Lies, Damn Lies, and Cashing in on Labels That Don’t Quite Fit

In the past few days I’ve read more words written about Melinda Tankard Reist than any human should be forced to endure in their lifetime. I have been water-boarded with inanity as article after blog post after tweet clarted down from the rank ether of God’s irritable colon. It’s not that the subject matter is aesthetically repugnant to me, although Dancing Baby Jesus knows that it is.  It’s just that to my addled and admittedly twisted brain they have – almost to a letter – spectacularly missed the fucking point.

By now we all know the story. Sunday Herald article blows smoke up the pencil sharpening cloaca of Australia’s self-appointed queen of the fun harpies. Dr Jennifer Wilson asks a couple of sensible and pertinent questions of the author of said piece, who responds (maturely, and to her credit) by agreeing that she had made an oversight in her article, but one made on the assumption that everybody already knows her subject is a God-molesting wingnut. The Tankard (props to Fiona Patten for the nickname) does what she does best and threatens legal action for defamation. Online world completely embraces its true essence.

What followed was kind of like one of those unpalatable scenes from a Japanese home production where everyone wants to land their wad of perceived wisdom on the stars of the show. It’s a free speech issue. Wait, it’s a feminist issue. No, hang on, it’s all about religion. Or Censorship. Or Bratz dolls. Or something. I’m not saying that these aren’t all factors, or valid points of discussion. I’m saying that these are peripheral to the real meat of the issue, the reason Wilson was right to ask what she did, and the Tankard responded so disproportionately.


Let’s just clarify a small point. This poor victim of scurrilous enquiries into her motivation has gone to great lengths to ensure she is portrayed as a ‘campaigner’ for female rights. Ignoring the ugly dichotomy inherent in that proposition, (others have covered it much better than I could, or would wish to,) let’s just look at that word ‘campaigner’. It’s a nice, strong, positive word, emoting visions of some lone underdog waging the good war against the amoral establishment. It certainly sounds much better than ‘lobbyist’, which carries the sinister overtones of someone acting as a mouthpiece of the aforementioned establishment, wielding influence and cash to achieve results favourable to their employer. Melinda Tankard Reist petitions politicians to vote for or against legislative change, as suits her agenda. She browbeats and intimidates businesses into conforming to her will. As has been made apparent, she’s prepared to use legal muscle to silence criticism from the general public. She is a lobbyist.

Now I don’t personally know more than a couple of lobbyists, but I’m pretty confident it’s a job that needs a pretty healthy cashflow. It certainly takes cash to hire a high-profile legal defamation specialist, so my question is this: Who’s paying your bills, Melinda?

As for why I ask, well, that’s pretty simple. The Tankard affects me directly. She lobbies to have things banned or removed from sale. I would like to decide whether I buy a coffee mug, or a t-shirt, or watch a movie or whatever. These are my choices to make, not hers to make on my behalf. Strangely, our tastes are probably more similar than dissimilar in this regard, but I wouldn’t presume to speak for others. I’m not qualified to do so, and unless MTR is as coy with her qualifications as she is with her affiliations, neither is she. When it comes to serious issues like abortion and birth control, it is vital that the public is informed as to who’s really pulling the strings. Keep in mind she’s dealing with impressionable children who may not be able to discern that she is possibly acting in the best interests of the Kooky Guardians of the Sacred Concrete Box or some such lunatic fringe cult, as opposed to theirs.

Of course I could be entirely wrong, but be damned if I’m wrong for asking the question, or if Dr Wilson is. What I do know is that The Tankard isn’t representative of some ‘new movement’. Her ilk have been around forever, burning books and music, acting to remove our right to decide for ourselves where we draw our pleasures, or what we are allowed to view as art. They have historically come from a position of power and money – the sort of money MTR wouldn’t seem to have at her personal disposal.

The Tankard’s recalcitrance in dealing with what should be a straightforward issue is telling in itself. If she proceeds against Dr Wilson she’d better be prepared for a long fight, because I’m throwing my hat in the ring as well, and I’m more than a little confident that she’s biting off more than she can chew. Something tells me that I am only one of many, and the dyke make well be crumbling around her fingers. The big danger of the Streisand effect is not the increase in publicity. A narcissistic self-promoter craves publicity like air. The danger is that people will start turning over rocks and uncovering scurrilous activity that had hitherto evaded sunlight. Surely any true moral champion embraces the light of scrutiny? Surely.

