The Weekly Notebook – America at the crossroads

America at the crossroads: Mid-term vote and Saudi murder

Americans are faced with two epoch-making decisions and the rest of the world is breathlessly awaiting the outcome.

At stake is whether the USA is a humane society or an inhumane one. Whether it is civilised or uncivilised. Whether it is guided by culture and science or by wealth and greed.

The two flashpoints are:

  1. Will the USA break economic, military and diplomatic ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over its savage murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the dismemberment of his body, or will it continue “business as usual” with the immensely corrupt and reactionary House of Saud? Are relations between Washington and Riyadh, and the $469 BILLION arms deal signed by Trump and King Salman in May 2017, more important than the sadistic murder of a Washington Post columnist?
  2. In the mid-term elections on November 6 will Americans vote Republican or Democrat? Will they vote for a Trump administration which is criminalising and terrorising refugees or vote for open borders and the humane resettlement of families seeking a better life, aka “dreamers”, fleeing from Mexico and Central America?

Mike Pompeo, the former CIA director, and the current CIA director, Ms Gina Haspel, have travelled to Riyadh and Istanbul respectively in the past week to write a narrative that protects the CIA, the White House and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Ms Haspel, who was directly involved in the CIA’s rendition programme following September 11, was hailed earlier this year for being the “first woman” to become CIA director. Now she’s doing agency dirty work to protect the killers of Jamal Khashoggi.

I can’t wait to read the verdict of ace Watergate investigators Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Why have they fallen silent?

And what about the glittering multi-millionaire Hollywood celebrities, Steve Spielberg, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, who made the ‘fake’ movie, The Post, falsely claiming an heroic role of “free speech” by the Washington Post? Why are they so reticent to condemn Khashoggi’s murderers?

Murdered: Jamal Khashoggi. Responsible:  Mohammad bin Salman, right

Only a few months ago we were reading that Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, aka MBS, was a true statesman, reformer and “great guy” who allowed women to drive cars. The hash-tag crowd were very impressed and he became the “pin-up” male for his “progressive” approach to feminism.

Now that he stands guilty of organising the murder, torture and mutilation of a Saudi-born Washington Post journalist, MBS has fallen from grace.

Smell something? It’s hypocrisy.

Mid-term bombs

One of the two American dilemmas I posed above has been answered already, since I started writing this yesterday. Crudely-made bombs were posted to the Democratic Party’s royal family, the Obamas and the Clintons. No one was injured but the New York Mayor called out the national guard and the army. Today the Big Apple is under martial law and the US stock market is tanking.
Hillary Clinton responds to bomb threat

Hillary Clinton responded quite bizarrely to the bomb attacks in a speech rallying support for Democratic candidates in the half-term elections on November 6. For Mrs Clinton it was an election issue and the Democrats intend making the most of it.

The bomb plot had the effect of turning the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi into a secondary issue which won’t be allowed to interfere with Washington’s epic arms deal with Riyadh. As expected, “jobs and growth” trumps human rights.

SBS changes hands

On a late afternoon, when the Australian media’s attention was elsewhere, James Taylor, former chief financial officer of SBS, the Special Broadcasting Service, became the public broadcaster’s new managing director.

He has spent the past five years running a programme of budget cuts and redundancies at SBS before his selection for the top job.

His appointment will delight Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, both sworn enemies of public broadcasting (you can safely ignore their public statements to the contrary).

Both of them are wedded to the destruction of public broadcasting as we know it and Taylor appears to be a perfect selection for the Coalition’s task. He has accepted a five-year term at SBS with orders to cripple the organisation through budget cuts and merge it with the ABC, i.e. implement Rupert Murdoch’s agenda.

James Taylor, new CEO of SBS

Prior to joining SBS, Taylor was director of “strategy consulting” at Deloitte, the favourite adviser to conservative governments around the world; British Telecom’s head of “strategy and corporate development”, during and after its UK privatisation; and then director of “corporate development” at the ABC during its shabby bullying by Liberal and Labor governments, News Ltd and right-wing commentators.

His initial statement as new chief of SBS was a piece of mindless jargon: “Working with the talented team, our focus for the future is for SBS to continue being an innovative and effective leader in championing the benefits of a more inclusive society, exploring multicultural and indigenous stories otherwise untold, giving a voice to communities often unheard, and continuing to reinforce our value to all Australians.”

