Poking a Hole in Stab's Media Game

Stu Nettle

Stuart Nettle April 7, 2010

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." -Edmund Burke

It shoots a bit high in the ethical stakes but I figure that's a good quote to begin with. Let's call it overblown but apt.


In the Tuesday edition of The Australian journalist Fred Pawle penned an article titled 'Racism and drug abuse stories covered up in the endless summer of sycophancy' in which he accused surf journalists of ignoring scandals that occur within the surf industry.

The catalyst for Pawle's article was an incident that happened on the North Shore of Hawaii last December where current world champion Mick Fanning called journalist Charlie Smith a 'fucking Jew.' Smith works for STAB magazine who then reprinted the exchange in full and ran it as a title piece in a story 'Tales of a Fucking Jew'. The title of the article was written inside a Star of David.

Upon release the incident caused the surfing blogosphere to light up. Bloggers the world over analysed the actions of Fanning and Smith from every available angle. And there were many: Was Fanning being racist or just ignorant? Was Smith's reporting mere sensationalism? What are the duties of a journalist? It was a complex argument with many entry points and comment counts stretched to triple digits as anonymous punters weighed in with their thoughts.

Every issue has an endpoint however, a point where all avenues of argument are exhausted. Deconstruction complete, the comments dried up and the punters waited for the next turn of the news cycle.

Then, just two weeks ago, a Jewish organisation took offence to the original article and The Australian reported on it. The next day The Sydney Morning Herald and all it's national syndicated titles did likewise. Within two days of mainstream exposure Fanning's words were again international news, though this time to a non-surfing audience.

The story had received a second wind via mainstream scrutiny initiated by The Australian. Then Tuesday's piece in The Australian further perpetuated the story and gave it, what could be considered, a third wind. Unlike Pawle's claims however, the surfing world isn't ignoring the issue, they are wary of it.

Their reticence is understandable...

Pawle is closely connected to STAB, having contributed a number of articles since their inception. He contributed a Walkely-nominated piece on the coming out of ex-pro surfer Matt Branson and the reported sexual misconduct of surf photographer Paul Sargeant. Both stories were high profile and controversial.

Controversy and infamy are STAB's raison d'etre. Considering the above stories were both published in STAB the uninformed may think that investigative journalism is their forte. Such a thought is a long way from the truth.

With shots of naked girls, wanton displays of conspicuous consumerism, gratuitous swearing, and repeated misogyny STAB are the surf version of FHM or Ralph. In fact they advertise themselves as such: a lads mag with a bent for surfing. They aim for the male 18-24 year-old bracket and barely reach it. The Guardian they ain't. And if, as smooth-talking real estate agents say of house prices, 'a rising tide floats all boats' the converse is also true: Pawle's article's are devalued by the company they keep.

Yet it's not like all of Pawle's article's are paragons of virtuous journalism. In his recent story in The Australian Pawle said that surf journalists hadn't 'covered themselves in glory' because they didn't report the recent drug habit of a pro surfer and sexual transgression of a photographer. If Pawle's idea of 'covering oneself in glory' is to publicly expose private issues, to operate as if conscience has no currency and an individuals fall from grace is only validated if it's splashed across the cover of the surf tabloids...well, let's call it by it's real name: gutter journalism.

When a publication's only agenda is infamy, when they deliberately set in motion media circuses, when they fuel those circus' with their mainstream media connections, then the current response from other surfing publications is understandable. It's not because of sycophancy that the other surf publications are quiet, it's because to weigh into the debate would give STAB exactly what they seek.

That argument aside: there are not many people who really think Mick Fanning is a racist. Yes, he used the word 'jew' in a pejorative sense, but it was used as an uninformed stereotype rather than to persecute a person or race. His choice of words displayed ignorance and insensitivity, but for mine, and also for many others I've spoken to, they did not amount to racism.

And anyway, by repeating the line weren't STAB further reinforcing the stereotype? Of course it was under the claimed guise of irony but, unfortunately for them, stereotypes know no nuance. Nor, I believe, do teenage males.