Time will tell. The dance is on. Caveat Emptor, swingers. Where’s my waitress?



About Gibbot

Normal working Joe. Occasional musician and writer. Avid reader and political tragic. Humanist. View all posts by Gibbot

7 responses to “Lies, Damn Lies, and Cashing in on Labels That Don’t Quite Fit

  • Jennifer Wilson

    I can’t find the comments. Maybe this will lead me to them.
    BTW this post is a damn good read.

  • Matthew

    I always assumed she made her money via fees being booked as a speaker for whatever events she goes to. Judging from where she makes those speeches and presentations, I don’t know how much or even if she gets paid for that. I know she once tweeted that she makes nothing off writing for papers or the Punch or whoever. According to Spinifex they’re doing a second printing for “Big Porn Inc”, but I’ve never seen the book in any of the bookshops near me and I know it’s not in Dymocks’ catalogue. Who is buying it and where from is a mystery to me.

    So unless she raking in the money from speaking, I’m not sure what’s going on. Maybe her husband has a really well paying job? She does have Collective Shout and I think members donate to cause (not 100% about that). I’d read once that groups like the ACL run on the smell of an oily rag, but I have no idea what the reality is. It’s quite intriguing and I never thought to question this before

  • Gibbot

    Hi Jennifer. You couldn’t find them because you were the first to comment. This blog is something I do for my own amusement only, and even when I was writing more frequently, it’s never generated a lot of traffic. There’s a small core of regulars – mostly other bloggers – and it’s more common for them to share their views via twitter, where anyone can join in.

    I have to say that I’ve never attracted as much vitriol as this post has created, and it’s been quite amusing to watch some of the wrist flapping. As is usual with those who want to interfere with others’ actions, almost none have engaged me directly. Telling of their bravery and the intellectual integrity of their argument, don’t you think? I’ve read that I’m not only sexist, buy a misogynist, an Islamophobe (I once tweeted that I’d like to see all religious extremists deported – make of that what you will), and numerous other things I can’t even recall. It seems labels are a handy way of shirking a coherent view. Anyone who wanted to take the time could read back over every post I’ve ever made and point out evidence to back their claim if they could find it, but that’s too difficult, obviously.

    Matthew – thanks for the thoughtful comment. The greatest trick of lobbyists is for them to appear to be the opposite of what they really are. A classic example is the Heartland institute in the US (tied to the IPA here), which promotes itself as a science centre, when it is a PR organisation designed for the sole purpose of spreading disinformation regarding climate change. They’re incredibly successful at achieving their goal – which is muddying the waters regarding the science behind climate change and bribing politicians into supporting their cause. They are of course funded by oil and tobacco interests. Ian Plimer and Raving Lord Monckton are examples of their public face. Steve Fielding is a perfect example of their handiwork. Steve was whisked off to a junket in Washington weeks before the first (now failed) crucial vote on carbon pricing, and came back ‘convinced’ that the science was a scam.

    MTR was inside the parliamentary machine for 12 years. She knows exactly how it works and how to achieve a result. These results cost money – much more than an independent author and speaker would have at their disposal. Many more people have read John Birmingham, and he’s undoubtedly made much more from his writing, yet you don’t see him as a regular on qanda or sunrise, although he has plenty of worthwhile things to say.

    You need connections, and power, and money to get your message to a national audience. Above all though, you need a public face. When I see MTR on TV what I hear is the views of the Christian lobby movement, just re-wrapped into a more consumer friendly package. A lone campaigner just doesn’t get that sort of exposure. Ask Jennifer. She’s been campaigning for women’s rights for years.

  • 730reportland

    Nice post. Seems to me MTR is menacing Wilson to
    generate `buzz` for new book launch. Wilson`s post
    seems to ask valid questions RE the SMH article you
    linked to.

    MTR will probably not issue a `writ` as it will damage
    her lobbyist standing and causes way beyond any
    benefit gained.

    This smells like a twitdef re-run. Bullying by those who
    don`t like others activities.

  • Caitlin Prescott

    Dear Mr Gibbot,

    The National Library aims to build a comprehensive collection of Australian on-line publications by identifying and archiving online publications that meet our collecting scope and priorities. Information about PANDORA, Australia’s web archive and access to archived titles can be found on the Library’s web site.
    If you could provide an e-mail address and a contact name to discuss archiving your web site that would be greatly appreciated.

    Yours sincerely,

    Caitlin Prescott

  • Derek

    Hey look at that Gibbot, you are a national treasure!

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