29 May 2013

The aroma of decay

Two disgracefully beef-witted articles by experienced journalists about their 'profession' almost but did not quite succeed in detracting me from completing articles and other activities.

The first one was Sweet Barrie Cassidy, showing us how journalists no longer pride themselves on their resistance to bullshit but the sheer quantity of it that they swallow:
The Coalition's strategy reminds Barrie Cassidy of the campaign that brought David Cameron to power in Britain.
Thanks to Nick Davies from The Guardian and the Leveson Inquiry, we know that the British media, and its relationship with that country's political and law-enforcement systems, was essentially corrupt. The Cameron government came to office as a result of a corrupt politico-media strategy, in a corrupt politico-media environment. Cassidy is pretty much alleging the same is true of the Australian media today.
When David Cameron became leader of the British Conservatives in December 2005, he set about almost immediately creating a sense of inevitability: he was the prime minister in waiting and Labour’s days were numbered.

Fraser Nelson, writing for the Spectator in June 2006, quoted a senior Conservative policy maker who said the game plan was to create a "Cameronian aroma" which was "vastly more important than any specific policies the party would advocate."

Nelson wrote: "The task (according to the policy maker) is to create an aroma around the Conservatives so people naturally imagine our policies are the right ones without necessarily knowing what they are. It is about turning the intangibility of Mr Cameron into an asset.
When Tony Abbott became leader of the Australian conservatives in 2009, he set about almost immediately creating a sense that the Rudd government faffed around and backed down all the time, which it had done and continued to do. He continued this long after the Gillard government outflanked him in negotiations after 2010, and outflanked him again and again on key legislation since. As a conservative, Abbott cannot pick the difference between a passing fad and a structural shift, and neither can Sweet Barrie or the press gallery.

Abbott is not intangible. He was a high-profile figure in the previous conservative government. Cameron had been a press secretary, not an MP or a minister, under the Thatcher and Major governments. The only people who like Abbott are people who don't know him very well, and the few who are no better than he is, clearly including Sweet Barrie.
... the notion that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are somehow being unfair by not spelling out chapter and verse the Coalition's economic strategy until the last couple of weeks of the election campaign.

They will not because ... they don't have to.
But they do have to - if for no other reason to give journalists some self-respect.

So unfair of us to expect politicians to tell us how they will govern us. So unfair of us to expect journalists to go through the undignified work of finding out. Waiting until the last minute didn't work last time and it didn't work the time before, either.
The electorate already regards their policies as superior to the Government's without even knowing what they are. They base that judgment on the "aroma", the sense that the Coalition is simply better at economic management than Labor.
No, they give the Coalition the benefit of the doubt, because a) the government has been relentlessly bagged at every turn and b) the Coalition hasn't been scrutinised as an alternative government. The broadcast media in general and the press gallery in particular are responsible for that. The only "aroma" here is one of decay on their part.
There will be considerable cynicism with that approach all the way through until September, and no doubt some uncomfortable truths expressed when the policy is finally released. But those truths will need to be exceptionally uncomfortable – and vividly transparent – if the entrenched views of the Government's competency, or lack of it, is going to be reversed.
Abbott's whole approach has been to pretend that economic and political realities are different to the way they are. The quibbling over the accuracy and validity of budget figures are a sign of that. The government has not been able to pretend things are different to the way they are, and has faced up to reality. The broadcast media, Sweet Barrie included, are endorsing the non-reality based approach.
In his speech, Abbott promised to keep the tax cuts and the pension increases linked to the carbon tax, and to delay the increase in super contributions.

He also kept open the option of keeping all of the Government's tax increases and spending cuts "to deal with the budget emergency".

But apart from that, it was essentially a political speech, big on a critique of the Government and short on alternatives.
Tony Abbott has a record of saying things he doesn't really mean in order to get elected, and then doing things other than what he'd said once in office. The idea that any politician can cut taxes and increase spending at a time of economic uncertainty, while criticising others for being economically irresponsible, is bullshit. Sweet Barrie and the gang have a responsibility to call out the opposition on that, a responsibility they have shirked.
First, the Coalition put out the two policies ahead of the budget that were never going to be well received: a timid industrial relations document that disappointed their traditional constituency and a far from convincing National Broadband Network alternative.

Labor Party research has found the Coalition's NBN policy is close to the disaster that social media feedback suggested it was.

Not only do two-thirds of Australians have some knowledge of the policy, but by two-to-one, they prefer the Government's approach ...

