30 March 2013

For whom the polls toll

In this piece by the Verbal Dickhead*, it is not necessary to go past the first two paragraphs to see the sheer depth and breadth of journalistic failure in the federal parliamentary press gallery:
Labor’s support among marginal seat voters has crashed in Queensland and Western Australia to levels similar to NSW, exposing it to the loss of all 24 marginal seats it holds across Australia and risking up to 15 more semi-marginal electorates.

The poll by JWS Research also finds that, despite the bleak outlook for Labor, most marginal seat voters would prefer it to win the election than Tony Abbott’s Coalition.
For a start, Coorey failed to report that this latest dropping of pollshit was commissioned by Peter Costello and two of his former staff. It covered fewer than one in a thousand voters, a cheap and nasty effort statistically as well as politically. JWS risks becoming the WHK Horvath of polling, even though Coorey's reputation remains strangely intact.

Previous generations of Chief Political Reporters would have a) noticed that it was doubtful and b) considered it a duty to pass on to their readers that a bunch of self-interested players were attempting to play them. Even Michael Stutchbury would have noticed that back when he was a journalist - but not Coorey, merely rephrasing the summary page from the pollshitters and dishing it up to AFR readers as though it were considered reporting on matters of significance.

More broadly, the fact that the government's policies are popular should give pause to fatalists who believe it is doomed. Doomed governments either have no policies to speak of, like the last Labor government in NSW, or have policies that are unpopular and from which there is no getting away, like the last Labor government in Queensland. Neither of those situations apply to the current federal government.

What Coorey is describing is a failure of journalism. It is the same failure he and his colleagues practiced three years ago, in a syllogism that goes like this:
  1. Journos write articles claiming PM can't communicate policy achievements.
  2. PM stages events where she communicates policy achievements, invites journos. After having thus communicated, journos ask PM if she is frustrated that she is not getting her message out.
  3. Go to step 1 and repeat until made redundant. Act all surprised and hurt when people who follow the news closely insist that political journalism is a joke. Give yourself a gong.
Coorey's notional boss at the AFR is Laura Tingle, who hasn't suffered the same general decline in quality. However, in her examination of the same phenomenon she too sidesteps the obvious issues from the boys at All Care No Responsibility Ltd, preferring instead to point out the motes in others' eyes while ignoring the beams in her own. She came close with this:
The great irony is that some of those most responsible for Labor’s present woes are likely to survive the coming rout, while much of the rising talent – among both Rudd and Gillard backers – will fall.
I still disagree that a Labor rout is inevitable in 2013, but otherwise Tingle is spot on: she, the Verbal Dickhead, forgotten-but-not-gone Michelle Grattan, and the two hundred or so other clowns in the press gallery will be just fine whatever happens.

This brings us to Gay Alcorn's latest. It is far better than her previous effort, but she still calls for sweeping change while wrongly praising the very behaviour that might usefully disappear if a better and more sustainable journalism is to be achieved.
The verdict from the parliamentary press gallery is in: the Prime Minister's government is dysfunctional, with lousy judgment and a fixation with polls ... Turn that around. What if this was the worst political reporting Australians have endured in history? Dysfunctional, with lousy judgment, fixated with polls, feigning concern about the toxicity of political discourse. And the public? They've stopped listening.

Too harsh? I'm not so sure.
Wonderful, air-punching stuff. Then came the confusion:
... the culmination of more than a year of "sources say" stories speculating or predicting (or even advocating) the imminent demise of Gillard. As it turned out, they were wrong.

It is not a simple story. Some bloggers and twitter tragics interpret every event as a giant media conspiracy, but journalists do not make up leadership tensions in my experience and they didn't last week.
So the press gallery has predicted fifty of the past two leadership contests, and they don't make things up? The Verbal Dickhead not only avoided the sack but got a promotion on the very basis that Ruddmentum was so tangible that he could taste it, and carve it into 600-word chunks every single day.

Look also at Alcorn's word "tragics". John Howard described himself as a "cricket tragic" to mean that he had wished to have represented Australia in cricket. Alcorn is implying here that people who criticise journalists want to be journalists, and that their criticism is diminished due to their failure to secure a job in a profession they criticise.

There is no evidence at all that those who criticise journalists have ever wanted to join their ranks. When you go to a restaurant and are served a poorly-cooked meal, and you complain about it, this does not make you a "chef tragic". If the Australian cricket team were to fob off their many critics as "tragics", it would be a sign that their problems go far deeper than mere batting, bowling and fielding.

