Monday, July 09, 2007

The Last (Online) Stand Of Piers Akerman

By Darryl Mason

For the benefit of our thousands of regular international readers, Piers Akerman is a newspaper columnist for Sydney's 'Daily Telegraph' and 'Sunday Telegraph'. Akerman was once an immensely popular opinion maker, in the days when there were only a handful of journalists making most of the published opinions in Sydney. Of course, the online revolution has leveled that playing field.

Akerman is also famous as a near full-time propagandist for the Howard government, who spent years watching Howard lock away four and five year old children in detention centres in the middle of the Australian desert, leaving them in those brutally hot camps until the children beat their heads against concrete walls in frustration, and then blamed their parents for daring to seek refugee status on Australian shores. Howard never did anything wrong in Akerman's world. He was a prime minister who shat pure gold and then gave it to the poor, who Akerman would claim never really appreciated the gift.

American readers will recognise the likes of Akerman from their own mainstream media's stable of aged opinion makers, who still have jobs despite being wrong about WMDs in Iraq, wrong about leaving Afghanistan in 2002, wrong about the strength of the Iraqi insurgency, wrong about post-invasion Iraq, wrong about the global threat of terror and wrong about the reality of climate change.

Akerman's speciality is smearing people who are trying to create new energy industries, through solar power and other renewable energies, and baiting Muslims by defaming their heritage and mocking their beliefs, be they fundamentalist or moderate.

Akerman is a spectacularly cliched old school anti-Green, anti-environmentalist, campaigner who still clings to his increasingly eccentric and bizarre belief that fighting the effects of climate change, by reducing pollution and increasing energy efficiency, is a vast left-wing conspiracy designed to destroy the Australian economy.

Akerman, of course, loves conspiracy theories. You can usually find a good one in nearly ever column he writes.

There's the global warming conspiracy. The gay conspiracy. The Caliphate conspiracy. The anti-white Australia conspiracy. The 'Aboriginal Industry' conspiracy. The Hitler-Stalin-Mao Imitating Union conspiracy. And let's not forget the all purpose Greenie conspiracy, which he actually believes is connected back through the decades to...Hitler. But of course.

Akerman has served, and served well, as the Daily Telegraph's hitman on all things Islam and Green for more than a decade. He's even devoted occasional column space attempting to draw his Muslim and Green conspiracy theories into a joint Greenie-Jihadi conspiracy. It's been fun to watch.

But as the readership of the Daily Telegraph drops, as it circulation shrinks, and as Sydneysiders become increasingly ready to sue newspapers for defamation and libel, Akerman is finding it harder and harder to use his anti-Islam hammer on people with real names.

To get around this, he now employs a particularly absurd and credibility-defying methodology of using variations of the Fox News trademarked "Some people say..." mantra.

His column 'Magnet For Madmen' on July 4 was absolutely chockers with the stuff. Clearly the News Limited lawyers have been working Akerman over. How much veracity can you place in any of his claims when he has been forced to place the word "alleged" in a sentence like this?
The detention of a Gold Coast doctor shows the alleged sweeping extent of the global links of international terrorism.
But there was plenty more in a column that contains the name of no-one bar the new British PM Gordon Brown : "alleged activities...possible risks...apparently fanatically has been all accounts... alleged actions... alleged wannabe may be wise...alleged connection..."

Is Akerman now afraid of being sued for defamation by the Global Jihad Conspiracy?

No, he's just too lazy to supply links to back up his claims in his blog and to gutless to stand by his words.

Repeated use of words like "alleged" and "suggested" and "apparently" and "possible" doesn't exactly make Akerman sound like he either know what's he jabbering about, or that he even holds the strength of his "alleged" convictions.

Although Akerman's increasingly vague, misinformed, hilariously cliched columns are syndicated through the rest of the Murdoch owned state capital newspapers, his spiels are often cut down, or censored, by local editors who are clearly becoming frustrated by Akerman's inability to do what a columnist is supposed to do - inform, opine and make clarity-rich arguments supporting his/her position - and his increasingly, potentially, libelous and defamatory bile.

Reading Akerman's columns today is like leafing through the pages of some old yellowed Australian newspaper from the 1950s. Substitute Italian for Muslim and Communist for Greenie and there's little difference to be found in the rhetoric. You end up thinking, who is this guy trying to convince? Himself? His bosses? His mates?

