Kate’s Corner ~ Being “Outted” in Australian Society

By Kate Doak.

As a young Transsexual woman, I’ve experienced what it’s like being “outted” to people in a way that doesn’t feel comfortable or safe. I’ve been bullied, sworn at, assaulted, lied to and ridiculed by others, purely because I’m supposedly something “different” to what they are used to. It’s not a pleasant feeling having somebody take control of your life in some way shape or form, and use it against you in order to suit their own ends.

As many of you within the Australian political tweets fraternity would know, a public servant who writes under the pseudonym “Grogs Gamut” was “outted” earlier this week by James Massola, who writes the “Capital Circle” column for “The Australian”. James Massola decided to publish Grogs Gamut’s real name under the supposition that Gamut is now a political figure, given his comments on media coverage of policy announcements during the recent Federal Election campaign, as well as his acceptance of an invitation to the recent Media 140 conference in Canberra. This last point is particularly strange given that there were numerous public servants at the conference.

James Massola has argued throughout the week since Gamut was “outted” that he did so with the interests of the public in mind. With arguments ranging from “the public should know when a public servant is biased”, through to “Grog put himself in this position”, James Massola has been gently stoking the flames within the volunteer and academic media, in order to promote the circulation of his own work online. That’s typical of most print journalists within the political confines of Canberra, as the more hits your stories are getting, either online or otherwise, the safer your job becomes.

James Massola has been claiming  that going after Grogs Gamut hasn’t been about getting revenge on a critic whatsoever. If you believe that line, then I’ve got a Pelican for sale that knows how to tap-dance as well. By it’s very nature, the Canberra Press Gallery is a conservative institution. Unlike many other parts of the media industry, change isn’t welcome to many of those who have clawed their way from obscurity into the nation’s limelight. Nor is criticism, especially when it’s constructive.

Ontop of that, James Massola would have had to of known that Grogs Gamut was invited to the Media 140 conference by it’s Australian convenor, Julie Posetti. Possessing one of the finest journalistic and academic minds around, Julie is nobody’s fool when it comes to anything of a political or media nature. If anyone were able to verify whether somebody has a political agenda or not, it would be a prominent Journalist, who just also happens to teach Journalism students for a living.

While Massola was well within his rights to “out” Grogs Gamut, was it the morally right thing to do so? Grog hasn’t lost his job (yet), so no harm done, right? It’s cavalier attitudes like this that either get people hurt, or end careers. In more than a few situations, it’s resulted in both. What would have happened if Grog had of lost his job over this? If you look through his entire blog, Grog has been meticulous in making sure that he only blogs on issues that are already in the public arena, and never on anything that could possibly come across his desk at work.

Around midday on Friday, James Massola did a live audio interview via a web-stream on “The Australian”’s website, with fellow Canberra Reporter Latika Bourke, and his editor, Geoff Elliot. In an attempt to justify the actions of “The Australian” over the past week, Massola said why he published details about Grogs Gamut, while Latika Bourke was coached into saying why she disagreed with some of the characteristics of online Bloggers. What followed to this “Journalistic Threesome”, was a diatribe as to why the “established” media were right on this issue, while everyone else, including journalism academics, are wrong.

What’s surprising is that no one with a Blogging background was included as a part of this broadcast, even though the topic was “Blogging” itself. While some might argue that Massola’s background with the pro-Catholic “Eureka Street” during his early career might qualify him as a blogger, there’s a difference between “writing for work” like journalists do, and “writing for fun”.

That in itself raises a question: why did James Massola and Geoff Elliot choose Latika M. Bourke to be a part of that interview? As many of you (from Australia that is) are aware Latika Bourke is employed by 2UE, which is owned by Fairfax. Fairfax owns both “The Sydney Morning Herald” and “The Age”, which are in direct competition with “The Australian”. Given that News Corporation have their own journalists who have just as much experience in Canberra as Latika (some of whom are also more experienced in social media), it’s surprising that she was called in for this “interview”.

