Surf Media Bias: Standing Against Otis Carey

When Otis Carey was first described in derogatory terms in Surfing Life magazine, it wasn’t just the surfing community who took notice. The issue was raised by mainstream media everywhere from HuffPo to Buzzfeed. Predictably, people in surfing have responded by publishing their own responses in magazines like The Inertia. In “On Otis Carey and Australia Surfing Life’s Accidental Racism” Tetsuhiko Endo says:

The liberal media the world over, smelling a chance for the righteous outrage that they so relish, began to circle and by evening London time no less than the Guardian had picked up the story and the slavering narcissists on its comment boards were snarling over who could make the most pious condemnation.

Strong words, but not the first time surf journalism has shown contempt for mainstream commentary on surf issues. In Surfer Mag, “To the Parochial Outsiders“, Chas Smith wrote:

HBO and Outside have nothing invested in our world. They know nothing and can come in and wave a stick around and beat their chests as purveyors of awesome and unbiased truth, but their perspective is worthless. They could have invested time and energy. They could have talked to interesting people. They could have come to a less ham-fisted conclusion or chosen not to have their minds made up before damning an entire industry. But they didn’t.

Both articles are talking about distinctly different issues but again refer to people outside of surfing, making judgments about issues within the surfing community, although Chas Smith is also specifically attacking HBO and Outside for skewing his own contribution to a story on Andy Irons.

What seems to motivate these articles is a sense of injustice; of the narrative being hijacked for the purpose of selling mainstream media’s version of reality, and of course selling mainstream media to advertisers and a global audience using surfing. I see a distinct irony in this situation where surf magazines, who have long trivialised female athletes in sexualised photo spreads; who don’t seem to recognise the diversity of sexuality within surfing; publish complaints about their voice being silenced by the majority. For instance, this is a description of the very first women’s pro surfing tour in the 1970s but could easily apply to the way women and other minority groups in surfing can be approached by some publications in the current day.

It was a humiliating first lesson in what the next few years would hold for us with regard to women’s pro surfing. He would be the first of many reporters to encounter us, a relatively unknown group of women athletes who garnered spectator curiosity but not respect. At least not to the degree that men did. One thing was certain, though. Wherever we went, we attracted attention.

~ Patti Paniccia, Progessions (TSJ Vol 12 #2  2003)

We return to the current situation. The Inertia article by Ted Endo depicts mainstream media in dismissive terms as “liberal” and calls anyone commenting on the Guardian as slavering narcissists. Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity, or egotistic admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes, that derive from arrogant pride.” (Wikipedia) Liberal media suggests a view biased “well to the left” in that it might tend to promote views that support social agendas without also reporting on alternative issues or perspectives.

To describe surf media bias, I would consider the recent publication of Nathan Myers’ views in the Inertia and Tracks mag. While The Inertia takes pains to insist the views do not reflect its editors or contributors it has already published two, no THREE articles either painting Otis Carey as agressive, refusing to communicate and chasing money (one, two) or decrying criticism of the Surfing Life article as racist. Cori Schumacher is quick to define the term as having historical pejorative meaning in “I stand with Otis Carey” but the Inertia tends to focus on the word simply as an adjective, a careless comment; an article in stark contrast to a Huck article by Ted here.

Tracks, The Inertia and Wade Davis, Editor of Surfing Life, all state they have ‘reached out’ to Otis Carey to try to get his side of the story, as if they are trying to represent his point of view and provide a sense of balanced journalism. However, publishing Nathan’s opinion could quite possibly be considered unfair in the first place. He might be facing financial ruin, is under stress, is publicly vilified, and should probably be considering his legal defence instead of being exploited to supposedly tell the ‘other side of the story’. I think instead that the global interest in this story means that surf media publish articles about it to attract attention to their magazine and audience.

Otis Carey has spoken through litigation, and neither Tracks nor the Inertia has outlined to readers why his depiction in Surfing Life could be considered defamation. They also fail to address issues of racism appropriately in either the interview in Tracks or the articles in the Inertia. As Cori Schumacher has already said, all of these magazines could have spoken to surfers representing different ethnic groups, contributors other than their staff, but in saying that, would anyone want to discuss their opinions with mainstream surf media given its reaction and its coverage so far? Stab Mag’s piece is the only article I’ve found currently addressing litigation: the perspective there, legally, seems to suggest that the campaign following litigation could help Otis’ case if only because the slant given to these articles is distinctly against Otis and distributed to such a wide audience.

Nathan Myers’ open letter in the Inertia is quite revealing in itself. The piece blames Otis Carey for putting the magazine, and the livelihood of its employees at risk. People might well assume that Surfing Life could not afford a lawsuit. Is this the case? We see no evidence for or against. We see only an opinion. There is defamation insurance available in Australia and if you click that link you can see it covers negligent and accidental defamation.

