Although the Opposition leader Tony Abbott was attempting to defend civil discourse when he referred to Grahame Morris as a “gentleman” today, it was difficult not to notice how far the label stretched from the word Morris, a Liberal strategist, used for describing ABC’s 7:30 host Leigh Sales.
This morning, Morris told ABC radio that, “Leigh can be a real cow sometimes when she is doing her interviews”.
You’d think the former chief of staff for John Howard would know better.
But then you can’t be sure of much in the world of politics and media today. Thankfully, what you can be sure of is that when a long-time Liberal strategist calls a senior female journalist a “cow”, that social media will now do its best to throw up plenty of user-generated support to show that such behavior is unacceptable.
Morris was referring to a 7:30 interview Sales did with Abbott last week when he made the comment on ABC’s 702. For those who missed it, the interview was one in which Sales used some of her best interviewing skills to grill Abbott over whether or not he’d read a BHP Billiton statement, referring to asylum seekers as ‘illegal’, the questions he’d put to Prime Minister Julia Gillard over her time at Slater & Gordon and on being “loose with the truth”, among other things.
They’re interviewing skills we’ve seen Sales use on politicians from both sides of the spectrum. And they’re skills we watch and celebrate when some of our best journalists – both male and female – use them in their political and business reporting.
They’re certainly not skills that should result in a woman being branded with an offensive and derogatory name.
Morris’ attempt at an explanation came too late to fight off the Twitter backlash. “That’s silly. It’s a phrase I have used a million times that somebody can be a real cow when they want to be. Look, I apologise,” he later told 702 when asked if he’d ever use such a word to describe a male journalist.
Perhaps Morris needs to expand his vocabulary.
He added that “Leigh can be tough” and, “that would have been a much better expression”.
When Abbott was pressed on the issue in Rockhampton, he said politicians and journalists should be treated with respect, according to News reports. “‘I think we should have, as far as is humanly possible, a civil discourse in this country and this gentleman in question has apologised.”
Sales said on Twitter that she accepts Morris’ apology. As for name-calling, she said “I’m pretty used to it,” saying the interview in question has also seen her called “shrill”.
What do you think? Are female journalists treated with respect in this country? Is putting up with name-calling just part of the job?