It's also a straw man: show me the bloggers and tweeps who "interpret every event as a giant media conspiracy". Every event? This is the sort of sweeping statement for which social media users are looked down upon by just-the-facts journos, particularly the ones who don't really do professional self-reflection at all well.

The defence of unnamed sources is bullshit, especially now that we know who they are. Those ministers and other office-bearers who resigned the week before last are the "senior Labor sources" who were once both so murky and so indispensible to the press gallery. The same ones who have been carping away at Gillard for three years are the same ones behind the events of last week, that Alcorn would sheet home to Labor.

Which seer predicted in 2010 that Julia Gillard would thrash Rudd if he ever stood for the leadership again, that the Australian economy would be the best in the world, and that the minority government would prove to be about as stable as other governments with clear majorities? If you breathlessly predict every single day that Julia Gillard will cease to be Prime Minister, one day you might be right; but don't be surprised if people have stopped listening long beforehand.

There have been plenty of journalists who have misled us poor hapless readers over the years over the fate of the Prime Minister: shame on you if you fool me once, and all that. The real tragedy in many ways is that the journalists have lied to themselves. Can people who lie to themselves be relied upon to tell you the truth?

The nature of the politico-media complex is that it is not Labor's "shemozzle" only, but also that of the media. The fact that Joel Fitzgibbon gets national media coverage over even the most idle pronouncements shows the journosphere just can't let it go. It's why they don't believe Labor people when they say they're over it.

What are the sales figures for broadcast media like in marginal seats? What about the take-up of social media to get political information in those seats? Thought so.

Never send to know for whom the polls toll, journalists; they toll for thee. There is no way that the same organisations that produce such crap journalism can produce polls that you could take to the bank (even a Cypriot one). Every poll, and every journalist who writes the same article that everyone else writes, diminishes journalism. It's creepy and weird to be told by people who don't know you what you are thinking, or what you should be thinking, or what simply everybody is thinking and saying these days.

It is an old saw of media that stories get sensationalised in order to sell papers. As a former editor, Gay Alcorn may even have been guilty of that herself. My question is: who the hell buys a paper on the basis of "... senior Labor sources claim Rudd has the numbers this time for sure, no wait we're serious, come back ...". Shame on you if you fool me once, but if you fool me every day for years and years then give me a press gallery pass and a Walkley as substitutes for, rather than recognition of, credibility.

Journalists used to strike over outrages like this, or all those random redundancies, but not any more. They have lost pride in their profession. Nobody would notice when any such strike would begin, or end. The most concerted action they are taking in support of Ferguson is the very sort of action they have spent half a decade sneering at: knocking up an online petition.

What if someone like Verbal Dickhead really did stumble across a scoop that rendered the Gillard government unelectable, would you believe him? If you were dazzled by the glinting from his trophy room you might.

What if someone like Gay Alcorn promised a whole new way of covering federal politics, or of doing journalism more broadly? Well, so long as there was no change to any of the personnel and we all accepted their best intentions on the way they went about things, I'm sure she could really affect far-reaching change: yeah, right.

Journalists can be an insular bunch and few of them would read this blog. To get a reality check, members and defenders of the press gallery could do worse than consult their colleagues in the sports department. The AFL and NRL will hold their finals in late September/early October, in a schedule that was announced well before January. Ask them today who will win the respective grand finals this year. Study every tic that takes place on the field this weekend, fluff all your anonymous sources, and then declare Team X is inevitable, Team Y is doomed. When the laughter dies down, maybe you could deride them as press gallery tragics.

I recommend this. Latham is right in saying that the broadcast media has proven its need to be regulated, we do not need to wait until dead children here have their phones hacked in order to act.

He should have given more credit to Conroy. By insisting on no amendments and a limited timeframe, Conroy made himself the lightning-rod for the broadcasters rather than have them pick on an already jittery backbench. By defeating that legislation, the broadcast media have only ensured that moderate reform is off the table. The only options now are stasis or far-reaching regulatory reform, neither of which the dills who run our media organisations will cope with at all well.

Instead of renting out press gallery space to bloggers, the rule against recording devices in the public galleries should be abolished. Journalists would be better informed by sitting in public galleries rather than being corralled with other journalists. This would be a boon for freelance journalists, particularly those who don't cover politics per se but do cover issues that are occasionally subject to deliberations of Parliament. It would also force broadcast media to lift the quality of its coverage - and by expanding, not imperilling, free speech.

