By Chris Mitchell The Australian 26 September 2016
How to walk a mile in another’s shoes? That is the question great reporters seek to answer when they interview their subjects.
In a time when there has never been more media but it is light years wide and only atoms deep, there is little reward for doing what great newspapers seek to do: provide their readers with genuine understanding of issues and people’s views and motives.
This is a shouty, shallow and callow media age in which young Lefty tyros are rewarded for sharp opinions and violently executed tweets. Their opponents in the right-wing blogosphere too easily drift into hate and conspiracy over genuine inquiry.
So on a range of issues the Left and Right yell at each other in what psychologists refer to as “different emotional languages”, like a husband who really cannot understand what his wife is saying about why their marriage is going awry.
I got that feeling very strongly last Tuesday morning when I heard Andrew Bolt being interviewed by Fran Kelly about Tuesday night’s very interesting program with Linda Burney on Aboriginal recognition. Kelly was perplexed Bolt seemed not to agree with all the received Radio National wisdoms she was trying to get him to concede.
And yet the thinkers behind recognition, people such as Noel Pearson, have always known Andrew — with his ability to articulate the honestly held and genuine concerns of his readers — was the biggest danger to any potential referendum, even if it was first proposed by Andrew’s confidante Tony Abbott.
Just as with same-sex marriage and Muslim immigration the megaphones of the Left show no understanding of, or even empathy for, the great middle ground of Australian public opinion, which is where these issues will be decided.
Those in the maximalist camp on Recognition give every indication of preferring a loss to a win on slightly less ambitious terms. Wiser heads in the movement know proponents who argue for a treaty now would be smarter to take it one step at a time.
Still, I had real admiration for Bolt, who showed tremendous courage to expose himself to a full tilt ABC ideological crusade with newly elected federal Labor MP Burney. The Twittersphere was a feral sewer about him that night and next day.
Having been into the ABC’s Ultimo fortress in inner Sydney several times lately I can say the pursed-lipped tut-tutting is almost overpowering when a critic of the corporation crosses the threshold. Good on Bolt for doing it I reckon.
It was also gutsy of diminutive Burney to front a couple of conservative, and physical, giants in Bolt and Liberal Party federal MP Cory Bernardi in the latter’s Adelaide electoral office.
It is unlikely Bolt or Burney will ever persuade each other but viewers may have sensed an increased recognition on the part of each of the participants of the other’s genuine passion.
An Essential Media Poll published in The Guardian on Wednesday highlighted this sort of hyper partisanship and the inability of many in journalism even to understand how their own country feels about issues.
Given what has happened in Europe since German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the nation’s borders to Syrian refugees a year ago it should have been no surprise to The Guardian or the ABC that half the nation wanted a ban on Muslim immigration.
The poll showed 49 per cent supporting a ban and only 40 per cent opposing. John Barron, hosting The Drum on ABC TV, seemed shocked that even large numbers of Greens and Labor voters supported such a ban.
It does make you wonder whether some journalists ever talk to ordinary Australians. Five minutes in any pub in the country will render such polling unnecessary.
The ideological and media divide is just as wide for same-sex marriage. The sheer brutality of the Left’s reaction to any Christian spokesperson either opposing change or supporting the plebiscite promised by the Coalition elected less than three months ago is vile.
This is not just a challenge for journalism. It is also a problem for the body politic.
If journalists don’t understand how their audiences feel and the media and politics become ever more sharply partisan, how will reformers ever bring about social, economic and political change?
This Balkanisation of social attitudes and the subsequent prioritising of opinion over reporting that seeks to explore and understand is making Western countries increasingly difficult to govern. Even something seemingly uncontestable such as repair of the federal budget now elicits sharply partisan divides among journalists and politicians.
I support recognition but would never think a referendum should even be held if a proposition was so ambitious it was guaranteed to fail.
A libertarian on same-sex marriage, I would nevertheless defend to the death the freedom of Christians, let alone Muslims and Jews, to stick to their religious convictions.
I think a ban on Muslim immigration would be the most dangerous thing the country could do if it really is interested in preventing young men from self-radicalising online.
After all, teenagers feeling so alienated from mainstream society today that they seek solace in the websites of Islamic State would only feel more like outsiders were all Muslim immigration banned. But it should sure as hell be obvious to any thinking journalist why in the face of so many attacks on Western targets during the past two years many Australians would be attracted to such a proposition.
If we try to walk a mile in another’s shoes, we might begin to see why Aboriginal kids would think it unfair to suggest they should just be happy to forget about their heritage and history and again accept what is being offered them. But we might also understand why Bolt believes people today should not be atoning to people many generations and multiple ethnicities away from the brutalities of white settlement.
We might understand the complexities of race from the position of the other person, as Stan Grant has so eloquently tried to explain.
Original article here