What kind of human being uses a recently-bereaved person’s dead father as a scoring point in a private conversation, let alone a public speech?
Alan Jones’ latest outburst, in which he called Prime Minister Julia Gillard a political liar and said her father had died of shame as a result, has many calling for his head – but it’s only the latest in a series of grandiose, offensive rants.
Looking at elements of his CV, Alan Jones had all the potential of being a gay hero in the league of Sir Michael Kirby: speech-writer for Malcolm Fraser, a Liberal prime minister in the days when the word still meant something; champion Wallabies coach…what went wrong?
In author Chris Masters’ 2006 biography Jonestown, he seems to reach the conclusion that the answer is Jones himself:
Jones’s apparent self-belief that, on the one hand, he is damaged and, on the other hand, special, goes a long way to explaining an unusual personality. It informs consistently curious behaviour, his private self frequently intruding on the public self.
Despite frequently vomitings of bigotry, Jones has been oddly known over the years to be sympathetic towards people with experience of mental illness. Perhaps this is because he knows what it feels like.
Unfortunately, if this is true, he has taken the low road of no responsibility for the manifestations of his disorder, which has all the hallmarks of a narcissitic personality.
His career as a boarding school teacher in the 1970s was marked by strong attachments to his students, including love letters preoccupied with fantasies of ideal love:
The innocent explanation was that Jones’s letters were Byronesque exhortations of love and inspiration. Jones has spoken of his belief that males should not feel ashamed of expressing love for one another. “You mean so much to me,” one boy remembers him saying when Jones drove him home. The English teacher often made a feature of his sensitivity, telling boys he was too affected by human suffering to teach history.
There is a gulf of difference between feeling comfortable about hugging or even kissing your best mate in public, and writing sweet nothings to him late at night.
According to Masters’ book, his attachments to other students also resulted in rageful reactions when criticised or challenged, and a need for constant admiration and attention. As a coach, one of his protégés eventually cracked under the strain:
In his final year Scott Walker collapsed. The burden of training and studying and dealing with Alan had become too much. His relationship with Jones worsened when Scott became serious about a girl. Jones was splenetic, accusing his protege of wasting his time and his talent.
A jealous Jones kept up the sniping, pressuring Scott to advance his athletics training, imposing the same “excessive demands” he had earlier opposed. Walker said some of the unhappiest moments of his entire life were when Jones openly ridiculed him on the football field. “We do not have a team, we have 14 players plus one,” Alan spat, glaring at Scott.
His lowest point came with a now-infamous public decency arrest in a London toilet, way back in the late 1980s. At the time, his radio colleagues were concerned for his personal safety:
The concern about suicide was more keenly felt a world away at 2UE. Alan Jones’s broadcasting colleague John Laws telephoned to offer comfort. Laws recalls Jones was so distressed he spoke about wanting to jump out the window. Station boss Nigel Milan was worried. John Brennan [the station's sport director] was put on the case, strings began to be pulled and, in the busy pre-Christmas period, airline seats found. Passengers were offloaded as Brennan, John Fordham [promoter] and Ross Turnbull [Australian Rugby Union and Liberal Party figure] found space on that afternoon’s QF1 to London.
The string-pulling continued, and charges against Jones were dropped after he enlisted the help of novelist Jeffrey Archer. He plead not guilty to the charges, and in another example of a narcisstic personality, seemed to have unreasonable expectations of favourable treatment. Getting that favourable treatment only seemed to reinforce his god complex. As Masters points out:
There was no need to confess to wrongdoing. It is not, nor should it be, a crime to be homosexual. It is not a sin to have your penis out in a public toilet. But having easily defeated the criminal charges, Jones sought to defeat common sense as well, by asking the rest of the world to join him in his denial.
Taking advantage of other people to achieve his goals, disregarding the feelings of others, relentless pursuing of self-interest (see ‘cash for comment’ scandal), lack of empathy…all of these have punctuated the last two decades of Jones’ career, during which his ratings have continued to soar.
His recent cold-hearted insult to the Prime Minister’s family pale in comparison to his fanning of the flames of racist hatred on-air during the 2005 Cronulla riots, for which he was found guilty of broadcasting material “likely to encourage violence or brutality and to vilify people of Lebanese and Middle-Eastern backgrounds on the basis of ethnicity” by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
Broadcasting authorities have incredibly high thresholds when it comes to censuring opinion in the media, but this ruling did nothing to remove Jones from the airwaves. Neither did a decision by the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal which found both Jones and his station 2GB guilty of racial vilification over the incident:
His comments about “Lebanese males in their vast numbers” hating Australia and raping, pillaging and plundering the country, about a “national security” crisis, and about the undermining of Australian culture by “vermin” were reckless hyperbole calculated to agitate and excite his audience without providing them with much in the way of solid information.
It is extremely difficult to feel pity for someone with such a laundry list of pathological behaviour. But somewhere along the line, responsibility has to be taken. And if Jones won’t seek help, then someone else must force him to.