Did Roger Federer just discover how tolerant Australian media is of racism and sexism?

One unfortunate consequence of trying to track conservative messaging about climate change and energy is that Google’s algorithms think I’m really into far-right media. It’s made my Google News trashy.

One weird bit of news came up that I found a little surprising. It’s led me down a truly ludicrous rabbit hole, and I am still deep inside with no clear resolution or answer. I’ve really fallen far, and you know what, I’m not even mad. I want you to keep me company. So please join me, as I lead you down into this den of conspiracy, scandal and mystery.

The monarch of malice

The Alan Jones Show is nothing less than the encrusted, awful god-king of cruelty. It has a golden microphone, a mean spirit and a huge platform. It can write laws and break laws. It is racist, misogynist, and so many other ists. Here’s a tiny (I mean it) selection of things that the host of the show has done:

  • He suggested Australia’s Prime Minister at the time – Julia Gillard – be thrown in a bag and drowned at sea
  • He said, of that PM, that her recently deceased father had ‘died of shame’, at a private Liberal party event
  • He incited a race riot – one of Australia’s worst in living memory
  • He said New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, ought to have a ‘sock shoved down her throat’
  • He would not stop dropping the N word on air
  • “We need Stolen Generations”, he once said, a reference to Indigenous Australian children forcibly removed from their families under a cruel policy.
  • He wrongly declared on his show that a pool was closed to allow Muslim-only attendees. It was wrong; they’d hired the pool like any other community group. After one man called the station threatening to physically block students from entering, the school had to cancel its swimming lessons.

There are hundreds more instances, many far worse than what’s above. But after spouting raw bile on Sydney’s radio for as long as I’ve been alive, Jones has finally announced he’s quitting the radio show (his spot on far-right network Sky News Australia will continue).

The accolades have come pouring in. Xenophobe empress Pauline Hanson, leader of the racist One Nation party, wept in her farewell message. Tennis great Lleyton Hewitt paid tribute. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s ‘Media Watch’ program declared that his ‘commitment to his listeners, his tireless work ethic and ratings success, is to be congratulated’. Leader of Australia’s opposition, Anthony Albanese, was full of effusive praise for the overlord of hate. Those who opposed him and those who loved him are all waving big fronds and hanging luscious bunches of grapes in front of his face as he approaches his final day on air, this Friday.

Then, something weird happened.

Alan, it’s Roger here

Cruising through Google News for something else, this popped up:

Hey, I wrote the article at the bottom!

Wait. Roger Federer? The sweetest, cutest, kindest teddy bear on the entire planet? The man so kind that he makes Tom Hanks look like the Zodiac killer? What the hell is going on? I watched the Sky News clip:

Here’s his ‘farewell message’ in full:

“Alan, it’s Roger here. Wanted to wish you all the very best for what’s to come and many congratulations on an amazing 35 year career in the media business. Take care and all the best. Bye”

I was a little surprised I hadn’t seen more about this. Federer is the most dense singularity of human warmth in the universe. Why is he sending a farewell message to a man who recently mused about physically assaulting New Zealand’s equally delightful PM? So, I looked up some key-words on twitter, and found some references to it on an Instagram post from May 21:

It didn’t exactly draw much attention because those tweets didn’t get much interaction. And when you click on the Instagram link:

Doing some more digging, I discovered that that mysterious post came from Alan Jones’ Instagram page. No trace of the video (so it wasn’t re-posted). Plug ‘Alan Jones Roger Federer’ into Google, and you immediately get a link to the 2GB (Jones’ radio station) page entitled “WATCH | Sports greats record special messages for Alan Jones”. Guess what happens when you click on it?

Because I’m a very smart boy, I managed to nab the page that was cached by Google and archive it. After even more digging, I found that a sister station had republished the same piece, but obviously had been forgotten in the deletion spree (archived here, just in case). In that still-live page, the embedded Youtube video of Federer’s message has been locked to private, making it unviewable:

And, well, guess what happens when you scroll down? Something pretty damn unbelievable:

“Hey Alan Jones. Usain Bolt here. I just want to say congratulations on retiring at the top of your game. Thirty odd years on the radio. You were magnificent. You impact so much lives. So continue doing what you’re doing and stay up, alright?”

What? The fastest person in the world alongside one of the richest, nicest people in the world, just casually dropping messages to Sydney’s wretched master of nastiness?

Bolt’s message was scrubbed because it was on the same page as Federer’s, but wasn’t also posted on social media. And the mp3 file hosted on Jones’ show’s podcasting platform seems to be still there at the time of posting. So it’s unclear how Bolt feels about this.

I had so many questions. Why did Federer and Bolt agree to this – two people whose wealth depends very much on their public persona? Did Lleyton Hewitt do the connection? Federer and Bolt are both eye-wateringly rich, so could it have been for money? Were they meant to be private messages that got broadcast? Neither message is even slightly personalised, with Bolt’s matching Federer’s quite closely in its ambiguity. Why did Federer’s message get deleted, and then get re-broadcast on Sky News, on its Youtube page, its website and its Twitter account five days later? Will Sky News’ posts get deleted too? What the hell is going on??

I had to go the source. To the belly of the actual beast. I had to listen to the freaking Alan Jones show.

It hurts my brain so much

As so many in Australian media have discovered, listening to the wall of noise that is the Alan Jones show is precisely like sitting inside an anechoic chamber. You descend into raw, crystalline madness within minutes. I had to listen to it for my comms jobs back when I worked in clean energy organisations. It was hell.

