Does the Fairfax slogan, “Independent. Always”, really mean independent of truth, reliability and knowledge? Or should my humble response to the extraordinary headline and story in the Sun-Herald of 31 December have been an admission that, even after an operatic obsession of more than 50 years, there might have been a great Australian singer whom I’d never heard of: “New Joan Sullivan theatre to hit high note”. Worse still, the story that followed then wrongly mentioned that legendary name twice. Talk about rubbing salt into wounds (not to mention the cliché of the headline, even if it were correct).
No, the truth is probably even more prosaic and dispiriting. I’d suggest that the tyro reporter had never seen the name “Joan Sutherland” written before she wrote it herself. But how could that be? Doesn’t every Australian know about – and can spell? – such names as “Don Bradman”, Ned Kelly” and Phar Lap”: even Joan Sutherland? Aren’t they part of Peter Dutton’s “Australian authenticity” test? And how could the headline writer have idly copied that reporter’s error and ignorance? Do sub-editors no longer exist at the paper? Or are they all located in Outer Mongolia? And did nobody even look at the finished page before it was sent for printing?
Let us mourn the passing of “papers of record”. What is “independence” worth if it is not reliable? It was a truly sour note. Poor fella my country!
Dr John Carmody FRSN, Discipline of Physiology and Centre for Medical Humanities, University of Sydney. Founding Convenor: “Medicine and Music”: Master of Medical Humanities program. President: Australian Catholic Historical Society.