An Enormous Talent but Tremendously Flawed

When I was in year 12 writing my Extension II English major work I cited David Marr as an influence. I told my supervising teacher that I wanted to contribute to the political debate like David Marr did, but in truth I wanted to be David Marr, with a little smidgeon of Peter Roebuck. I was infatuated with this man, striding about the nation defending the underprivileged with such elegance and finesse. When I discovered a copy of Dark Victory by Marr and Marian Wilkinson I hungrily devoured over the course of a weekend, in my mind hearing the words in his distinct cultivated Australian accent. When the tragic maritime accident happened in 2011 off the coast of Flying Fish Cove I was paralysed for thought, I couldn’t formulate thoughts on the issue and waited apprehensively for Marr to break his silence and tell me what to think.

Four years have passed since I wrote my English major work and paradoxically I idolize him a lot less, even though I’m probably a lot more like him. My writing is less clunky, my views on politics more developed and my elocution has matured into a more clipped and (let’s face it) pretentious voice, even my music taste is similar (I met Marr at a Rufus Wainwright concert in 2010). As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to be less appreciative of Marr’s unrestrained partisanship. What drew my attention to him in the first place has begun to disappoint me as he continues to let his objectivity give way to his political agenda. He uses buzzwords and engages in fallacies. Unlike Philip Coorey who is in my opinion the best journalist in the press gallery at the moment, Marr draws upon evidence to support his opinion, rather than draw a conclusion from a fair minded examination of all the evidence.

On matters of asylum seekers and the arts Marr is without peer, the font of all knowledge personified, nobody can sustain an argument against him on these fronts but after a good thirty years in the press gallery he no longer contains his strident remarks to matters of his speciality. Through his limited knowledge of the subject matter I’ve seen Marr run with fallacies when discussing economics, psychology and statistics to disappointing effect. Of course when cloaked in his elegant prose he can get away with more often than most but this isn’t about preserving his iconic image, it is about his role as a journalist in providing information which the public can rely upon.

I am saddened to say that with time he has also shifted towards the tabloid end of the spectrum. What was the point of his public debate with Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby? Did anyone in their right mind expect that to be a constructive dialogue? By all accounts it was an embarrassing affair, two stuffy old men deliberately misinterpreting the other and hacking to bits strawmen of their own creation. I expect this of Wallace, he is a dogmatist and an intellectual lightweight but it was significantly below Marr, as were many of his atheistic diatribes. In fact it was with regard to atheism that we saw the worst of Marr. It was not surprising that he was disdainful of religion, the church has spent the better part of three centuries persecuting men of his sexual persuasion and continues to do so, he did not choose the fight, he has merely retaliated in a proportionately gentle fashion. But it would have made him a better social commentator if he could overcome the blinkered vision as his close friend and fellow homosexual, Justice Michael Kirby has done. The grace and tolerance of Justice Kirby knows no bounds and he is rightly revered by compassionate people of nearly all political persuasions. He proudly marries his homosexuality with his religiousness and using his legendary gifts of argument and persuasion, makes the case that same sex love is entirely compatible with Christ’s message. I would not expect Marr to become a Christian merely to advance a political cause, I respect his atheism, I do not respect Marr’s deliberate attempts to further polarize relation between the religious and the homosexual communities. Yet in seeking out a debate with Jim Wallace instead of ignoring him for the irrelevant fringe lunatic that he is, Marr sought to frame the debate as “religious folk versus egalitarians.” If Marr wanted to debate a religious figure there were no shortage of articulate, reasonable, urbane religious folk out there whom he could have had a constructive dialogue with. Why not debate Waleed Ali for example? Or Frank Brennan? Or Bob Macguire?

Marr has stated he plans to exclusively write books instead of newspaper columns from now on. This would be more compatible with his conversion from reporter to advocate, and with the luxury of elaborate explanation his books have tended to be more complete and less prone to the fallacy. Nonetheless it is a shame that in his final years as a print journalist we did not see more of the succinct, objective reporting that Marr is so very capa

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