Akerman is becoming a liability for the Rupert Murdoch media in Australia. In the past few years, News Limited has had to pay, by some estimates, more than $1 million in out of court settlements, and court-awarded damages, for people he has told lies about in his columns, or just blatantly defamed and smeared, not caring who will pay the bill in the end.

In awarding a successful defamation payout in October, 2006, a NSW judge said this to say about Akerman's journalistic standards of accuracy :
"The inaccuracies of fact by the defendant... are gross... so extreme a misstatement of fact as to vitiate any defence of comment for any imputation based on it."
It didn't used to matter so much to the Murdoch tabloid media. These were the old rules of the tabloid game, following the well established British tabloid model : defame whoever you want, because in the end it will only cost a few hundred grand, at the most, if it even gets to court, and the extra sales and controversy generated by all the lawsuits will boost circulation and market brand prominence.

While Akerman was once a popular columnist in the Daily Telegraph (and its former incarnations) and the Sunday Telegraph, some journalist-circle rumours claim that he is nearing the end of his long run of low-to-medium six figure salary years at News Limited.

Not only because he is such a costly columnist as far as the legal bills go, but because he refuses to engage his readers enough on his blog. Akerman hates his blog. He despises the idea of having to answer to, or interact, with anyone who can be bothered typing a few comments into the box below his online blurtings. He was disgusted at even the idea of allowing someone, anyone, to write a comment that would be published below his own words. Akerman resisted moving his columns into the News Limited blogs, but only for so long.

His boss, Rupert Murdoch, loves blogs. Rupert Murdoch believes the future of the news is blogging, and blogs. So much cheaper than having to pay bloated old wind bags like Piers Akerman a few hundred grand a year to toss off two or maybe three short columns a week to
an increasingly disinterested readership.

What amazed Rupert Murdoch when he first took a serious look at the sprawl of blogs is that these people were writing all this stuff for free. For free! An idea began to form in Murdoch's mind of a day when he could dump expensive journos, or columnists, like Akerman and fill the space around the ads with any number of blogs written by freelancers, or non-professionals, who were happy just to take a cut of the ad revenue their blogs generated.

Rupert Murdoch announced a few months back that News Limited was going Green, and that he would restructure its global operations to become a carbon neutral corporation. Murdoch made a commitment to his shareholders that he would use his newspapers, online media, magazines and television channels to educate the public to the reality of climate change, and that initiatives to fight climate change would become a regular feature in his media outlets.

Akerman continues to pump his Great Global Warming Conspiracy guff, even though his own boss has apparently been taken in by it. Of course, Akerman, like his counterpart at the Herald Sun in Melbourne, Andrew Bolt, attacks those advocating measures to limit the effects of climate change, but would never dream of attacking Rupert Murdoch, who by his own admission, will become the world's most influential peddler of what Akerman and Bolt still refer to as a "myth".

To Akerman, like many millions around the world, Al Gore is an idiot, and a liar. But Rupert? Well, the silence from Akerman, and Bolt, is deafening.

Rupert Murdoch keeps a close eye on his Australian newspapers, particularly the online versions. He gets the data on how much traffic each of the News Limited blogs are generating, how many people are commenting, which issues are stirring controversy and how much ad revenue is generated through each blog via the the ads now peppered liberally through the comments pages.

When the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age newspapers move to tabloid size, Murdoch knows the sales of the Sydney Daily Telegraph and the Melbourne Herald Sun will go drop. The Telegraph and the Herald Sun will have to share the shrinking tabloid newspaper marketplace with the Herald and the Age. Murdoch's Sydney and Melbourne newspapers will still make money, but as classified advertising, the backbone of newsprint, continues its exodus to the online media, his newspapers will thin and revenue will continue to decrease.

Murdoch sees the future of news, and New Limited, in the online world, particularly in Australia. He will keep the Telegraph and the Herald Sun in newsprint for years to come, but the high-cost columnists like Akerman will find they are not so highly-prized, particularly if their main beat is denying climate change reality (thereby making their own boss as much of an idiot and a liar as Al Gore), and baiting Muslims, who are more often choosing to sue for defamation and libel, even if they are not targeted by name.

Akerman will soon have to prove he is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year online, in his blog, or take a big pay cut. He will have to deliver the audience, and the ad revenue, primarily through his blog. That blog he hates and despises so very, very much, mostly because it allows the public to near instantly respond to his bizarre conspiracies and absurd generalisations.

