Quad­rant and its slide into de­luded ex­trem­ism

Once seen as a journal of in­tel­lec­tual weight, to­day’s Quad­rant has gone off-leash to be­come a rant­ing voice of the re­ac­tionary right. Mike Sec­combe re­ports.

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Let us imag­ine for a mo­ment that some­one other than a mem­ber of the re­ac­tionary right had, on the of­fi­cial site of the me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tion for which they worked, pub­licly wished vi­o­lent death on their ide­o­log­i­cal op­po­nents.

Imag­ine if, im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the Manch­ester ter­ror­ist at­tack, that per­son had writ­ten this:

“Had there been a shred of jus­tice, that blast would have det­o­nated in the head­quar­ters of News Corp. Un­like those young girls in Manch­ester, their lives snuffed out be­fore they could be­gin, none of the likely ca­su­al­ties would have rep­re­sented the slight­est re­duc­tion in hu­man­ity’s in­tel­li­gence, de­cency, em­pa­thy or hon­esty.”

Imag­ine if the au­thor had gone on to sin­gle out one tar­get in par­tic­u­lar, a “tire­less self-pro­moter”, “loath­some crea­ture” and “filthy liar” and writ­ten:

“Mind you, as An­drew Bolt felt his body be­ing pen­e­trated by the Prophet’s shrap­nel, bolts and nails, those goi­tered eyes might in their last glim­mer­ing have caught a glimpse of vin­di­ca­tion.”

Sup­pose also the or­gan­i­sa­tion that em­ployed this writer was a ven­er­a­ble one of more than 60 years’ stand­ing, with pre­ten­sions to in­tel­lec­tu­al­ism and a self­claimed in­sis­tence on “civil dis­course”.

You might rea­son­ably ex­pect that au­thor would be shown the door, im­me­di­ately and jus­ti­fi­ably. You might also ex­pect the Mur­doch me­dia and the broader right in pol­i­tics would be re­morse­less in their hound­ing of that per­son.

Now, let’s stop imag­in­ing and sup­pos­ing.

The re­al­ity is that the words quoted above have been slightly al­tered. It was not News Corp the writer sug­gested

should have been bombed, but the Ul­timo stu­dios of the ABC. And the specif­i­cally men­tioned tar­get was An­drew Bolt, but a guest on the Q&A pro­gram, physi­cist Lawrence Krauss.

The journal on whose web­site the ou­trage ran is Quad­rant, which calls it­self “Aus­tralia’s lead­ing journal of ideas, es­says, lit­er­a­ture, poetry, and his­tor­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal de­bate”. The au­thor was Quad­rant’s on­line edi­tor, Roger Franklin. And Franklin still has his job.

He has been “coun­selled”, ac­cord­ing to the magazine’s edi­tor-in-chief, Keith Wind­schut­tle. One might well won­der about the terms of that coun­selling, given Franklin’s long, pre­vi­ously un­re­buked his­tory of of­fen­sive com­men­tary – to which we will re­turn – and Wind­schut­tle’s orig­i­nal re­sponse when con­tacted about his em­ployee’s piece.

“You’re talk­ing bull­shit,” he told the Fair­fax re­porter who rang him. “Don’t call back.”

As to why we sub­sti­tuted the Mur­doch me­dia and An­drew Bolt for Franklin’s orig­i­nal tar­gets? To un­der­line a point about se­lec­tive ou­trage. Af­ter a Mus­lim woman, Yass­min Ab­del-Magied, on her pri­vate Face­book page posted “Lest. We. For­get. (Manus, Nauru,

Syria, Pales­tine…)”, the Mur­doch me­dia hounded her for weeks. Like­wise, many mem­bers of the gov­ern­ment, most no­tably Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton, the most se­nior mem­ber of the hard-right fac­tion in the gov­ern­ment, cel­e­brated the ABC’s sub­se­quent ax­ing of Ab­del-Magied’s pro­gram. “One down, many to go,” he said.

But when an an­gry white man posts a lengthy tirade, sug­gest­ing an act of ter­ror­ism against the na­tional broad­caster? From Dut­ton, noth­ing.

