IN DEFENCE OF SLEAZE JOURNALISM: Shedding light into dark places is exactly what news reporting should be

adamwalters The former NSW Transport Minister David Campbell is – by all accounts – a patriot. A long-serving lion of the once mighty NSW ALP Right, he is considered to have done a mostly good job in a very difficult situation.

SLEAZE NEWS
Many Australians felt sorry for the man when Adam Walters on Channel 7 showed surveillance vision of the minister visiting a gay sex club. It was a sleazy story, to be sure.

A good number of those concerned Australians have told me this week that they thought the report was “wrong”, “wasn’t news” or was “an unacceptable invasion of privacy.”

These smug news-consumers looked less certain when we asked them “But what if it was Kevin Rudd visiting this club and his wife was suffering from cancer? That’d be news wouldn’t it?”

Make no mistake, a state’s Transport minister is a public figure and a role model of sorts. Certainly if semi-educated AFL footballers are held up to be community role models, so too should democratically elected Ministers of the Crown.

NEWSWORTHY DOESN’T MEAN WORTHY
But that’s not even the reason why it’s news.

It’s news because it is ultimately an extremely unusual event for a married prominent politician to be a regular at a gay sex club. And because it’s unusual, it’s interesting.

Prominent people doing unusual things sells more newspapers and magazines than probably any other category of news. Ever heard of Lindsay Lohan?

We can recall many other stories where politicians have had their private lives dragged out in public view. Married people having affairs. Divorces. Domestic violence. Even their kids going rogue. Or running around work in their undies. Drink-driving. You name it.

That level of scrutiny is what you sign up for in public life. But in the minds of many Australians – including everyone we read on the issue in the commentariat that comprises the slow-grazing sheep of Australian journalism – Adam Walters and Channel 7 crossed an imaginary line by reporting on David Campbell’s private life.

So what’s the difference.

IF IT’S GAY, CHEATING IS OK?
The only difference that I suspect built a tremendous groundswell of sympathy for Campbell was simply that he had visited a gay sex club. If it had been a straight brothel, we doubt he’d have won any sympathy at all.

We’d probably have to check with Bruce Atkinson to be sure, but we understand that in these “clubs” it is frequently the case that people of David Campbell’s age pay young adults to gratify them.

But of course, after the backlash about Seven’s report, no-one was game to ask the ex-minister the age of the chaps he was having sex with or the nature of the arrangement. If they had, an honest answer might have shifted opinion a little.

And consider who felt for him. It wasn’t just the trendy left.

Sydney Morning Herald conservative columnist Miranda Devine sympathetically referenced the fact Campbell had married young in blokey Wollongong:

And at 19, perhaps he loved Edna so much he could not bear to lose her despite any conflicts he might have felt sexually. No one knows what personal temptations he has had to overcome in his life, and that is entirely his business…

Even Andrew Bolt, a very decent man in our view constantly demonised by the Left, wrote:

Campbell fathered two children with his wife and raised them in a stable, and we presume loving, family. Waters, however, has fathered three children with three women and has not stayed with any of them. That, in my opinion, is much more reprehensible than Campbell sneaking off to a gay bathhouse, and of far graver consequence.

Perhaps it is. But we suspect these two usually very sensible conservatives were blinded by the rage of a very sleazily presented, breathless tabloid news report that tied itself up in knots to justify why they were running the story in the first place.

The inconsistencies in all that made them an easy target for MediaWatch.

TELL IT HOW IT IS LOUD AND PROUD
With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear that rather than keeping the story secret, Seven should have just told the yarn for what it was, an unusual and even rather sad situation involving a prominent person in the community.

Is it news or newsworthy? We consulted the great minds of journalism and communications to define it:

When a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog that is news.
Charles Anderson Dana, American journalist, 1819-1897

News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.
Lord Northcliffe, British publisher 1865-1922

Well, news is anything that’s interesting, that relates to what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in areas of the culture that would be of interest to your audience.
Kurt Loder, American journalist, b. 1945

The real news is bad news.
Marshall Mcluhan, Canadian communications theorist, 1911-1980

Journalism is often simply the industrialisation of gossip.
Andrew Marr, British journalist, b. 1959

News is anything that makes a reader say, `Gee Whiz’!
Arthur MacEwen, American editor,

By those and any other reasonable measure, Seven’s reporting on David Campbell was certainly newsworthy.

There is no legitimate case for a gay exception to invasions of privacy of the prominent. That’s patronising nonsense.

