February 9th, 2011 at 11:36am
Notice: this post contains mild coarse language. Normally this blog doesn’t, but given the story in question, it is necessary in order to provide context
That beat up last night was an utter disgrace and has done nothing but drag the family of fallen soldier Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney through the media spotlight all over again for no good reason.
Mark Riley, as a political reporter, could probably have found any number of legitimate reasons to criticise Tony Abbott for various things, but instead he has taken a comment that Tony made about the circumstances surrounding the death of this particular soldier, so far out of context that he has made it look callous.
Mark Riley’s version of events is that Tony Abbott’s response to the tragic death of a soldier was “shit happens”. Mark Riley is wrong, and he knows it because he has the video of the full exchange and chose not to show the few seconds before and after.
The footage shows Mr Abbott discussing a gunfight that occurred in August last year that claimed the life of Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney.
The Liberal leader is talking in Tarin Kowt six weeks later with the commander of Australia’s Middle East forces, John Cantwell, and US commander Jim Creighton.
Colonel Creighton says of the digger’s death: “Was it tragic? Absolutely. But we’re all in the knowledge that all the stuff (firepower support) you see here and more was available on the day.”
In response, Mr Abbott says: “It’s pretty obvious that, well, sometimes shit happens, doesn’t it.”
Immediately, Major General Cantwell replies: “It certainly does, yeah.”
(h/t Julian Drape for The Sydney Morning Herald and Australian Associated Press)
The context here is obvious. Tony Abbott was not commenting on the death itself, but on the circumstances which led to the death. He went to Tarin Kowt to find out more about the circumstances which led to the death from the people who were there, amidst claims that the soldiers on the ground lacked the necessary fire power to defend themselves.
Tony’s comment is clearly an acknowledgement that, despite the best efforts of our soldiers, occasionally they will be injured or killed in a war zone. It’s not a nice thing, but when it happens, our duty then becomes to fall behind the soldier and the family of the soldier in providing our full support.
There was nothing callous or disrespectful about what Tony Abbott said. This becomes even more obvious when you understand the setting.
Tony was in Tarin Kowt without journalists in the room. A defence cameraman was there to capture his visit. Under the circumstances, Tony probably didn’t see a need to be guarded in his responses because the media weren’t there to take him out of context. He was being frank and honest in his dealings with our troops.
If he did anything wrong, it was that he treated a Defence camera as if it didn’t belong to the media, although even then I think Tony had a reasonable expectation that his words wouldn’t be taken as far out of context as they were, especially given the sensitive subject matter.
There is a general code of decency which I suppose comes down to personal ethics among journalists, which says that you don’t score political points or grab a headline at the expense of a fallen soldier’s family…alas that is what Mark Riley did. This whole circus, started by Riley, has put the family back in the spotlight.
What Mark Riley hoped to achieve is beyond me. Whilst it is perfectly reasonable for him to lodge a Freedom Of Information request to get a copy of the video, he should have seen that there was no honest story in it when he received it after four months. Sadly what I suspect happened here is that, Riley, deprived of on-air time during the flood and cyclone crises, saw an opportunity to make a headline for himself. If I was one of the many news anchors across the country for whom Riley wrote an intro script for his report claiming that Tony Abbott had been “caught on tape making an insensitive remark about one of our fallen soldiers” then I would be very angry with Riley for misleading me and writing a blatant falsehood for me to read.
The poor family, who have been caught up in all of this, have been gracious about it which is commendable…if I were them, I’d be screaming loudly at Seven News and Mark Riley. The family have said that they know that Tony Abbott was taken out of context. From the Sydney Morning Herald article linked above:
Lance Corporal MacKinney’s widow later thanked Mr Abbott for calling her to discuss the issue.
“Tony and I spoke at length and I fully accept that he was quoted out of context in the television news,” Ms MacKinney said in a statement.
“As far as we, Jared’s family, are concerned there is no issue, the matter is over, and we will be making no further comment.”
I will also commend the opposition here for not entering the fray. They have stayed right out of this mess and have not attempted to score political points from it. Clearly they recognise that Seven News took Tony Abbott out of context and that it would be wrong to further extend the pain of the MacKinney family by fanning the flames.
One thing which makes me very sad is that Mark Riley knows that he took the comment out of context, and should surely know, given the media circus which has followed his report, that he was wrong to take the comment out of context. But no, Mark Riley is giving interviews today defending his stance. He should be apologising instead of gloating…but then again, I have come to expect this type of gutter journalism from Riley who always seems to be much more interested in finding a joke in the day’s events than in actual reporting.
Being taken out of context is a part of political life, and Tony Abbott like all seasoned politicians, is used to that, but even he was taken aback by the viciousness and dishonesty of the attack from Mark Riley yesterday, a fact which is evidenced by his speechless reaction. It really looked to me as if Tony was trying to not explode in anger at Mark Riley…and I do have to wonder if Tony getting angry was Mark Riley’s ultimate aim.
Mark Riley’s act was despicable, enough said. I’ll leave the last word to Tony Abbott who spoke, somewhat reluctantly, to 2GB’s Alan Jones this morning about the issue. Just before I hand over to Alan and Tony though, it was interesting to hear Alan say “shit happens” when newsreaders on his station had been saying “a colloquial expression for stuff happens”.
(Audio courtesy of Radio 2GB)