And so we have silence...and it shouldn't be mistaken for sycophancy. I work in the surf media so those holding their tongues are my commercial foes yet I understand their stance. Racism or not, the blogosphere shouldn't have been the only place where debate occurred, but because of STAB and Fred Pawle's actions it was. Put simply, everyone is aware of their ulterior motives and also aware that to weigh in, even to disagree with them, is to give them their wish.

I am fully cognisant of the fact that I have now weighed into the debate and hence contributed to the media circus that STAB so crave, but what they do is reprehensible and lines have to drawn somewhere. Call me a good man doing something.


floater's picture
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floater commented Wednesday, 7 Apr 2010 at 7:30am

Whatever. Stab is a rubbish magazine that will either a. get better or b. go out of business. Its ignorant take on grammatical niceties and the world at large is no more or less dangerous than the puerile content of "zoo" or "ralph" or "alpha".

Mick on the other hand is a public figure with a responsibility to his fans, young and old. If someone is being a f-wit (no doubt charlie was, bondi is full of f-wits) then why didn't he call him a F-wit?

It doesn't occur to anyone with a passing knowledge of the last 500 years of human civilization to use a word inextricably linked to the persecution and murder of millions of people. Can you imagine if Ricky Ponting called someone a J_w?

... and besides, aren't you guys "covering" the bells pro by sending someone down to torqay to write (granted, much more convincingly) in the same "gonzo style" they made their trademark? Could it be you're just trying to generate a few more ad-page-clicks to pay the bills yourself?

ryder's picture
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ryder commented Wednesday, 7 Apr 2010 at 11:03am

Charlie Smith is the only person to blame in this situation.

He's managed to gain access to a private party to celebrate Mick Fanning's world title victory and he should have left his journalistic hat (and voice recorder) at the front door. I bet Fanning never thought he'd end up being quoted word for word over a personal issue.

Why no STAB at Bells this year? One can only imagine why. However, I see we have Jed and Charlie (Brothers in Arms) regurgitating secondhand accounts on Facebook blogs and the like. Fuck me lads, if you wanna delve into gutter journalism then i'm sure there's a job waiting for you both at New Idea and the like!

clif's picture
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clif commented Wednesday, 7 Apr 2010 at 9:49pm

No self-respecting journalist EVER leaves their journalistic hat at the door, ryder. You never know who else might put it on.

"Don't try. That's very important: not to try." Charles Bukowski

heals's picture
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heals commented Wednesday, 7 Apr 2010 at 11:30pm

So it's get to the bottom first because someone else might beat you there?

Someone once sai 'what interests the public isn't always in the publics interest'. I believe it.

dinga's picture
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dinga commented Thursday, 8 Apr 2010 at 6:54am

Pawle's article highlighted that mainstream media cannot grasp what surfing (and the surf media) is all about. For most surfing is an escape from the monotony of everyday life. Surfing magazines are merely a medium for us to relive this while sitting on the porcelain throne.

None of us really care for the transgressions of professional surfers and reporting on it is not clever as Pawle suggests. STAB can go ahead and be the Women’s Day of surfing media, and rest assured there will be a plentiful supply of stories. What I’m not so sure of is if there will be anyone buying it.

jwa's picture
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jwa commented Thursday, 8 Apr 2010 at 7:23am

STAB is the best mag on the market. Period. They are not a lad's mag. You have shown ignorance and a lack of knowledge on the subject by calling them such. Tracks and Waves are so fucking diabolically bad, I would feel embarassed if i saw a non-surfer reading them. They are the zoo's and ralph's of surfing literature. ASL is slightly above this level. All surf mags contain swearing and nudity. STAB does tasteful nudity in a way that you would not be embarassed if you're girlfriend saw it. STAB does not seek infamy. It is simply aware of the machine it is a part of, and seeks to make fun of it. The Fanning incident was never sensationalised, it was published to show how criticism of our athletes is treated. Swellnet's Steve Shearer is of a similar ilk to STAB, which is part of what makes his articles on Bells the best going round.

