July 2, 2007

Irresponsible and false journalism

We all know to take reporting by professionals with a grain of salt. (Don’t we?)

In the last couple of days we have seen an example of irresponsible journalism at its most creative and punitive.

I’m going to try to keep this brief and brusque, otherwise I may go into a rant from which none of us will recover.

Underpinning the story is the disappearance of the front page news article from yesterday’s issue of The Age. I don’t mean the front page was missing – I have it, sitting next to me, in hardcopy – I mean that some time between the morning and evening, their leading story online had vanished. I did a Google, and still couldn’t find it. I Googled some more, and came up with another unrelated story, which contained a hyperlink to the story I was after – the link was dead, nothing but a message telling me that it had been removed. By this morning, the Google search gave me the same results as yesterday, but even the hyperlink on the unrelated story had vanished.

Why would a newspaper print a front page story, then, sometime during the day remove it from the Internet? They still have coverage of their points in other articles, but the front-pager has vanished without a trace.

The hardcopy front page and the online lead headline was: “Footy's crook connections a real trap for young players” (byline - Andrew Rule) – you can see the headline still appears here in the first two search results. Yesterday, the second result contained the hyperlink with the headline, which went to the dead page. Today, even the hyperlink has gone.

The story was about footballer Adam Didak’s late night out with accused killer Christopher Hudson.

Within the early reports in the days after the recent CDB shootings it was reported that Hudson was also a suspect in a shooting spree the previous week, when someone had fired shots at a factory (or a car yard?). He not been picked up or questioned in the preceding week, even though a police car was present when the random shots were fired – the police witnessed that first round of shooting, in other words. They also knew it was Hudson’s car. Very sensibly, the police in the vicinity were directed to back off. You don’t let a couple of cops pursue an armed Hells Angel, period. If lives are in danger (and none were), you might keep an eye on things until a SWAT team arrived. Policing outlaw bikies is not the same as policing civilians. I appreciate that fact. I have no argument with it either, that is, I don’t question the police decisions in relation to the earlier gun fire.

Both of our daily papers are now running with the cruel story that if Adam Didak had come forth and spoken to the police earlier (as an eye witness – he was in the car with Hudson during the random shooting witnessed by the police) to tell them what he knew about the volley of shots no one would have been shot or killed in Melbourne’s CBD a week later.

This is a lie. I can’t prove that it’s a lie, but it is. Likewise, no one can prove that if Didak had come forward the CBD shootings would not have occurred.

Let me repeat this: there were police witnesses to the random shots at a building, they knew it was Hudson’s car, and clearly suspected that it was Hudson, not anyone else in the car, who did the shooting. They did not pursue him. Sensibly. They did not bring him in for questioning or arrest him at some later time. They did not call for “witnesses” to the shooting – as if they were fishing in the dark. They weren’t in the dark. They were not waiting for the likes of Didak, or anyone else, to walk into a police station to give an eye witness statement. If Didak had done so, earlier, we have no reason to believe that the police would have immediately popped down the road to arrest Hudson. We also have no reason to believe that Didak would have been wise and community minded to put his own life at risk by dobbing in a Hells Angel for firing a few rounds. Besides, a blind drunk footballer isn't necessarily the perfect witness in a court case, if you have any interest in the charges sticking.

Cruelly, journalists have dragged a grieving mother into this murky drama, using her to bolster their own invention of a story that Didak is ultimately, if only tangentially, responsible for the death of one man and the shooting of two other people. This is vile journalism.

This is how it was stated on the “vanished” front page story of The Age, July 01, 2007:

“But for all Didak’s protestations, one thing is clear: he had not been shocked enough by the gunplay and the visit to the Hells Angels clubhouse to bother mentioning it to anyone in authority.

Had he done so, the life of a brave man called Brendan Keilar might have been saved, and two other people not been badly wounded. One anonymous tip was all it needed.”

That’s a lie. A hurtful and cruel lie for all of the families affected by subsequent events.

It is also a reprehensible burden to place on the shoulders of anyone. There’s nothing exceptional or special about a pissed footballer, but Didak does not deserve such a devastatingly unfair and unwarranted accusation. The guilt is not his to bear.

Even the dumbest of journalists must be aware that the police don’t pop out to arrest an outlaw bikie based on an anonymous tip. They wouldn’t do that with a civilian either. Many days or weeks or even months of police work are applied before they “get their man” – depending on circumstance. Sure, there are exceptions, but anyone who thinks that an anonymous tip leads to a prompt arrest, or that walking into a police station and providing a statement leads to immediate arrest is a dolt. Our police force would be running around like mad hatters randomly arresting people if that was how they worked. With or without witness statements, police still have to build a case, or risk “premature arrest”, potentially blowing the likelihood of a conviction. When you throw known criminals into the mix, who are not coy when it comes to using weapons, the picture is even more complex, particularly for ensuring the safety of police and the public, if it came down to making an arrest.

We have no reason to believe that an anonymous tip from Didak, or a statement from him at a police station, would have lead to the arrest of Hudson prior to the morning of the CBD shootings. It’s highly improbable, given the way policing works.

Go back and read the quote I've provided above, from the "vanished" Age article.

Now let's look at the article that has not been deleted:
"The mother of city shooting victim Brendan Keilar said Alan Didak's inaction after a wild ride with Hells Angel Christopher Wade Hudson might have cost her son his life."
Sound familiar?

"Mrs Keilar said her son might be alive if Didak had acted and not waited for police to come to him.

