Rupert bare

It’s a coincidence that as rioters were marching through Melbourne Scott Morrison was dining with News Corp executives in New York. It’s a coincidence, too, that the city’s Shrine of Remembrance looks a little like the United States Capitol Building.

The similarity was only obvious as the protesters massed in front of it, drinking beers on the steps and pissing against the walls. These men assumed they were fighting for the same freedoms as those the building commemorates, just as the men who sacked Washington assumed they were defending democracy.

The line from those steps to the Herald Sun’s offices is only bent by traffic lights. It’s a line drawn in partisanship and bad faith. It’s no great surprise that the riots broke out from the construction industry: senior executives at the media company used to say their job was to make sure a tradesman looked forward to the paper as much as he did a KitKat.

Two weeks ago, Andrew Bolt used his column in the Herald Sun to warn people to “stand by for civil insurrection”. He wrote that Victoria’s health measures were punishing Liberal voters when it was migrants and the poor who were carrying the virus. “Unless we make this shift – from governments deciding for us, to us deciding for ourselves – we’ll never be free of the threat of lockdowns and closed borders, even if 80 per cent of us get vaccinated.”

The newspaper has been running this line for months. Earlier, Bolt wrote that he expected more health measures to be shown up as useless. “The fraud of some virus bans is now exposed. When will our politicians stop treating us like fools or children?”

On September 15 he wrote: “So I no longer trust our politicians to hand back the freedoms they took ‘for our own good’. Wednesday gave us more reason to think it will take a war to become free again.”

On September 19: “Premier Daniel Andrews has turned my beloved Victoria into a police state.” He said the police were serving the premier: “It’s very wrong that they hurt police, but I fear we’ll see more violence unless Andrews stops turning this virus panic into a civil war.”

On Wednesday, as vaccination hubs were closed to protect the nurses working there and staff were spat on, Bolt wrote: “Let me be very clear: I am against political violence. I am against attacking police. I am all for vaccines. But you can push people only so far. And Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has forgotten that true leadership demands more than setting draconian rules and sending an army of police to enforce them.”

When conspiracy theorists stormed the US Capitol, Murdoch commentators feigned surprise. James Murdoch said the damage wrought by misinformation was profound. The criticism was clearly aimed at his own family. “Those outlets that propagate lies to their audience have unleashed insidious and uncontrollable forces that will be with us for years.”

On Monday, before the riots, the Herald Sun’s front page carried a photograph of Daniel Andrews and a single-word headline: “Hopeless.” By Wednesday there was a picture of the West Gate Bridge overrun by protesters. An inset photograph showed a woman in her car, crying. “Innocent people trapped, terrified as lawless hi-vis mob takes over city.”

It is a coincidence, of course. Just like the Capitol riot. Just like Morrison’s decision to meet News Corp’s chief executive as soon as he arrived in America, before even seeing the president.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 25, 2021 as "Rupert bare".

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