David McBride: ABC Four Corners program a ‘hit job’

March 27, 2024
Inset: David McBride. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

The ABC’s flagship Four Corners program broadcast a hit piece on war crimes whistleblower David McBride, titled “Rules of Engagement” on March 25.

The program quotes ABC journalist Dan Oakes claiming he thinks “it is important that people know the truth” about McBride.

“It’s a much greyer and murkier and messier story than people appreciate,” Oakes said.

In Oakes’ telling, McBride “simply wanted the story to say that the special forces in Afghanistan were being unfairly targeted and unfairly scrutinised and investigated when they shouldn’t have been investigated” whereas the story he published was “diametrically opposed” to that.

McBride told Green Left that the Four Corners story was a “planned hit job” and that the journalists were “quite sneaky” in the way they told him how it would run.

“They never said that Dan Oakes would talk,” McBride said. He said the ABC did not give him “a chance to answer Oakes’ claims at all”.

After watching the piece, McBride said that he was “horrified” and couldn’t sleep.

He felt okay at first, but then “got so angry about the duplicity”.

Asked how he would respond to Oakes’ claims if he got the chance, McBride said: “I never said that there were no war crimes in 2012”.

“What I said was that, in 2013, the cases being investigated were not war crimes.”

“I was drawing a distinction between the two years, and that we [Australian Defence Forces (ADF)] had a totally different way of handling things in 2013 versus 2012.”

This is consistent with what McBride has said, such as at an August 18 public forum in Meanjin/Brisbane.

Then, McBride explained that his journey to becoming a whistleblower began because he could see that Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) soldiers (in 2013) were being unfairly prosecuted, whereas military brass had ignored the alleged war crimes committed by Ben Roberts-Smith, and others, the year before.

McBride said that “[Oakes] misquotes me to say I didn’t want investigations”. The truth, he said, was that “I didn’t want sham investigations”.

McBride has been consistent about his mission, which is that he is “hunting generals, not corporals”. He believes the ADF leadership “probably knew” about the alleged war crimes at the time and, either way, it is the leadership that should be held to account.

Oakes, by comparison, “never points the finger at the chain of command”, Mc Bride said. Instead, “he talks about bad soldiers”.

“The ABC seems determined to pin all the blame on individual soldiers instead of looking at the wider picture.”

McBride believes “systemic problems” with the ADF need to be addressed, including whether the leadership is rewarding dishonesty.

In the Four Corners program, which downplayed war crimes whistleblowing, journalist Grace Tobin claimed that “Dan Oakes’ reporting has come at a great personal cost”.

However, when elaborating what that cost was, Oakes said that it was “quite awkward to be sitting here discussing this” and that he felt “guilt and shame” about what happened to McBride.

This is curious when the effect of Oakes’ contribution is to weaken, or undermine, the growing public support for McBride and therefore make it easier for a harsher sentence to be given to McBride.

Oakes won an Order of Australia this January for services to journalism. The ABC claimed at the time that Oakes was “best known” for his reporting on The Afghan Files — the story written with the material McBride provided.

Discussing the question of “great personal cost”, McBride wondered, wryly, if Oakes would like to “swap positions” with him.

McBride was to be sentenced on March 12, but this has now been delayed.

He said the prosecution “didn’t like the amount of public support I had”. They “realised at the last minute that they hadn’t proved there was any harm done [by his release of documents]”.

He believes the prosecution is trying to get a stronger sentence, so “at the last minute, they got a brigadier to say there is some ‘potential damage’” from McBride’s whistleblowing.

McBride thanked GL for supporting whistleblower’s rights. He said a Four Corners camera person did film his speech the day before his November trial, but the program chose not to broadcast any of what he said, which was “probably my best speech so far”.


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