It's a general rule that those of us who don't watch Sky are better informed than those who watch nothing else, unless you want an insight into the thinking of the Liberals:
  • Kieran Gilbert reminds me of those big dumb dogs who lopes over to you, plants his paws on your crotch and then tries to lick your face.
  • David Speers is, aside from this not very recent interview, a muppet.
  • Chris Kenny is the enforcer of groupthink, rounding up rightwing stragglers and dispatching straw men in much the same way that Gerard Henderson heroically slew all those 'brigades' back in his day.
  • The various Van Onselens (Macca Pacca van Onselen, Upsy Daisy van Onselen etc.) are the sorts of fearless and savvy investigators who get done over by Julie Bishop. Because they have big mortgages so they will all go on telly and do whatever they are told: smile and think of the new bathroom fittings.
There are more people like them in western Sydney than Mark Latham would care to admit.

* There are two things to realise about Phillip Coorey.

The first is that he can't respond effectively to mild criticism or even questioning on social media. He's a broadcaster, not a communicator. He ramps it up even the most innocuous exchanges to a personal assault, hoping vehemence will give his arguments more force than they have, flinging his signature phrase from straight outta Fairfax Charm School: "Don't verbal me dickhead" (thus the term by which he's referred to on this blog, the Verbal Dickhead). This propensity in no way prevents him complaining about online incivility from others, or maintaining a self-image as someone who gives as good as he gets.

The second is that he's the President of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery. His output as a journalist used to be quite good, but it plunged in quality at around the time of last year's Midwinter Ball when he began to be showered with journosphere encomia and busywork titles. In terms of understanding how we are governed, he is a problem to be overcome rather than someone who illustrates where we are politically, where we've been and where we are going. The fact that he's their President belies any notion of self-awareness or a need to change on the part of the parliamentary press gallery.


  1. Absolutely nailed it. Top stuff Andrew. I feel no need to say more than that....Lucy

  2. Bushfire Bill30/3/13 5:29 pm

    An actual quote from a Coorey email to me. All typos, grammatical errors, misspellings and F-words are Coorey's (sic):

    "And itf you don't believe Rudd's people are not taling abut one last push, you should have been in on the conversations I had yesterday. I really am at a loss to know what the fuck your view is based on. Would love to know who's in your ear inside this place telling you Rudd not up to anything.
    Mate, for months, at the end of last year and early this year, I wads inunddated with emails from fuckwits claiming we were making up the leadership stuff. Then there was a challnege and they all went quiet, noyt a word of apology from one of them. I do not make this shit upo, I report . It is my job to inform people what ois going on and it is going on again. I am not predicting what will happen. Just what is beng said. For Cjhrist's sake, can yopu not get this through your thick head? Now goof bye. I will waste no more time rdealinbg with you. If you want to be kept in the dark, go and read the Aus'

    P. Coorey"

    Cut and pasted straight out of my archive of Coorey Classics.

    I eventually got banned or black-listed, whatever it's called.

    The point of my criticism was that he was being gamed.

    His point was that he didn't care whether he was being gamed or not, only that someone (anonymous) had said something (unstated) about Rudd taking back over again from Gillard and that he wasn't into whether it was possible or even plausible, just that it had been said. Good enough for Coorey to run countless articles on the subject of Ruddstoration (HE thought, at least).

    Pathetically, he listed the one challenge last February as proof he was onto something. He forgot that he'd been predicting imminent coups for months, or rather, reporting that OTHERS had been predicting them, which - when you think of it - in the context of a columnist of national standing and "heaviness", is the same thing.

    When I asked him why he didn't write about policy, this was his reply:

    "Page one lead, education policy. 400 words on page four on Rudd..."

    Meaning he fuked a policy article on page one, but not without writing about Rudd in the same edition.

    "Less than convincing," I thought to myself. In fact, hilarious.

    When I asked him for an example of

    1. I think we need to accept that some criticism of the press gallery came from people passionately stating that nothing was happening, so Coorey is right to defend himself there. Although he should at least acknowledge his poor strike rate!

      However, the core criticism remains valid: the press gallery willingly became players in egging on a challenge when the numbers were clearly never there. They told us over and over again, not just that there were rumblings, but that Gillard was gorn. As self-proclaimed 'insiders' they knew this as fact but were still desperate to make it happen - just, you know, in case it wouldn't happen by itself. In doing so they went beyond journalism.

      Coorey et al broke the rule of maintaining distance / keeping themselves separate from the story. And, just to make things worse, they got the story arse end up and came out of it looking like fools.

      As someone much more eloquent than myself said: insiders my arse.

