Chris Mitchell’s folly

Back in 1996 the Australian Press Council upheld a complaint against The Courier Mail under editor Chris Mitchell for printing a nutty story that historian Manning Clark was an agent of the Soviet Union who had been awarded the Order of Lenin for his services. The Press Council concluded:

The newspaper had too little evidence to assert that Prof Clark was awarded the Order of Lenin – rather there is much evidence to the contrary.

That being so, the Press Council finds that The Courier-Mail was not justified in publishing its key assertion and the conclusions which so strongly flowed from it. The newspaper should have taken further steps to check the accuracy of its reports.

While the Courier-Mail devoted much space to people challenging its assertions, the Press Council believes it should have retracted the allegations about which Prof Clark’s supporters complained.

Mitchell did not retract and became editor of the Australian in 2003.

So what do we see in today’s Australian?

A story repeating the claim that Clark had received the Order of Lenin. The only new evidence presented pretty conclusively shows that Clark did not get the Order of Lenin:

Soviet archives, some of which were published in The Courier-Mail, reveal that Clark was awarded a Lenin Jubilee Medal in 1970, in the company of various worldwide Soviet apparatchiks, for his work on behalf of a Soviet front, the Australia-USSR Friendship Society.

In other words, The Courier-Mail searched the Soviet archives which you would think would list all the recipients of their highest civilian honour, and did not find Clark’s name. Maybe journalists who work for the Australian could tell people that they are telemarketers or used car salesmen so that people will think more highly of them.

Update: Paul Norton:

What to make of the persistence of Kelly and Mitchell? Apart from stubbornness and stiff-necked pride, perhaps there is also an element of Australian anti-communism’s uneasy awareness of its own essential triviality in the great struggle against Soviet totalitarianism, and that its main contribution was not to contribute anything of substance to the aid of the plucky Sakharovs, Walesas, Havels & Co., but to provide aid and comfort for anti-communist anti-democrats closer to home, such as Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland, Suharto in Indonesia and occupied East Timor, the apartheid regime in South Africa, and anti-feminists, anti-unionists, anti-anti-racists and authoritarian obscurantists of all stripes throughout Australia. Perhaps the escalation of a Culture War adversary such as Clark into a “secret mamber of the communist world’s elite” was and is a kack-handed way for the Australian Right to stake a claim that its own role in the Cold War amounted to something more meaningful than throwing cream puffs at the Lubyanka prison.

Jeff Sparrow:

The opinion pages at the Oz provide a convivial home for folks who believe all manner of wonderful things — climate change isn’t happening, the Iraq war was a great idea, etc. But, even in that company, Kelly’s particular credo still stands out. …

As in his original yarn, Kelly blurs the distinction between the Order of Lenin, an award of some significance, and the Lenin Jubilee Medal, a decoration given to Clark alongside thousands of other Moscow visitors. In Suspect History, Humphrey McQueen points out that Les Murray’s detailed “eyewitness” account becomes rather less impressive when we learn that he claimed to be unemployed at the time (he wasn’t) and couldn’t remember whether the encounter happened in daylight or at night. These slip-ups in an incident recalled years after the fact render Kelly’s triumphant declaration that “there is no gainsaying the fact that [Clark] wore [an Order of Lenin] seen by Fairbairn and Murray” about as troothy as those “9/11 was an inside job” websites.

Comments

  1. #1 bi -- IJI
    December 5, 2008

    I don’t get this obsession with this medal. I mean, what the heck?

  2. #2 Thomas
    December 5, 2008

    Does Kim Jung Il have a sense of humor? In that case, can we send a letter asking him to give Mitchell a medal?

  3. #3 DavidONE
    December 5, 2008

    Tim,

    I’m curious. Does the constant stream of idiocy from The Australian, and your relentless debunking of the same, get any publicity in other mainstream Aussie press? Or do they just publish whatever sells copy with impunity?

    Enquiring minds, etc.

    David.

  4. #4 charlie
    December 5, 2008

    David,

    The Australian newspaper runs at a loss and is more a vanity publication of the News Ltd stable seeking, amongst other agendas, to bash anything considered big L Left. ( whatever they think that is these days) Consequently in the sheltered workshop of the Oz we get a series of increasingly bizarre themes unrelated to reality ( as well as the climate change denialism) such as the latest bizarre attack on Manning Clark (he was a Commie Lefty apparently) The irony though in the writer criticizing Geoffrey Bolton – a more moderate, conservative and dispassionate historian you could not find. Just freaky.

  5. #5 Marion Delgado
    December 5, 2008

    Tim:

    You Australalians are SO WEIRD!

    Everyone knows the proper reward in the media world for being wrong is a promotion!

  6. #6 Chris O'Neill
    December 6, 2008

    Does the constant stream of idiocy from The Australian, and your relentless debunking of the same, get any publicity in other mainstream Aussie press?

    Not in “The Age”, except if there’s an (infrequent) article about blogging in general.

    Or do they just publish whatever sells copy with impunity?

    The Age used to publish a journalist who had a war on windfarms. Haven’t heard any more for a couple of years.

  7. #7 ScaredAmoeba
    December 6, 2008

    Re: #6 Wind farms.
    Some years ago I recall on BBC Radio 4 The NewsQuiz, one of the humorous ‘cuttings’ sent in by listeners. One featured a complaint from someone in East Anglia, expressing concerns about a potential wind farm, because of the feared increase in wind that would result, because they already had quite enough wind in East Anglia.

    Of course, there is always the distinct possibility that it was written by a wag intent upon causing amusement, but given the stupidity that seems to plague the human race, it’s impossible to be certain.

  8. #8 DavidONE
    December 6, 2008

    Charlie,

    Thanks for the illumination. It really is a bizarre and fascinating performance by them – even more so if they’re not pilloried by their competitors.

    Of course, you Aussies are not the only ones to suffer mainstream media idiocy – The Times and Telegraph have given ACC deniers a sporadically warm embrace over the last few years… which, thankfully, seems to have stopped now.

    Looking forward to the next thrilling instalment in The Australian’s War On Science!