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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Bright Young Star's Career Trashed

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.

*** UPDATE ***

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?

Citations: The Age, 24/7/2007; Media Watch, 23/7/2007; Herald-Sun, 21/7/2007

Word Count: 1115

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  • You know it's funny, but up until now, I always thought that the media extended this same double-standard to celebs as well as to sportsmen.

    Take Rusty Crowe and the telephone incident. Much was made of the fact that the concierge apparently mouthed the word "Whateverrr!" just before Crowe threw a telephone at him.

    And the reporting on the whole getting-pissed-and-trashing-pubs-with-Oliver-Reed thing seemed to be tacitly saying, in the same way as what we do with our sportschumps, "Boys will be boys."

    At some point the media turned.

    Maybe there's hope for them yet.

    By Blogger Dikkii, at 2:38 pm, August 02, 2007  

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  • I think the media follows the public on this. They sniff the air and decide which way to run with it. The key question is: what drives the public?

    Here's an interesting thought experiment: suppose Rove McManus got plastered in a strip club, drank with bikies, visited their headquarters and was in the car when gunplay and shootings took place.

    It's a no-brainer that the public would turn on him - with the media "leading from behind". His career would be over.

    Now, what if he'd "merely" hospitalised someone in a car-park kicking? Apart from amazement that a weedy comedian could do that, I think his career would still be finished.

    Why do different rules apply to sportsfolk? Is it that "talking" celebrities have a greater intimacy with their audience than "doing" celebrities, and therefore we are more repelled by their off-air/off-field misbehaviour? Or is it the different audiences?

    I'm really not sure. I'm hoping someone will explain it, because these insights could help me become a more effective castigator of footballers.

    Aside: I've had a couple of female subscribers cancel their subscriptions to this blog after the above post due to "02: Offensive, strongly disagree or disapprove".

    I want to be clear I'm not endorsing Matthew Newton's action or those of the appellant judge. Nor am I condmening those engaged in the public outrage. I'm just seeking to draw a valid comparison between similar incidents and understand the differences in public perception.

    By Blogger Greg, at 2:54 pm, August 02, 2007  

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  • There's one angle you haven't explored in your Rove McManus example: The media are all still feeding from the sty that is the death of Belinda Emmett.

    They could feasibly play up such a scenario into a "Poor Rove - still not over the death of the lovely Belinda" type thing.

    Hell, it helps to look like Pete Doherty a bit. He seems to get off scot free as a bit of a ragamuffin.

    By Blogger Dikkii, at 5:03 pm, August 02, 2007  

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  • My God, Dikki! Are those the thoughts a reverend should be disclosing? (Right, Very, Esteemed or otherwise.)

    Still it does raise an puzzling modern-day version of the "irresistible force/immovable object" conundrum:

    If a celebrity beats his girlfriend but she dies of cancer, is he pitied or despised?

    By Blogger Greg, at 6:09 pm, August 02, 2007  

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  • If a celebrity beats his girlfriend but she dies of cancer, is he pitied or despised?

    Rev. Al Green anyone? (Suicide, not cancer)

    Incidentally, I've decided "Your Holiness" is a bit much.

    "Your Eminence" is a bit less likely to attract attention, although "Wing Commander" sounds good too.

    Hey, the Salvos give themselves military titles.

    By Blogger Dikkii, at 12:31 pm, August 03, 2007  

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  • I understand your frustration, but I don't think it's fair to say that I don't care at all about the gross numbers of sporting 'heroes' that get let off with such heinous acts of violence towards all kinds of people.

    I focused on the Newton case for a number of reasons. Firstly, I already have a built in expectation that any sportsman is considered to be above the law in Australia when it comes to violence. I don't like it and I think we should all work together to change that, but it doesn't shock me when these people get off. I don't engage with sporting culture in Australia and I often speak out in my real life about the double standard exercised in Australian courts.

    Secondly, I was particularly annoyed about the Newton case because he didn't even make any attempt to apologise. The assumption from the judge was that he had been punished enough because he'd faced a bit of pressure from the media. I was especially angry over Bert Newton's reaction to the verdict - rather than employing some good PR tactics and emphasising what was wrong about Newton's actions, he simply celebrated his son's success at avoiding any tangible punishment whatsoever.

    On a personal note, I always liked Newton before these events. I thought he was talented and funny, and it was depressing to realise that he's actually nothing more than a violent, weak scoundrel with a penchant for taking out his frustrations on his girlfriend's face.

    You seem to have latched onto one post I've written as evidence that the nation has no interest in punishing footballs. I think it's rather more complicated than that. I write about a wide range of feminist topics, one of which is domestic violence. I also work in a women's centre that focuses heavily on DV campaigns. It's unfair and ignorant for you to suggest that my reaction to the Newton case is 'over the top' simply because you haven't read a similar post decrying footballers.

    You have a blog dedicated to keeping AFL players under the spotlight and that's great. Keep up the good work, but don't assume that just because no one else is actively expressing similar sentiments on their blogs that they aren't doing so in real life.

    By Blogger audrey, at 2:10 pm, August 06, 2007  

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  • "punishing footballs."

    Should obviously read 'footballers' ")

    By Blogger audrey, at 2:11 pm, August 06, 2007  

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  • Thanks for your comment, Audrey. I appreciate that we have to tilt at our own windmills. It's not really fair of me to single you out and ask why you've picked the ones you have.

    It still escapes me what motivates the different responses from the public, though. Why do so many people have "a built in expectation that any sportsman is considered to be above the law in Australia when it comes to violence"?

    I've had numerous apologists commenting here who quote a footballer's goal-scoring stats as an excuse for atrocious behaviour.

    I bet that hasn't happened for Matthew Newton. For some reason, it's different with sport.

    By Blogger Greg, at 9:53 pm, August 06, 2007  

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  • Don't get me wrong - I hate football culture. The only reason I have a built in expectation that they'll get away with it is because I think that Australia is largely populated by sports mad bogans that subscribe to some wack idea about what makes a 'real man'.

    Case in point - the PM and Brendan Nelson's blowing off of the army's KKK stunt. "Larrikin irreverance"? WHAT THE FUCK?

    So, I agree with YOU - I just pick different battles to get me riled up :)

    By Blogger audrey, at 11:14 pm, August 06, 2007  

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