AN EXCHANGE OF UNPLEASANTRIES – Samantha Maiden vs David Donovan.

Let me preface what I am about to write with an assertion that I have respect and admiration for both DAVID DONOVAN [Journalist and managing editor of Independent Australia – a progressive journal I am thankful exists] and SAMANTHA MAIDEN [National Political Editor Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Herald Sun, Sunday Mail (Qld & SA), Sunday Times, Sunday Tasmanian & (a personal fave of hers) Sunday Territorian]. I also follow both on Twitter, and value their media contributions. The following is an analysis of how the bias of individuals can often stifle genuine communication – particularly when one, both (or all) parties go into a conversation with strong preconceptions about who the other party is. These two, evidently, have strong opinions about each other.

Yesterday evening, I was magazine reading after a lazy fish n’ chips dinner and intermittently checking twitter when I witnessed – in real time – an exchange between David and Samantha. It all started with this innocuous (I think) tweet from David:

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I think it’s safe to say David doesn’t like Abbott. Also true: writers and journalists ask questions. David was asking Twitter a question.  Nothing heinously untoward here. Samantha responded very quickly with an innocuous answer/correction (to both David and Van Badham – probably because Samantha saw David’s tweet via Van’s profile?):

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David responded:

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The link he tweeted was THIS transcript of a story by Sara Everingham for ABC Local Radio’s ‘PM’ program. It contains within it these words spoken by Sara: “He also promised that if the Coalition wins the election he’ll spend his first week as prime minister with the Yolngu people in north-east Arnhem Land.”

I don’t know the full story of the history of communication between these two, but I strongly suspect after that second tweet that Samantha got (understandably) irritated with the insinuation within it – although she kept a lid on it for a while longer. Her responses to those two tweets:

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Okay. Reasonable, right? David responded, by noting the lines within Sara’s report, which make the assertion that David’s original question was about:

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Having made the point that that was not a direct quote but the reporter’s assertion, Samantha is obviously talking about widely reported official campaign and policy promises. So she is correct in her assertion that Abbott’s widely reported official campaign promises included a promise to spend 1 week a year there. All the reports I recall hearing/reading reported this – I must have missed Sara’s PM report.

David responded:

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And after that, Samantha seemingly went a little cray, arguing that the ABC PM story itself did not state that Abbott would spend his first week as Prime Minister with that particular Arnhem Land community (even though it did – that may have been an error, but Sara did report that in the transcript. It is true though that a direct quote from Abbott is not played in the report – he is never heard saying “in my first week…”):

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Really, Samantha? All David asked was whether this was true or not. You provided him with some information. He responded by providing a link to an ABC radio report that states – erroneously or not – that Abbott said to the community that he would spend his first week there. You countered by reasserting this was false and that that particular “promise” was just speculative twitter hokum. The fact that it was reported by the national broadcaster once, is enough to warrant a simple informal question on Twitter though, surely?

David responded:

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The link he tweeted was to THIS. Turns out, David grew up alongside Indigenous Australians in Central Queensland during the 1970s and 1980s. The article is about his experiences growing up there.

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Independent Australia does campaign for Indigenous people.

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That is just plainly wrong. Obviously. I’ll chalk it down to Samantha (perhaps) being offended by David’s insinuation she leapt to the defence of Abbott. Or she doesn’t like/respect David and his work, and has a particular perception of who he is, and what motivated that initial question (she said as much – in an earlier tweet she suggested he was peddling an “urban myth”). Most likely, a combination.

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Samantha is a good journalist, but this is an unedifying spectacle now. For real. The conversation continued:

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The PM program should have corrected that record, if it was incorrect. PM Abbott probably doesn’t even know about it.

And then Samantha accused David of being a lazy journo.

I believe this is what is called “escalation”.

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I don’t recall ever hearing Abbott was going to spend the first week there – then again, I don’t think I listened to Sara’s report. Furthermore it is hard to say whether or not many votes cast in the election were influenced specifically by that “1 week a year” pledge – but, let us continue:

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Look. There is ALOT of poorly researched crackpot conspiracy shit being peddled across all social media, by the far left and far right. But this was not a conspiracy theory. It was a question. “Bungled sentence” in Sara’s report it may have been, but the best way to find out if it was, is to ask. Right?

