An interesting story is developing in Australia and I'll start with some back story so those who don't know the players get an idea of what I'm talking about.
Alan Jones is one of the premier right-wing shock jocks in this country. I first mentioned him on this blog when I was saying how happy I was that the whole "pundit" thing that seems to plague US media hasn't taken off so much in Australia. Jones is undoubtedly one of the leaders of the punditocracy that does exist in Australia. He was also coach of the Australian rugby team once. He was also arrested in London in the 80s for soliciting gay sex in a public toilet from someone who turned out to be an undercover cop.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in a non-commercial taxpayer-funded national broadcaster. There is a national TV station and a multitude of radio stations including a rather fine youth-oriented national network TripleJ. I should act my age and stop listening to TripleJ but what the hell. The political tone of the ABC changes over the years. Up until the 70s it was very conservative. Intelligent but conservative. Since the 80s it has swung to the left. It's still mostly intelligent, fair and even handed but with a definite progressive bias in news and current affairs reporting. The sort of coverage liberal Americans wish they were getting under the Bush administration. Mind you, they have never been shy about hiring intelligent conservatives into high profile roles like the late Richard Carlton.
Chris Masters is a fine journalist. One of the best this country has produced. His work has contributed to a Royal commission (the most serious legal investigation that can happen in Australia) into a corrupt judiciary and the downfall of a corrupt state government and bent police forces.
The ABC had commissioned Masters to write an unauthorised biography of Jones. This book was unlikely to spare Jones the way folks in the mainstream have given him a free ride. Besides his sexual escapades (which, as far as I'm concerned, are his own business - but then I'm not a conservative fuckwit), Jones has some other questionable events in his past. Not least of these was known as the "cash for comments" scandal. Jones (and other prominent personalities) were proven to have taken money from some organisations with a bad reputation (like banks) in return for giving them a positive spin on his radio program. These weren't ads, they were pitched as his honest, free opinion despite being bought and paid for.
The news broke yesterday that the ABC board had decided the ABC would not be publishing Masters' book. In Masters' view this decision came as a direct result of pressure from the Jones camp. The ABC board has made the ludicrous statement that the book wasn't commercially viable (on par with saying Steven Colbert's roasting of President Bush wasn't funny). Well, if it wasn't commercially viable before it sure as hell will be now.
Masters has said he's looking for other publishers. I'd say he's beating them off with a stick. You can't buy this sort of publicity. I continue to be amazed that those in seats of power think they can squash dissent. The simple act of trying to silence your opponent gives them publicity. I hope Jones sacks whatever tool on his legal team pressured the ABC board to make this decision because it's going to cost him down the line. On the other hand, it was probably Jones himself - he has a personal relationship with several of the board members.
The thing that makes the actions of the Jones camp even more ridiculous is that Masters was unlikely to take a sensationalistic/tabloid approach to the book - he's a serious journalist. So besides guaranteeing more publicity for Masters, Jones has also created a market for a muckracking expose for just how dirty his past is. This has got to worry him. Some insight I can offer:
Ever since I first mentioned Jones' toilet sex escapades I have found search results in my site stats pretty much every day that have some combination of "Alan Jones gay sex toilet London". After this news broke yesterday there were 20 of these search. Whoops. I'd been joking for a while that Jones needed to get his spin doctors onto this because the story obviously wouldn't die. I had no idea Chris Masters was writing this book. I was going to say Jones didn't really have to worry about me because I'm nobody but then I started putting combinations of "Alan Jones gay sex toilet London" into Google and I show up consistently at the top of the results. Double Whoops. Teh intarwebs are out to get you Jonesy.
In one of those strange coincidences life sometimes throws up, I was doing work experience in the TripleJ newsroom back in 1988 when the Alan Jones toilet scandal broke. The one person who got to Jones before his minders protected him was an ABC journalist. The journo found Jones in his hotel and you can tell Jones was feeling shattered because he actually spoke honestly rather than clamming up with a "no comment." Jones was in tears and said something along the lines of "you people are going to destroy me over this." Well, lucky for Jones it was the ABC who actually found him and not his right-wing tabloid mates.
The initial charge from the London coppers (who had obvious caught all the murderers and other criminals who were at large) was the sensational sounding "outraging public decency". The journo who had talked to Jones was interviewed and asked what the charge actually meant. His response was along the lines of "It can mean many things but in this case it means masturbating in a public toilet." Yowza! A little bit of the old "help me while I give this a shake" going on?
I actually saw the conversation between an ABC news team who decided they wouldn't smear Jones with a "gay toilet sex" story because they believed the law was immoral and Jones shouldn't be persecuted for personal sexual preferences. If only the people Jones has victimised over the years were given such fair treatment. As it turned out, Jones had friends in very high places who applied a lot of pressure which resulted in the charges being dropped. No lesser a personage than the then Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, spoke in favour of Jones. This allowed Jones to claim he was totally innocent of the charges.
I agree that it was an unjust law that saw Jones charged and these police "stings" (hello, George Michael) are a waste of time. But I am truly disgusted that Jones can't come out and say he was the victim of persecution and shouldn't have faced the charges. Instead he implies he never tried to pick up the undercover cop for some anonymous gay sex. To me, a lie of omission is still a lie. And I wouldn't be surprised if Jones is capable of telling a bald faced lie if someone dares to put him on the spot for exactly what happened.
So should a dealer of tabloid justice also be forced to face tabloid justice? I think it's fair to say that any left-leaning public figure who was charged with soliciting for sex in public toilets would be absolutely crucified by the conservative media. Rush Limbaugh got away with being a drug addict and Ann Coulter continues to get away with being a plagiarist (although who knows? the tide is building against her on this). But the right are notoriously squeamish on topics of sex, particularly gay sex. He's dodged a bullet for nearly 20 years but Alan Jones may be about to find out who his real mates are. And it would be wonderful poetic justice that his downfall (I can dream) was brought about by him shooting himself in the foot over the ABC publishing Chris Masters' book.