Today Extra response to Sonia Kruger's Muslim controversy typifies mess
OPINION: Perhaps you missed it. The final nail in the coffin of progressive "debate". It happened on Tuesday, July 19, 2016, in Australia's Channel Nine Willoughby studios.
Sonia Kruger makes a statement on The Today Show, addressing the public backlash she has suffered due to her call for a stop to Muslim migration to Australia.
On the Today Extra program, a group of panellists were responding to comments from television presenter Sonia Kruger, who had urged a ban on Muslim immigration.
Instead of asking themselves "What do I think?", each presenter essentially pondered, "How do I feel?"
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Referring to the recent attacks in Nice, Kruger explained how upset she was at seeing an image of a baby covered in a plastic sheet. She also said her earlier statement was "extreme".
"Is there a solution?" she asked herself. "I don't know."
This was a notable departure from her previous stance on Monday's Today show, in which she suggested closing Australia's borders to Muslim migrants. Later, she backed this up "as a mother" – though it was unclear if she had been taking policy advice from her toddler or her uterus.
Co-host Shelly Horton said Kruger was hurt by the criticism she copped. Sylvia Jeffreys described her as compassionate. Peter Stefanovic added that she is nice.
The trigger for this emotion-fest was 24 hours of everyone else in Australia calling Kruger a bigot and a racist.
Sadly – infuriatingly – the "debate" was always going to devolve to this: Is Sonia Kruger a nice person or a nasty person?
Forget policy. Forget economic inequality. Boring stuff like public healthcare, schools and transport. The entrenched structural and social barriers we euphemistically refer to as "Indigenous disadvantage", as though it's their problem.
If we can just remediate the host of a low-rating morning show, society will magically reap the benefits.
To be clear, Kruger's comments were racist and bigoted, and entirely unacceptable. But why do we believe her personal character is the central issue?
As I've said before, the left used to oppose trickle-down economics. Now, Australians who consider themselves "left" have become economic rationalists – or we just can't be stuffed with dull numbers and graphs. Instead, we have our hands full with trickle-down inspiration.
If we're not giving you This One Brave Role Model Who Will Change Your Life, we're "calling out" celebrities who've been sexist/racist/homophobic.
I've been bullied – actually physically beaten – for being a "homo" and a "wog". I think it's a good thing to call out this behaviour. And I'd never suggest to someone of Islamic faith how they should feel, or what they should do, in response to Kruger's comments.
Those idiots who reckon Muslims ought to invite Pauline Hanson supporters around for cuppa? That's ridiculous. Why would you bring someone who hates you into your home?
This Kruger business has gotten a ton of attention. But tell me honestly: when was the last time you saw this much focus on, say, Indigenous life expectancy rates? Or the policies that have a direct bearing on them?
"Calling out" Kruger will achieve only so much.
When she made her bigoted comments, we reacted as though she were the prime minister of our nation, announcing a new border control policy – and not that woman off Strictly Ballroom. Is she really that powerful?
Of course, we could all see through her non-sensical "argument". It was other people we fretted about.
But who are these people, exactly? Heretofore moderate voters who glanced at Kruger's segment and thought, "Finally! Some foreign policy advice from Tina Sparkle! Down with Islam!"
Twenty years ago, during high school, we were all taught to analyse "the media". How to detect bias, scrutinise language, sniff out sexism, racism and other sins. It was thrilling. I felt I'd cracked a code; discovered the secret language of a powerful elite.
Notably, we were not taught how to analyse government policy. This was a specialty class only, for the nerds. It was a similar story for my mates at other schools.
Then we graduated, and were released into the world – acutely sensitive to "mainstream media bias", but clueless on policy matters. We perceived everything through a media lens, to a comical degree.
The thing is, media literacy is a useful skill. But if it's your only tool,every problem resembles a bigoted celebrity, a bad role model, or a TV show with an insufficiently diverse cast.
These things are all issues. But Australia has many more. And they can't all be solved by improving the moral character of Channel Nine's light entertainment division. ("Nine's view is that we believe in freedom of speech, and the Mixed Grill segment on the Today show [in which Kruger made her comment] is a place where that happens," said a network spokeswoman.)
A good place to start?
Not – as Today Extra's panellists did on Tuesday morning – by everyone wondering, "How do I feel?"
But, perhaps, by us asking, "What do I think?"
- Sydney Morning Herald