29 October 2007

Needing a clue

We are in the middle of an election campaign where this country's government may well change. We turn to the media to tell us what's going on, and they can't get over themselves long enough to think about what's in front of them, and write about it.

Badly thought-out columns like this are doing Jase no good at all.

It's a long-standing beef of mine that negative ads only work where you have voluntary voting: they discourage your targets from turning up and get your voters riled up enough to vote against said targets. It is uncomfortable having Jase on board, but it's a relief that he's not here for any good or sensible reason:
The first was a restoration of basic standards. "Before anything else, we need to produce children out of schools who can read and write and spell and add up," Howard said. Where does he think we are? Botswana?

He's been in office for eleven years, Jase, and you've never asked him a single question about education: not preschool, not uni, not anything in between. He doesn't deserve to be taken on face value and neither do you.
Nothing wrong with that, but is having a country full of top plumbers what we really need?

10-15% of Sydney's water disappears through faulty plumbing: we have too few plumbers, but too many clowns in the press gallery making idle statements like that. Roll up your sleeves Jase and get stuck into some useful work.

The same can be said for pre-glasnost era propagandists Milney & Michelle, who might sound like a breakfast radio show but without the heavy analysis you get in that format:
THE Coalition's shaky election campaign was in danger of running off the rails last night with revelations of a serious split in Cabinet on the critical issue of climate change.

In a gift to Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister John Howard and Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull refused to deny reports that Mr Turnbull had made a desperate attempt only six weeks ago to change Mr Howard's mind on climate change.

Mr Howard and Mr Turnbull stonewalled over reports that Mr Turnbull had taken a submission to Cabinet arguing that the government should sign the Kyoto Protocol. Ratifying the protocol is Labor policy.

There it is, in the third paragraph: the Environment Minister thought it'd be a good idea to sign the Kyoto protocol on carbon emission controls: he took it to Cabinet and it got turfed. That's the story here, guys. But oh no, M&M are determined to miss the point, and they miss it together:
The political embarrassment in the small shopfront in North Parramatta was palpable. It was one of the bad moments of the Coalition's campaign, of which there are now a few.

Yeah, but what would happen if Australia had signed up to Kyoto, M&M? What costs, what benefits? That's what your job is, not trying to second-guess the kind of knobs who feed you the tidbits you turn into droppings on the page.
Angry Liberal colleagues immediately accused Mr Turnbull of jettisoning the Government's position in order to save his marginal - and green - Sydney seat of Wentworth.

One minister said Mr Turnbull was not a team player and described him as being "desperate" about his prospects in Wentworth.

Mr Turnbull has been under pressure in his seat not only on climate change but also over his recent approval of a large paper pulp mill in Tasmania.

Wentworth is a seat that Labor has not held in 106 years on Australian nationhood. He should have done this ages ago, so that he might have some credibility: vote for me and I'll stand up to the powers that be. The "minister" quoted by M&M has done nobody in the government any favours by suggesting that the way to getting back into government is to introduce positive and forward-looking policy. The "minister" should have shared Turnbull's concern about Wentworth: hopefully this minister isn't one of the ones who was so blithe about Hanson.
The PM soon made for his car ... Then he sped off. We are left to speculate about who leaked the Kyoto story

Yeah right, as if John Howard was going to announce at a press conference who leaked. Good one! Until press gallery "Doyen(ne)s" like M&M regard Kyoto as something other than a twitch in the body politic, they'll never fulfil their only legitimate role of helping us understand what our government is doing.
Repeatedly, Howard simply parrotted that what we need is a new agreement.

The fact that Howard can't identify what that agreement should be and hasn't taking a leadership role internationally after hanging Robert Hill out to dry means Howard has no credibility on this issue, and M&M should be exploring that. M&M should wonder what value there is, hanging around North Parramatta or Canberra or anywhere else, listening to politicians 'parrot' the same old uninformative garbage, giving them free pass after free pass, ensuring that smart and tough questions are never asked, and that government doesn't have to bring any discipline to informing people how they are governed (let alone in analysing information and making decisions) - no, the only discipline comes in parroting, M&M love a good parrot. If he'd departed from the script, nobody would be more down on him than M&M.
Other signs are also emerging in the Liberal camp suggesting MPs have lost confidence in the Prime Minister.