  3. Loved your description of the gaggle of sky news journalists. My apology to genuine journalists where ever they may be these days.

  4. Interestingly, although they kept predicting the demise of Gillard, they failed to predict the change of leaders in Victoria and the Northern Territory when they happened.

  5. Excellent work as usual...but maybe we need to lift our eyes and look beyond the time servers in the press gallery. I would have thought that after last week any self respecting metropolitan newspaper editor when presented with a story quoting Joel Fitzgibbon would have spiked it (or whatever they do in the digital age) and sent the reporter to go and find some real news and not come bak until he had, or not come back. Michael Gawenda has had some coverage for his views on the press gallery but as a former editor of The Age it would be interesting to know how he would have handled Grattan et al over the last few years.
    I suppose the only good thing about Coorey is that he moved to the Fin where he is read by even Fewer people.

  6. You are right about Coorey, his stock answer to any criticism is fuck off.

  7. Once upon a time a few years ago I attended a media event about a major social issue.
    It had several hundred [minimum] people attending.
    Many were quite well known nationally and internationally - authors, poets, musicians, academics, union leaders, several church leaders, a wide selection of organizations eg Amnesty, half a dozen incumbent pollies, state and federal, from 3 different parties.
    A few stunts eg a march through the city to a prominent site where there were dozens of stalls, a band playing on the march, at the site there were speeches from the pollies, from the organisers, more bands ...and so on.

    The media had been invited, all of them, in advance and with timely reminders, all organized by professional lobbyist types.

    Media coverage that evening on radio and TV?
    Zero [mind you they had time to mention a footballer was going to miss some games cos of a crook shoulder].
    In print?
    The same.

    What's my point?
    Well I reckon the event was newsworthy.
    But the media didn't.
    They set the agenda.
    Major stuff invisible, trivia given prominence [not having a go at the mention of the footballer he was from my team after all].

    Ring a bell?


  8. Lachlan Ridge30/3/13 8:56 pm

    Having been at the wet end of the lettuce of Mr Coorey's wit I can endorse both Andrew and Bushfire Bell's comments. I still shake my head that press gallery journalists still have a job. Excellent analysis of the corner that the broadcast media have painted themselves into by rejecting mild reform. Hiostory is littered with examples of where this has blown up in the protagonists face not long after. Regarding Latham; he is only too well aware of the paucity of polls - check out some of his from early 2004. Apparently the Howard Government was done and dusted by then.

  9. Andrew You have pinged this group for what they are I have not watched sky for months and will not read the age online and choose who I read on the conversation. Michelle Grattan has never had the ability to analyse and compare policy I also put Annabel Crabb in the same category.
    My main source of information is now Independent Australia and your page. I have not purchased a newspaper since retirement as I have found what we are being fed is what these organisation want to feed you.

    1. Yep I agree. I gave up newspapers this year and don't watch any news at all anymore. If there's anything worth reading or watching in any of them (maybe once a fortnight), a well informed person links it somewhere on a blog or facebook and I can look at it. It makes me happy.

      Love being able to watch question time, and I switch off immediately it's over so as not to be told what a journalist thinks just happened on it.

      Far better analysis and commentary is found on this site and ones like it.

      Keep up the fantastic work.

  10. Bushfire Bill31/3/13 1:11 am

    Why, when they are going broke and mass sackings are the order of the day, employees of a firm would deliberately tell half their customers that they're idiots is beyond me.

  11. It happened again with Aus's AAA rating. Front page of the News papers?: Tony and Margie at home

  12. Thanks for the facts Andrew. Knowing that Costello and 2 former staffers commissioned a poll should be a big red flag to all journalists when reporting the results. I did hear Paul Bongiorno say that JWS wasn't held as fully reputable but he failed to give the reason why. PB could easily have dropped into his report some facts which the listener could then value judge the results. Our press gallery journalists are more concerned about looking after each other than giving the readers/ listeners information. I have often read/heard 'x is a friend' as part of the qualification why the fellow journalists report is unquestioned. Oh well back to the blogs/ tweets for the facts and the challenges. Thanks Andrew

