Halfway Under the Bus Already

Mel Greig and Michael Christian should dry their eyes and question why they are out front taking all the blame. They are being paraded around the Australian media as if their remorse tells us something new. One of the radio execs who set up the situation is crawling out from under cover…

“First and foremost we would like to express our deep and sincere condolences to the family … for their loss. We are very sorry for what has happened,” Rhys Holleran, the network’s chief executive officer, said in Monday’s statement.

“We don’t claim to be perfect and we always strive to do better. We have initiated a detailed and rigorous review of our policies and procedures to inform any improvements we can make.”

Greig and Christian also apologized in interviews with the Australian TV shows “A Current Affair” and “Today Tonight” on Monday.

I hope that Greig and Christian really are getting some wise counseling. They didn’t ‘make’ Jacintha Saldanha commit suicide. What they did was awful, likely a push over the edge, but her despair had to have had other factors beyond their knowledge or control.

Their tears will get old pretty fast, they are damaged goods, their show is cancelled. If they are lucky they will be paid off before being discarded. They really should look for a real job.

What are some lessons from this?

1. Even if someone is famous, it’s not okay to hound them when they are sick in the hospital. ‘Celebrities’ are human beings.
2. Don’t go after ‘civilians’. Your listeners are civilians.
3. Tricking a civilian into failing at their job and publicizing the results is cruel.
4. There’s a whole world outside the publicity machine. Some places you shouldn’t trespass.

Will anything change? No.

Grieg and Christian were set up by their radio station, by well-paid execs whose privacy is secure. The higher-ups knew that this stunt was appalling, but they wanted the ratings. And when it went bad, two replaceable young people are weeping on camera. I hope they will get over feeling sorry and take a look at how all this happened.

Possibly they will get other jobs doing meaner stunts. Australian radio is heavily interconnected, monopolized and Murdoch-influenced. There’s no such thing as ‘bad’ publicity.

Possibly they will look at their situation and question how they got there in the first place. I hope they will. I hope they will neither double down on callousness or personalize the blame, but look at the media environment they help create.

UPDATE: Southern Cross Austereo is tossing a tip to the bereaved family of Jacintha Saldanha– the rest of this month’s advertising profits. I don’t know how that will play. It looks like part of what Southern Cross hopes to achieve is to placate its advertisers by conflating their profits with some kind of fundraiser for the bereaved family.

Meanwhile, Southern Cross Austereo said Tuesday it was bringing back advertising to the station after it was temporarily yanked over the weekend. The station said it would donate profits for a fund to help Saldanha’s family.

They want to collect a minimum of $500,000 in Australia, or the U.S. equivalent of almost $524,000.

So, if no one got hurt, and the station had nothing to do with it, why the payoff? It’s smart advertising. The advertisers come back under the sanctity of a fundraiser, and stay on for business as usual. Will it work? Depends on whether there are competing shows that offer good ad placement without the controversy. In the US, Rush Limbaugh seems to have permanently lost points for his rant against Sandra Fluke. That was supposed to be over in 15 minutes, but some people you cross, they don’t forget.

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