Naomi Wolf Records Call With Angus Taylor's Office, Posts On YouTube, As Oxford Row Escalates
American author Naomi Wolf has accused scandal-plagued federal minister Angus Taylor of an "anti-semitic dogwhistle", in a bizarre controversy over his first speech to parliament in 2013.
Wolf -- a feminist writer, journalist and political consultant -- called Taylor's office late overnight on Wednesday, recording a 30-minute conversation with an unnamed member of his staff in which she asked for an explanation and apology, which she later posted on YouTube.
The unlikely spat took another turn late on Thursday, as Taylor in turn demanded an apology from Wolf, claiming she had made "unsubstantiated and outrageous accusations" against him.
The strange row erupted earlier this week, when Labor MP Tim Watts tweeted part of a transcript of Taylor's first speech to parliament in 2013. In the speech, the energy minister told the House of Representatives of an alleged incident when he studied at Oxford University in 1991, where he alleged some other students wanted to "abandon the Christmas tree in the common room because some people might be offended."
"A few of us pushed back hard. In the end we won, because we were mainstream. But we must resist the insidious political correctness which would have us discard those core values that have made us great," Taylor continued.
The minister claimed "a young Naomi Wolf lived a couple of doors down the corridor" when he studied there in 1991. But Wolf, alerted to Watts' tweet by a follower, soon replied that while she had studied at Oxford, she left the university in 1985 and was not living there in 1991 when Taylor was.
In subsequent tweets, she added "Also at least in my day there were no Christmas trees or any religious decor in the common room" at the college where she lived. She also claimed that another line from the transcript tweeted by Watts was an "anti-Semitic dogwhistle".
Wolf has published dozens of tweets in recent days, giving her version of events and publicly asking Taylor's office for clarification or comment. She said she spent much of the year of 1991 in New York City, or travelling to promote a book.
10 daily has contacted Taylor's office for comment and clarification about the timeline he set out in his speech. Taylor's office told The Guardian on Monday that he "rejects any assertion he is anti-Semitic" and pointed out that one of his own grandparents is Jewish.
But on Thursday, Wolf escalated the dispute dramatically by first phoning Taylor's parliamentary office directly, then recording and posting the 29-minute conversation on YouTube.
The call appears to have taken place overnight on Wednesday night or Thursday morning, Canberra time, with the staffer saying at various points in the half-hour call that the time was 11.30pm, midnight, or 1am. Wolf does not appear to inform the staffer that she is recording the call until the very end of the conversation.
The male staff member, who does not give his name, does not appear to realise he is talking to Naomi Wolf herself until about six minutes into the conversation, asking "sorry, who's calling?"
"Just to be clear, I am Naomi Wolf," the author said.
She told viewers before the call began that she wanted to "correct his misstatement that I was allegedly in 1991 'warring on Christmas' and trying to campaign to remove a Christmas tree from the common room. It didn't happen. I was in New York."
"I'm ringing his parliamentary office. They're not picking up. I think it's important to correct the record for a lot of reasons," she continues, as the phone call is picked up.
Wolf identifies herself clearly as "Naomi Wolf, the writer" at the beginning of the call. In the background of the call, people can be heard laughing, cheering, yelling and talking loudly, as if a party or gathering was occurring.
The staffer claims Taylor never directly linked Wolf to the push to remove the Christmas tree in the Oxford common room, simply saying she was there at the time, and added that "advice has been provided to each of the media organisations that have reported on this story" to clarify this.
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When Wolf asked for details of this clarification, the staffer said they could not share that information, and repeatedly asked the author to submit questions in writing via email. She declined to do so, saying she wanted to speak to someone directly and ask follow-up questions.
“Mr Taylor seems to recall that you were in Oxford,” the staffer told Wolf when she disputed his speech claiming she was there in 1991.
“It can’t be a matter of opinion between me and Mr Taylor, or a matter of dispute or different impressions about him allegedly seeing me in Oxford in 1991,” she replied.
At the very end of the call, the staffer provides an email address for one of Taylor's media spokespeople. 10 daily has contacted that person, as well as another member of Taylor's media team, for comment.
"I appreciate your patience. What was your name please? Just to let you know this has been recorded," Wolf said as the call finishes and the staffer ends the conversation.
Wolf tweeted a link to the YouTube clip on Thursday morning, calling the conversation a "surreal and alarming experience".
Taylor responded to the incident in parliament on Thursday afternoon, alleging Wolf had made "unsubstantiated and outrageous accusations" against him, and standing by his claim that he saw her at Oxford in 1991.
"Of course I recall seeing and meeting Ms Wolf at New College in Oxford during my time there. She began her studies there in the mid-80s and she finished at Oxford only a couple of years ago. Now my speech to the parliament six years ago did not say she was involved in the war on Christmas," Taylor told parliament.
Wolf quickly tweeted a response, saying "I stand by every word I spoke and wrote. I am truly shocked."