For the JC August 2020
In an interview that made headlines around the world, Axios national political reporter Jonathan Swan took US President Donald Trump to task last week about his administration’s failure to tackle the Covid pandemic properly.
He constantly picked the president up on every unsubstantiated claim: when Mr Trump said “people say…”, Jonathan Swan immediately shot back “Which people?”
Most of all, however, he challenged the president’s grasp of statistics about Covid cases and the enormous number of deaths in America.
To Australians, knowing Jonathan’s father, Dr Norman Swan, the country’s pre-eminent health journalist and its leading expert in dealing with the virus, the interview came as no surprise.
Dr Swan, 67, began life in Glasgow as Norman Swirsky, active in Habonim. After qualifying in medicine and becoming a paediatric specialist, he emigrated to Sydney and changed careers by joining the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1982.
Since then he has become Australian media’s best known face and voice, working on TV and radio, and latterly offering calm advice on how best to deal with the pandemic. But he has been highly critical of his own government’s poor communications with its citizens.
He says: “You see all these Twitter messages saying ‘Norman for chief medical officer’. Thanks very much, but no. I don’t want to be the national spokesperson for coronavirus. My job is to hold the government to account”.
The family are members of Sydney’s Reform congregation, and Dr Swan says one of the programmes of which he is most proud is a four-part radio series on the origins of Israel and Zionism, which he made for Australia’s Radio National.
His tough, no-nonsense approach — he has won a number of journalistic awards — has evidently rubbed off on his son. Jonathan Swan says he regularly calls his father to “workshop and talk through strategies ahead of big interviews”, according to BuzzFeed News.
According to a commentator on the Sydney Morning Herald, “The success of the father is because of his ability to cut through all the white noise with a tone of concise and unimpeachable authority. The success of the son-also-rises has been in publicly challenging the very much impeached authority of the President of the United States.
“In Jonathan’s gobsmacked expressions as Trump spoke, we saw ourselves – wondering how such a man as this could hold such an office at such a time, and give such answers —but Swan the Younger was doing it in the White House”.