Passing Bull 131 – The remarkable Mr Chris Kenny


On Sydney radio 2GB this week, host Mark Levy was commenting on the hype about Oprah Winfrey running for president.  ‘Despite all the doom and gloom around the Trump presidency, what’s he done wrong so far?’ asked Levy.  It was an unremarkable reflection that generated no contention and was not intended to do so.  For that audience it was a statement of the obvious.

Yet could you imagine such an observation being made on the ABC?  Not only is it inconceivable that any ABC host would make such a call, we know that any guest arguing the same would be treated as a heretic.  The proposition would be howled down as controversial, partisan and absurd.  Despite its charter obligations to objectivity and plurality, the ABC could not entertain such a reasonable point of view…..

Callers [to a 2GB show hosted by the author] are concerned about immigration and poor integration, sceptical about government interventions, worried about energy prices and phlegmatic about alarmist claims on the climate…..But few, if any, of their views are the sort you could ever expect to hear on ABC, SBS or other ‘love media’ staples…..

It is not hard to see which view is right   [Someone reported in the Fairfax press had argued that ‘volunteering was counterproductive, undercut paid work and relieved governments of their responsibilities.’]  And it is not a matter of opinion.  The facts support the case for volunteers.….

The Prime Minister’s energy policy is still beholden to futile Paris targets, despite the U S withdrawing and the international community asking next to nothing of China or India.  While he backs Paris at the expense of affordable and reliable energy, he fails to give the mainstream what they really need and want – the cheapest and most reliable electricity.

Our competing narratives can broadly be described as left and right.  But we can imagine a series of Venn diagrams where the flanks of the major parties overlap to share and swap members on various issues.  Even business leaders fuel the left side of some debates because of corporate posturing, dinner-party imperatives or fear of social-media-driven reputational damage.

Turnbull and the Coalition need to have faith that the numbers are with the mainstream and common sense.  Sure the left narrative – with its academic and political/media class support – makes most of the noise and generates its own momentum.  But Brexit, Trump and even Tony Abbott circa 2013 demonstrate that voters can flock to mainstream candidates no matter the hectoring and prognostications of the so-called elites.  John Howard could never have won a single election unless this were true.

This requires strong advocacy from conviction politicians to give mainstream voters a guiding light through the deceptions of the political/media class.  It demands leadership, not opinion poll watching.

Yet this is not a matter of theories, ideology or complex plans.  Rather, it is about the facts.

In the issues mentioned earlier, the facts support the mainstream view…..If not for the publicly funded ABC, SBS, subsidised magazines, universities and bureaucratic interventions, the false narratives of the virtue-signallers would be soundly defeated in the open market-place of ideas.  Instead their nonsense dominates…..

(The Weekend Australian 13-14 January 2018.)

There is more to the same effectBefore looking at parts of the argument, may I make two general observations?

First, the author likes applying labels, or, if you prefer, he is fond of clichés.  That is, Mr Kenny likes to put things in boxes and give them a name – such as, love media, mainstream, left and right, elites, conviction politicians, political/media class, and virtue-signallers.  Mr Kenny does not say what he means by any of those terms, and I am not sure what they might entail in the context of his argument – or anywhere else.

Secondly, and relatedly, Mr Kenny sees people as acting and thinking in identifiable groups – or, if you like, he sees people acting tribally.  We can see this immediately from the reference to ‘that audience’ in the first paragraph, and ‘we know’ in the second.  In the eyes of Mr Kenny the audience of 2GB is very different to that of the ABC – or ‘other ‘love media’ staples.’  They apparently represent different tribes.  When it comes to politics, Mr Kenny is like an Arsenal or Collingwood supporter.  You are either for us or against us – and with passion – either way.  Mr Kenny’s team would seem to come from the ‘mainstream’ or ‘right’ and is apparently opposed by the ‘left’ or ‘elites’ of the ABC and the like.  What those groups might stand for is left swinging in the breeze.

Since the original labels have not been explained, there is a serious risk of confusion in putting people to whom those labels may apply into boxes.  Unless you are careful, you could wind up with the agony of Procrustes.   May I suggest that most of what I see as the faults in Mr Kenny’s argument derive from these tendencies to apply labels to conduct or opinions and to separate people into classes?

Let us then go to the ‘statement of the obvious’ – ‘to that audience’.  The statement was phrased as a question.  Mr Kenny therefore sees the question as rhetorical.  That is, he saw the 2 GB host as asserting that Mr Trump has not done anything wrong, and he, Mr Kenny, believes that the 2GB audience would regard such a statement as unremarkable, uncontentious, and a statement of the obvious.  Those propositions are large, but that is the risk you take when you proceed with this level of generalization – and at this remove from the evidence.

