Homophobic beat-up by Sun-Herald’s Heath Aston

“EXCLUSIVE”, trumpets this morning’s story in Sydney’s Sun-Herald. “[NSW Liberal leader] Barry O’Farrell has his big fingers to blame for appearing to promote pornography.” Orly? “Appearing to promote pornography”? What bullshit, state political editor Heath Aston!

Here’s what seems to have happened.

On Twitter, O’Farrell apparently marked as a “favourite” a tweet by someone linking to a video of Matty Daley and Bobby Canciello (pictured), two American students who were attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss.

“Watch two boys break the record for longest kiss,” Aston reckons the video was entitled, though from the context it’s not clear whether that was the actual video title or just the text in the tweet.

That tweet was, we’re told, from someone who had previously linked to “images of male nudity and gay sex scenes”, either in tweets or in their Twitter profile. Again, we don’t know for sure because that Twitter account and O’Farrell’s favouriting have since been committed to the memory chute, and Aston hasn’t provided sources.

The user, who cannot be named for legal reasons, also posted a picture of a youth with his shirt off titled “an early teen boy completely and utterly adorable. That body is excellent.”

Aston claims O’Farrell is now “red-faced after saving a link on his Twitter account that leads to images of a shirtless under-age boy”.

Aston’s grubby little exercise in join-the-dots slander seems to work like this.

We have some random Twitter user, who themselves is presumably “under-age” because they “cannot be named for legal reasons”. Aston implies some sort of kiddie-sex link, though he doesn’t come straight out and say it. He just insinuates it by using “shirtless” to indicate nudity and “under-age” to imply that kind of wrongness — yes, that old chestnut about bare flesh automatically equating to sex, even though “shirtless under-age boy” applies to every Nippers event and every suburban swimming pool in the nation.

That this random Twitter user made a public comment about some youth being “adorable” is perhaps unfortunate, but then I’ve heard plenty of proud parents being pleased that their kids are described as “adorable”. Context is everything and I’m doubting we can trust Aston to give us an accurate context.

Now so far all of this is about that random Twitter user. It’s nothing to do with O’Farrell.

All O’Farrell did was, we’re told, mark as “favourite” this random person’s tweet that linked to the video of Daley and Canciello kissing. Boys kissing. Again this inference of under-age sexual activity. Not that a kiss is “sexual”, not that people kissing is wrong.

But wait.

“Boys” kissing?

I said that Daley and Canciello “were” attempting to break a record. Well, they succeeded. As that well-known champion of gay rights, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, reported on 27 September, “Matty Daley, 20, and Bobby Canciello, 19, are the first same-sex pair to set the longest continuous kiss record.” 32 hours, 30 minutes, 45 seconds.

Note the ages? 20 and 19. They’re adults. And indeed most news reports I’ve found refer to the duo as either “men” or “students”.

In other words, there’s precisely nothing inappropriate about their kiss. There’s nothing inappropriate about a video of their kiss. There’s nothing inappropriate about linking to a video of their kiss. Nothing.

Nor is there anything wrong about O’Farrell favouriting someone’s tweet linking to that video, even though that same person might have, in another time and place, linked to other things which are less appropriate.

But in Aston’s perverted tabloid worldview, O’Farrell’s Twitter account “leads to images” of shirtlessness — shock horror! — and “promote[s] pornography”. How, exactly?

O’Farrell is no more promoting pornography than this link to Wikipedia’s article about the Liberal Party is promoting pornography because elsewhere in Wikipedia there’s this article on gay pornography, amongst others, that links to porn studio websites where one can buy actual pornography.

Now O’Farrell says that he favourited the tweet by mistake, and perhaps he did. But quite frankly he should not have been “horrified”, as Aston reports. He should, in fact, have been proud and told Aston to get a grip. Because Daley and Canciello’s stunt was:

in support of equal rights for every individual regardless of sexual orientation or gender, with an event that is sure to show the American community, and the world, that a kiss between two men (and women) can be so simple.

After years of fighting bigotry and discrimination, it’s time to put down our words and demonstrate otherwise. When there’s nothing left to say, say it with a kiss.

Aston, I’m quite used to Fairfax beating up trivialities into supposed controversies rather than reporting on real news. But it takes a particularly low-rent species of bottom-feeder to turn a stunt conducted in the name of social equality into a homophobic attack. Very low-rent.

And Barry O’Farrell? We’ll, I don’t really blame you for being “horrified”. I’ll wager Aston didn’t ask you whether you knew you’d linked to a stunt in support of equal rights. If he had, I’m sure your response would have been, “Yes, and that’s great, isn’t it?” That would have been your response, right? No, Aston would have described it all in his own gutter-level framing, leaving you with the distinct but false impression that you’d linked to child pornography. After all, that’s his insinuation.

“Party strategists must be wondering about the potential damage of misguided tweets after a string of high-profile embarrassments,” asserts Aston without evidence, before listing a bunch of unrelated “mistakes” people have made on Twitter. But he’s right. Political strategists will worry about potential damage from random tweets taken out of context — as long as there are journalists like Heath Aston going out of their way to misrepresent the facts to further their beat-ups.

Gay men and lesbians should worry too. Aston’s emphasis on “male” nudity and “gay” sex scenes — as if that’s somehow worse — is further proof that even in 2010 Fairfax is still part of the problem.

[Photo: Anthony JV Rufolo / AJVR Photography. Supplied to media.]

4 Replies to “Homophobic beat-up by Sun-Herald’s Heath Aston”

  1. It is disgraceful journalism. Muck raking at it’s absolute worst. in fact, it’s fabrication more than journalism. We can all play how many degrees of separation.

  2. Good commentary. Even better was the arsehattery on twitter about the item.

    Did I say even better? You know what I meant.

    The stories and the twitter beat up would be funny if it weren’t so idiotic

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