Adam Walters’s report wasn’t pretty but it was news and Seven were well within their rights to report it.

BEING JUDGMENTAL
And if they were being a little judgmental in their reporting then that’s OK too. We don’t think that it’s so radical a position to take to be at least slightly disapproving of the conduct of a bloke who has been married for thirty-three years, to a woman who has recently survived a brush with cancer, going to a sex club where he has most probably paid for a cheap, anonymous and meaningless thrill. We don’t like to judge these things, each to their own, we say. But there has been remarkably little discussion about the victims of Campbell’s actions: his wife, his kids and the bloke he probably paid to gratify him.

Amid all the tut-tutting about it, the NSW Premier Kristina Keneally has got off rather lightly for her flip-flopping on the issue.

On the night he quit – pre-backlash – Campbell’s conduct was “unforgivable” and she gave the distinct impression she would have sacked him for it if he’d not resigned.

Post-backlash, Campbell was forgiven. And could possibly return to the front-bench.

Government by weather-vane is perhaps how it works these days but Keneally’s display did seem remarkably unprincipled and inconsistent.

Of course, he should never have resigned in the first place. And should not have been expected to do so.

DOUBLE STANDARDS
And nor should have former NSW Education Minister John Della Bosca.

In September last year, the married minister was accused by the Daily Telegraph of having a fling with a twenty-six year old woman.

He immediately resigned his position as Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council, Minister for Industrial Relations and Education and Training because of the story.

Hardly a word of sympathy or concern for the invasion of privacy involved could be found in the mainstream press. A sensible NSW Liberal chap reflecting on these things from far away bravely spoke the truth about it but very few others did.

The failings and surprising conduct of the prominent is always going to be news. Shooting the messenger doesn’t do much to diminish the already significant number of secrets in public life.

David Campbell’s salacious story was news.

Adam Walters didn’t handle it perfectly, he felt he had to invent a public interest justification for a story that was purely salacious and no less a story because of it. Nor did the minister who felt the need to resign for what he correctly described as a purely personal matter. Nor did his otherwise well-performing boss who accepted the resignation without hesitation and initially slammed him. But the blame for all this cannot be solely left at their doors.

Seven broadcast the story because you were interested in it. Campbell resigned because he thought you would expect it and his boss initially declared his deeds unforgivable and then forgave him purely because of what she thought you wanted.

Don’t shoot the messenger. If you weren’t interested in stories about prominent people, about seemingly dull middle-aged Transport ministers gone wild at Ken’s of Kensington or Britney Spears in rehab, then they’d never see the light of day.

We report. You decide. More than a tag-line for our favourite cable news channel, it’s the simple truth.

And, you watch, powerful and prominent people are keen to impose a radical change on news reporting if they can. In England, we have seen the laws of privacy develop, as a more easily established claim to make out than defamation. These laws have already been used to punish a newspaper that published a report detailing the Nazi S&M bondage fantasies of a prominent man running Formula 1 car racing. Including costs, the newspaper lost a million pounds as a result of the successful  legal action.

We have little doubt, privacy laws designed to prevent journalists from revealing the secrets of the powerful will come to Australia.

The reaction to the David Campbell saga makes it likely it’s coming sooner rather than later.

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26 Comments

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26 responses to “IN DEFENCE OF SLEAZE JOURNALISM: Shedding light into dark places is exactly what news reporting should be

  1. Chrissy Pyne

    Agree.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention VEXNEWS 2010© | IN DEFENCE OF SLEAZE JOURNALISM: Shedding light into dark places is exactly what news reporting should be -- Topsy.com

  3. Rudi

    The two St Kilda players are David Armitage and Sam Gilbert.

  4. Clam man

    What Walters did to Campbell was an invasion of privacy.

    Journalists do not have the right to pry into anyones private life.

    The moral sanctimony from someone as such as Walters is sickening. Additionally, to have Peter Meakin, as Chief of staff to 7 news – a man who has been in the headline for him drink driving offences – to give the go-ahead on running the story reflects the types of grubs who are at the wheels of our media outlets.

    Campbell’s sexulaity, his relationship with his wife, his family or anyone is no ones business except his. His performance as a Minister, his performance as an MP is open to scruitiny. There must be a clear line between the two.

    If the genie gets let out of the bottle then it will eventually come to destroy the journalists too. Those of us how know where the dirt is hidden may one day sing like canaries.

