme is good news. Positive, ambitious and forward-thinking. But, it seems there’s no room for such an approach when it comes to the demonisation of crime. Tell lies. Scare their pants off.

A terrified electorate is a reactionary electorate, the politics of fear being far, far easier to effect than much needed leadership, direction and principle.

Despite his forgotten spunkiness as ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’, John ‘The Duke’ Wayne – was, of course, forever acclaimed as a great American hero.

In reality, however, Wayne ducked out of service during World War Two for reasons even more spurious than Donald Trump’s fictional ‘bone spur’s’ issue; a 2-A classification, “deferred in support of [the] national interest”.

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend?”

John Wayne, an alcoholic, wife-beating reactionary coward, was no legend.

It was, in fact, yet another big fat lie.



CRIME CULTURE: Nightcrawler

About Gary Johnston 31 Articles
Gary Johnston is an author, academic and former parole officer with decades of experience in the criminal justice system. He is True Crime News Weekly's Melbourne correspondent. His book 'No Previous Conviction' was published in May 2017 and is available on Amazon.

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