Morrison Media owns Surfing Life and four other ‘fresh air’ magazines. This is a successful company that is making and breaking magazines. In acquiring Slow Magazine they stated:

“Slow is listening to the market – it has a highly engaged readership which we intend to satisfy with excellent content.”

It could well be that the writing has been on the wall for Surfing Life but then again, Morrison Media states that the Surfing Life downloadable app has given them access to audience, and therefore information to sell to advertisers, like never before. They are selling more print editions through interaction with online digital audiences.

Either way, I’ve presented an alternative perspective that any of those writers could have researched in the interests of ‘fair balance’ and I find their failure to report on this or counter Myers’ claims as a distinct bias. They insist they are attempting to tell the whole story but do not have the evidence to support Myers’ claims. If I was Otis Carey I would certainly not be engaged with this journalistic ‘process’.

Now consider the idea that the global audience commenting on the Surfing Life article is narcissistic.  Consider Morrison Media’s approach to audience. This industry is intent on reaching audience. Even the Inertia has its contributors listed not just alphabetically but by popularity. Consider ASP’s approach to marketing its athletes. Hypersexualising female athletes, encouraging self-sexualisation through social media: audience is seen as key. Again, even in the 70s when women first got into surfing, this was the case. Patti Paniccia, in TSJ, on how a competition eventually came up with money for female surfers:

Chapstick did manage to come up with $600, a little more than half of what we originally had been promised. The men’s event had a purse of $6,000. We were told that this lesser amount was justified because there were so few women. The great irony for us about the money gap was that it was the women who drew the enormous crowds and media attention that year and, thus, gave the sponsors their maximum exposure. A local newspaper headline extolled our propensity for attracting spectators: “Six Shapely Surfers Steal the Show!” it read.

To define a mainstream audience as narcissistic is to undermine the credibility of surf media’s relationship with its own subscribers and comments sections. It has long been the case that in many instances, one should ‘not read the comments’, but here Surf Media see the smaller surfing community, the commercial community, as bullied by the larger global audience of mainstream media, and argue that Otis Carey is responsible for this in continuing to litigate.

Otis Carey is one man.

OTIS CAREY: 
1,325 FACE BOOK FANS

The Inertia, Tracks Mag and Surfing Life have a combined audience reach of

TRACKS:
27,000 UNIQUE BROWSERS (MONTHLY)
55,000 VISITORS (MONTHLY) 180,000 PAGE IMPRESSIONS (MONTHLY)
12,800 ELECTRONIC NEWSLETTER SUBSCRIBERS (WEEKLY)
14,000+ FACE BOOK FANS 8,000 TWITTER FOLLOWERS

SURFING LIFE:
60,000 DOWNLOADS OF APPS APPROX
45,500 TWITTER FOLLOWERS
113,000 FACE BOOK FANS

THE INERTIA:
350,000 READERS PER MONTH
53,624 FACE BOOK FANS
4,151 TWITTER FOLLOWERS

That’s one man against a media machine, being publicly decried in front of an audience of over a quarter of a million people after being humiliated on the world wide stage thanks to poor decisions in surf media in the first place.

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I believe that the coverage of this issue is not fair or balanced and that the continued campaign works against itself. Meanwhile, Otis Carey is vilified by an audience who reads these magazines, some of them visiting his page to affirm the sentiments expressed in these publications.

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Tracks says: TRACKS’ MANTRA AND ETHOS IS ROOTED FIRMLY AROUND THE ACT OF SURFING. FROM THIS TRACKS EXPLORES THE SUBCULTURE AROUND IT. IT’S NOT JUST A MAGAZINE BUT A VOICE THAT GIVES AUSTRALIAN SURFING ITS IDENTITY, IT IS THE SURFERS BIBLE.

Sadly, this may well be the case.

Perhaps this does reflect a lack of awareness in the wider surfing community, that in turn is influenced by the sheer numbers of people misinformed through sloppy writing and the ‘wrong choice of words.’ I leave you with this:

Respect for truth and the public’s right to information are overriding principles for all journalists.

(a) They shall report and interpret the news with scrupulous honesty by striving to disclose all essential facts and by not suppressing relevant, available facts or distorting by wrong or improper emphasis.

(d) They shall not allow personal interests to influence them in their professional duties.

(f) They shall not allow advertising or commercial considerations to influence them in their professional duties.

~EPMU New Zealand, Journalists Code of Ethics (Similar Australian Code here)

Stand with Otis Carey.

What is defamation? And why should Otis Carey sue?

Otis Carey is reported to be suing Surfing Life and Nathan Myers for defamation.

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In Australian law defamation is:

  • Anything that says you are dishonest or disloyal
  • Anything that ridicules you
  • Anything that accuses you of committing a crime
  • Anything that says you have a disease

This refers specifically to someone publishing something damaging to your reputation that people have already seen but can also be used to stop people from publishing something damaging before it happens. Read more here.

