From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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Miranda Devine and the strange case of the drug raid that never was

28 February 2006

I laid down the Sydney Morning Herald, laughed quietly to myself and opened another cider.

So Miranda Devine's “journalism” had come to this: it’s okay not to let the actual facts stand in the way of a good story if it highlights what you think is really going on and advances your political message. That spin came through loud and clear from her piqued defence of police “whistleblower” Tim Priest, who had belatedly been exposed by Herald journalists as, well, a fantasist.

Miranda and the rest of the right-wing commentariat grouped around Quadrant magazine have got a lot of mileage out of the “former detective sergeant” and “former SAS soldier” but, according to the SMH, he is neither.

More importantly, back in 2003, Priest had electrified the assembled Quadrant faithful with a lecture in which he told the seminal tale of his first personal experience of the Middle Eastern and Muslim crime gang threat. Quadrant editor Paddy McGuinness reprinted the Priest talk and it thereafter became a staple of Howardista propaganda.

As Priest told it, the story concerned an early 1980s police raid on the Croydon haunt of a Lebanese Muslim drug importer. It was a dreadful experience for the hapless cops. Womenfolk hid heroin in kiddies’ nappies and children spat at and wrestled with officers. There was more: the heroin seized was “Bekaa Valley heroin”, an exotic type never before seen by the drug squad. Tim Priest, already a favourite in Miranda Devine’s “stable” of sources, had delivered the goods again.

As it turns out it was all a fairy tale. The heroin was actually Golden Triangle No. 3, and that wasn’t the half of Priest’s fantasy. The bloke arrested went quietly. True he was Lebanese but he was a Christian, and there was no spitting, wrestling and hiding of heroin in nappies because the couple were childless. Oh, and the arrested man wasn’t a recently arrive migrant, he’d been here for about twenty years.

So where did the other exciting bits come from? Priest ’fessed up to combining details from about six police operations to construct his story. For all we know, the added bits might not involve Middle Eastern men, might not be related to drug crime, or might just be more figments of his imagination.

In her defence of Priest, Miranda Devine skated over the central issue of truth and journalistic integrity. The exposure of Priest’s little secret was a “miserable attack” on her man’s credibility. It apparently matters little to Devine that his thrilling account of the raid was a lurid melange of unrelated cases – in fact, a lie.

That would be fine if she was a pulp fiction writer, but journalists are supposed to sort fact from fiction.

You don’t have to be a genius to see what happened. Remember when Howard first came to power? Way back then his problem was to win back to the Liberal fold the redneck voters attracted to Pauline Hanson. His strategy was to appeal to their worst instincts by dog-whistling about Asian immigration. The suckers fell for it hook, line and sinker, Howard got in and immigration from China and Vietnam continued apace. A new scapegoat was urgently required, the Prime Minister’s strategists settled on a tiny but recognizable minority, and the hunt was on to find “experts” on Middle Eastern and Muslim crime.

Back in the late 1990s Priest had some genuine stuff about south-east Asian crime gangs to peddle to the media, but the whole game had changed. The focus of Howard’s wedge politics had shifted from Asians to “men of Middle Eastern appearance” and Muslims. Priest’s concocted drug raid story matched the new priority perfectly and Howard’s media cheer-squad – the Devines, Joneses and Sheehans subsequently made liberal use of his fictions as “proof” of their claim that Muslims and Middle Eastern gangs posed a unique and extraordinary threat to society.

History has seen this standard of journalistic “truth” before and the effect has always been appalling. Take a look at some defining cases: In the 1890s, the fact that the evidence against Captain Alfred Dreyfus was an obvious tissue of lies and forgeries did not matter to the columnists of the French right: the man was Jewish and they “knew” Jews were traitors and spies for Germany – the imperative was to illustrate this “fact”. To the Stalinist scribblers covering the Moscow show trials of the 1930s, it didn’t matter that the evidence against the Old Bolsheviks was clearly rubbish – the thing to prove was that they were traitors to the revolution. More recently we have seen Saddam Hussein’s “certain” possession of weapons of mass destruction. There was no evidence for them and they proved not to be there ... but it was the sort of thing the Iraqi strongman might have done, or might have thought about doing. Whatever. He was one of the “bad people” and that had to be proved – even if it took lies to do it.

If Miranda Devine’s standard of objectivity prevailed, journalism would become propaganda; history, a set of lies in the service of the highest bidder and the legal system would be based on prejudice, fiction and hearsay.

Why do the Herald’s editors put up with her?

[Miranda Devine’s defence of Priest was published in the SMH of February 23. The exposure of Priest ran on February 20 and 21].