According to Buzzf… I mean News.com.au – sorry, for some reason I often make that mistake lately – The Project host Waleed Aly has been nailing it so much, he must have by now put together a sturdy little cabin in the woods. Step back, however, away from all the hype and you might just see that all he has created instead is a typical trendy soft-left house of cards, and I don’t mean it in a good Netflix TV series sense either. The emperor of pop panel shows might have plenty of nails but he has no clothes.
Aly’s rather meteoric rise to mainstream fame from a sometime Fairfax columnist and an ABC radio host to a Golden Logie-winning Channel 10 primetime star at least in part owes to the hard and persistent work of what I call “breathless subbies”. Again, these are not submissives into erotic asphyxiation but journalistic denizens of News.com.au, who not only feature Aly in a prime webpage position at least once a week but do so in a tone more properly reserved for the Second Coming (of Mahdi in this case). So much for the evil right-wing Murdoch news machine.
According to the subbies, Aly has been a veritable battering ram of common sense crushing through stale old pieties, becoming in the process “the” voice of our country. He has variously been “nailing [it]”, “slamming”, “demolishing”, “skewering”, “hitting out”, “making Australia stop and listen” and even “giving the speech that the Prime Minister should have” (the last one courtesy of the ABC overenthusiasm brigade).
You would expect a talking head so fated to be a fearless iconoclast and a ruthless slayer of sacred cows, whose verbal pyrotechnics hold the country spell-bound and whose clever turn of the phrase would have made H L Mencken weep with envy. But then you would be disappointed.
Aly is not a journalistic messiah; he’s not a very naughty boy either – he’s merely a one-man ABC/Fairfax/your-local-trendy-espresso-bar echo chamber, but with an added bonus of a top timeslot on a commercial TV channel. His targets tend to be the lowest hanging fruits. His opinions are all respectable inner city mainstream. He never says anything remotely controversial or out of the (in this case non-)left field. If you follow ABC talk-back, Q&A and the “Age” opinion pages you can guess with uncanny accuracy what Aly will nail next and how he’ll nail it.
In his latest editorial, according to News.com.au’s Matt Young, “Waleed Aly has demolished Donald Trump and called him out for sexual assault in a scathing editorial which condemned the Republican presidential nominee.” That was a courageous and unexpected (unexpectedly courageous?) “unapologetic smackdown” and an “impassioned plea” that put Aly squarely at odds with the populist wing of the Republican Party base and pretty much no one else in the entire world.
Prior to once and for all demolishing Donald Trump (earning Aly, no doubt, the eternal gratitude of Hillary Clinton and her sexual predator and rapist husband Bill), Waleed “has taken a stand against the local milk crisis and, in his ‘greatest call to arms’, urged Australian’s to ‘eat more cheese’. He has courageously declared Sonia Kruger to be “not evil” (there goes Kruger’s place as a dictionary illustration next to Hitler and Charles Manson) but merely scared and ignorant. He has said that “‘Black Lives Matter’ overseas, but Australia is ‘not at a point where we can fully accept that’,” claiming that Australia still has defacto death penalty for Indigenous people dying in custody. He has “unleashed on Australia’s politicians and Muslim leaders who have preached ‘hate’ in the wake of the Paris attacks saying their actions actually help Islamic State rather than defeat them”, pronouncing ISIS to be “weak”, which will no doubt comfort everyone in Syria and Iraq, as well as ISIS victims in Europe. But he’s not all politics; being a man for all seasons – “When Waleed Aly speaks, people listen” – “he also knows his sport” and “had an insightful point to make”. And he “nailed” a Prince cover on his guitar too (“Is there anything Waleed Aly can’t do?”).
If Aly’s wisdom is starting to sound repetitive, and the adulation bordering on patronising, it’s because it probably is. One suspects that the latter is one part a relief at having found a telegenic, well-spoken public face of moderate Islam whose past for once doesn’t harbour forgotten YouTube videos about the evils of homosexuality and Jewishness, and one part a more general rejoicing that “one of us” (doctors’ husbands) has successfully broke out of the ABC/Fairfax ghetto and won acclaim in the rough and tumble world of commercial TV, which is watched by “the people”, some of who even (G-d help us) vote for the… Sorry, I can’t bring myself to say it… OK, deep breath… Coalition. And so there he is, on our screens, the trendy left’s walking and talking Muslim talisman against real debate; half-shield, half-sword of the ruling intellectual establishment, which somehow still thinks itself embattled and transgressive; the patron saint of the progressive boilerplate wanting to pass for both vox populi and vox Dei.
What, then, does that make me? A grumpy and humourless git at best, but more likely a racist and Islamophobic reactionary. One, moreover, who’s also probably jealous of Aly’s fame and success. After all, what would you expect from another middle class white male, even if he is a migrant? (points deducted for the Euro background and for having flown here) Let’s face it, what are the chances of me ever nailing it?
Arthur Chrenkoff blogs at The Daily Chrenk where this piece also appears