As a journalist, there are few areas that require more serious investigation, and more careful reporting, than stories on sexual violence against women. That’s always been the rule, but not the case. But in the wake of the #metoo movement, you’d think journalists would be paying special attention.
Someone should probably let Chip Le Grand and The Australian newspaper know, because last week, they’ve perpetrated what could be one of the most inaccurate – and irresponsible – pieces of #metoo reporting we’ve seen so far this year.
For the uninitiated, Le Grand generally reports on sport. Somehow, he got assigned to #metoo.
In a retrospective piece noting that it’s not just the Liberals who are imploding – it’s also the Greens (a fair point, actually) – Le Grand turns his attention to the recent furore in NSW surrounding Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham, and the allegations that he sexually assaulted former Greens staffer Ella Buckland.
Except that that’s not really what Le Grand reported. Instead, he characterised the alleged assault as nothing more than an unwanted peck on the neck. We’ll get to that shortly, because it was preceded by other significant errors.
“How can an untested allegation of serious sexual assault become the daily fodder of a state political campaign?” Le Grand asked. “For the Greens, the origins can be found early in the #MeToo movement, when factional rivals of NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham helped facilitate the airing of a seven-year-old sexual harassment complaint against him by Ella Buckland, a former Greens research assistant.”
Firstly, the complaint by Ms Buckland is not seven years old. The alleged assault is. The complaint was made early this year, in April 2018.
Secondly, I don’t know the inner workings of the Greens any better than I know the inner workings of the Liberals. But I do know that Ella Buckland has stated publicly, multiple times, that no-one helped ‘facilitate’ her complaint. She has noted that David Shoebridge – a Greens NSW MP with no love lost for Buckingham – referred her to Greens hierarchy after she approached him, having seen a public social media post Shoebridge wrote in support of other alleged victims of sexual violence.
That is the entirely proper thing to do, and in no way constitutes ‘facilitating the airing of the complaint’.
But just in case there’s any doubt, Buckland has also stated publicly, multiple times, that she has not been doing the political bidding of anyone – man, woman or factional rival. What she has been doing is trying to get justice for what she alleges was not only a serious sexual assault, but the consequent bullying of her out of her dream job (as a staffer for the Greens in NSW Parliament).
But back to Le Grand, and those details of the actual alleged assault….
“The substance of the allegation was that Buckingham put his arms around Buckland and kissed her on the neck, uninvited, in the street outside his Newtown house after a night of heavy drinking. She further alleges that he subsequently harassed her at work.”
No Chip, that’s not the substance of the allegation at all. It’s not even close.
The allegation is that an intoxicated Jeremy Buckingham – and video evidence from the night establishes irrefutably that he was – walked up behind Ms Buckland, grabbed her roughly on the crotch, and then tried to kiss her on the neck. Uninvited. There’s obviously quite a difference.
Le Grand, when he reads this, might like to consider the reliability of his sources on this false claim. If he feels he’s been profoundly mislead, he should also feel free to out them – sources who mislead do not deserve protection.
In any event, if Le Grand is also truly interested in what Ms Buckland alleges happened to her, he can source them here, on the New Matilda website – Ella Buckland’s sworn statement has been available for public download for over a month.
At first blush, in a case like this it might seem that clearly, someone is lying. It’s actually possible, given the amount of alcohol apparently consumed by Jeremy Buckingham, that no-one is. It’s possible, for example, that he was simply too intoxicated to accurately recall what happened. He also has a ‘second witness’ – also heavily intoxicated, as shown by the video evidence – who backs his story.
The problem, however – as Chip Le Grand fails to report – is that Mr Buckingham is also alleged to have phoned Ms Buckland the following morning, and threatened her employment.
If you believe Ms Buckland’s version of events, this tends to strongly support the notion that Mr Buckingham does, indeed, recall the events of the previous night. Or at least he recalls enough to know he was in trouble.
Buckingham, of course, denies that. He says he was merely ringing to check on her welfare. It’s not clear why, but it is clear that someone subsequently told internal investigators that Ella Buckland was a promiscuous, intravenous drug-user.
The claim is patently absurd, as multiple people who know Ms Buckland have sworn. She’s a university educated ex-Greens staffer who dedicated her life to charity and activism. But that she had to defend herself from these smears while asking a political party to take seriously her claim of sexual assault, is outrageous.
That the party still refuses to release the full investigation report – which would detail, exactly, who concocted those claims – is a matter of enduring shame for the Greens.
That’s something the party might like to consider in the shadow of a March 2019 state election. While we wait, it’s worth considering where this is all headed more broadly.
The pushback against the #metoo campaign has been as inevitable as it has been predictable. I’ve watched precisely the same thing happen in Aboriginal affairs.
As First Nations people have gained greater agency and power over the past decade, white people have begun to hit back. That’s not surprising – as the saying roughly goes, when you’re used to privilege, something approaching equality feels like oppression.
Men are used to privilege. Some men feel like they’re being oppressed.
But journalists – and credible media outlets – should approach that pushback with serious caution. It’s one thing to report ‘both sides’, it’s another thing altogether to spectacularly misreport one side.
Our job as journalists is to ensure our reporting on important issues like this is fair and accurate. We have a special responsibility to get this stuff right, after decades of failure and in many cases complicity.
If we can’t, then maybe we should stick to sport.
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