What wrongs might be reasonably alleged against Donald Trump?  The charge sheet, or indictment, might read as follows.  He has waged open war on two elements of the United States constitutional fabric, the judiciary and the press; he has failed to persuade another element of that fabric, the Congress, to implement key elements in his policy; he has acted against people just because they are of a different colour or race; he has sought to create conflict by making divisive statements to please what is called his ‘base’ rather than to act in the interests of the nation at large –he has acted as if to excite domestic insurrections; he has on any view shown himself to be a compulsive liar; he has consistently acted in an intemperate, illiterate and rude manner that demeans his office and the United States; he has publicly insulted the Secretary of State and Attorney-General, and he has refused to appoint people to fill vacant offices in the State Department; he has acted to alienate most of the allies of the United States and most members of the U N – and he boasts about all these things; he has not built the wall, much less get the Mexicans to pay for it; he has not repealed or replaced Obamacare; what Mr Kenny calls ‘tax reforms’ are a violation of the Republican views on the deficit, and will benefit the rich rather than the poor; he consistently acts against the advice of his ministers, some of whom know what they are doing, for fear of unsettling his ‘base’ or creating a flaw in the image with which he is so much in love – himself; and he has incurred political obligations to unattractive people that obliges him to protect and defend Nazis, and help promulgate their views.  There is more to this history of repeated injuries and usurpations.

Trump is the most unpopular president in living memory; in the opinion of those qualified to give one, he is the most unstable and stupid man ever to go to the White House; he has appeared to validate the first such proposition and to prove the second by proclaiming, over his chosen medium, that he is a ‘stable genius.’  And that’s before you recall the evasion of military service; the serial bankruptcies in his businesses, and the $25 million dollar settlement of fraud claims against him that he said he would never settle; the absurd favouring and promotion of his family and his business; his tax evasion and his refusal to show his tax returns; his pussy-grabbing and his failure to fulfil his statement that he would sue his accusers; Puerto Rico; Roy Moore; and the several matters occupying the attention of Mr Robert Mueller III.  (One of those appears to be admitted.  Of the many inconsistent reasons Trump gave for firing the head of the FBI, one was that Comey’s Russian investigation was annoying him.  To an Australian lawyer, that looks like an admission of obstructing the course of justice.)

All those allegations can be and are being made, and not just by the ‘love media’, whoever they are.  That being so, many people would regard a statement that Donald Trump has done nothing wrong as at least ‘controversial, partisan and absurd’, to adopt the wording of Mr Kenny.  When you look at the evidence – what Mr Kenny calls the ‘facts’ – it is hard to imagine any history better placed to disqualify a person from holding any form of public office, let alone that of President of the United States.

My own personal view?  No decent Australian would let that crude lout into their house.

But Mr Kenny allows himself to be boxed into the absurd by the linguistic traits I have referred to – and by his fear and loathing of the ABC.  That being so, some taxpayers might be very upset if the ABC were to promote such an odd position as that advanced by Mr Kenny.

May I say three other things on this first point?

The constant harping about the ABC by Mr Kenny and almost everyone else on his newspaper is not only predictable, boring, and unhinged, but it is unprofessional.  If you went to a doctor or lawyer and they routinely set aside time to bad mouth others of their profession, you would fire them.   Why can’t journalists at this paper conform to professional standards?

Next, one consequence of the tribalism that I referred to is that there is no balance or nuance in Mr Kenny’s presentation.  What we get is the ‘me against you’ of Arsenal v Liverpool – all out conflict.  This intolerance is blighting our public life, and this piece of Mr Kenny is a very sad example.

What do the arguments of the other side amount to?  ‘Their nonsense.’  And ‘their nonsense dominates.’  We get this sense of persecution, of victimhood, two things that this paper inveighs against.  And we get the hallmark of the Arsenal tribe – you don’t respond to the premises of the argument; you go straight for the throat of the person who has the gall to ignore plain ‘facts’ and to promote such ‘nonsense.’  It is not surprising that both parts of what Mr Kenny calls the ‘political/media class’ are in such bad odour.

Finally, what drives Mr Kenny to adopt a position on Trump that would strike many, if not most, as delusional?  I’m not sure what ‘mainstream’ entails, but no one would call Trump mainstream.  (He would be appalled at the suggestion.)  Mr Kenny does, I think – like Mr Abbott, at least until 2013 – like to see himself as a ‘conservative.’  That’s another weasel term, but again no one would call Trump conservative.  He is a radical out to blow up the Establishment.  Some say Trump is a ‘populist’.  That’s another watery, limp-wristed phrase, but no meaning of populism equates with any meaning of conservatism.

What then is driving Mr Kenny here?  Does he think that either mainstream party in Australia could enhance its chances at the ballot box by championing Donald Trump and proclaiming that he has so far done nothing wrong?  Is this the strait to which what Mr Kelly calls ‘the right’ has been reduced in Australia?

Well, that’s enough for now.  I will look at the balance of the quoted text later.

Happy new year.

2 thoughts on “Passing Bull 131 – The remarkable Mr Chris Kenny

  1. Your analysis of Chris Kenny’s lack of professionalism is fair and accurate, but you seem to be treating him as a serious but fatally flawed commentator. He is in fact an extreme rightwing activist who uses his position in the media to push his ignorant, addled views. He is a disgrace to journalism and should be expelled from the MEAA if he is a member.

    • Laurie

      I hear what you say. Three things. I am a libel lawyer and I do have a house. When I was active as a solicitor, I learned that the best approach was politeness – the angrier the other side got, the more reasonable and polite we would get. It drove them mad. I used to tell staff – imagine seeing every letter you write as Exhibit A in court on the front page of The Age. Finally, when I submitted something to The Guardian, they said that they had a policy not to vilify people. That was good advice. (I think I called the PM a baboon.) After all, one thing I object to in The Oz style is their vilification. So, thank you for the term ‘fair and accurate.’ Next post, I will refer to previous posts dealing with what looks to be the same material.

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