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oldo-nicho commented Thursday, 8 Apr 2010 at 10:52pm

Ahh yes, tasteful nudity: such as a 16 year old girl with the table of contents written all over her... Arrows pointing to her "She's only 16!" (read: jack off here guys...)

I was seriously pissed when I saw that (which I guess is one of the responses that they're going for by running the pic).

STAB started off GREAT and they kept it up for a good 2 or 3 issues... Now I wouldn't even wipe my arse with it.

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shelly-bobby commented Friday, 9 Apr 2010 at 5:41pm

Stuart, I realise that you are by no means condoning Mick's action or response to Charlie Smith and his questionable journalism but the transgressions of Pro surfers is most definitely news worthy.

This is no different than some meathead NRL player getting done for drugs or domestic violence or whatever. People should know that professional athletes are just dudes, they make mistakes. Most of them have probably had nothing but adulation and rewards for their god given talent for a large portion of their life. Sure they are role models, but I'm sure Mick's grace and humility in accepting his wrong doing and amending the situation is something that kids can look up to?

I would rather STAB report on it then ASL/Waves/Tracks potentially not reporting on it to save the public image of surfing or to save some space so they can run a few more shots of Richie Vas getting a poo man keg at Ours.

adam's picture
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adam commented Friday, 9 Apr 2010 at 11:06pm

STAB is the worst of all magazines, the STAB crew are doing their best to undermine all the work done in the past to make surfing acceptable to the main stream population.
The day's of trippy surf hippies is all gone, there were real stories back then surrounding suspect charactors in surfing, STAB should have been arround then.
If Fanning did call Smith a Jew, which was more than probably provoked, I am sure it was not racist and definately sure it was meant for Smith's ears only.
STAB should have a good hard look at themselves and start to clean up their act. I don't buy it because it is just rubbish, maybe the answer is to leave it on the racks at the newsagent.
Who gives a shit anyway, Fanning rips and that's that!

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atticus commented Saturday, 10 Apr 2010 at 2:05am

Notice how Pawle never mentioned Andy Irons name in reference to the 'surfer that had the meltdown'? Everyone knows it was Irons, and everyone knows Irons is sponsored by Billabong. What people may not be aware of is the financial investment Billabong have in STAB. Taj Burrow has a personal investment, and I don't mean sentimental investment. He owns part of it.

Let's play a little hypothetical game. Burrow calls Smith a jew. Would it have been reported?

Not on your fucken life! Smith's journalists cap would have been left on the hat stand for that story.

emlew's picture
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emlew commented Saturday, 10 Apr 2010 at 3:48am

STAB magazine took the media aspect of surfing too a new place. some may not agree with the way they go about their reporting, the attitudes expressed by the journalists or the material printed in their magazine, but their is no doubt the affect they have had on surfing media has been profound. since their arrival, the techniques employed to gain interest among surf-mag consumers have quickly been adopted by many other surf magazines around australia. the actual format of the magazine and the style of the articles is now commonly found in Waves, Surfing Life and Tracks. these magazines have understood that STAB's techniques are far more interesting and controversial than the format previously found in every other magazine. the only difference is the stay clear of the controversial element of the publication. i don't care if you love or hate STAB, the fact is they aren't just another boring surf mag doing what everybody else does.

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w-bat commented Saturday, 10 Apr 2010 at 10:54pm

What is the financial investment in Stab by both Taj Burrows and Billabong?

I feel it would be foolish to say anything to a journalist and not expect it to be repeated in the media.

longinus's picture
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longinus commented Monday, 12 Apr 2010 at 6:32am


We will miss this planet - www.surfingatlas.com

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longinus commented Monday, 12 Apr 2010 at 6:48am

I think the next 3 years will be telling for the future of surfing magazines. Reporting on the ASP which filled up so much advertorial during the 90's up until 2005 has well land truly passed to the online domain. It's hard for the mags online, they have a niche audience only and find it impossible to stack up to the massive eyeball networks to compete for ad dollars. Unless you have surf cams as a surf site you aren't going to be able to compete. It's the main reason I am going to start my own cameras.