I knew that the Federer clip was played on May 22nd. I downloaded the mp3 of the full show, sped it up, and tried clicking through it catch where it had been played. It did not ease the anxiety, even slightly:

Thankfully, an alternative came to mind. I crammed the mp3 file into a video, uploaded it to Youtube, and it auto-transcribed. Sweet relief. A simple Ctrl + F in the transcript, generated by Youtube’s long-suffering AI, revealed the following exchange at 16:16 into the show, between Alan Jones and James Willis, the show’s Senior Producer.

Willis: Last Friday I managed to secure a farewell from Usain Bolt for you. I may have gone one better, with the greatest tennis player in the modern era. Here we go.

[message from Federer plays]

Willis: That’s not bad. come one, Usain Bolt last Friday, Roger…

Jones: Shut up

Willis: I’ve got one more. How can I outdo that? any requests?

Jones: [laughing]

[both laughing]

Jones: Oh dear, Riley, save me will you? Goodness me.

Willis: Play it again

Jones: Yeah play it again

[message plays]

Jones: Isn’t that lovely. a lovely human being. We could tell a few stories there I could tell you…

Could you? I’d be pretty keen to hear them. Jones plays the clip again at the end of the show at 02:06:30. “We got a special call earlier…this is overdoing it, have a listen to this”.

The segments don’t reveal anything beyond Willis’ role in “securing” the message. So it was time to go back in time one week further, and listen to the clip of Bolt (using my little transcript trick once again). Bingo. At 18:00 into the show:

Willis: I’ve been a little bit distracted this morning for one simple reason. You know you always say that I have people on speed dial and I regularly use your name to get things done. Well I made a call yesterday and a little special person has given you a little cheerio heading into your last two weeks on air.

[message from Bolt plays]

Jones: You did not get permission

Willis: I didn’t need permission. That’s the fastest man alive giving you a cheerio from somewhere in all over the world. You played a bit of a role in his career early on. We asked yesterday and he was happy to get on the phone and record something for you.

Jones: Alright come on. We’ve got to go. That’s James playing games. It’s six o clock

So Jones ‘played a bit of a role’ in Bolt’s career? I couldn’t find any information about this online, but it might be a reference to Bolt’s recent short-lived foray into Australian soccer. Back in 1991, Alan Jones did arrange for “Darren Clark, the fastest white man in the world” (honestly, that’s what it says in the article) to play in a Rugby League team. It is plausible that there is, at least, a weak connection there.

So we’re left without much more information than I posted on Twitter initially, really. I’m sorry this ends like the first season of Serial. I still don’t know what happened. I’ve done all I can, and I’m just as frazzled and confused. But I suspect the reality is even more intriguing than the mystery.

For a media outlet to erase content without a trace or explanation suggests the possibility of some mighty legal threats. Bolt remains a mystery, but the plausibility of a connection there is greater. 2GB, Jones and the shows producer holds all the keys to unlocking these mysteries. Here’s my guess of the timeline:

  • Willis secures a message from Bolt, because Jones helped Bolt arrange a chance to break into Australian soccer
  • Willis then secures a message from Federer, who has no connection with Jones, but is told that Bolt has already sent a message, Jones is a well-loved broadcaster, and is quitting for medical reasons, or something
  • After the video is published, Federer is quickly told about Jones, and sends stern messages (maybe even legal threats!) demanding the video is taken down, and that he wants nothing to do with Jones. 2GB scrambles to erase the video
  • A well-meaning producer at Sky News, who already saved an mp4 of the file to their computer when it was published on Instagram, decides to save it as a special surprise for Alan Jones, when it’s broadcast on the show as if it’s an entirely new thing. Alan Jones’ face falls when realises exactly what has happened.

It is special that in Alan Jones’ last week on commercial radio the glowing god of nice somehow gets tangled up with the gnarled master of nasty. To have a global ultra-famous supster demand the complete erasure of a farewell message is one thing; to happily rebroadcast it on another network and publish it across several platforms several days later is something else entirely.

We’ll find out more about this, I’m sure. There’s precedent for this sort of thing. Flava Flav was tricked into recording a ‘happy retirement’ message for former Cardinal George Pell. Hulk Hogan sent a strong message of optimism and support when Australia’s conservative PM, Tony Abbott, was ousted by Malcolm Turnbull (Hulk did not know who Tony was).

There’s also precedent for sport being the conduit through which the world realises how widespread the acceptance of racism is in Australia. When News Corp cartoonist Mark Knight depicted legendary player Serena Williams using racist ‘Sambo’ caricatures, Jones’ Colleagues, Ben Fordham (who is due to replace Jones) and Ray Hadley, strongly defended the cartoon. Jones didn’t mention it, but his use of the n word on air featured in articles about Australia’s acceptance of xenophobia. I suspect many people not from Australia would reasonably assume that starting a race riot, dropping the n word constantly, and frequently using violent imagery about women in positions of power would immediately disqualify someone from public life.

To be cruel at such an incredible scale has no consequence in Australia. You can threaten leaders with violence and you still have a queue of powerful people pouring praise when you retire. Perhaps Federer learnt that the hard way.

I have to know what happened here. I’m not going to sleep until I know. But I get the really strong feeling that it’s going to tie up the cruel career of Alan Jones with a neat bow, as a global titan of sport actively hits the eject button when he realises the widespread acceptance of cruelty and bigotry in Australia’s media landscape.

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