November 5, 2021


Good riddance, Alan Jones

By Martin McKenzie-Murray

Alan Jones. Image © Brendon Thorne / AAP Image / Pool

The shock jock is finally brought down by lacklustre ratings

Well goodbye and good luck, Alan. Having retired from radio last year, the Parrot no longer has an audience outside Facebook, for now at least, after being dumped by Sky News – felled not by scandal, but the only thing that seemed capable of ending his career: shit ratings.

Needless to say, Jones didn’t appreciate this, and objected in a long statement epically detailing his social media reach, and there was a touch of Norma Desmond to his raging against the dying light: “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small!”

I watched Blue Murder recently, the 1995 miniseries about the depraved and quietly sanctioned corruption of NSW detective Roger Rogerson, which struck me for capturing the visceral seediness of organised violence. Too much Australian crime drama is incongruously slick and morally indifferent, but Blue Murder conjured the gross humidity of psychopathy and greed, and I craved a cold shower after watching it.

Anyway, it got me thinking about accountability and Rogerson’s one-time champion Alan Jones. Both men, having ambitiously cultivated their own myths, enjoyed long spells of unaccountability. Rogerson’s spell eventually ended. Jones’s never really did.

Jones wrote love letters to minors, helped incite a race riot, and erroneously and insistently accused a family of mass manslaughter – this “vicious and spiteful” defamation, in the words of the judge, cost his employer $3.75 million in 2018.

Jones condemned Adam Goodes for hurling an imaginary spear, but celebrated an odiously bent cop later convicted of murder. “It mightn’t be politically correct to say it,” Jones said, by way of introducing Roger Rogerson on his 2GB show in 2009, “but if we had … a few more of the man I’m about to speak [to] then we’d have fewer problems in society.” This was before Rogerson’s murder conviction, but well after his stints in jail and the substantial suspicion that he was a violent drug baron involved in several murders.

His fondness for Rogerson might be compared with his admiration of ex-NSW Labor minister and egregious swindler Ian Macdonald, who was jailed in October for almost a decade for corruptly conspiring with his parliamentary mate Eddie Obeid.

During Macdonald’s trial, Jones supplied the convict with a character reference, but in truth he’d been doing that for years when Macdonald was still in parliament. “I think you should be running the trains, the desalination plant and everything,” he praised Macdonald on air in 2007, when he was the minister responsible for responding to an outbreak of equine influenza, but about which Jones didn’t declare his personal interest as an investor in a racehorse.

A few months ago, Sky News was obliged to correct “grossly misleading” comments Jones made on air about the virulence of the Delta variant of COVID-19. Recently, YouTube removed one of his videos in which he credulously allowed Clive Palmer to hawk the quack COVID remedy hydroxychloroquine.

In 2019, he apologised for suggesting Scott Morrison “shove a sock down the throat” of Jacinda Ardern (and that he show her “a few backhanders”). Having breached several broadcasting “decency rules”, Jones later said: “In this game you’ve got to choose your words carefully and I didn’t do that.”

But he’s rarely done that. That same year, legal advice compelled him to publicly apologise to Malcolm Turnbull for having called him a “traitor to the nation” for endorsing an independent candidate, while the previous year he apologised to the head of the Opera House for his explosive, belittling and spit-flecked rant against her for resisting the projection of horse racing advertisements onto the iconic sails (the racing industry being famously poor, obscure and worthy of Jones’s advocacy).

In the ’90s, Jones insistently plugged major corporations – banks, casinos, telcos – without revealing that they were paying him to do so. A public inquiry shamed him, but the man who once said “Money is not worth two bob if your integrity is up for grabs,” wasn’t sufficiently chastened, because only two years ago he was championing the interests of Star Casino on-air without disclosing the fact that it was a sponsor.

The rhetorical similarities between Jones and Roger Rogerson are striking. Both men offered themselves as princes for the battler, while quietly representing other interests (casinos in the case of Jones; heroin traffickers for Rogerson). Both mythologised themselves as men of action, in heroic contrast to those pesky “pen pushers”.

It’s unsurprising that both men like the phrase. “Pen pushers” summons an archetype, and inspires witless – and conveniently obscuring – passion. You don’t have to use the phrase carefully, and context doesn’t matter. It’s powerfully evocative, and its power can be used against whoever you don’t like: police, judges, whistleblowers, media regulators. What matters is the leverageable belief that there are only two kinds of men: those of action… and cowards. You’ll be forgiven much by many if you’re seen as the former. 

Both Jones and Rogerson intuitively knew the power of leveraging cultural anxiety and nostalgia – and having done that, they trusted that the public’s subsequent faith would conceal their own deficiencies and contradictions. And they were right.

Both men are bullies who’ve made an art of theatrically denouncing critics: “We’re back to the Gestapo days,” Rogerson said, as he was arrested for murder. “One of the most disgraceful chapters in public administration ever,” was how Jones described ICAC’s investigation into Macdonald.

Both men are delusional about their virtue, and self-aggrandising about their worth.

For me, the most unstable part of Jones’s schtick as The People’s Man was not his employment of a butler, but his amazing immunity to proportionate consequence. I don’t know anyone whose job would’ve survived a fraction of Jones’s slander, sloppiness and impropriety. But in 2019, Jones was offered another contract; and his radio retirement last year was acknowledged with rhetorical bouquets from past prime ministers.

For decades, he was too big to fail – until the ratings became too small.

Martin McKenzie-Murray

Martin McKenzie-Murray is the author of The Speechwriter and A Murder Without Motive: The Killing of Rebecca Ryle.

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