And from the News Corp com­men­tariat? An­drew Bolt’s ini­tial re­sponse to the Franklin piece was that the au­thor was “mag­nif­i­cent in his anger”.

Like Wind­schut­tle, he was sub­se­quently re­vi­sion­ist, con­ced­ing that the piece had gone too far, but also find­ing fault in the crit­ics for hav­ing taken Franklin’s “satire” so se­ri­ously.

Oth­ers among the large Mur­doch sta­ble of right-wing com­men­ta­tors also de­fended Franklin’s piece. Chris Kenny, as­so­ciate edi­tor of The Aus­tralian and host of a nightly show on Sky News, pushed back against those who saw it as an in­cite­ment to vi­o­lence.

That was, he said, an “un­fair char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion … best read the piece and make up your own mind…”

Later, Kenny did con­demn Franklin’s com­ments as “sick and rep­re­hen­si­ble”. But he also fol­lowed up with a com­ment piece in The Aus­tralian, ar­gu­ing that while Franklin’s rhetoric went too far, his anger at the ABC was “un­der­stand­able” be­cause it was wont to “echo the ji­had de­nial­ism of the green left”.

In fact, Kenny de­voted much more space in his piece to jus­ti­fy­ing ex­trem­ist anger at the na­tional broad­caster than to con­demn­ing Franklin’s wish that the ABC be bombed.

Then there was Chris Mitchell, the for­mer edi­tor-in-chief of The Aus­tralian, whose Mon­day column dis­missed the Franklin tirade as a “rather silly” and “tame” piece on com­men­tary.

Nick Cater, for­merly a se­nior jour­nal­ist and opin­ion edi­tor at The Aus­tralian, now ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at con­ser­va­tive think tank the Men­zies Re­search Cen­tre and a di­rec­tor of Quad­rant, strongly con­demned Franklin, but said he would not be push­ing for his dis­missal.

And within a cou­ple of days, they all dropped the is­sue. All in all, it amounted to a late and rather cur­sory ac­knowl­edge­ment of an egre­gious foul by their team.

And make no mis­take, Quad­rant is very much part of their team. Quad­rant’s ide­ol­ogy, tar­gets and, to a sig­nif­i­cant ex­tent, its per­son­nel, are com­mon to News Corp and the Lib­eral Party right wing.

Quad­rant was born of the Cold

War, in 1956. It was founded by Richard Kry­gier, a Pol­ish refugee flee­ing Nazism and com­mu­nism. As recorded in de­tail by his­to­rian Cas­san­dra Py­bus in her book about its first edi­tor, The Devil and James McAuley, much of Quad­rant’s fund­ing came from a US Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency front or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“Quad­rant was one of 20 mag­a­zines the Congress for Cul­tural Free­dom es­tab­lished in Europe, Africa, Asia and Aus­tralia,” Py­bus wrote. “On ad­vice from Bob San­ta­maria, Aus­tralia’s most vir­u­lent anti-com­mu­nist cam­paigner, Kry­gier chose James McAuley as edi­tor.”

More in­ter­est­ing than the sim­ple fact of the CIA’s fund­ing dur­ing McAuley’s 11-year ten­ure was its in­flu­ence on the magazine. In Py­bus’s ver­sion of events, the CIA was a force for mod­er­a­tion, its pay­mas­ters con­stantly push­ing for more lib­eral voices in Quad­rant and less of the likes of San­ta­maria. And Kry­gier and McAuley pushed back.

“The whole point of the covert op­er­a­tion was sub­tlety; to win over the left-lean­ing in­tel­lec­tu­als to the Amer­i­can po­si­tion, not fur­ther alien­ate them,” Py­bus wrote.

Oth­ers tell a rather dif­fer­ent story. In a long piece for The Monthly, writ­ten when Quad­rant turned 50, Kry­gier’s son, Martin, a pro­fes­sor of law and so­cial the­ory at the Univer­sity of New South Wales, called the lit­tle journal “a cos­mopoli­tan magazine, and a cos­mopoli­tanis­ing force, from the start”.

And McAuley – who Py­bus noted was “viewed by many in the lit­er­ary world as a medi­ocre poet and a Catholic fa­natic” – was lauded by Martin Kry­gier for “the cul­tural rich­ness, range and as­sur­ance of his thought, the grace and power of his prose, and the in­tel­lec­tual alti­tude at which much of the dis­cus­sion in the magazine oc­curred”.

Re­gard­less of what ide­o­log­i­cal tensions did or did not ex­ist in the early pe­riod of Quad­rant, it was widely seen as a pub­li­ca­tion of in­tel­lec­tual weight and a fair de­gree of plu­ral­ism, al­though it nar­rowed and be­came some­what more par­ti­san un­der its next edi­tor, Peter Cole­man.

Fast for­ward to 1987 and the fall of the Ber­lin Wall, the end of Soviet com­mu­nism and Quad­rant’s orig­i­nal rai­son d’être.

“Robert Manne took over as edi­tor on the day the wall came down, in 1989,” says Do­minic Kelly, a po­lit­i­cal his­to­rian at La Trobe Univer­sity. “He im­me­di­ately knew the times had changed and the magazine needed to be about more than fight­ing the Cold War. He tried to broaden the de­bate. This caused some is­sues.”

That’s putting it mildly. There was a power strug­gle that played out over a decade, as Manne, a bona fide in­tel­lec­tual, at­tempted to re­sist a harder, nas­tier new con­ser­vatism driven by the likes of Ray Evans and Hugh Mor­gan.

“Mor­gan’s Western Min­ing was heav­ily fund­ing it at that point,” says Kelly.

Manne ul­ti­mately lost the bat­tles. In a long piece pub­lished in the De­cem­ber 1997 edi­tion of the magazine, he sought to ex­plain “with as much ob­jec­tiv­ity as I can muster” the rea­sons for his res­ig­na­tion from the ed­i­tor­ship. He lamented that he had been un­able to re­verse Quad­rant’s de­cline from be­ing the “volatile, lively, ar­gu­men­ta­tive, di­verse” pub­li­ca­tion of its early years into one that, by the 1980s, too of­ten fea­tured ar­ti­cles “of thought­lessly re­flex­ive anti-left­ism, of­ten writ­ten in bit­ter and sneer­ing tone”.

He was driven out, he sug­gested, be­cause he would not turn Quad­rant into an “Aus­tralian Thatcherit­e magazine, so­cially con­ser­va­tive and eco­nom­i­cally dry”. Manne lamented what he called the “new pol­i­tics of race”, the new right’s hos­til­ity to Mabo and Wik, its dis­mis­sive re­sponse to the Stolen Gen­er­a­tions, its dal­liance with Han­son­ism. He could no longer stom­ach the “vis­ceral anger” di­rected at him.

The next edi­tion of Quad­rant fea­tured an even longer piece by the in­com­ing edi­tor, P.P. (“Paddy”) McGuin­ness. It was ti­tled “The Fu­ture for Quad­rant” and, as Kelly notes, “was open in its con­tempt for the magazine un­der Manne”.

McGuin­ness’s piece held that in or­der to re­claim its place as a “lead­ing magazine of ideas”, Quad­rant “must slough off the stul­ti­fy­ing medi­ocrity and con­formism which has dom­i­nated Aus­tralia’s me­dia, its lit­tle mag­a­zines, and its uni­ver­si­ties for the last decade”.

It must, he said, “throw off the mawk­ish sen­ti­men­tal­ity which has be­come preva­lent on a num­ber of pol­icy is­sues, most im­por­tantly on Abo­rig­i­nal is­sues”.

The new edi­tor’s di­rec­tion state­ment ran to sev­eral thou­sand com­bat­ive words. As Kelly fairly sum­marises: “His first man­i­festo about what he would do with the magazine was es­sen­tially ‘Cul­ture War, let’s go’.”

