Sunday, November 24, 2002

The funniest news story of the week (and perhaps even the year), and the Melbourne Age misses it completely.

The story grew from a hysterical (in both senses of the word) declaration by Sydney’s Reverend Fred Nile that Muslim women in Australia should be banned from wearing the chador. Given Nile’s penchant for cheap demagoguery, it was no surprise that The Australian ran it as only a little story on 21 November. Nor was it to the discredit of either The Age or the Sydney Morning Herald that they either missed it or chose not to run it.

However, by the next day, 22 November, things were quite different. Prime Minister John Howard had appeared on shock jock John Laws’ radio program, saying it ‘would "obviously" be better if Muslim women were less conspicuous, but not say[ing] whether he supported or opposed a call by the Rev Fred Nile to ban the Islamic headdress, the chador, for national security reasons’ (Sydney Morning Herald 22/11/02). Later, the PM’s press office issued a statement – predictably – denying he supported a chador ban in any way. Otherwise, the SMH’s article mostly dwelled on the PM’s half-about face:

The Age, as I’ve said, inexplicably just ignored the story. Perhaps The Age was just troubled by the déjà vu of it all – the PM issues weaselly words yet again … (yawn). I think that, for its part, the SMH wasn’t really on the ball either, and focused on the wrong angle.

Only The Australian came close to getting it right on 22/11, when it quoted, as the article’s last line, an Islamic spokesperson: “Are you going to ban briefcases?”

It was a good line to end on – a good line, full stop – incisive, rational, and – goddammit – even a little bit humorous. Where the story really came into its own in The Australian that day, however, was on the letters page. Several letters on the topic were both funny and cutting, and it was all topped off by an on-topic cartoon de jour (the first time in years that I’ve found one of these to be actually funny. The SMH’s letters on 22/11 has a reasonable smattering of funny letters too, although – as seems to be the Sydney style - they were nearly all one-liners.

As for the creaking Age, it was yet another laughter bypass operation – if it has too many more of these, there won’t be anything to even sick the knife into ….

P.S. I was dead right on the Mino Pecorelli story. See:

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