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Then another lady named Heather provided another online document that mentions the ‘first week of Prime Ministership’ “promise” too:

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Samantha handled that with, er, coolheaded aplomb…

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She is a little ticked off, I think it’s fair to say. This is the document she was describing. It’s not a transcript, she’s right about that. It is a Garma Festival media release titled “Key Points of Tony Abbott’s Garma Speech on Indigenous Affairs”. But it contains the phrase: “…he undertook to spend the first week after he is elected in the Yolgnu community if that would be acceptable to the community.”

Heather then asked Samantha: “So you’re saying the #Garma Festival are publishing something that’s not true on their website?” Samantha:

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I thought that a condescending thing to assume, so offered another condescending assumption in the other direction:

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Because thanks to David’s tweet question, someone DID tweet a link to the video footage online! TWITTER CAN BE AWESOME THIS WAY! Ask, and you shall receive……

Before that happened though, someone else tweeted this to them both (Van Badham still being cc’d on all of this, LOL):

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Samantha still wasn’t having a bar of it:

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So then the online video footage surfaced, and was reviewed by both parties and everyone else watching this conversation. The video is HERE– relevant part, 21.20-21.50. Samantha’s response?

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What do you think about the video? Could what Abbott said about “first week” be construed as a promise? Or, as Samantha asserted afterwards on Twitter, a spur of the moment open question said to get a reaction from his audience?

Frankly I think that: 1) this was not an official campaign promise; and so 2) it is the opinion of the Yolgnu community itself that matters here. Were they expecting him there first week? If they were, breaking that “agreement” really does suck. But let us still remember that there are numerous other pressing issues to be criticising and scrutinising this government for already. And the most important thing will be whether or not he delivers the positive, “Real Change” he pledged to remote Indigenous communities – and how that change is delivered. Please media, investigate that. From all angles.

Getting back to my original assertion now. Samantha Maiden is a good journalist. But David’s initial question was fine, based on the fact that he had heard a report on the national broadcaster that stated Abbott had made some sort of promise to spend his first week as Prime Minister with the Yolngu people.

As you can imagine, things went nowhere after the post-video comments, but what both David and Samantha were tweeting to others – about each other – revealed more about how preconceptions and bias (which we all suffer from) were affecting their perception during (and probably just prior to) this exchange.

Samantha to other:

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 David to other:

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For the record, David Donovan is not an “inner city hipster” and nor were any of the people who joined in on the conversation and supported David’s POV. He is a passionate and engaged political observer, a journalist with strong convictions and a social conscience. 

And, for the record, yes, Samantha works for News Limited, owned by Lucifer Rupert Murdoch, but Samantha has already critiqued the dearth of females in Abbott’s ministry, has begun questioning aspects of “operation sovereign borders” and as a result has been told by some LNP trolls supporters that media #silence is quite appropriate right now: see evidence here (this is tremendous)

Also note there were many other tweets from both David and Samantha – essentially saying the same thing – as they responded to other people joining in the conversation. I’ve given you the gist of what was said to demonstrate a fairly common mistake we humans make in political conversations: letting our preconceptions and egos derail what could otherwise be civil exchanges.

We’re funny like that.


Post script: My intent in writing this post is not to demonise anyone. Only to look at the way we communicate – and fail to communicate – when we are not aware of our biases.

Why is that important to be aware of? Because our biases will likely influence what questions we think are relevant to even ask and pursue answers to. All the more important to be aware of, when you are an investigative journalist.


18 Comments on “AN EXCHANGE OF UNPLEASANTRIES – Samantha Maiden vs David Donovan.”

  1. Well written and well explained Pauline but you would have lost marks for independent journalism by your last few points (crossed out but left to demonstrate your bias). And then in case we missed it, you conclude: “..don’t intend to demonise” but you did. You called Rupert Murdoch the name of the prince of demons, Lucifer..”
    I liked everything you had written prior to that. Just drop that off before others reach the same conclusion about you. Otherwise 10 out of 10. I happen to be a big fan of David Donovan too but suggest if he wants to be truly calling his journal “Independent Australia” and wants a broader readership he needs to lose his overt anti-Liberal stance. Independents don’t normal take sides so vociferously as David did during the lead up to the election..
    My final point is, I wrote a series of articles for David’s journal in which I attempted to warn Australia of the dangers of electing a conservative Catholic restorationist Abbott Government..
    They didn’t listen..