But if online defamation and libel laws, including News Limited taking responsibility for the comments made on an Akerman blog, continue to tighten the noose of opinion making freedom around his neck, Akerman's diatribes will become more general, more vague, less genuinely offensive and therefore less biting and less controversial.

That Akerman had to censor himself, and throw in "alleged" every few sentences in his 'Magnet For Madman', even when mentioning the now well established linkages of global terrorism, shows just how constrained he now is. But that's just the beginning.

The more Akerman's rantings are contained and toned down, the less people will visit his blog and bother to leave comments, which, as we mentioned above, will eventually be the major source of the ad revenue that will pay Akerman's salary.

If all that wasn't bad enough, Akerman's key platforms of outrage - Islam in Australia and climate change - are already losing their power to generate waves of comments at his blog. He can still pull 100+ comments for a column like 'Magnet For Madmen', but for how much longer?

The more the media hysteria over the threat of terror turns out to be massively overblown, like the Doctors Of Terror workout last week (five were released without charge after questioning, one may, or may not, be charged), the less such stories will generate controversy and, in turn, comment. The less comment, the less ad revenue generated by Akerman's blog.

Most Australians understand that Islam will not spell the ruin of Australia, as they understand that taking part in a measured and responsible global fight against climate change will not reduce the nation to candle-powered ruin.

And when the Howard government loses office at the end of the year, Akerman will find himself, and his views, even more isolated from the mainstream media, increasingly dominated by less conservative, more open-minded, and far less judgmental, young people.

The worst thing that can ever happen to a columnist is to wear out his chief issues, or to cease finding anything new to say about the society on which he is handsomely paid to opine. Akerman is a loser on both fronts. The adoption of climate change by Rupert Murdoch, the appalling degradation and loss of life of the Iraq are only two issues that have completely shot Akerman's remaining slivers of credibility to dust.

It must have a black day indeed in the festering hellpit of Akerman's mind when he learned that the majority of Australians were more concerned about how climate change might affect their children's future than they were about the threat of terrorism.

The reason why most Australians are more concerned about the effects of climate change than terrorism is a simple one : they keep hearing from friends or relatives about flooding, savage storms, furious winds, decaying beach fronts and spreading drought, or they are experiencing the destruction of such events for themselves, plus their insurance bills are going up and up. But they aren't getting blown up by, in Akerman's pulp-horror speak, "panting, hot-eyed fanatics".

Wow. Hot-eyed fanatics?

"Mohammed? Why are you panting?"

"My eyes are hot."

Fantastic stuff. No wonder Akerman gets the big money. For now.

Should he stick around long enough, Akerman is likely to find himself battling for an audience share in the Australian blog world, happily dumped by the daily newspapers that once carried his hastily written, poorly sourced, screeds, because he is too expensive and no longer pulls a huge ad revenue generating crowd.

Akerman will be forced to compete in a media to which he has been vehemently opposed and barely understands. Like the rest of us, Akerman will eventually be just another voice in a media filled with unique, funny, brilliant, opinionated, well-informed, well-researched voices, many of whom have plenty of relevant and interesting things to say about the world and the city and the society we live in. Without having to resort to a blunted arsenal of decades old cliches and comic-book pap like "hot-eyed fanatics".

Of course, Akerman wouldn't stick around for that humiliation. His enormous ego couldn't take it.

But you must wonder how he feels, this former king of opinion, how lost and out of sorts he must be, when he discovers that online polls pull thousands more participants, and generate far more ad revenue, than his online writings. The online polls are almost pure profit because they are mostly automated and people find it nearly irrisitable not to cast their vote on the more contentious issues of the day.

Akerman's time in the sun is almost over. Will he be missed? Hardly. The online world is full of mad ranters, loose with the truth, brimming over with bile and prejudice and unwilling to put sources to their wild and bizarre accusations.

Sometimes you can even find them right here.

Daily And Sunday Telegraph Forced To Issue Online Apology For Readers Comments

Akerman Busted Passing Off Hundreds Of Words From An Israel Defence Force Press Release As His Own

Blast From The Past : The "Hot-Eyed" 2001 Sunday Age Profile Of Piers Akerman

Climate Change Believers Are "Running Around With Their Petticoats Pulled Firmly Over Their Heads"...But Not Rupert

When The Unions Host A BBQ For Hitler, Stalin And Mao...Who Brings The Snags?