Over the past few days, media identity Mia Freedman has been subjected to some vicious, bordering on imbecilic abuse for her comments regarding Cadel Evans’ Tour de France victory on The Today Show. I posted two comments on her blog & sent her some tweets. Critical, but not abusive; in fact I despair at the use of the words ‘courageous’ & ‘brave’ to describe on-field endeavours – so in one sense, I agree with part of Mia’s argument – but I would flip part of it and say, ‘hey, sports commentators, don’t abuse the English language’.
I have three main objections to what Mia Freedman said on Monday. Firstly, you can’t call yourself a journalist and have a regular gig on a high-rating TV programme commenting on the news without doing the barest bit of research. Cadel Evans was in the news. Read an article. Look at Wikipedia if you must. Pick up something about the race, about his life (other than he lives in Switzerland). No one was asking you to feign interest in the sport, but it’s surely irresponsible to display wilful ignorance on ‘the news’ when that is why you have a platform on the programme. I didn’t see what Karl Stefanovic did or said before the segment, so I can’t comment on his behaviour, but from Mia’s account on the Mamamia blog, the only news Karl was interested in discussing during her regular segment on The Today Show was Cadel Evans’ victory. I checked Karl’s Twitter feed, and he genuinely was right into the Tour. That said, I think Karl trolled Mia big-time, she took the bait and the frenzy has rebounded on her, not him, or the show. I mean, the camera crew booed her. That’s going to set people off. Apparently Cadel did a phoner with them on Tuesday, so maybe The Today Show scored a ratings bump from the whole thing. I wouldn’t know; even Cadel wouldn’t make me watch the programme. I am all for people jumping on the Cadel bandwagon if it gets kids on the handlebars of an old pushy and off the controls of a bloody video game. I am not for people jumping on the Cadel bandwagon to use it as an excuse for jingoism and I am fully aware that plenty of people have.
Like I said, I don’t watch The Today Show, I don’t know what attention it has paid to things that I consider news: drought and famine in the Horn of Africa; the murder of children in Norway or dissecting the Government and Opposition’s climate change positions or the Malaysian refugee swap deal being struck that day (the former now approaching a ‘Carry On’ movie; the latter, in my opinion, just state-sanctioned human trafficking that will create a two-tiered level of human misery – but that’s a subject for an upcoming post). That leads me to my second objection to what happened on Monday. For once, a professional cyclist made the front page of some major newspapers. Anyone who watches a news or current affairs programme in Australia must realise that as soon as a press release announcing a scientific breakthrough is issued, it is covered by TV news, complete with a news director’s dream package: white coats, vision of laboratories and victims of XY disease hailing a new discovery – even if five, 10 years later, we fail to go back and see if the breakthrough had moved beyond the lab and saved any lives. The discovery is still hailed by the media. True, other ‘heroic’ professions receive much less attention or praise. The only time we’re likely to read about social work is if a child dies, for example – and then it is their fault; not ours as a society for watching on as violent relationships continue. We rightly mourn soldiers killed in action; but are any of us familiar with the needs of the returned, and whether they and their families receive adequate support? It took me several weeks of watching the excellent Baker Boys: Inside The Surge documentary to learn that more US soldiers have taken their own lives since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars started than have been killed in action. All the while, Congress continues to cut Veterans’ Affair’s budget. It’s horrific. I don’t know if there is a way of finding that information in Australia; it’s a challenge I’ll set myself – because I certainly haven’t seen or read anything on it. To me, that’s a story. I am not a journalist. I tweet & I have this crappy blog to rant on. Mia Freedman has built her entire career flogging celebrity tittle-tat in magazines. She has a money-making blog. TV appearances. Books. Staff. Put one of them out there and sniff out a story on those people you say are ignored, or not celebrated. You have the platforms, the resources and the fan base. Use it, please, or cut the hypocrisy.
Finally, and an argument expressed far better by Dr Bridie O’Donnell, is the notion that we have to choose between what achievements garner news attention, and the people we consider heroes. As Dr O’Donnell wrote, you can save lives and be bloody miserable, or suffer themselves at the mercy of other ‘lifesavers’ who are egotistical pricks. As the sister of a ‘lifesaver’, it’s an argument I am deeply familiar with. My brother is a hero to many people, including me, but he chose his profession. No one forced him to say ‘no’ to university; instead he worked in pubs for years, volunteered, worked part-time and now full-time on a rescue chopper. His motivation may be to save lives, and on a very good day, he does exactly that. Sadly, a lot of his work involves scraping the remains of car accident victims off our roads. He works with cops & fireys and they can tell pretty quickly whether an accident was caused by speed – & if it is, his response is always the same. He doesn’t care about the floral tributes and the pain. To him – to the cops, doctors, nurses, whoever has to pick up the pieces and try and fix broken bodies or record the time of death – they’re bloody dickheads. They may only say it to each other, or to their families, but to them, it’s another day at the office. It’s not something I could do, but he made a choice to do it. He made a choice was not to become a teacher – the profession I admire most because I see education as the greatest gift we can pass on to the next generation. My Mum taught, unassumingly, for a pretty average salary, for 40 years. She spent the last decade teaching at one of the most disadvantaged primary schools in NSW. I will never forget the day I went shopping with her & a woman in her early 20s stopped us. Mum knew her name instantly and asked what she was doing. “I’ve got a scholarship to Harvard, just home for the holidays,” she replied. Similarly, I made a choice not to teach, but study communications. As inspired as I was by my Mum and by the brilliant teachers I had throughout high school, I thought I could do better things by becoming a journalist and reporting ‘the news’. If you read this you’ll know how easily I let that choice go. I am not the most admirable person on the planet, but I studied hard, went to university, built a career, travelled the world, and went back to university in my late 30s. I did this while battling the scar tissue of trauma I wouldn’t wish on anyone. In my own way, I am my own hero when I climb a mental mountain and go outside when panic and anxiety make the sunshine hurt. I’ve also learnt that you don’t have to be a ‘lifesaver’ to be a hero; sometimes it’s just about giving a damn about what you do – with your life & the impact you have on others.