By Dylan Sahlin
There is no doubt Waleed Aly has risen swiftly and smoothly to become the poster boy of Australia’s soft-left. Move in the circles that I do for a month, and you’ll have a hard time not hearing endless praise for his ‘nuanced takedown’ of an obnoxious conservative, or his ‘perfect analysis’ of a flawed policy. Mostly in the reverb-friendly echo chamber of an inner west espresso joint of course.
This would be OK if it were the end of the story. Sure, political movements need a popular voice. But Waleed takes it to another level.
After years at the ABC he was rewarded with a cushy spot hosting Channel Ten’s The Project in early 2015. Taking to his newfound influence with an eager abandon, Waleed has built a unique style. He editorialises. He virtue signals. He lectures and he demeans. This unique talent for condescension allows him to stress his own moral self-righteousness while leaving the alternate viewpoints of his guests to the dogs. And, in doing so, talk down to the everyday Australians that make up his audience (this disconnect is made even more apparent by his history at the exclusive boarding school Wesley College and later the University of Melbourne).
In the midst of this politicisation and editorialisation, it seems the actual news itself has been forgotten in Channel Ten’s alternate reality. Increasingly dominated by Waleed’s commentary, The Project has become more political mouthpiece than news program.
This was made glaringly obvious last year in an appearance by the foreign minister Julie Bishop in November last year.
Talking up his distrust of the Liberal government all week, Waleed let loose during the nightly bulletin. Substituting Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s actual comments that Malcolm Fraser “did make mistakes in bringing some people in the 1970s” for a fanciful re-enactment, Waleed stated that Dutton had in fact claimed all “Lebanese Muslims” should not be let into Australia, ignoring the context of the discussion that centred around immigration support services in 70s. There are no two ways about it, Waleed misquoted a minister to suit his political agenda. Treading his usual path of obnoxious editorialisation, Waleed showed a gross arrogance towards the intelligence of his viewers, opting for an easy-to-swallow tabloid headline in favour of the less controversial and more nuanced reality.
This distortion of the political reality is a common hobby for Waleed. It shone through once again in his treatment of conservative commentator Steve Price last August. Called on the program to discuss protests surrounding coal jobs in Queensland, Waleed berated Price before abruptly ending the interview with a curt “I’ve heard your argument, thank you very much for joining us tonight.” Shut down while discussing the very topic he was brought on the show to discuss, Waleed yet again seemed to forget the golden rule of broadcasting. He’s there to allow a platform to his guests, not himself.
Waleed no doubt has a definite charisma, but he antagonises and ridicules his guests with such a startling disrespect for Australia’s democratic process that it is beyond a joke. If he claims to be such a beacon of shining progressive purity, why does he hold such contempt towards democracy and political diversity?
A host of a news and current affairs show such as The Project is not there to silence opposition to his worldview with gleeful disdain. He is there to give a voice to the people that matter. And, time and time again, he has shown himself to be more enamoured with his own voice than those of the guests he is supposedly granting a platform.
It is time Australia saw Waleed not as the dedicated journalist he masquerades as, but the ideological warrior he is at heart.