Now if you listen closely to the recording, nearly every time James Massola said something Latika Bourke was in complete agreement. Now nothing against Latika Bourke, as I think that she’s one of the smartest young journalists to have covered Canberra in a long, long time, though something stinks about this. Latika Bourke is normally rather blunt with both her questions and her answers, so seeing her act pretty much as a “yes-man” to everything that Geoff Elliot and James Massola were saying is just plain weird.

During the conversation, I tweeted the following to James Massola which he then proceeded to read out on-air:

Massola then proceeded to state that I’d missed the point and that he’d praised Grogs Gamut during the early part of the campaign. While that much certainly is true (the praise), it doesn’t explain why he suddenly thought that Grogs Gamut was instantly newsworthy now. Media 140 is predominantly an education-orientated organization, rather than a professional one in the sense of the National Press Club. The conference run by Julie Posetti was designed to benefit both professional journalists and bloggers alike, regardless of politics. In that regard, Grogs Gamut had as much of a right to attend Media 140 as anyone else, particularly given the apolitical insight that he gave on the coverage of the 2010 election. If “outting” Grogs Gamut’s identity wasn’t newsworthy at the time of the election, then it can only come across as an act of spite by “The Australian” now.

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Kate Doak is a Postgraduate student at the University of New England, Australia. Since 2004 she’s changed career paths twice, genders once and has developed a major interest in radio. These days, Kate mostly focuses on Modern History and International Politics.

Kate’s Corner – A “Banana Split” for the Ambassador

By Kate Doak.

It’s not often one gets the opportunity to meet with a close, long-term friend of a sitting US President, a US Ambassador or one of the finest legal minds around. So when I was offered the chance to interview US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich just before he addressed the Media 140 conference in Canberra earlier this week, it was an experience well worth savouring.

Audio Interview with US Ambassador to Australia – Jeffrey Bleich – Media140 – 23-9-2010

Having known President Barack Hussein Obama since attempting to recruit him as a Clerk to the US Appellate Court from Harvard Law School, Ambassador Bleich has an insight on one of the most powerful men in the world that not many people have. When asked about how he first met the future President, the Ambassador responded with a genuine level of fondness in his voice for a time that would have been considerably less stressful for the both of them. This is important as it shows the level of humanity behind politics, that the public often either isn’t exposed to by the media or refuses to acknowledge.

With even the Ambassador himself admitting that during his youth he thought that Diplomats only drank beverages on verandahs in foreign locations, it’s evident that not many people are familiar with ins and outs of diplomatic service. Not only does the Ambassador have to be the US representative to the Australian Government, he also has to keep himself apprised of the well-being of all Americans whom are currently residing within Australia, business negotiations which are taking place between various multi-national organisations that might influence the Australian-US relationship and the perspectives of the President on various issues. It is due to this the Ambassador argued, that Diplomats will retain their status as extremely important people, as reassuring factors in foreign affairs such as a firm handshake, direct eye-contact and confident body language can’t be reproduced by electronic means.

Ambassador Bleich also offered a key insight into American politics and the unique role that the media plays during US elections. Unlike the US, Australia requires all of it’s citizens of voting age to participate in State and Federal elections. That means that everyone has to vote in Australian elections, whether they are disenfranchised with the political climate or not.

In saying that there are things that the United States could learn from Australia’s use of Compulsory Voting, the Ambassador inadvertently touched upon the role that the media has upon the US electoral system. Under the “Voluntary Voting” system, the Public can easily become disenfranchised with an incumbent Politician and refuse to vote if a given media outlet within their electorate decides not to report on the Politician’s accomplishments. Like-wise, the public can quickly become enfranchised with a politician if the media only reports upon their accomplishments. This in turn could create a situation where a media outlet and the advertisers that support them can directly influence the result of an election, by manipulating their audience to support a specific type of candidate.

By briefly stating his interest in studying Australia’s electoral system, it is also evident that the Ambassador is interested in learning from Australia’s democratic experience. Given that democracy always needs to be nurtured if it is going to survive, both Conservatives and Progressives within the United States and Australia alike would benefit from the insight that Academics with “Real-World” knowledge such as Ambassador Bleich have to offer.