But it was quickly accepted by business that Abbott and his colleagues would be pushed no further on workplace reform, at least not now.
In both cases, it is fair to accept that the Coalition will act differently on those policy areas than their words suggest. Harsh realities like the unsustainability of the copper networks and the link between productivity and the workplace relations system, and the focus on those realities, did for those policies.

Note also Cassidy's old-media harrumph about the link between social media opinion and poll findings. Liberal Party research almost certainly shows the same thing, but because it is not self-serving they will not share it with Sweet Barrie nor anyone else. Sometimes it's best to examine events in real time rather than wait around for someone to spin you out some pollshit.

The reason why business is not condemning the Coalition's stated workplace relations policy is because they know there is no relationship between that and what the Coalition would actually do. Real journalists would have smoked that out, but not Sweet Barrie or the press gallery.
The second stage of the strategy will see the Coalition incrementally release as many "good news" policy initiatives that it can muster in the period between now and the release of the pre-election update in mid-August.
All of them will be based upon unrealistic economic assumptions, not the least of which is the imperative to cut the budget for its own sake. It's one thing for different parties to offer competing policies based on an understanding of where the country is at, but it's another thing for one party to both refuse to face reality and insist that it is still in the game. The Coalition still think the electorate are greedy bastards who just want cash shovelled at them/us, and the results of the last two elections don't support that; the one thing Kevin Rudd got right was to call Howard on his cash-splashes, after which one of the most deft politicians of our time ran out of options. Neither the Coalition nor the media (including Sweet Barrie) have any excuse for not having learned that lesson.
Enough to create interest and hold at bay those demanding more detail.
Interest is conditional upon detail. The less detail, the less credibility and the less interest. The term for high-interest-low-detail is hype.
The third and final stage is the tricky bit - the release of the "bad news" along with the funding detail, which last time around proved to be so ropy.

On that score, a party with a big lead in the opinion polls has the luxury of assuming it will come too late to make very much difference.
Just like Beazley in 2001, I suppose. Ropey policies before the budget, ropey policies after the budget, and ropey, dopey, slippery-slopey policies after the PEFO - and they're still going to cruise to victory apparently - if Sweet Barrie and the aromatic press gallery have anything to do with it. So much for this old stager insisting that the press would get around to scrutinising Abbott in their own sweet time.
The Government will howl long and hard about [the press falling into line with Coalition strategy]. The tactic will frustrate many people who want to make a considered judgment on the two policy prescriptions. But that's how it will happen this time and next, no matter who is in government and who is in opposition.
It will only happen next time if the Coalition is vindicated this time. If the Coalition is not vindicated then the way Australian journalism is practiced will have to change. The idea that the press gallery can survive regardless of the election outcome is manifestly false, another example of journos kidding themselves to the endangerment of their careers.
Fraser Nelson in that Spectator article suggested the British general election in 2010 would be about the Cameron fragrance versus the five-year plans of the government.
And as Britain enters recession for the third time under the incumbents, it is clear that the politicians and the press sold them an absolute dog of a government, one that had no policies that were appropriate or even credible in terms of the economic and political circumstances facing that country. The same prospect faces us today, and the journosphere is doing nothing to avert the political and economic - and yes, media - disaster that befalls the UK today.
Make that the 10-year plans of the Gillard Government and you get the picture here.
No Barrie. The Cameron fragrance has dispersed, and so too have the plans of the previous government. The UK is left in a political wasteland. If Abbott wins Australia will have a government that has no clue and a Labor opposition unsure of what lessons the electorate was trying to teach it - but hey, the press gallery will stumble and bumble along, attempting to assure us that not only does Abbott's shit not stink but that it is positively fragrant (and who knows more about Abbott's shit than the press gallery?).

The only reason to watch Cassidy's show Insiders is for the old-school interviewing. Cassidy might be the last consistently good interviewer in Australian political journalism (quibble with that if you will, but name me better - everyone else has abandoned the field). The flick-through of cartoons and photos is also very good and deserves more space. Just as The Simpsons outgrew The Tracey Ullman Show, let's hope Talking Pictures keeps going long after Insiders has gone. The other three-quarters of the show, inane jabbering about spin, is a complete waste of time and resources.

That lack of reflection by the media about their own role is also present in this piece on a site much lauded by the broadcast media for its skill in colonising new media with the values of the old. It's all very well as an introductory piece on how to get media attention for people who've never done it before. It's bullshit when addressed to the current government - as if there is any way of opening the closed, small and inflexible minds of the press gallery.