People do have the right to sue surfing magazines if they pubish defamatory remarks just as they can sue other publications. They can ask for a retraction, an apology, or sue for damages. Publications can also offer to make amends.

Calling someone an ape, or apelike, is not a compliment in English language. It never has been, and I doubt it ever will be. To say it was not your intent to insult is beside the point. If the writer didn’t pick up on it, and the editing team didn’t pick up on it, but Otis Carey and the rest of the world did? It’s not “tabloid” muck raking- it’s plain and simple insulting, recognised globally as ridiculing someone. You shouldn’t expect people to put up with your insults just because you think you’re being funny.

Colourblindness and a lack of awareness is symptomatic of privilege and ignorance. It is considered in modern society to be racist if you do not recognise the disadvantage others face when they are a minority ethnic group. Colourblind behaviour is defined as racist. Racism isn’t just blatant like the guys in white sheets. It is subversive and subtle. It is more pervasive than ever in this fashion.

Nathan Myers is quoted in Tracks Mag as saying “surfing is surfing”. I think he suggests that surfing is some kind of other planet where people don’t have to be aware of global issues. I object to Nathan using the surfing community as a shield in his own defence. This suggests we live in a surfing bubble where only the waves, the wax and the party matter. Just this week Scott Ladermen’s book, Empire in Waves, was promoted by both Cori Schumacher and Dexter Hough-Snee as critiquing the idea that surfing is not part of world politics and issues. To suggest our past time or sport is some kind of refuge for ignorance is an insult to surfers who have been activists and who continue to agitate for change. There are people in the lineup who are opinionated, active members of the wider community; not just Otis Carey. Not everybody buys the status quo ‘reality’.

Otis Carey is a spokesperson for indigenous Australians. I have mentioned before that he already has to make a stand. He has been a role model and an advocate for his people in the surfing world and wider community. To suggest he should put up with insulting statements because other groups are insulted is to underestimate the prejudice and suffering generations of Indigenous Australians have suffered. It also suggests that people are entitled to use inappropriate names regardless of how the people involved feel about it.

To suggest Otis is unforgiving or not peaceful, as Nathan did in his Tracks Mag interview, is to suggest that ignorance is peace. Ignorance isn’t peaceful. Ignorance of other cultures and customs, and the refusal to show acceptance, is a step towards misunderstanding, conflict and war. Those who choose to turn a blind eye choose to allow suffering to continue and sow the seeds of unrest. Rebellions exist because injustice exists.

The Tracks Mag article gave Nathan a platform to express his contempt for the legal process and it also had little regard for the harm done to Otis Carey’s reputation. The Inertia has also given Nathan a platform to discredit the legal course Otis Carey is taking. Nathan is essentially saying that he personally is happy with the way he has apologised but is that enough? I don’t see much at all of Nathan being aware of vocabulary useful to discuss issues relating to racism or diversity or indigenous issues. He even uses intent as a defence. I’ve suggested a link here about why intent is insufficient excuse.

That lack of awareness of language used, or concepts involved in these issues, is very telling. He is, after all, in a magazine article suggesting Otis isn’t one of our surfing community for speaking up, for seeking legal advice and for taking lawful action. That is a threat, as far as I can see. Otis challenges the status quo, and the status quo publish an article critiquing him and sentencing him as ‘other’. This is not just in one magazine. Two surfing magazines have given Nathan Myers a platform to discredit the lawsuit and pressure Otis, in part using their audience.

Nathan Myers himself:

And, you do realize of course, that surf magazines are how freesurfers like you make your living, right? If the magazine that publishes your photos and writes stories from your travels is put out of business by your sense of vendetta… well, what then? Talk about biting the hand that feeds. I guess if you win the suit you’ll be dining well upon those bloodied knuckles. If you don’t win your suit, you’ll be gnawing fingernails. Neither result sounds very nourishing.

 

Oh, Nathan. You know what’s not nourishing? Watching you threaten someone who’s already suffered as a result of your ignorance. This is an open threat. As a member of the wider surfing community I am disgusted that the Inertia and Tracks Mag gave you the right to do this to an indigenous Australian who deserves better than this industry is giving him. Is this what the surf media stands for? Is this the measure of our industry?

Otis Carey is as much a surfer and a part of our community as ever. A wave and a board doesn’t give us a license to get away with ignorant, disrespectful behaviour. If being an idiot is supposed to be a part of surf culture then being an intelligent formidable opponent should also be considered a part of it.

I stand with the members of our surfing community who are diverse, unique, and deserving of our informed support and understanding. We need to think before we speak. We need to have educated opinions. We need to stand for justice and equality.

I stand with Otis.

EDIT: Cori Schumacher gives her perspective

Twitter Feedback is less than impressed and not swayed by rhetoric: