Mike Carlton: rude, racist and unprofessional

Opinion from Peter Saxon

Just over a month ago radioinfo reported, and I commented, on 2GB’s sacking of Michael Smith for insulting Muslims by calling their Prophet a paedophile.

Now former high profile radio presenter Mike Carlton has decided to quit his column with Fairfax Media rather than agree to a six week suspension and a public apology for insulting a bunch of his readers, most of them Jewish.

It all stems from his regular Saturday column of July 26 – a scathing criticism of Israel for its part in the current conflict in Gaza.

Carlton’s column, in my opinion, was fair comment – not in the sense that it was fair and balanced – but fair that he had the right to state his opinion, even though it was deliberately offensive to Jews.

In a pre-emptive taunt, in case anyone dare respond with an unkindly appraisal of his work, he wrote, “There will be the customary torrent of abusive emails calling me a Nazi, an anti-Semite, a Holocaust denier, an ignoramus.  As usual they will demand my resignation, my sacking. As it’s been before, some of this will be pornographic or threatening violence.” Nothing here is criticising Israel for their actions, which is a legitimate target, but rather it attacks his Jewish readers here in Australia for having a different opinion to his.

Of course, he got exactly what he called for, so it’s a bit rich for him to claim on the ABC that he was driven to snap by the level of abuse he got. But even if no one had written in, his rebuke was already out there and going viral.

However, it was not what he had said in his column that was deemed to be anti-Semitic but the cartoon by Glen Le Lievre which accompanied it. So much so that it prompted the Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull to ring the SMH Editor Darren Goodsir and tell him so. That and the public backlash, followed by a flood of cancelled subscriptions forced a rare apology from Fairfax, published as the editorial of the day.

Up to this point Fairfax management had stood behind their columnist, the only mention of Carlton in their lengthy apology was, “Deeply critical exchanges have taken place over the opinions expressed in Mr Carlton’s column, and properly so, as we invite debate over any column we publish.”

It was what he wrote in reply to emails and tweets from several of his readers that got him into hot water. And rightly so.

In response to one of his readers Carlton wrote (you’re) “The classic example of the Jewish bigot.  Now fuck off.” There were several more such replies along those lines

As SMH Editor, Darren Goodsir observed in an excellent interview with 702 ABC’s Richard Glover, ‘If a waiter in a restaurant told a customer to “fuck off” they’d be instantly dismissed.’ In commercial media, readers and listeners are our customers. In this age of email, facebook and twitter, Mike Carlton seems to be labouring under the misapprehension that once you’ve handed in your column or come off air, that’s where your responsibility ends to both your audience and your employer. Wrong!

It doesn’t matter whether you’re at work, at home or out shopping, once you open an email or read a tweet from a customer, like it or not, you’re at work. No matter how rude those customers are to you, as Carlton protests they were, you’re being paid to be professional and even tempered. If you choose to reply, you have no right to be rude back. And unlike the waiter who can’t escape the customers confronting him or her, Carlton always had the opportunity to decline to respond. Instead he chose to be rude.

When I spoke to Stuart Bocking on his 2UE Morning show, he said that it was his job to stir up controversy and that he fully expected, in fact hoped for, lively comment in return. But no matter how lively or obnoxious it was, he would always reply politely, thanking his listener for taking the time to write in.

Worse than being rude, Carlton was  being racist, or if you prefer, anti-Semitic — an accusation he flatly denies. But writing to a customer that he was The classic example of the Jewish bigot, suggests that there’s some special attribute that being Jewish lends to bigotry.

The AFL won’t tolerate one player calling another a “black c..t.”

In the heat of a premiership match the latter is forgivable. Prefaced by the descriptor it is not. If young footballers can grasp the difference between aggressive criticism and racism, surely a man of Mike Carlton’s intellect can too.

Go here to listen to Richard Glover’s excellent interview with Mike Carlton on 702 ABC.

Peter Saxon

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