Joan Didion, Alan Jones and losing the plot…


I happened to be reading Joan Didion’s Blue Nights (2011) when Alan Jones’s toxic comments to Sydney Young Liberals on Julia Gillard’s father “dying of shame” were published in, of all places, a Murdoch scandal sheet by a young Kiwi gay journo who himself seems to live under a cloud of blowflies.

He famously (in New Zealand) lost his job on gay television magazine show Queer Nation in 2003 after it was revealed he and his boyfriend had been stalking TVNZ personalities Mike Hosking and Paul Holmes.

Last year he was in trouble after it emerged he approached a student at Victoria University and asked him to lie to university officials in order to gain private information about a fellow student who had accused an ex-Labour MP, Darren Hughes, of a sex crime.

Over the years Marshall has been comprehensively done over in the New Zealand media.

He reportedly suffered from ADHD but even so had his first radio show on an Auckland community station at 14.

He was dumped after questioning whether a ratepayer-funded Asian Lantern Festival represented value for money but moved onto a talkback show where, as a fifth-former at Rangitoto College, he was again dumped for phoning the Auckland City mayor at 3am.

Quitting school, Marshall alerted the media that he was taking the college to the Privacy Commission for refusing to release his records. A job on Investigate magazine followed where he wrote about school suspensions for drug use and then he discovered paparazzi photography…

In an article that year called ”Dangerous Liaisons”, New Zealand’s Metro magazine said the website gave Kiwis their ”first taste of true, titillating tabloidism”. It featured prying pictures of Bronwyn Fitzpatrick, former All Black skipper Sean Fitzpatrick’s wife, gardening in her sarong. There was also a snap of separated father Hosking carrying a pack of nappies; and it accused then prime minister Helen Clark of something unrepeatable.

Marshall then lay low for a number of years before he started producing his ”gotcha” brand of journalism for mainstream New Zealand papers.

But last year he left town and landed a job on Rupert Murdoch’s The Sunday Telegraph….

Oh the ironies!

In Chris Masters’ biography of Alan Jones, Jonestown, the chapters on Jones’s life as a boarding master at The King’s School in Parramatta are very familiar to me. Masters writes of a boys’ Arcadia, Jones sitting up for late nights sharing dreams of success with his favourites, mentoring them and inspiring them, becoming the most important positive influence on their lives. But, Masters writes:

Perhaps the strain of maintaining a complicated pretence was, at times, too much. Jones’ emotional attachment to the boys could not give way to unambiguous physical expression. The curious romantic dance he undertook seemed to exhaust both himself and his unwitting partners.

I knew what I was reading here: the “curious romantic dance” was also our experience with Nizzo. By the end of Year 11 it had exhausted itself but the teacher’s sexual repression was only part of it. I think the bigger rupture was our change from sexually innocent boys into nasty little shits.

— Malcolm Knox on The Old Boy: Knox Grammar’s Adrian Nisbett

See also Who’s for Breakfast, Mr Jones?: Sydney’s talkback titan and his mythical power (2006) by David Salter, former Executive Producer of Media Watch.

It’s the tone that first strikes you. That slightly prissy, impatient, semi-sour way of speaking that makes his voice on radio so distinctive. Not the sleeves-rolled-up journalistic directness of Neil Mitchell, nor the deep, mahogany oiliness of super-salesman John Laws. He gallops through words, almost stumbling over his asymmetrical phrasing and peculiar patterns of emphasis. Language and the microphone have been his only real tools for twenty years, yet Alan Belford Jones – The Parrot – never seems quite comfortable.

That tone. Nagging. Insistent. Unrelenting. Even on the brink of verbal derailment he keeps signalling to his audience: ‘What I’m telling you is urgent. These words are important. You need to know this.’

It’s a voice that speaks to a dominant share of the Sydney talk-radio market every weekday morning…

Jones claims extraordinary power, and he glories in its exercise. His influence flows directly from his radio program, a punishing 5.30–10.00 am, five-days-per-week effort that attracts twice the audience of his closest talkback rivals. He commands the breakfast market in Sydney largely because he’s so very good in the role.