  5. Anon

    Good article Andy, Walters and Meakin are pieces of shit for destroying Campbell’s career, let alone at a time when his wife is recovering from cancer. What a man does in his private life is entirely up to him as far as I’m concerned.

  6. Anonymous

    The test for covering stories relating to a poltician’s personal life is what is the public interest angle to the story. If taxpayer funds are involved in facilitating the activity, it contradicts their policies/public position, is causing them not to perform in their job or relates to illegal activities then it is newsworthy. Otherwise it is just gossip/ muckraking which may constitute news for Perez Hilton or MX but is not the measure of serious journalism. People leaving or cheating on their wives is nobody’s business but their own. People having affairs with members of other political parties again not really relevant.

  7. Melanie

    What a vile, stupid article that lacks intuition, the appropriate complexity for this complex issue, or any understanding beyond an agenda that must be pushed on all situations at all cost. I’ve never visited vexnews before. I won’t be again.

  8. Anon

    Thanks for that contribution Melanie, you fuck head.

  9. Stan

    Andrew, I’m going to have to disagree with you here. You mention that the publication by Seven News could be defended on public role model grounds. Not many people these days would agree with you that ministers of the Crown are ‘role models’ for the young – I do think this is a shame. But then you raise footballers, and say they are also role models, their public life is scrutinised, so fair cop re: Campbell. The problem is that the media’s code regarding footballers seems to be reporting of illegal activities or suspected illegal activities is OK, otherwise it remains private. Every time footballers private lives are exposed, there is an illegal element to the story – whether that be drug use, alleged rape, intoxicated in a public place, invasion of privacy, assault – you name it, our footballers have done it! Campbell did not engage in anything illegal, and by attempting to defend Seven’s coverage, you run the risk of people inferring you sympathise with those who say that being gay, or committing adultery should be illegal. And these types are enemies of freedom, as they tend to have a VERY long list of individual actions that should be verboten.

  10. VEXNEWS

    Fair enough Stan, and in some ways I think it’s kinda nice that people are willing to be sympathetic to the guy and more forgiving than they normally are.

    Footballers get pinged for all sorts of things that are not illegal. Wayne Carey cheating on his missus with his mate’s missus. Gary Ablett daring to go to an after-party for a soda water.

    Are they news? Sure.

    Do we overdo our interest in these athletes? Probably but that’s our fault not the meeja, which only serves us as we wish it to.

    Many of the other comments support our final argument, a law that protects the privacy of the prominent from nosy journalists is coming. Watch this space.

  11. Karma has got you Tran Sui

    Sacked Brimbank Councillor Tran Sui charged today!! i’m laughing all the way………….

  12. Anonymous

    Reba Meagher – knocking them all off one at a time with her weapon Walters.

  13. anon

    ‘Andrew Bolt a very decent man’.
    What on earth are you on?
    If ever there was a piece of scum that deserved to be bashed senseless and left maimed in the gutter, it is Bolt.

  14. Pissy Chryne

    I hope Meakin doesn’t cum after me. I’d show him a thing or two about how low a man can go. He’d get a mouthful from me…although I’d like a mouthful from him too.

  15. Perry Mason

    Have to disagree, Andrew.

    The issue here is decency. In the past the media has exercised considerable self-restraint, whilst some states also had a public interest test in addition to a truth test with respect to defamation.

    The public may have been voyeuristically interested – that’s human nature. But most of them also condemned the invasion of this man’s privacy for no newsworthy reason. It was news. It was voyeurism. A little like the job that Andrew Rule at the Age did on a prominent Melbourne businessman some years ago, where he exposed the businessman’s arrangement with a young lady in Sydney. An arrangement that, by many accounts, was known to his wife.

    All Rule and the Age achieved was to humiliate the wife.

    Sadly, news and current affairs is being turned into a sleazy version of reality television with very little, if any, useful information.
    Whatever happened to the sort of serious current affairs and journalism that unearthed scandals like the Khemlani Affair?

    Too much hard work and not saucy enough for today’s coterie of swash-buckling ‘journalists’ who failed to get their preferred job writing for ‘True Detective’

    It is this sort of abuse and lack of self restraint that feeds calls for more control of the media. The media are always keen t preach freedom of the press, which is a key pillar of any democracy.

    But with freedom comes responsibility. That is something that is less and less evident in what we are fed by the media these days.

    The insanely intense competition for ratings or circulation is causing many of our ethically challenged journalists to increasingly pry into people’s private lives – people that are not doing anything illegal or against the public interest.