And what does your "minister" have to say about that, M&M? How does it gel with the rest of your article? Do you think Liberal candidates should have to sneak back in, making themselves out as quasi-independents? Either John Howard provides election-winning leadership or he doesn't.
Now there's this:
Campaigns are all about momentum and John Howard lost his last week, courtesy of a debate performance that failed to knock Kevin Rudd off his perch and the trip wire of an underlying inflation rate that points almost inevitably to a Melbourne Cup Day-plus-one interest rate rise.

Campaigns aren't all about momentum, though one without it is in more trouble than one with. I'd suggest that ten months of dire polls would have meant that Labor went into the campaign with more momentum than the government.

Besides, which is the greater departure from the official li(n)e: the sudden recognition of Aborigines or the signing of a treaty whose targets we're going to meet anyway?
And then along came Malcolm, once again in the middle of a dreadful muddle.

Why a muddle, why dreadful? That's your job, to tell us. On the issue of environmentalism Turnbull shows greater clarity of thought than doyen(ne)s.
Howard expended a lot of campaign ammunition when he loaded the starter's gun with $34 billion worth of tax cut bullets.

Starters' guns are not loaded with ammunition. They make noise but otherwise have no substance, a bit like you really. That's the peril of the mixed metaphor: it shows you're not thinking properly.
Turnbull says he didn't leak the story and I, for one, believe him. My understanding is that two other cabinet ministers were responsible. The motive is unclear, but there are only two alternatives here: malevolence, directed at Turnbull in the context of the future leadership of the Liberal Party; or gross incompetence. The trouble is both suggest the Government at the most senior levels is unqualified to continue in office.

There are plenty of other issues that demonstrate this government's unfitness for office, too bad you've missed them. Too bad you think that the future leadership of the Liberal Party is the only prism through which to view policy.
Turnbull hasn't got a phone box worth of votes in the Liberal caucus and is therefore not even a remote danger to Costello.

Yeah, that's what they said about Kevin Rudd this time last year.
Viewed that way, the drop, if it was aimed surgically at Turnbull, was a grotesque failure in that it has hurt the Government as a whole, including Costello.

What a grotesque train-smash of a sentence that is, more evidence that the writer isn't thinking about what he's saying.

The reason why this story was leaked was to protect Howard. Their intended message is that Howard stands firm against flip-flopping and wobbly thinking. That is all. When you've been observing politics for as long as I have, Milney, you pick that sort of thing up. It's interesting that nobody bothered leaking directly to you!
But if the election finishes up where it's clearly headed now, it's the third of these failures for which Howard might most resent Turnbull.

Howard may well blame someone other than himself for his own failings, but it's poor analysis to imply that such a silly opinion may somehow be justified.
The media convention in political campaigns is to judge them on a week-by-week basis. On this measure, the Government had a good first week and a bad second week.

Stuff the media convention, Shaun. We're little better off in terms of understanding how we would be governed, and therefore you and your profession have failed. You do realise those jaunts - now Bunbury, now Launceston, now Glenelg, now West Ryde, now Innisfail - are designed to create a sense of movement and broad-mindedness that political parties generally lack. Your job is to unpick them, not get caught up in them.

This laziness isn't just confined to political journalism, though that's where it's most toxic and urgent. The 'firestorm' over Elka Graham's drug comments is caused by lazy journalists who could've followed up if they wanted to, chose not to, and have been shown up for not doing their jobs. It isn't Elka Graham who's cheated us.

Sometimes you just have to call it as it is, and your analysis just isn't good enough because you're analysing the wrong things. The days when media consumers/ citizens/ voters/ taxpayers just had to put up with this sort of self-indulgence is long past.


  1. Just discovered your site. Provocative and thoughtful. (although indeed, as a target, the Oz media is a barrelful of fish).

    Maybe I misread the subtext but I assumed Milne saw everything from the perspective of Costello's interests, hence his taking any opportunity to lambast Turnbull.

  2. Thankyou, and you're probably right. Milney would like to think of himself as broader than that, and so would his employers: looked a lot like a man struggling to backfill after being left out of a big story.