Veteran publisher Richard Walsh, who spent months sampling Jones every morning for the caustic ‘Psittacosis Corner’ column in the Zeitgeist Gazette, is a grudging admirer of his craft. “I’m prepared to concede one thing about Jones. He is a skilful broadcaster. It’s a slick show. He’s eloquent. It’s eloquence I don’t particularly like because he’s eloquent about things I don’t agree with – but that’s like saying the Devil has all the best tunes.” Former Media Watch host Stuart Littlemore QC is less impressed. “The amazing thing about Jones is that he’s not even a lightweight. He has no ideas of his own. His skill – his only job – is to be Alan Jones, going on with all that crazy populist nonsense.”

But it is precisely this mastery of populist nonsense that gives the Jones program its perceived power and influence. He has become amazingly adept at identifying material that can be beaten into a lather of public outrage. The bulk of his program – apart from the advertising – is now devoted to these campaigns: Jones pompously putting himself on the white charger of moral certainty and riding the tired old nag all the way to his next ratings win. It’s done with such arrogance, hyperbole and eruptions of offensive intimidation that few are brave enough to stand against the juggernaut. Out of my way! Here comes radio’s caped crusader to the rescue!…

This morning we see Alan Jones’s mischievous role in the Cronulla incidents of 2005 is back in the news.

ALAN JONES has been forced to say sorry for the second time this week after a tribunal ruled yesterday that he must apologise on air for calling Lebanese Muslims ”vermin” before the Cronulla riots seven years ago.

The setback for the besieged radio personality came as Tony Abbott stepped up his criticism of Jones’s remarks about Julia Gillard’s late father and sponsors continued to desert him…

Jones had called Sydney’s Lebanese Muslims ”vermin” who ”infest our shores” and ”rape and pillage our nation”…

Jones was secretly recorded 11 days ago telling a Sydney University Liberal Club function that Ms Gillard’s father, John, who died recently after long battle with illness, had really died of shame because of his daughter’s lies…

I can’t stand the guy’s voice, entirely a matter of personal opinion of course, so I have rarely listened to him – and having witnessed him occasionally in the flesh around the Inner West of Sydney back in the 80s and having met one of his more distinguished mates, I find even looking at him rather nauseating. However, he does have a loyal following, remarkable for a some time English teacher, admittedly very successful Rugby coach, and apparent closet case of monumental dimensions.

It quickly became obvious that the Parrot’s devotees are remaining firmly on the perch. This morning’s program was an orgy of self-righteousness, a fiesta of victimhood, an echo chamber of exculpation. On Planet Alan, Gillard can do no right and Jones can do no wrong:

“You are the only one preventing Australia from going bankrupt — God bless you Alan.”

“What these communists have done in this country is disgraceful. Keep calm and carry on.”

“All journalists tend to favour the left wing. You’re pretty much on your own so don’t give up.”

At the start of the program Jones declared he would put all callers to air — regardless of whether they supported him — as long as they remained “within the bounds of decency and acceptability”. Here’s a rundown of this morning’s show, complied with assistance from Sentia Media:

6.12: Maria calls to offer her support. She is horrified about what is happening to Australia. She is glad Jones can speak up for her and others…

And he’s my age, or maybe older. I have seen his date of birth in a range from 1941 to 1943. And that’s where Joan Didion comes in again.

In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue. This period of the blue nights does not occur in subtropical California, where I lived for much of the time I will be talking about here and where the end of daylight is fast and lost in the blaze of the dropping sun, but it does occur in New York, where I now live. You notice it first as April ends and May begins, a change in the season, not exactly a warming — in fact not at all a warming — yet suddenly summer seems near, a possibility, even a promise. You pass a window, you walk to Central Park, you find yourself swimming in the color blue: the actual light is blue, and over the course of an hour or so this blue deepens, becomes more intense even as it darkens and fades, approximates finally the blue of the glass on a clear day at Chartres, or that of the Cerenkov radiation thrown off by the fuel rods in the pools of nuclear reactors. The French called this time of day "l’heure bleue." To the English it was "the gloaming." The very word "gloaming" reverberates, echoes — the gloaming, the glimmer, the glitter, the glisten, the glamour — carrying in its consonants the images of houses shuttering, gardens darkening, grass-lined rivers slipping through the shadows. During the blue nights you think the end of day will never come. As the blue nights draw to a close (and they will, and they do) you experience an actual chill, an apprehension of illness, at the moment you first notice: the blue light is going, the days are already shortening, the summer is gone. This book is called "Blue Nights" because at the time I began it I found my mind turning increasingly to illness, to the end of promise, the dwindling of the days, the inevitability of the fading, the dying of the brightness. Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.