In closing, I asked the Ambassador if he could define his position as an Ice Cream flavour. Needless to say, I doubt that the US State Department has ever been described as a Banana Split, with sauce covering Vanilla Ice cream, on top of a layer of Rocky Road and Fudge.

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Kate Doak is a Postgraduate student at the University of New England, Australia. Since 2004 she’s changed career paths twice, genders once and has developed a major interest in radio. These days, Kate mostly focuses on Modern History and International Politics.

Kate’s Corner – Social Media: Political Tools or Campaign Nightmares?

By Kate Doak.

During the Media 140 conference in Canberra this week, I had the privilege of hearing US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich, give a lecture on the impact of Social Media on the 2008 US Presidential Campaign. Given the Ambassador’s role as a key organiser of the “Obama for America” movement , his close friendship of over 20 years with President Obama, not to mention his previous position of Special Legal Advisor to the President in the Obama Administration, it was a non-partisan lecture on campaign politics that was well worth attending.

Note: Podcast of Ambassador Bleich’s speech and all “Media 140 Canberra” panels available here

With the media being dominated by organisations like Fox News on the right, the Gay media on the left, as well as NBC, CBS, CNN and ABC somewhere in-between, it is evident that there is a healthy range of voices present within the United States. By highlighting the pros and cons of the conventional media, as well as those of social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and online Bloggers, Ambassador Bleich was able to describe how Obama was able to use both forms of media to their utmost advantage during the campaign. By calling upon his experience as a Community Organiser, Bleich stated that Obama was able to rally those around him to accomplish feats using Social Media that seasoned Campaign Strategists on all sides of politics had previously thought impossible.

This in turn explains why the Obama Campaign used Social Media so heavily during the lead-up to the 2008 Presidential Election. Unlike in previous campaigns, social media gave the Democrats the opportunity to counter many of the stories that were being released by conservative elements of the campaign, while championing the stories that were promoting their cause. This not only strengthened support for Obama within the Democratic base, but also provided an open-resource for any swinging Independents who were interested in fact checking stories before they went to the Polls. In contrast, the McCain-Palin campaign had relatively few interests in online media, culminating in McCain saying that he doesn’t even know how to turn a computer on.

In a strange twist of fate, Ambassador Bleich then highlighted the emergence of Social Media as being one of the key reasons as to why some Democrats are now disenfranchised with the Obama administration in the lead-up to the Congressional Mid-term Elections. To paraphrase the Ambassador: The 2008 Democratic Presidential campaign had a “High School Friendship” effect upon the Democratic base and various Independents. Just as High School friends drift apart over time, so do some relationships in politics. While such political relationships are easy to maintain in a campaign, it’s harder to do so once in government.

No-where is this fact more evident than in the Democratic faction of the Lesbian and Gay Community. Even though President Obama promoted LGBT personnel into key positions within the US Government, while also helping pass an amendment to the Hate Crimes Act, he has experienced a drop in popularity amongst LGBT activists. Due to the “Glass Half Empty” mentality that’s rampant within parts of the Gay community, this is to be expected given the fact that their agenda hasn’t been fulfilled within the short span of two years. This has been particularly evident within prominent Gay blogs such as Pam’s House Blend, AmericaBlog and Towleroad, as well as Gay rights organisations such as SLDN, Servicemembers United and GetEqual over the issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.   As a result, many of the President’s victories on issues surrounding Transgender rights and Equal Opportunity within civilian Federal organisations have either been ignored, or criticised as only being enough to promote fund-raising.

Ambassador Bleich also stated that while some people may act abusively online, the fact that there are others there to challenge such behaviour from all sides of politics equals things out. In an effort to protect the President for the 2012 Campaign, maybe this more than anything explains why the Obama Administration have rarely challenged their critics, or had interviews with members of the LGBT media who would otherwise force them to do so.

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Kate Doak is a Postgraduate student at the University of New England, Australia. Since 2004 she’s changed career paths twice, genders once and has developed a major interest in radio. These days, Kate mostly focuses on Modern History and International Politics.