THE MEDIA by John StylesNews Weekly
, February 24, 2001
The president of the Vietnamese Community in Victoria, Phong Nguyen, recently enlightened Melbourne ABC morning announcer Jon Faine about the realities of life in communist societies. (And, yes, presumably in line with the realities of Australian multiculturalism, Mr Nguyen's organisation is the Vietnamese Community in Victoria, not of Victoria.)
Discussing the present relationship between Vietnamese living in Australia and the government of Vietnam, Jon Faine seemed surprised when Phong Nguyen referred to religious oppression in the communist state. "So, no religious freedom still in Vietnam?" Jon Faine asked. "In fact, it's worse," Mr Nguyen replied. "It's persecution ... and very little [is] known to the West about that reality."
Reporting, analysing and discussing the human rights records of communist societies has not been a hallmark of Western liberal journalism and has hardly figured in the agenda of the ABC. In case the situation remained unclear, Mr Nguyen picturesquely spelt it out: "A caged bird may have a golden cage with all the food and all the drink it wants, but if the caged bird is not a bird that can sing its own tune, and it's not a bird that can elect his own representative, let's call it, in the government ... that's how the Vietnamese community here still oppose the regime in Vietnam because it does not allow our people to elect its own government, it doesn't allow people to have the freedom of the press - we cannot talk like you and I are talking right now - there is no freedom of association, and so on."
It was not the first time Jon Faine had been apprised of communist oppression. On 18 March 1998, a talkback caller phoned his 3LO program to make a point about Mark Aarons, the investigator of Nazi war criminals, who had been a guest on Faine's show. The caller noted that Aarons had been quick to attack the Catholic church for supposedly not resisting the Nazis sufficiently; yet he could not remember Aarons' father [former Communist Party of Australia secretary Laurie Aarons] ever complaining about the millions killed in Stalin's Russia. Faine recalled that Aarons' father had at one time acknowledged Stalin's crimes. But, Faine added, "We didn't know what was going on in Stalin's Russia." The caller reminded the announcer that a steady stream of evidence from refugees had testified to the horrors of the communist regime.
For the record, in his memoir, What's left? (Penguin, 1993, p118), Eric Aarons, Laurie's brother and also a former CPA secretary, records his reaction to former Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 20th Congress airing of Stalin's crimes. The CPA's leadership line on the Khrushchev report, Eric Aarons recalled, was "to paper over the cracks and put the main emphasis on 'the positive sides' of the congress, especially the program for building communism." One of the reasons for accepting that line, he wrote, was "that had we been in power we too could have executed people we considered to be objectively, even if not subjectively (that is, by intention), helping our enemies.""Count the spoons"
That same week, Jon Faine also told Bulletin editor-in-chief Max Walsh that he was "appalled" by the pardons issued by outgoing US president Bill Clinton. "We can look at them ... and see them in a new light, I think," Faine said of Bill and Hillary. Max Walsh expressed surprise at Faine's surprise. "I'm pretty amused that you're appalled," he said, "because Bill Clinton's track record over the last eight years has been pretty appalling. But, if I might say so, all of his supporters are suddenly at the last moment sort of saying, 'Hey, the bloke's a crook!'"
Jon Faine was not alone. Recently, US columnists and newspaper editorials have also suddenly discovered the real Clintons. The Washington Post's Marjorie Williams wrote of the "revenge of the defenders", noting that members of the New York Democratic Žlite have "turned on him with a vengeance". She wrote: "Suddenly, the scales have fallen from New Yorkers' eyes. The Clintons have a sense of entitlement? Astonishing! They showed contempt for the normal procedures and boundaries that usually guide the president's pardon power? Amazing! There's a certain shamelessness in their hunger for cash? Who knew?"
According to Marjorie Williams, "Those who defended Clinton through his ordeal-by-independent-counsel had to perform extraordinary contortions of moral and logical reasoning. The piling-on of the past two weeks is the displaced revenge of those who spent years denying the undeniable and defending the indefensible."
Media watchers Reed Irvine and Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media recently observed that as the Clintons vacated the White House with a fistful of pardons and parting gifts, The New York Times and The Washington Post had an "awakening". Both papers, Irvine and Kincaid reported, had endorsed Clinton for election and re-election, but have now run editorials criticising his behaviour.
"The Times said the [Marc Rich] pardon was 'a reminder of why George W. Bush's vow to restore integrity to the Oval Office resonates with millions of Americans who otherwise disagree with the new president's politics.' Yet the Times had decided to stick with the Clintons through eight years in office, and endorsed Clinton vice-president Al Gore for president in 2000."
"The Washington Post editorial on the Clintons taking away almost $200,000 in gifts was more biting. It carried the title, 'Count the spoons,' suggesting that the Clintons were leaving the White House with anything not bolted down."