Many of the people I know would argue that it is beyond understanding that a journalist such as Andrew Bolt can gather such a following and that his political analysis can be trusted by anyone. While the intrinsic value of Bolt’s work is undeniably close to nil, his skills as a propagandist and polemicist are to be acknowledged.
Bolt’s writings are the epitome of populism in the news today. He will talk about anything and everything, with no particular import given to knowledge of the topic at hand. At the same time, he will masterfully comfort his audience into narrow, ethno-exclusivist views by flattering their ‘common sense’.
Rather than relying on generalities, as Bolt himself tends to do when crafting his pamphlets, I’ll focus on something I can safely say I know something about. On 25 October, I wrote an article for The Age on the recent French strikes which protested pension reforms under Sarkozy. This article put forward the point that more than demonstrating against the reforms themselves, the French were demonstrating against their government, and in particular against the politics of Nicolas Sarkozy.
Bolt, who I was unaware is an expert on French matters, wrote a scathing critique on his blog. At first I discarded it, laughing. But, having slept on it, I decided it was crucial not to allow such claims and defamation to go unanswered.
Bolt cares little about facts, nor about what really goes on in the world. Had Bolt actually been interested in the French situation, he would have read the news that morning and found out that the French are not necessarily against working longer. He would also have discovered that almost 70% supported the strikes and demonstrations, clearly showing their discontent at something more than the reforms themselves. Finally, he would have noticed that Sarkozy’s ratings were at the lowest they had ever been.
Yet Bolt’s aims were not to give his readers a precise, factual and researched understanding of the situation. His analysis rested instead on two old chestnuts of populist politics and journalism: attacks on minorities and on academia. His final goal was to entrench a feeling of fear and hatred in his followers, the only way to keep them by his side.
Bolt’s main criticism of my article was that I am an academic. The same old comments you see whenever an academic publishes something in the newspaper. Yes, some people still think academics live in ivory towers, while quite frankly we spend most of our time in contact with the real world. Believe it or not.
Bolt’s first sentence showed the little understanding he had of an article which I thought really quite moderate and which he tagged “dated campus radicalism, all fury and no practicality”. Then, he went on to tell his readers what I had not mentioned in my article, for example, why the government was implementing these reforms. He could have gone further and told his audience I did not talk about global warming, mining, construction work, China, elephants, and cricket in the 800 word limit I had to discuss an important issue. Fair point, yet pretty useless. Even more so when my article was clearly not about the reforms as such, or even a critique of them, but about the lack of trust the French had in their present government. Bolt couldn’t care less.
The next step was to describe my ‘solution’: “a red-flagger’s wet dream, in which a democratically elected government falls to some vaguely imagined collective of the young and oppressed”. Is this opposed to his vision of society where the strong rightly dominates the weak? Certainly the kind of talk that would make his audience feel relaxed and comfortable.
While Bolt’s analysis thus so far had rested on complete ignorance of a very complicated situation, the worst was yet to come. Bolt was not content to criticise my article standing on no solid ground; he also resorted in personal attacks. For Bolt, I “must dream, and Daddy must pay”. At least Bolt proved consistent: he knows as much about France’s politics as he does about my personal life.
While the previous points already draw a worrying picture for such a widely read commentator, Bolt’s overt use of neo-racist tactics to satisfy and arouse his readership was the final straw. In his conclusion, Bolt accused the Muslim population of France of being responsible for the 2005 riots; he accused me of refusing to acknowledge it. While one would hope most of us are aware that anything and everything can be found on the Internet, Bolt justified his point citing two random articles. My questions are: has Bolt really done the research to make sure that the rioters were Muslims, or did he base his analysis on instinct? Did he choose the easy explanation to a very complicated matter? Why would one try to research the discrimination against the suburban population of France when one can just blame their protest on the colour of their skin or their religion?
My guess would be that Bolt knew, and knows, exactly what he was doing. That is what is truly worrying about the credibility he is given by the Australian media. While his analysis is easy to discount, the damage it does is enormous, as Bolt is given access to newspapers which reach a vast number of people on a daily basis. His status as a journalist gives him credibility despite his profound lack of knowledge and honesty.
By openly stigmatising minorities, Bolt gives false comfort to many who justly feel insecure in their view of the future. Rather than relieving these genuine fears and providing clear, albeit arduous solutions, Bolt encourages the withdrawal of many into racist politics by flattering a fake common sense. Rather than looking at the deep roots of the social insecurity which has led many to wrongly consider the ‘Other’ as a threat, Bolt offers his audience a simple, violent solution: the further exclusion of all minorities.
If Bolt is popular, it is not because he says it like it really is. It is not because he is the voice of the people, and it is certainly not because he is a serious journalist who has researched the issues he deals with. If Bolt is popular, it is because he offers many people, frightened at the pace at which the world is changing, an easy way out. While the solution would lie in a hard rethinking of the global situation, Bolt offers a comforting vision of the world where the white male should still reign supreme. Bolt does not say aloud what everybody thinks, Bolt says aloud what anybody with a modicum of common sense, decency or ethics has made the conscious decision not to think. Therefore, what Bolt does when he claims to speak for the people is to reduce them to completely irrational, unintelligent beings. Yes, Bolt is insulting to all of us.
Just like academia is not a world in itself, Bolt is not the people. Bolt hates the people and pushes them to hate each other.
Written in November 2010 – Not taken by any media in Australia