Remember waiting for the mags to come out at school wanting to know who won pipe? Hard to believe these days. The segmentation of each into their own sub genre has been a search for relevance. Like it or not, STAB has found a niche that no one else is covering. After Richard Branson gives me 5 million, I am going to start my own as well to cover a niche no one else it - it's the way of the future

We will miss this planet - www.surfingatlas.com

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grazza commented Tuesday, 13 Apr 2010 at 9:24am

Can't say I really agree with your premise. Mick's comment was absolutely racist, thoroughly stupid and completely newsworthy, and to have not reported it would have amounted to self-interested self-censorship, a severe breach of journalistic ethics in any other context. Charlie Smith, whatever he did to annoy Mick, did not provoke racism, merely anger. And Stab, while often puerile, is often a better mag than many of the others (not hard, admittedly). Lewis Samuels's piece in the current is the single best bit of surf writing I've read in decades.

todd's picture
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todd commented Wednesday, 14 Apr 2010 at 8:46am

With all due respect, and I do usually respect your writing, you need to look up the meaning of the word "Rascist". Whilst writing that you found Mick Fanning's (purported) statements pejorative and stereotyped, you then go on to write that you and "those you have talked to" don't think that this amounts to Rascism.
I'm intruiged as to what you think Rascism is. I'm intruiged as to who "those that you talked to" are. White Supremacists? Neo Nazis?
Is it NOT rascist because the pejorative, stereotyped comments were directed against Jews, and after all......
Please get back to me/ us about this, as I doubt that you are truly, consciously anti-semitic. But maybe you need to have a good think about your reasons for making this statement.

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stunet commented Wednesday, 14 Apr 2010 at 11:48am

Well, I hoped that people wouldn't get stuck on that point, cause right or wrong it's been beaten to death, and besides the thrust of the article was the dubious use of media not his purported racism.

But as you've put it on me...

If you use the word 'manhole' are you sexist? Cos I know a few people that would say you are. I say manhole cause it's a habit and it fits a description, and I am not sexist.

When I was a kid I sung the song about Daniel Boone that included the line: '...then ran like a nigger up the tree'. This was before I'd ever seen a black person. Was I, a young boy never exposed to black people, being racist?

The point being, words are learnt and applied in myriad ways, and there is no cover-all category for how they are used. I think it was obvious the point Mick was trying to make but, I believe, force of habit and lack of exposure (ain't too many Jews in Coolangatta) had him calling upon a learned response. The response was metaphorical. A very poor one, and one that displays ignorance, but ignorance and racism are two very different thing. And since when did we demand our sportstars be educated? (I should well ask, why do people expect sportstars to be pillars of virtue...it's a screwed up society that looks to pro athletes for ethical guidance)

Now...what about the family, and the township, that Mick supports in South Africa? They're black. How do you explain that? Fanning has been supporting them for many years, long before this issue, so it is not a knee-jerk, damage control shot at a photo op. He freely gives his time and money to a black community, so exactly where does he sit on the racist scale??

And, just as importantly, why don't we hear about this?

My answer: It feels good to bring a celebrity down a peg or two. No matter how you do it...

NOTE: I don't know Mick, never met him and have no need to protect him.

todd's picture
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todd commented Thursday, 15 Apr 2010 at 4:17am