    • Thankyou for your comment Kevin, I truly appreciate it.

      I must confess the *crossed out but left to demonstrate your bias* thing was ENTIRELY DELIBERATE, added after my first draft of the post. Why? Because – as I said in the post – no-one is without bias. No one. All we can do, and expect journalists to do, is to be aware of those biases and be vigourously self-reflective as they, and we, go about our business and interact with others. Other than that….. it was a joke 🙂

      I look forward to reading that series of articles of yours.

  2. Mark James says:

    Sorry Pauline but why stick up for News Limited Journo who defends Tony Abbott?? Samantha Maiden typifies what is wrong with MSM. Tony Abbott has made a career of bullying, verballing people for their views and lying but hates being called to account.

  3. Alan Durkin says:

    Tony Abbott DID OFFER TO SPEND HIS FIRST WEEK with the Yoingu people in East Arnham land. You are wrong.
    Any tooing and froing and red herrings about the accuracy of that statement is just a lie. Brought about by Maiden’s ability to try and protect her boss Rupert Murdoch. To do that, she has first to protect his man in Canberra, Tony Abbott. I’m not so sure that even Murdoch would expect Samantha Maiden to go to the lengths she has been prepared to.
    A journalist of any ilk to be prepared to go to this extent is bizarre.

    This is a glaring example of how Truth in Journalism has been driven off the rails in our country, by a journalist for hire, who has obviously been promoted on Attitude, and not Aptitude.

  4. Alan Durkin says:

    Oh, so I should change it to go along with your view then? Why didn’t you say. I didn’t contribute to let you agree or disagree,….my only motive was to show which one of Maiden or Donovan was lying. You still have to make up your mind under the restraints you have set yourself. My only brief is to tell the truth “as I see it with evidence”. I’ve seen the evidence, I’ll leave Vetuna and Maiden to wriggle on about what “you disagree with”.

    • Interesting that you interpreted “I both welcome your comment and disagree with it” as CHANGE YOUR VIEW TO MATCH MINE. You are entitled to your opinion. End of.

    • Mia says:

      Alan, I think your comments are unfair. Pauline has made it very clear that the purpose of this article is to examine the communication between two politically-engaged individuals rather than the subject matter upon which they are debating. She has appropriately chosen examples of tweets to display the conflict, and (apart from a couple of cheeky “corrections” at the end) has filtered her bias in a very professional way, providing comment only on what has been explicitly said and sticking to the facts.

      At the end of the day, this debate would not have existed if the situation was cut and dry. I have my own opinions about the situation and Samantha Maiden, and I would have displayed far more open bias in writing this article, so I commend Pauline for her restraint. I also admire the effort she has made to engage respectfully yet unapologetically with each of her commenters. Welcoming the comments of people you disagree with should be considered a refreshing attitude considering the depths some Australian journalists, radio presenters, and bloggers have sunk to when they take issue with the attitudes of their audiences.

  5. Alan Durkin says:

    (Not for publication.)

  6. Bela Somssich says:

    No Tony did not make a promise. It was one of his ‘heat of the moment’ comments, no doubt well intentioned at the time. Nevertheless, it should be addressed and he should be held accountable for it. He should now let us know when he will act on his offer.

  7. Bemused says:

    Maiden’s increasingly vitriolic tweets appear to be an attempt to deflect attention from the fact that she got it wrong and can’t admit it. I can’t fathom the reasoning otherwise. Meanwhile I am dismayed that a senior journalist doesn’t know the difference between ‘pedal’ and ‘peddle’ …

  8. […] month ago, a fellow left a comment on this blog and tweeted me some words of critique and encouragement I genuinely […]

  9. Denis says:

    Abbott made his intent very clear. He also insisted on ABC radio a month before the election that there would be no “word playing”; he was a “straight talker”. He would not change promises in the light of new information if elected.

    His intent was emphatically clear, and when I heard it, I was in no doubt what the meaning was. Apparently, now that he has won, he didnt mean it at all. This is clearly another “non core promise” that we assocciate wiith the liberals.

    Given that this is one of 18 broken election promises within 100 days of being elected (at least, I gave up counting), my question is, “has any other Prime Minister in the history of Australia broken more election promises within 100 days” ? I dont think so.

  10. Paul says:

    A stunning example of the chasm that exists between a credible journalist like David Donovan and a muckraking gossip columnist.

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