  13. I'm a sports enthusiast, especially football (various codes). I evaluate MSM journalists by whether they are likely to give me some information that I value and otherwise may not discover. This may be a match report of a game I didn't see, some news relevant to the operation of the sport, or an insightful analysis of some tactical development being employed by a particular time. Some sports journalists produce insightful material, while many offer little of worth.
    However, all football journalists are subjected to a particular assessment of their understanding of the game, as their predictions of match outcomes are recorded and running tallies are published - e.g Bloggs 6/8 correct last week, progressive 23/32.
    I've been ruminating that a similar record should be maintained for the press gallery.
    My progressive figures for this term of Parliament read something like as follows:
    Grattan 103 predictions, 2 half-correct.
    Hartcher 127 predictions (he makes them more frequently), 2 half-correct.
    Carney (retired 2012, sin-binned ?)68 predictions 1 half-correct.
    Others might like to offer their estimates of their favourites.
    (Note, I'm generously allowing the prediction of the February 2012 challenge and the "something will happen last week" as correct, but in each case, half-right was the best that could be claimed, as they tipped the winner wrongly).
    If a racing or football tipster had such a poor record, it seems unlikely their tips would continue to be published, and their continued employment would be in jeopardy.

    Andrew, as ever your analysis is spot on. I regularly make the point that unlike March hopeful football teams, the particpants in the September Grand Final for the Australian Government title are already determined, and Gillard Labor will be one of the contenders.

  14. Thanks for your blog, I agree with your view of the press gallery. I hesitate to admit it, but I am a journalist - only a hack on a regional weekly, and not any kind of 'insider' but still. Just wanted to reassure that there are still some of us with regard for the truth and fair reporting - and do seek other sources of info and analysis. Thanks again for being one of them.

  15. Bathroom fittings et al....lol!

    Sth Yarra has a lot of these hacks around??

    Lobbyists have gone to the extreme where they stalk you to disclose your name and then try to sue or screw you/whiteant , its getting very ,very, nasty.

    Follow the University newtork as work to see who are doing dodgy deals Andrew.

    Cheers and great blog once again!

    Please go and see some of the acts at The Comedy Festival to hear the quick wit of our political dickheads.

  16. ....network at work...."


  17. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3iLFhgk9Ok

    Conroy's chief of staff here, both Wilson and he were at University together...

    This is why the a.l.p have lost their way by employing men of this "caliber"...

    Liberal in sheeps clothing or not i wonder?

    Have a closer look here when p.v.o asks him about his association with the A.W.U...

  18. Andrew

    They have lost pride in their profession.

    One problem, it is not longer a profession, its a pass time while waiting for a real job to come along, surly they don't get paid for writing their crap.

    As I keep screaming:-
    FFS Australia shake yourselves & BLOODY WAKE UP!!!

    1. Real job eh???

      When you see emotionally stunted adults in their thirties late forties still as hacks....

      Well its sad and pathetic really!

    2. Get press outside of Australia to write about this bias....

      The fourth estate gets nervous when The Guardian,the B.B.C or other reputable sources analyse our media...

      Look at the type of female Sky uses in their news format...

      Blonde,blue eyed and nice for the bored,rich old farts to perve at...

      Says it all really7

  19. love your work.
    ToeKnee was a journo - nuff said eh

  20. Van Onselen and The Contrarians....


    I.p.a hack always on every fortnight,ex Menzies House director,wifey of Peter,et al

    Its not all toeing the company line.

    Peter did have a decent rant against Kroger and Allan Jones

    He must have put his decent father hat on that day so those kiddies dont get too embarrassed when they are older and cringe at their old man.... At least the private school fees are paid for the lovely darlings..

    Pay homage to Frangopoulos as a powerful C.E.O.

  21. Creepy....

    Rang up an organisation after many years away and a work mate answered the phone...

    In less than a second,the staffer said their name over the phone...

    Thats beyond normal and crazy at the top end of town when dealing with people who are outsourced to write press releases for political parties...

    Corruption is evident here sadly and ge y are nastier,smarter and self entitled narcissists

  22. Coorey has been waging a campaign against the PM for longer than a year, nearly two years as I recall, possibly longer. A contact of mine who sees Coorey socially said gleefully recently "he can't stand Gillard". Also was told the other day a former senior News Limited political reporter is the 'Canberra correspondent' for the DLP propaganda rag News Weekly. I used to wonder as a young person under what conditions it would be possible for Australia to descend into fascism. It seems media concentration may be the vital ingredient.

  23. FYI, the link on the blog voting image is broken. Its missing the colon after the 'http'

  24. The story is even worse than you write. Not only does Corey not acknowelge who JWS is, the AFR had the poor judgement to commission a piece of junk. Its quality has plummeted since Stutchbury took the reins. The likes of Tingle must be holding her nose given the partisan garbage that goes for reporting nowadays - it seems to be a competition as who can make the most disparaging remarks about the PM/govt in their allotted 500 words - come on down Jennifer Hewlett.