Charlie Hebdo And The Media Meat Grinder


Opinions are like assholes. Everyone’s got one, and the ones you pay to experience are waxed and bleached by professionals.

This presents a dilemma, as the presentation (and often the very sentiment of a piece) caters not to measured thinking, social responsibility, and due consideration, but rather to a carrot on the end of a stick.

See, where one would presume journalists to have an obligation to comment even-handedly, the truth is that we can’t all be as balanced and well researched as Janet Albrechtsen.

All jokes aside, there is an important point to be made here. Journalism is a non-contact bloodsport.

In a world where cartoonists are shot in the streets of Paris for demeaning a few deluded magical-thinking nutters, a journalist still owes their time not to thought-provoking dialogue — but to 650 word snippets that oversimplify complex issues.

The thing one must remember about journalists is that they, too, are capitalists, as are the owners and administrators of the outlets that edit and publish them. If one cannot generate the degree of surplus value from one’s words necessary to justify their penning, then why write? Out of benevolence? Idealism?

The naivety that maybe the return rests in the mind of the reader?

A capitalist must cater to his or her demand. And if the demand be that the evaluation of a terror attack fall neatly within the pre-existing narrative of contempt, or of celebration, for ‘tolerance’ – whatever that word even means – then the supplier will abide.

Find me a simpler explanation of why everyone seems to have one of two prevailing opinions on things in general without mentioning an ‘education revolution’ and I’ll give you one golden moneytoken for your achievement and I’ll tweet your name to my 100 twitter followers. Cool.

This brings me to why what New Matilda has to say about that whole Charlie Hebdo thing is more worth your reading time than whatever it is that Fairfax or News Corp has to say.

The grand irony of the effect of supply and demand dictated information-dispersal is that most of what we’ve read in the wake of tragedy, deliberately or not, folds into pre-conceived expectations that with enough words, all things are explicable.

Attempts at trying to explain away Islamic fundamentalist terrorist attacks as a by-product of western intervention in the Middle East play into too simplistic a narrative. Conversely, there are those who have and will continue to write about Islam as an innately violent religion.

Depending on what it is that one wants from a discussion, both of the above sentences can quite easily be fleshed out into charming, eloquent, thought-provoking rhetoric. To read Chomsky on Islamic terrorism is to view extremism as a backlash against western suppression, whereas to read Hitchens on Islamic terrorism is to be convinced that institutionalised religion is violent regardless of denomination.

But what if it was both? As sharks circle wired and hungry at the smelling of a spot of blood, journalists jostle for their own meal in the wake of tragedy. The paid reactionary dines on disaster, and shits out eloquence. For money.

Orwell even admitted to the narcissistic drive with which one puts pen to paper.

Over the last few days I’ve received a lot of very well written reductionist garbage from family and friends on Paris: shark shit pumped out to be shared and liked by other seat-sniffers.

Congratulations to all of you real journalists with real degrees and real thoughts on real things, I hope you enjoy your real wine from a real bottle tonight while your real friends like and share your real opinions and tell you all about how good that article was of yours that they skim-read on public transport.

I’m lucky that I don’t have a deadline; that I’m content with this jar of warm cask wine; that my name it means nothing and my age it means less. Because now, almost a week into the whole Hebdo thing, I get to avoid commenting on the event at all, and instead comment on the commentary. 

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.