    In the Campbell case, this is matter for him and his family – no one else. Especially not someone like Peter Meakin, whose drunken driving has put lives at risk. http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/manufactured-scandal-leaves-another-political-career-in-tatters-20100521-vzzq.html
    He, like his alter-ego in slime, Glenn Milne, is in no position to be pointing the bone at anyone.

    I don’t want see more regulation of that media, but it is appropriate for the public to put pressure on the media over stories like the Campbell story.

    We need to demand that filth like Meakin and Walters, along with the likes of Glenn Milne are sacked. That

  16. Perry Mason

    Have to disagree, Andrew.

    The issue here is decency. In the past the media has exercised considerable self-restraint, whilst some states also had a public interest test in addition to a truth test with respect to defamation.

    The public may have been voyeuristically interested – that’s human nature. But most of them also condemned the invasion of this man’s privacy for no newsworthy reason. It was news. It was voyeurism. A little like the job that Andrew Rule at the Age did on a prominent Melbourne businessman some years ago, where he exposed the businessman’s arrangement with a young lady in Sydney. An arrangement that, by many accounts, was known to his wife.

    All Rule and the Age achieved was to humiliate the wife.

    Sadly, news and current affairs is being turned into a sleazy version of reality television with very little, if any, useful information.
    Whatever happened to the sort of serious current affairs and journalism that unearthed scandals like the Khemlani Affair?

    Too much hard work and not saucy enough for today’s coterie of swash-buckling ‘journalists’ who failed to get their preferred job writing for ‘True Detective’

    It is this sort of abuse and lack of self restraint that feeds calls for more control of the media. The media are always keen t preach freedom of the press, which is a key pillar of any democracy.

    But with freedom comes responsibility. That is something that is less and less evident in what we are fed by the media these days.

    The insanely intense competition for ratings or circulation is causing many of our ethically challenged journalists to increasingly pry into people’s private lives – people that are not doing anything illegal or against the public interest.

    In the Campbell case, this is matter for him and his family – no one else. Especially not someone like Peter Meakin, whose drunken driving has put lives at risk. http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/manufactured-scandal-leaves-another-political-career-in-tatters-20100521-vzzq.html
    He, like his alter-ego in slime, Glenn Milne, is in no position to be pointing the bone at anyone.

    I don’t want see more regulation of that media, but it is appropriate for the public to put pressure on the media over stories like the Campbell story.

    If a politician or a businessperson behaved like some of the gutter-crawlers the media woul rightly demand their scalps.
    We need to demand that Meakin and Walters are sacked. That wíll certainly have the effect of bringing about more self-restraint among journalists and ease the pressure for government regulation.

  17. Anonymous

    The same arguments you use here can be used to effectively spy and follow with a camera anyone you please.

  18. Boofa Leigh

    You would never catch me leaving a gay sex club. Absolute scum this guy. And I gotta tell you I certinaly know a bit about scum….

  19. RDR

    Anyone got the mobiles of those St Kilda lads who knocked up the young lass? I’d like to contact them to get a few more hints on scoring yound ladies.

  20. WTF!

    A young (17 years) girlfriend of mine was a cadet at The Daily Advertiser at Wagga in the early 1980s when Adam Walters was a journalist there before he went on to Radio 2WG.

    Believe me, he was a sexual predator and groper extraordinaire … if David Campbell’s nuance’s are news. then Walter’s proclivities – of which there are many – should also be …

    I was seriously thinking of taking a cricket bat to the ill mannered chauvenist 30 years back …

  21. RDR

    I admire old Dicky Pratt like me he was always on the hunt for young pussy. By the way does anyone have Madison Ashton’s mobile, maybe she like a lift home.

  22. Rob N Togg

    Its news, because it was published by a news agency and then consumed by the public.

  23. pottermouth

    So how long before the press tells us the names of the Essendon and Richmond players/ex who would love to have the address of that club?

  24. Rock Lifter

    A list of Walter’s escapades while at
    2WG
    News Ltd
    GMT

    may be out in public view very soon…..

  25. politicalrealist

    The question is, when you start looking into people’s personal dealings, where does it end. A political leader in the not too distant past had a mistress – I know because I lived doors away. Should that be news? I think this man should be judged on his delivery of outcomes rather than somewhat less than discreet to a gay club.

  26. Phil Honeytree

    Campbell should have confined his gay club visits to Melbourne – just as I confined mine to Sydney.

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