It's a tale we've covered too often before: a bright young star with the right blood-lines on the up-and-up and a beautiful soapie actress, in love and the society pages. Then the break up, followed by allegations of violence and intimidation. A court case ensues, but he's already been dropped by his employer. Shunned by his industry, the tabloids turns against him and headlines scream of favouritism. His convictions are overturned, but too late: his career is in tatters, contracts torn up and the bright young star is snuffed out.
Hang-on - we're not talking about a footballer, are we? No, of course not. We're talking about radio host and TV personality Matthew Newton and his break-up with actress Brooke Satchwell. In this article, the contrast between how his case has been handled and the many similar incidents involving high-profile footballers is thrown into sharp relief, showing up the Australian media - and by extension, all of us - as the hypocritical meat-puppets we are.
The facts of the Matthew Newton case are pretty well-established: the son of entertainment royalty Patti and Bert Newton, he was following in their footsteps and had a six-year relationship with Brooke Satchwell. The wheels fell off and in September and October last year he was alleged to have attacked her, striking her and making threats. As a result, he was arrested and charged with (among offences) intimidation and assault occasioning actual bodily harm. He denied the charges. They were later reduced and he pleaded guilty to the one count of common assault. He was put on a good behaviour bond but convicted. He appealed the conviction and it was overturned in July, 2007.
Clearly, this is highly-unsavoury behaviour and he deserves to be both roundly and publicly condemned, as well as dealt with by the courts. Further, his career has suffered immeasurably, well before any court proceedings started:
After an impressive test run last summer, Newton signed a five-figure contract to broadcast Nova's drive shift into Melbourne and Sydney with comedian Akmal Saleh. The ink was still damp when news of Newton's assault charges hit the press in both cities.
Newton's contract was torn up the day after the story broke - just hours before his first drive shift. (The Age, 24/7/2007)
(The "five-figure sum" is reported as up to $200,000 - considerably below the average AFL salary.) Even the headlines - led by the raucous and salacious Murdoch-owned Daily Telegraph - were hysterical and shrill:
VIP Justice - Courts smile on stars in trouble
— The Daily Telegraph, 18th July, 2007
Judge quashes conviction of star for assault.
— The Newcastle Herald, 18th July, 2007
Fury as Newton cleared
— Herald Sun, 18th July, 2007 (Media Watch, 23/7/2007)
We could add to that The Hun's "Betraying the victims of domestic violence" (Herald-Sun, 21/7/2007). Also, check out the Media Watch link to see what Sydney's notorious shock-jock culture made of all this. It's not pretty.
What's driving this? Let's take it as read that tabloid editors are rewarded by their ability to pander to the lowest common denominator and flatter our prejudices. Let's note that they are extremely wealthy men, and so presumably competent in this regard. They are merely giving us - the Great Unwashed - what we want. You don't get to be a populist hate-monger by ignoring petitions like these.
Nova radio's general manager, Sam Thompson, explained that "it's not up to me. It's up to our listeners. And they have spoken loud and clear." She refers to "the avalanche of calls and emails from listeners calling for Newton's scalp" and says Nova listeners will "guide her decisions".
Now, here's my point: where were the tabloid editors, "responsible employers", outraged public and petition-makers when Collingwood's Ben Johnson put a young man in hospital with head injuries? This guy was in intensive care as a result of the severe bashing Johnson inflicted. Johnson too was let off without conviction.
What about when Brodie Holland struck a woman at a nightclub? What about when Colin Sylvia attacked his girlfriend? What about when Heath Scotland hit a woman in a nightclub's toilets? And then (allegedly) another woman in Ballarat? What about Andrew Lovett abducting and beating his girlfriend? What about Michael Voss, Fraser Gehrig and others harassing a young woman in a pub and beating up her boyfriend (only now going before the courts). What about when Jeff Farmer, well, he's just trouble.
Now, these examples are drawn from the 12 months or so since the Newton/Satchwell case broke. They all have elements in common with this case: high-profile young men, violence - or allegations of violence - against women, court cases with failure to convict. There are plenty of other bashings, rapes and attacks on record; use the menu on the right to find them.
In not one case am I aware of a footballer being dropped by his employer. (Remember when Eddie McGuire explained that Chris Tarrant and Ben Johnson "had to" play because they "owed the club"? No one said Newton "owed" Nova or its audience.) Nor have we seen salacious headlines, yet alone petitions to have the players banned. They continue to draw their massive salaries - I'd wager all players listed here "earn" more than Newton's reported $200K - uninterrupted. The only thing that would come close to the public backlash seen would be Alan Didak being booed for his foray into the world of the Hell's Angels.
We could get into conspiracy theories about how much money Rupert Murdoch makes from Channel Ten celebrities versus the footy. But there's no need; his editors are simply giving us what we demand. The real question is: why do we have double standards for our celebrities? Why are footballers allowed to get away with all sorts of violence and bad behaviour that other, comparable celebrities aren't? Why do Australians tolerate - even expect - our footballers to get away with a slap here, a punch there? Is it the physical nature of their profession? Is is only because their fanbase skews towards wife-beaters?
I don't know what the cause is, but we've long argued that AFL is the engine-room for the boganisation of Australia. Let's hope that people start buying newspapers that loudly decry and vilify the next footballer to hit a woman or cop a lenient sentence in court.
Here's some great examples of the frenzy of shame this case has generated. First, a poster "doing the rounds" about Newton and a really over-the-top blog article and comments (hey, it takes one to know one). Fair enough people are unhappy - but where's the anger for the dozens of cases of domestic violence and lenient justice dished out to football celebrities? Entirely constrained to these pages, it seems. Why is that? Why have one standard for TV folk and another for sportsmen? Can anyone explain this?
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