This kind of stuff might help grow tomatoes but will it expand and develop Australia’s uniquely talented multi-cultural broadcaster?

Quote of the Month

“I’ll give you a tip. Sharma [Liberal] will win easily. This is the momentum Scott Morrison is looking for. He [Sharma] is the Winx of Australian politics, last at the turn and then boom! and he goes on to win.”

  • Alan Jones on Sky TV with co-presenter Peta Credlin

Scoop of the Week

Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price has racked up more than $450,000 in travel costs to visit her rural electorate of Durack in WA while living in a $1.59 million luxury home in Perth.

  • “Fly-in fly-out MP racks up expenses” by Ben Packham 
PS: More female MPs are urgently needed but no one wants them to adopt the rorting practices that the blokes have perfected over the decades. The answer is not quotas but the selection of women of high calibre who have something to offer public life, i.e. merit. It’s time to drop the factional favourites, time-servers, opportunists and careerists whether they are male or female.


On Air by Mike Carlton. A William Heinemann book, Penguin Random House Australia 2018. 

Mike Carlton, broadcaster par excellence, journalist, writer, commentator, satirist, naval historian and raconteur, has written a superb autobiography. It covers journalism, politics and social change in the post-war era, mainly concentrating on Australia but not exclusively.

It is replete with people from many walks of life who have dotted the national landscape for half a century. Some are memorable and rousingly worthy while others are utter rogues; Carlton met all sorts during his career and brings them together without moralising or prissy judgmentalism.

Carlton has written about a profession I know and an era of which I was a part. We shared many of the same experiences and knew many of the same people. I should declare that we were friends as well as colleagues in Sydney and in London in the early 1990s when Carlton worked for top-rating commercial broadcaster, LBC, while I managed the Fairfax & Sons (UK) Ltd office.

It seems to me that Carlton always strove for excellence in whatever he did. He was driven by the ambition to be the best, and he invariably succeeded. Some have chosen to name ambition as the driving force in his personality; I believe it was a lifelong insecurity; the outsider who hankered to become the ultimate insider. His ambition was helped by a wonderful scepticism, an inquisitive mind and an infectious sense of humour.

But putting aside amateur psycho-babble, Carlton held true to the values of his childhood, his educators and the ABC training scheme while many, many others fell by the wayside. His was a highly commendable career and he has done it justice with “war stories” from public- and privately-owned broadcasting, television, magazines, newspapers and overseas battlefields. I particularly enjoyed his anecdotes from the ABC, the Fairfax family, the Packers and the Murdochs. His confrontation with the grotesque censors of the Israeli lobby is most instructive, and I look forward to Carlton unloading on them in the future when the sequel Off Air comes out.

I must insist that this is NOT a book by a mature-aged journo for old journos. It is for anyone who values the role of media and wants an insider’s guide to how it works. Young people wanting to start a career in media will find this book a fountain of knowledge. He covers the pit falls and the prat falls. Politicians, academics, lawyers and general readers will find his story compelling, instructive and amusing. What a wonderful Christmas gift it will make!

Enter Alan “The Parrot” Jones

I was very surprised to read Mike Carlton’s anecdote about his 2UE colleague Alan Jones. I had not heard of the incident but I recall Mr Jones’s “frostiness” after I criticised him in print for the lack of accuracy and originality in some of his on-air rants and columns.

Alan “The Parrot” Jones

Carlton writes: “The first blow-up [with Jones] came within weeks of my start on air. Jones was angered that I had interviewed my friend Alex Mitchell, then the state political correspondent of The Sun-Herald.

“Mitchell had once been unkindly critical of him in the paper, apparently. Jones would never take me on head-on, always preferring to sneak in the back way.

“He went to Brennan [2UE’s programme manager John Brennan] and demanded that Mitchell be banned from my programme and the station forthwith.

“Brennan put it to me rather sheepishly. I replied that I would agree, on one condition: that I would I have an equal veto over guests of Jones’s programme. That ended it. I had Mitchell on again a week later, to hammer home the point. Nothing more was said.” (On Air, Page 436)

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