Thanks for your prompt and considered reply. I agree and disagree. If you read the Stab article, it appears that Mick's (alleged) outburst to Chas Smith followed Mick asserting that Chas was "making a living out of surfing" out of his writing. The imputation that I took from the article was that Mick thought that Chas was parasitic and unfairly profiting from the sport that Mick had put his whole life into. Mick then summarised by calling Chas a F... J.. etc.
What I interpereted from this was that an age old racial stereotype of the ursurious Jew was being evoked, one of the Anti-Semitism 101 racial stereotypes that softened up the masses for the at least tacit approval of the murder of 6 million within a lifetime ago.
I don't think your Daniel Boone/ manhole analogies, as compelling as they may seem, negate this argument.
Again, I wasn't in the room at the time, so maybe it all happened a bit differently, and I won't weigh into the debate about Stab's role, as my journalistic credentials are nil.
As you say, I think this discussion has well and truly run it's course. I have no doubt that Mick regrets his outburst, and on reflection has probably re-examined his own racial stereotyping as you (and I) have done since we sang nursery rhymes, read children's books and played with Golliwogs as children.
He might blush a bit next time he meets up with (Jewish) fellow world Champion, Shaun Thomson.
Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to this discussion.

antonvigenser's picture
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antonvigenser commented Friday, 16 Apr 2010 at 2:17am

I'd be careful insulting the inteligence of a 15 year old.

Also, suggesting that STAB is like FHM or Ralph? Are you kidding? Tracks and ASL have become a carbon copy format. Seen the advertising that occurs n both? Someone above suggested Womens Day... well maybe.

But sheesh, mountain out of a mole hill! Racism is strange in Australia. Sometimes it seems, people only feel offended because they think other people may be offended. Then those people feel obligated to feel offended, when they know that all it was was some throw away comment made by 'who gives a shyte', who does not mean any harm or show and racist intent.

My subscription is safe with STAB.

Give e hell.

dan-burke's picture
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dan-burke commented Friday, 16 Apr 2010 at 2:18pm

When i buy STAB as a cheap resort, it gets ripped up and used as posters. Some other mags are worth collecting. But hey! even failed comedians need to test out their material in order to achieve a gong, and they might be the king of comedy in some redneck town.

Hard-Core Trimmer

home-goetznutz's picture
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home-goetznutz commented Monday, 19 Apr 2010 at 12:05am

Magazines are about just selling overpriced crap. The "lifestyle" the magazine supposedly supports is just the wrapping. Publishing houses like ACP and Morrison Media are businesses after all.

Why is that relevant to this discussion ? Because every magazine does what it thinks it needs to to sell itself. Often this results in a race to the bottom in terms of the real quality of content. Like it or not sensationalism and sex are proven sellers so that's what often gets used. The reverse is also true in that significant content can be omitted if it does not provide advantage to the title or publisher.

So accusations of "he did this or that" by media insiders is worthless. Firstly because any content cannot be trusted for the reasons already listed (i.e. profit motive vs honesty). And secondly because the commenator often only has a third hand account of what happened from a person who is also in the insudtry and has their own vested interests.

The bottom line is the whole industry is a crock and magazines are good for reading on the dunny but that's about it. Which is fine actually. Because for the punters it's just about surfing and having a beer with your mates. Not empire building.

stuz's picture
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stuz commented Tuesday, 20 Apr 2010 at 11:25pm

I looked at STAB once in the newsagent and couldn't believe what a load of shit I was looking at.


antonvigenser's picture
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antonvigenser commented Friday, 23 Apr 2010 at 12:31pm

i read stab on the toilet.

Give e hell.

bunker's picture
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bunker commented Saturday, 24 Apr 2010 at 9:56am

Is Charlie Smith Jewish?

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okie commented Sunday, 2 May 2010 at 2:42am

I think you are wrong stu. When was the last time any other surf journo wrote a Walkely-nominated piece ? Few and far between. I don't think you are jealous of Stab, I'm sure others are, but they ( stab) are simply filling a demand. If you don't like it, don't read it!

Other than that feel free complain, but be carefull, first stone and all that? You believe yourself, The Goodman? You beleive you have a right to censer whats written about the surfing world?

Are you weary or just protective? Protect us from the truth maybe?
Protect ego's getting hurt? Carefull built images being tarnished?

Simply, I like Stab because it isn't like any the others that are basicly copys of each other.So i like a lads mag with surfing in it, are you outraged? Will you censer me saying such terriable things? Think not, I enjoy your "blog " too stu but please, think your a little over top here, my good man.

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