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Moral Equivalence vs Political Correctness

By the time this essay is published the current election campaign reaches the ‘magical’ halfway point. The single quote marks around the word magical, denote the idea, a type of invisible hand is moving the electorate toward a decision which might change the nation’s future.

In fact, nothing is further from the truth. By the time the result comes and goes, the majority will simply tune out of the national debate and move on with their lives.

We are Australians after all; sure of our egalitarianism, our sense of the fair go and sceptical of the American notion of manifest destiny. And yet we are a nation wracked by self-doubt, unsure of our place in the world, and annoyed by pesky politicians foisting this or that paradigm upon us at every local, state and federal election. In short, we just want it to go away, but it won’t, nor will the consequences diminish no matter the makeup of the next government. Unsure footed and election weary, we Australians stand at a cross-road.

For some, the fog of uncertainty lifted momentarily during the first televised debate between Shorten and Morrison, and an address to the National Press Club by Greens Leader Richard Di Natale. Yet within days, both leaders scrambled to defend candidates who displayed their true nature on various social media platforms.

For the Liberal Party, it is a faux explanation of sinister forces at work behind the hate speech of Jessica Whelan.

Whereas for Labor it is the argument Luke Creasey was a naughty boy a long time ago, but all is forgiven now.

Thus far the Greens have avoided the spectacle of crest-fallen spear carriers, but in New South Wales that party’s internal war rumbles along.

And this is the ‘magical’ halfway point.

Creasey and Jessica Whelan are just two of a phalanx of fallen electoral aspirants, with the toll likely to increase by Election Day.

Without realising it, many of those among us charged to make sense of this mess – journalists – dutifully record and report two philosophical tropes deployed by contemporary politicians. Moral equivalence and that darling cause célèbre of the far right, political correctness.

It is a rarity to read journalism which avoids these hoary old chestnuts, and I don’t hold out much hope for the situation to change in the near or distant future.


The best answer comes courtesy of the most incisive analysis of the state of Australian public debate I have read thus far in the campaign.

Writer Richard Cooke lays the blame at the feet of Rupert Murdoch in his essay for the May edition of The Monthly headlined: News Corp. Democracy’s Greatest Threat.

Thankfully there are many splendid, hardworking and honest Australian journalists and writers, but their ranks are thinning fast due to cutbacks, layoffs and redundancies at mastheads big, small, local, regional and national.

My fear is young up-and-coming scribes will not know the difference between moral equivalence and political correctness, or any number of questionable political narratives trotted out by the Jordan Peterson’s and Milo Yiannopoulos’s of this world. And truth be told I am in two minds about banning them as I am about the jailing of Julian Assange.

But as a long-time member of the old AJA, I agree with Peter Greste’s recent assertion that Julian Assange is no journalist.

And though I know this statement might seem politically incorrect to many readers, calling oneself a journalist and a publisher careens from moral to false equivalence, an unsettling transgression borne equally by both the left and the right.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.

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  1. Lambert Simnel


    Describing Julian Assange as a journalist is as deep an insult as any directed at him yet.

  2. David Bruce

    I look at Assange as a publisher, no different from Rupert. Next few weeks should be interesting as UK has done a BREXIT (lawfully) on 29 March and Assange is in protective custody pending a meeting in USA.

    Our own appeals to the Privy Council are in progress and I hope we don’t get the message that “London Bridge is Down”. (Google it!)

  3. Lambert Simnel

    Most of Johnson’s piece I can abide. Just today I have read my favourite column, the one by Amanda Meade at the Grauniad and watched most of what Johnson discusses here at this evening Drum and also much other stuff also this week, although I am not going chase down linx for it all.

    Which makes his last couple of paras regarding the joke that is Brit justice and then the superfluous naming of Julian Assange himself so incongruous.

    Assange at least sought out real news, not the sort of deliberately misleading tabloid pap that Henry Johnson himself admits to reading.

    If he had wanted to bag deceitful msm and the deterioration of Oz civil society, why not launch something half as nasty as he launched against Julian Assange at something as deleterious as the Sydney Telegraph?

  4. Frank Smith

    A month or so back New York Times journalists published a three part series detailing the damage that the Murdoch dynasty continue to do to the Australian, British and USA democracies. A longish read but very revealing.

  5. New England Cocky

    Re Assange: about 1916 the then Australian Prime Minister sent Billy Hughes and Keith Murdoch, later Sir Keith, father of Rupert, to ANZAC Cove to report back to him directly about what they saw. Keith smuggled copy past the Army censors that reported accurately the horror of that location which resulted in the withdrawal of ANZAC troops from Gallipoli and re-deployment to the equally disastrous Western Front. There the incompetence of the British & French High Command had created a deadly stale-mate, only resolved after Australian General John Monash took charge. This matter is recounted in a six part ABC Radio account and I think also a book.

    So I see little difference between Assange and Keith Murdoch except about 100 years of time.

    The stark contrast is that son Rupert, now an American citizen, cuddles up to Trumpery and spreads the poison of trickle down economics for the benefit of foreign owned multinational corporations encouraging the Australian Lazy Nasty People misgovernment to sell off every piece of public infrastructure. I believe this is against Australian egalitarianism and the best public best interests.

    Any study of English law will disclose that it has developed to protect the rights, real and material possessions plus financial interests of the ruling classes. Since the Thatcher betrayal of the English people, the English ruling elite has abandoned egalitarianism for “greed is good” individualism found in the USA (United States of Apartheid).


  6. Henry Johnston

    Lambert Simnel. A couple of things: I suggest you follow my link to Peter Greste’s story about Assange, ditto Richard Cooke’s essay in The Monthly about the Murdoch press. As for British justice: Assange is now part of a legal system which in centuries past helped populate our nation. I do not endorse his incarceration nor possible extradition to the US. Beyond that my surname is spelt with a T.

  7. DrakeN

    ” As for British justice: Assange is now part of a legal system which in centuries past helped populate our nation.” and destroy other more civilised nations around the world, including those most successful indigenous people in Australia.
    Your knowledge of your own history is seriously flawed.
    From my own knowledge, gathered over more than half a century, “British Justice” Like “Australian Justice” is an oxymoron.
    Rule of Law does not indicate access to justice when one considers their origins and the people who occupied those legislations.
    Greed has always ruled and the lust for power and priviledge overruled all attempts at egalitrianism throughout our history.

  8. Lambert Simnel

    He is trying to justify Frost and the other idiot who sentenced Assange the other day?

    Never mind all the other abuses of justice?

    I suppose he backs FISA courts and sealed indictments/surveillance/ detention legislation and star chambers and kangaroo courts in the USA, here and elsewhere also.

    Yes, Drake N.

    It is sad that these days people can no more see through ideology and consent manufacture than the superstitious flat earthers of the sixteenth century.

  9. Kerry

    Henry Johnston you are a moron, shame on you AIM for publishing this hit piece on Assange.

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