Because Alan Jones is in – or has passed? — his blue nights phase, is he not?  I have already noted “the daily conference with the wee folk down bottom of the garden”… 

That line is a comment on the thread following Nicholas Gruen’s post on Club Troppo today. The post is a poker-faced transcript of Alan Jones combining the time warp with climate know-nothingism – his usual position. That position was exposed with total accuracy on Media Watch recently. You will find the video has gone global. I have it embedded in the comments on We’ve just had a cool May

There is an amusing but  very incomplete alphabetical list of Alan Jones’s many errors of fact or judgement on Crikey at the moment. On the other hand it must be noted that there are also reasons to praise the man as well, as a letter writer notes in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

I wonder if Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan, Anthony Albanese or Rebecca Mifsud (Chris Bowen’s wife), who were quick to disparage Alan Jones, took the time to listen to his program yesterday morning (”Insults and chaff bags leave Jones in bad odour”, October 2)?

A gentleman from remote WA called in to pledge support. He mentioned he was struggling to get proper treatment for bowel cancer that had spread to his liver and other parts of his body. In true A. J. style, he was more interested in this man’s welfare than of sponsors or negative online comments. Details were taken off-air as Alan wanted to offer assistance.

I am a regular listener. I do not agree with everything Alan Jones says, but with hand on heart I can testify that each and every day, Alan Jones does his best to help those who don’t have a voice or an advocate.

It is a pity that his detractors do not acknowledge such generosity. No person is perfect, but the published bile confirms that his detractors don’t listen to his program and would have us believe that they are somehow better than the rest of us. They are not.

Stephen Iacono Sefton

Fair enough, but not enough.  The greatest mystery about Alan Jones is not that he has indeed used his position for good at times and can be generous. Rather it is that he has somehow gained all this influence based, in truth, on rather little except gigantic assurance and an admittedly impressive role play as Alan Jones, the Wizard of Oz. Who he really is I am not sure even he knows.

From Blue Nights: “Time passes. Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember.” But there can be no narrative when “memory” is persistently saturated with present mood. It is then that the earth shifts under your feet.

Inga Clendinnen on Blue Nights.

Looking at Alan Jones in that notorious press conference I saw a rather pathetic individual who really is getting old and may well be losing the plot, so eaten up is he with his various obsessions…

So surprisingly I didn’t sign the petition to get rid of him one way or another. His importance now is greatly exaggerated and that the Young Liberals even wanted to listen to him says more about them than about anything in the real world, or indeed about the actual achievements or faults of Julia Gillard. In fact I have been rather annoyed that much of the reaction to his bizarre and unfeeling remarks on the death of Julia Gillard’s father has inflated his significance, not to mention his self-importance.

The guy is a dick, as he always has been, and – to mix metaphors – is clearly on the cusp of irrelevance. Let him topple over into it.


My ex-student David Smith adds to my conviction that seeking to get rid of Alan Jones actually gives him oxygen: The allure of conservative victimhood.

In Australia, conservative politics is much more temperate, partly because we do not think our country is at the centre of a cosmic struggle.

Alan Jones is a mercifully rare example of someone whose politics are completely given over to self-satisfied rage. His listeners may complain incessantly about welfare cheats, but conservative politicians do not build entire election campaigns on their complaints.

The word "un-Australian" enjoyed a brief, ridiculous spell in our political vocabulary in the early 2000s but is now the sole property of Gerry Harvey.

Righteous victimhood may be enjoyable, but hopefully the Alan Jones spectacle will convince future Liberal politicians that they have nothing to gain from becoming an Australian Tea Party.