“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Evelyn Beatrice Hall (paraphrasing Voltaire)
“He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
“Fair go mate”
Every Australian stereotype ever
Last Tuesday, Yumi Stynes said something stupid. But I ask you, haven’t we all?
During a conversation regarding Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, she saw a photograph of him in a swimming pool and responded with an offhand, ill-conceived quip. To make matters worse, she then tried to be funny again by bouncing off a similarly daft throw away comment by George Negus. The result was without doubt offensive and thoughtless.
If this conversation had occurred in a pub, a cafe or around a kitchen table, she’d have been shouted down by friends, or just ignored, and the conversation would have moved on. It didn’t though. It was on national television. So Stynes has rightly been taken to task, apologised both to the viewers of the show and personally to Corporal Roberts-Smith, who has graciously accepted.
Because it was in public, because she is a public figure, those offended by the comments were far more than even just those watching. Those associated with the military or brave actions. Those who decry men who objectify photos of scantily clad women. They all had a right to feel insulted by this. The incident should not have been swept under the carpet. It hasn’t been. The media reporting has been rightly long and loud.
However, the incident should not be taken out of context either. I have worked on a show very similar to The Circle. A live daytime television show, where ratings are small and the competition fierce, where the point of difference between your show and a hundred other voices is the personality you inject into it.
The subjects for consideration on a daily, live show like this are decided that same morning. They are usually not even discussed between the hosts before going to air, in order to keep the conversation dynamic and energised. Almost certainly the producers didn’t know what Yumi was going to say. The other hosts and guests didn’t know what Yumi was going to say. In all likelihood Yumi didn’t know what Yumi was going to say until those fateful words came tumbling out of her mouth.
The philosophy repeated behind the scenes on The Circle is simply "be yourself". The idea presented by the set, the couch, the very name is that this is a group of friends sitting around a table discussing the news. Not presenting it. The circle of friends is completed by the camera, the viewer at home. Yumi is not a spokesperson for a cause, this was not a prepared statement. This is not the latest in a campaign of slurs or a litany of intentionally provocative statements. It was not malicious. This was a one-off stupid statement, said by someone who relaxed to the point of thoughtlessness.
It’s been a week. The incident has been rightly reported. It has been graciously forgiven, and it should not be forgotten. But it should not be wilfully misinterpreted by those seeking a target, an excuse or a bandwagon.
The hate and vitriol that is now being aimed at Stynes, at her co-hosts, the show’s guests, the network and worst of all Stynes's family is pre-meditated, it is prepared, it is malicious. These attacks detract from the nobility of the very man they seek to defend.
"I have now put this matter behind me so I can focus on serving my country," said Corporal Roberts-Smith.
If he can, so should we. Enough.
Giles Hardie is smh.com.au entertainment editor