And other cul­ture war­riors were loud in their ap­pre­ci­a­tion. In 2006, when Quad­rant turned 50, Prime Min­is­ter John Howard paid ex­trav­a­gant tribute.

“It’s no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that Quad­rant has been Aus­tralia’s home to all that is worth pre­serv­ing in that Western cul­tural tra­di­tion,” he said.

He sin­gled out McGuin­ness for “spe­cial praise”, and lauded the magazine for cham­pi­oning causes “close to my heart”, of which “none is more im­por­tant than the role it has played as coun­ter­force to the black arm­band view of Aus­tralian his­tory”.

Martin Kry­gier put it rather dif­fer­ently and vastly more el­e­gantly in his Monthly piece: “Where Quad­rant once ap­pre­ci­ated the com­plex­ity and va­ri­ety of mo­tives, op­tions and choices, ex­hib­ited cu­rios­ity and even oc­ca­sional

MOST PEO­PLE WOULD NEVER HAVE HEARD OF FRANKLIN BE­FORE THIS LAT­EST IN­CI­DENT. BUT HE HAS A LONG HIS­TORY OF FLORIDLY OF­FEN­SIVE COM­MEN­TARY.

puz­zle­ment, raised the tone and en­riched the vo­cab­u­lary of de­bate, its cen­tral role now is as rad­i­cal vul­gariser and sim­pli­fier. In par­tic­u­lar, its en­er­gies are di­rected to com­pos­ing an en­emy, against which it and its al­lies can flaunt their fear­less con­trar­i­an­ism.”

And that was back in 2006, be­fore Keith Wind­schut­tle took the magazine even fur­ther to the right, be­fore Howard ap­pointed him to the board of the ABC, and be­fore Roger Franklin and Quad­rant On­line.

Most peo­ple would never have heard of Franklin be­fore this lat­est in­ci­dent.

But he has a long his­tory of floridly of­fen­sive com­men­tary. In Franklin’s world, Aus­tralia’s race dis­crim­i­na­tion com­mis­sioner Tim Sout­phom­masane is a “race pimp and sinecured La­bor hack”. The Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion is a bunch of “tax­payer-funded thugs”.

There are in­nu­mer­able ex­am­ples, but per­haps the com­ment that best de­fines him was his Twit­ter trolling of Rosie Batty, whose son was killed by her es­tranged hus­band, and who was later made Aus­tralian of the Year for her tire­less work against do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

“If I dis­re­gard a pro­tec­tion or­der I sought and my son dies as a re­sult, can I be Aus­tralian of the Year too?” Franklin tweeted on Aus­tralia Day 2015.

And yet it was not un­til he sug­gested the ABC should be blown up that the right – both politi­cians and the Mur­doch press – re­alised the ne­ces­sity of putting a lit­tle dis­tance be­tween them­selves and Quad­rant.

Where Quad­rant’s money comes from now is un­cer­tain. Quad­rant On­line lists about 100 spon­sors by name and also ac­knowl­edges 40 other anony­mous sup­port­ers. Un­til last year, it re­ceived fund­ing from the Aus­tralia Coun­cil for the Arts. When that was cut off in

May, Wind­schut­tle, usu­ally an ad­vo­cate of re­duced gov­ern­ment hand­outs, com­plained bit­terly. He noted other small jour­nals – Over­land, Aus­tralian Book Review and Grif­fith Review – had re­ceived grants. It was, he said, “a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion de­signed to de­value our rep­u­ta­tion and demon­strate that the Left re­mains in con­trol of the arts”.

The Satur­day Paper made nu­mer­ous at­tempts this week, by phone and email, to con­tact Franklin and Wind­schut­tle, but re­ceived no re­sponse. We also sought com­ment from Martin Kry­gier, whose fa­ther started the magazine 61 years ago, on its sad de­cline into an­gry ex­trem­ism. He de­clined to com­ment, be­cause he can no longer bear to read it.

Which may ac­tu­ally be the best

• re­sponse.

MIKE SEC­COMBE is The Satur­day Paper’s na­tional cor­re­spon­dent.

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