One of the nation’s most senior journalists was at the centre of a social media firestorm on Friday after describing Twitter users as “sewer rats”.
Chris Uhlmann, the Nine Network’s chief political editor, was widely rebuked for using the unflattering description when weighing into the debate surrounding the historic rape allegations facing Attorney-General Christian Porter.
“Top of the morning, sewer rats,” he wrote.
“Why not waste a lazy day in hysterics over this?”
His tweet linked to a column by Australian Financial Review political editor Phillip Coorey. It compared the controversy over Mr Porter to the nationwide debate about Lindy Chamberlain’s conviction for the murder of her daughter, Azaria.
“One can only imagine how even more hideous the whole episode would have been had the internet – including its sewer, Twitter – existed back then,” Coorey wrote.
(It is important to note that Mr Porter is absolutely entitled to the presumption of innocence regarding the historic allegations.)
But Uhlmann’s withering description drew a rapid response, including from other media figures.
“You’re quite a piece of work, aren’t you, champ?” wrote author and columnist John Birmingham.
Former ABC journalist Wendy Carlisle also took offence.
“I wouldn’t mind so much if you engaged with the reasoned debate about how this might have been handled in absence of police, but you haven’t,” she wrote.
“Also, I’m not a sewer rat.”
Journalist and shareholder activist Stephen Mayne (an occasional TND contributor) said Uhlmann’s description was “a bit like calling every journo a foot in door cheque-book journalism scumbag”.
“Suggest some moderation of language, although suspect you enjoy firing everyone up. Is it just sport for you?” he wrote.
The former host of ABC’s Insiders, Barrie Cassidy, also took issue.
“Twitter and social media generally gives a voice and a platform to those without the privilege of a media soap box,” he wrote.
“That does not make them sewer rats.”
Cassidy got a response of his own – from TND columnist Michael Pascoe:
Uhlmann is no stranger to social media storms. In 2019, he spurred Prime Minister Scott Morrison into rapid action with a photo of a gender-inclusive toilet sign at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, near Mr Morrison’s office at Parliament House.
He posted a photo of the sign – which encouraged federal government staff to “use the bathroom that best fits your gender identity” – to Twitter one afternoon. Within two hours, Mr Morrison had organised for its removal, describing it as “political correctness, over the top”.
But there was a more mixed response on social media, with many suggesting the sign was welcome evidence of inclusiveness and diversity at Parliament.
“Why would you draw attention to something that is simply designed to help gender-diverse people feel comfortable?” Melbourne journalist Cheryl Critchley said.
“This sign will not hurt anyone, but you knew it would rile the PM, and it did.”