News National John Laws really is ‘irrelevant’, so don’t give him oxygen
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John Laws really is ‘irrelevant’, so don’t give him oxygen

john laws the project
John Laws thinks "a skirt on a beautiful body is a very, very feminine thing". Photo: The Project
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On my second day as a newspaper cadet in 1985 at Melbourne’s broadsheet The Herald, we fledgling journos were rounded up and given a welcoming half-time speech by one of the news executives, Neil Mitchell.

The now veteran broadcaster rolled through job expectations — don’t libel people, don’t make things up. Then he laid down the office dress code: women cadets were expected to wear dresses.

Times have changed. Or they should have. But 32 years later, John Laws confirmed this week on The Project that he demands women who work in his cave dress their “beautiful bodies” in skirts: “I love them to look feminine.”

Fellow radio host Em Rusciano called him on it, saying he’s “irrelevant, sexist, misogynistic idiot.”

Laws responded by implying she’s a nobody.

My cadet intake wasn’t as feisty as Rusciano. There was a small ripple of concern to the Herald dress code, but no challenges, and decades on, I don’t know why there wasn’t — we were educated, smart women who had landed rare, sought-after jobs.

Maybe we didn’t know better, didn’t want to rock the boat. I had just turned an unworldly 18, and didn’t have the personal power or confidence to challenge the dictates of a powerful newsroom.

My first press pass, which had its pre-printed title ‘Mr’ crossed out and ‘Miss’ manually typed in, seemed more a comedic prop than serious sexism.

I was once sent home for writing the word “menstruation” in a TV column.

And, for years, nobody complained about the repulsive staff photographer who habitually grazed reporters’ legs as he reached into the glovebox for the Melway, and asked about their sex lives.

I would be much less forgiving and compliant today, but still probably wouldn’t find the moral energy — as Rusciano did this week — to bother to have a crack at Laws for being his classic, creepy self.

Kate Halfpenny
Kate Halfpenny reflects on sexism during the early years in the newsroom.

It’s fabulous that Rusciano was totally up for a fight in a way I wasn’t when I was younger.

The thing is, the women in the Laws office might not mind having a uniform code — power to them — and Rusciano gave oxygen to a man who outed himself as a perv and has form in being icky.

He calls his wife “The Princess” and his best-selling 1970s poetry was up there in awfulness with Dr Hook’s rather rapey, A Little Bit More.

To refresh your memory, the song starts off pleasantly enough, with a romantic type promising to “rub your tired shoulders” then moves fast to him wanting to get on you.

Even “when your body’s had enough of me” he’s “going to give you a little bit more”. Yep, the doctor is in the house.

Laws, whom Bob Ellis called “the worst poet in the whole history of the entire universe”, was more harmful to the healthy psyche than body.

His works were cringeworthy random sentences, scribbled down in bars or on planes about love, loss and the whole damn thing.

There were Laws tomes on our bookshelves when I was growing up in Glen Waverley. Bored with playing the bossa nova on the Hammond organ or catching up on some Viewmaster action, I’d sometimes flip through In Love Is An Expensive Place To Die for a comedic interlude.

Even then, I knew Laws was a joke. The same prism should be held to him today. He’s entitled to have his overwrought say, then he can be slid back onto the shelf and left to gather dust.

Just don’t give him any more oxygen. Please.