Culture

The Australian Ran A Photo Of Larissa Waters’ Young Daughter This Morning Because Journalism Or Something

Well, this is a bit gross.

A couple of days ago Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters attracted the ire of jowly old bastards everywhere when she urged retailers to think more carefully about how they market products to kids leading up to Christmas — so much so that she wound up on the front page of the Daily Telegraph dressed as Hippie Barbie because she hates Christmas or something.

It was another mildly depressing instance of well-paid, influential people consciously deciding to pretend not to understand someone’s argument so they can have a go at them (because that seems to be something that dictates newspaper front pages in this country), but it seemed like the kind of thing that would clog up everyone’s Facebook feeds for a day before promptly being forgotten about like it deserves.

As it turns out, nup. Nup nup nup. Someone over at The Australian decided they weren’t done with the story just yet, and managed to earn achievements like Insanely Crappy Journalism, Inadvertantly Proving Your Opponent’s Point, Creeping Out Everyone In A Hundred-Mile Radius and Just Being Generally Revolting along the way. The article in question is called “Senator Larissa Waters’ Girl Dares To Wear Pink“, and it’s absolutely as gross as it sounds.

“Greens senator Larissa ­Waters may have declared war on toys that set ‘strong gender stereotypes’, but has let her daughter dress in a princess outfit with pink trim,” reads the first line of the “article” by Australian reporter Christian Kerr. How’s that for some top-notch investigative journalism, hey. “Little Girl Wears Princess Outfit”. Get this man a Walkley, stat.

In the next sentence, Kerr reveals the courageous digging he did to uncover that Hot Scoop: “A photo on her Facebook page shows her daughter dressed the way so many little girls have always loved to dress”. He even helpfully included the photo in the article, complete with a little black bar over the eyes. The Senator did not give permission for the photo to be used and communicated that both directly and through her lawyer.

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There are so many things wrong with this it’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s start with the obvious: how old is that kid? Like, six? Five? How is she fair game? How do you get to a point in your professional career where you use photos of someone’s young kids to get one up on them? That’d be like having digs at someone’s sexuality or medical condition, purely because you don’t like them and you want to see them in pain. There’s no law against it; it’s just commonly expected decent behaviour.

If I were Waters (or any parent, really), I’d be a little weirded out at the thought of a middle-aged dude trawling through Facebook photos of my primary-school age daughter, let alone looking for one he could screengrab and write an article about, but Kerr and The Australian’s editorial team somehow missed the memo on how that’s a fundamentally gross and creepy thing to do.

It’s doubly weird, because usually The Australian considers the privacy of politician’s kids to be of paramount importance; they were pretty Won’t Someone Think Of The Children when they sympathetically interviewed Tony Abbott’s adult daughter Frances last month, reporting that she “was trying to move on with her life” after the whole $68,000-scholarship-for-no-reason thing, and that she had “forgiven” whistleblower Freya Newman. Good thing the public interest in knowing what Larissa Waters’ little kid wears to birthday parties is so obviously more apparent than asking questions of a scholarship essentially gifted to the Prime Minister’s adult daughter. Otherwise the Oz’s dichotomy in its reporting on those two things would seem a bit off.

On another note, can you imagine if this happened to a male politician’s kid? You can’t, really, can you? That’s because it probably wouldn’t; Tanya Plibersek’s young kids were seen as a “barrier” to her potentially taking the Labor leadership, while Bill Shorten having young kids of his own didn’t bat an eye. It’s almost as though we hold men and women to arbitrarily different standards that get in the way of people being able to do as they please; like, say, a four-year-old girl not being allowed to play with a toy truck because it’s a “boy’s toy”. A kid choosing to dress up like a princess is a bit different from telling that kid they can or can’t wear something based on arbitrary gender roles pushed by a marketing company to sell stuff. If only someone had pointed all this out earlier!

Kerr himself has been outed for pretty dodgy journalism before; in June Media Watch detailed how he turned a lie-riddled press release into an article claiming that plain packaging laws were increasing smoking rates — a pretty weird thing to do until you consider that the Institute for Public Affairs, for whom Kerr regularly writes, sources part of its funding from the tobacco industry.

Given that, maybe his behaviour this time around isn’t that surprising. On the other hand — yes, yes it is, because this is a revolting thing to do. Someone’s kids shouldn’t be used to score points in some juvenile game, especially over a non-event like this.