"If he had gone to the police with information about the shootings, it's possible Brendan would still be alive," Mrs Keilar said. "He is obviously not fussy about who he associates with."

Mrs Keilar said the footballer should not have stayed silent about the incident. "I would have expected any decent person in that situation would have reported it to the police."

I don't blame a grieving mother for any of these statements. It is easy to envisage journalists feeding these conclusions to a distraught family member, coming up with exactly the result they wanted. It is repulsive behavior, grubby journalism.

So, how and why did the police, eventually, approach Didak? Well, I guess that takes us back to where we started: there were police witnesses to the earlier "gunplay", and, very likely, the police already knew (perhaps not on the night, but later) that Didak was in the car, or at the least, someone they wanted to have a chat to - prior to the CBD shooting, they didn't.

I'm perplexed and disturbed that The Age have removed their page one story from online records. I'd like to know why.

I'm even more disturbed by our newspapers turning a drunk footballer into a pariah, placing a multiple shooting on his shoulders. That is obscene. It is equally obscene for journalists to torment family members with the remote possibility that events that unfolded were avoidable, an anonymous phone call, or some other trifle of action, would have changed everything.

If Brendan Keilar had arrived at work 90 seconds earlier, or been heading to his office 90 seconds later, we can say, with almost 100% surety, that he would still be alive. But that's not what happened. Life's margins are frighteningly fine.

15 comments:

  1. Anonymous9:42 PM

    Just when you think they can't get any lower....Snakes!
    Didak was just a boozy brunette bimbo(sorry Caz)who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time...
    Trying to lay a guilt trip on the silly bugger is just plain fuckin' disgraceful!
    This nonsense that sports people are some sort of heroes is partly to blame for the treatment Didak is receiving from the press.

    Expecting these guys (who are paid handsomely for what they do!) to act in a manner above us mere mortals is absolute tosh!

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  2. As you'd gather Kath, I'm becoming quite angry at this notion that some bloke who happens to be a footballer should be held to a higher standard than the rest of us.

    The Didak business is gutter journalism, no matter which I looked at it.

    The unholy trinity is in on the act: politicians, journalist, footy administrators.

    No wonder things are getting this bad.

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  3. Anonymous6:04 PM

    Ordinarily I would agree with you entirely on this one, caz. And I would share your anger.

    But ... but .. well this guy does play for Collingwood after all, doesn't he?

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  4. Geoff – I know, I know, there is that factor.

    Notwithstanding his unfortunate status as a Collingwood player, I have to admit to feeling a bit sorry for him on the news tonight, fronting up for the now customary public humiliation of announcing his various punishments, such as zero alcohol and a 1am curfew, as if he’s a wayward 16 year old.

    I hear that Hudson, from within the bowels of his jail cell, has said something along the lines of: “That’s not how it happened.”

    Well, der, I think we already kinda knew that.

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  5. Ooooooooo-Mmmmmmmmmm-Gggggggggggg

    Collectors edition!!!!

    Wonder if I dare ask me Mum to keep her copy?

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  6. Forget all of the amusing blog discussions Timmy, The Princess has cast her sharp eye over it and the verdict is in:

    "no way... you look at the blur from the hand in front of him and you look at his shorts hem line and how its sitting, thats not his willy."

    Sorry, but The Princess is never wrong about these things.

    In case you've wondering: yes, I am a very proud mother. Not all mothers are blessed with such a talented daughter.

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  7. Anonymous10:50 PM

    Sorry Princess, can't agree.
    That's definitely Didick's dak...er Didak's dick!

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  8. This is quite amusing.

    Look closely Kath. It's just the fabric of the back of his shorts, the slight fold is giving the illusion of that which every is hyperventilating.

    That's all it is.

    AFL players don't exactly go commando style when out on the field either.

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  9. Anonymous8:32 AM

    Of course you and the Princess are right Caz, but Didak's shorts, doesn't have the same ring to it as Didak's dick!

    This actually reminds me of an embarrasing incident for Fremantle's Paul Haselby, a couple of years back.

    His picture appeared in the sporting section of the West Australian newspaper one day complete with schlonger dangling from his shorts.(Yes! he's a big boy alright)

    Well it escaped my attention of course!
    Me being interested in more cerebral fare.(Stop that snirtling Caz!)

    A friend called and said the early edition had the pic.

    Fortunately I had a copy.

    Subsequent copies were altered, but the damage had been done.

    Poor guy was so embarrased though, and made a statement to the effect that people shold be concentrating on the way he plays football.

    Bit hard when you see a schlonger
    that big! Tee hee..

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  10. It would be tactless of Didak to go dackless, but it certainly leaves the newspapers with a problem to nut out.

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  11. And even though Didak has made a bit of a dick of himself, it's about sometime cried 'balls!' to the whole affair.

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  12. I'd always thought that with Rorschach Inkblot Tests people see different things.

    Funny how squillions of people took a glance at the Didak pic and everyone "saw" the same thing.

    Hmmmmmm.

    Kath - remember there was a footballer once who sued a mag, or paper, for showing his dangler in a shower photo (I think it was the shower) - he won the case too, if I recall. His peeking pecker caused him enormous distress.

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  13. Anonymous11:13 AM

    Yeah, I remember Caz.

    Wasn't that Andrew Ettinghausen the rugby player?

    He was a real spunk, as I recall..... I always remember the good lookin' ones!(winks)

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  14. Jeez Kath, is there anything you don't know?

    From poetry to rugby player dangler's on show, just ask Kath.

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