Devine Distortions


Miranda Devine is at it again bending the truth, abusing the facts, leaving out crucial details, then parading about as if she were the defender of all that is right, rather than ‘Right.’

Her article, ‘Sympathy for the Offenders Misplaced,’ in last week’s Sydney Morning Herald was an attack on my own article, ‘School for Scandal,’ which had been published in the previous Saturday’s SMH News Review.

My story had been stimulated by the film Notes on a Scandal, in which Cate Blanchett portrays an art teacher at a tough London high school who has an affair with a 15-year-old male student. It discussed this film in relation to a number of real-life cases of teacher-student affairs in the USA and Australia, and then canvassed the views of academics and the President and Vice President of the NSW Teacher’s Federation, as well as sourced statistics from the NSW Board of Education.

In her article Devine prefers to deal in what she calls ‘moral clarity.’ To that end, she cherry picks quotes from academics Katherine Albury, Steven Angelides and David McKnight, portraying them as immoral ‘progressives’ the way she spits out that word ‘progressives,’ of course, should immediately be a caution to anyone expecting a balanced interpretation of anything these people might have actually said.

Devine makes it appear as if they are in complete sympathy with female high school teachers who are charged with having affairs with their students a gross distortion of their opinion.

Albury, a lecturer in gender and cultural studies at the University of Sydney, is particularly ill-served. Throughout my article, Albury discusses the problems of female predatory behaviour and the way society finds it hard to recognise and respond to it. Devine prefers to briefly quote Albury referring to the ‘erotic environment’ of the classroom just the sound-byte she needs to press-gang Albury into a pit of academic moral decay, which she can then lambaste.

Devine’s ‘moral clarity’ further involves dismissing the media commentator David McKnight an associate professor at the University of Technology, Sydney and Steven Angelides from the Centre for Women’s Studies and Gender Research at Monash University. Devine condemns their calls for a case-by-case evaluation of the issues involved in particular, Angelides’s nuanced argument for a recognition of the complex issue of ‘consent’ from a teenage minor.

Angelides cited the specific case of the teacher Karen Ellis in Melbourne, who had an affair with a 15-year-old boy. The boy spoke in Ellis’ defence, both at her trials and afterwards to the media. The judge in her first trial, Judge John Smallwood, recognised his testimony as a mitigating factor.

Devine spews a hard line on this professing her own crystal clear version of the law: ‘how can a child below the age of consent give consent?’ In the process, she dismisses Smallwood’s initial findings another way of saying that the law is only the law when Devine agrees with it. ‘Hang’em high!’ is the full extent of Devine’s legal position, and there are no complications.

Film still from Notes on a Scandal

She then makes a grotesque parallel to the former Governor-General Peter Hollingworth ‘similarly trying to cite consent as a mitigating factor while defending a minister of religion accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl.’

‘Similarly’? Devine might wish to consider the fact that the woman in the Hollingworth case, who was 14 years old when she was abused, was the one bringing the complaint forward she was not piping up in favour of the minister who abused her.

It’s hard to follow this leap of logic, but I think Devine is trying to suggest all those ‘progressives’ who attacked Hollingworth are now showing what hypocrites they are. It’s a ‘near enough is good enough’ example that doesn’t hold up to any analysis at all.

In the same, sloppy vein she proffers research by Freda Briggs, Professor of Child Development at the University of South Australia, who ‘interviewed 84 male prisoners convicted of child sex crimes and found half had been sexually abused in childhood, by women.’ Devine neglects to let us know if this happened when they were infants, children or adolescents, further blurring the links to the teenage ‘consent’ discussion. She then implies the academics in my article were somehow indifferent to issues of abuse altogether by quoting Briggs in rousing terms: ‘It’s just as damaging for boys.’

By the end of Devine’s article, we have somehow leapt into an attack on all these filthy ‘progressives’ and ‘urban sophisticates’ responsible for hardcore porn videos flooding the country, creating social decay and child abuse in Aboriginal communities next whistle stop a paedophile-friendly Australia! Do I need to tell you that the academics she freely slurs and quotes out of context never went into issues of pornography and Aboriginal social dysfunction?

No matter. In the name of hysterical opinion and sensationalism, Devine was on a roll.

If she really cared about these issues and ‘moral clarity,’ she would be looking for debate and discussion rather than trying to bury all opposing arguments by misrepresenting them.

But the truth is that all she is promoting is ‘Miranda Devine’ ideologically-based affiliations rigidly apparent, sensational trademark registered.

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