Julia Gillard came to office without the help of the press gallery, only the second PM to do so in the past 50 years. If she wins re-election she will have no reason at all to thank the media, or to change the way she deals with them going forward. Rizvi makes the same mistake that Sweet Barrie makes, assuming that the press gallery is as permanent a feature of the Canberra landscape as Lake Burley Griffin.

Be in no doubt that the careers of every political journalist in Canberra, and beyond, is in play right now. Their die is cast, and even if Abbott were to win it would only prolong the inevitable. There is no market for obtuse journalism, no desire to hear from Kool-Aid drinkers like Jamila Rizvi and Sweet Barrie Cassidy - let alone drink the regurgitated stuff as they would have us do.


  1. The career of every political journalist in Canberra is in play right now....


    They have mortgages and children. Keep that in mind when reading their articles.

    Gen y like Latika Bourke are of a different mindset...

    Careerists and no responsibilities yet??

    Their analysis is akin to Fairy Floss journalism.

    1. Poor reporting is not a function of age. Plenty of journos old enough to know better, don't.

    2. Poor journalism is not a function of age. Plenty who are old enough to know better, don't.

    3. Age=life experience Andrew.

      That was my point!


  2. Megalogenis is a star!!

    Hes the exception to the rule on insiders.

    1. Add Tingle and Taylor to that, and occasionally Farr. No matter who else is on though, toads like Akerman, Henderson and Savva set the tone for the show.

  3. With all due respect to Laura Tingle who has referred to the coalitions constant mantra as vomit and advisers as idiots....

    She's another star Andrew...

    Respect to her as well.

    Furthermore,analysing the intellectual dishonesty of any writer are their appearances on Media Watch.

    Take that show with a grain of salt...

    Sally's (replacement for Raph Epstein ,a.b.c) lazy comment of not investigating the I.p.a and their secret donors was silly.

    I hope she was being faecitious!

    The decay started long ago Andrew...

  4. G'day Andrew,

    I read Barrie's comments on Abbott et al not spelling out their policies because "they don't have to" as a lamentation, not just straight observation. But if so, I don't understand why would he rail against the prevailing poor standards of objective journalism while also hosting a show that almost seems designed to lower them further. Particularly when he should have enough clout in his industry to act otherwise: It seems a little defeatist and cynical for no real gain, beyond a knowing wink from fellow cynics.

  5. I don't watch the talking heads shows, I would rather stick blunt bamboo shoots under my finger and toe nails and bleed out.

    The problem is the rarified air in the top floor of the PH where the species of pretend journos. live. It needs a water bag and cut lunch to get there and they spend all day reading daggy press releases and decide what line to take.

    Heaven forbid they actually ever ask a journo. to explain why they still get away with claiming asylum seekers enter this country illegally, or ask questions about the Stazi like behaviour of "DIAC we saw last night on SBS Dateline.

    Gillard was so frigging proud of herself and her illicit prison wasn't she? Swanning around patting the brown people on the head as if she was their Red Queen and signing dirty deals for illegal dirty prisons.

  6. Andrew, you are making me nervous. Do you think Tony Abbott will be PM after all? I still believe the Libs will not win largely because of Work Choices. It has been shown time and again that he is not trusted by the electorate. He is a notorious flip flopper. Why would vulnerable voters working on contracts or casually accept his word that no changes will be made to workplace relation laws until after a subsequent election? That said I found your article both riveting and disturbing. You are so right.

  7. Off tangent here but relevant...

    Goodbye Martin Ferguson.

    Observing the sentiment in Mr Abbotts speech,i was squirming....

    Weird display of emotion there from a man so strict with his own thus far!

    Mad Monk # 101

  8. I rate Emma Alberici's interviewing skills, but then she's not part of the press gallery.

    As for the press gallery, I think highly of Tingle. Taylor can also be good, and I'll normally read Farr and Atkins. Andrew Probyn and Shane Wright from the West are also good. Megalogenis was also a favourite before his departure (hopefully he'll be back soon).

    For anything finance/budget related I think we're better off ignoring the gallery (apart from the above people) and going to Gittins, Irving or Pascoe. Outside the MSM, Greg Jericho and Matt Cowgill are worth following.

    Of the right wingers on the "couch" I prefer Henderson. I often don't agree with what he says and he brings his ideological biases along with him (but unfortunately leaves his sense of humour behind). However, at least he doesn't come across as a barracker like Akerman and Savva.

  9. You have to wonder at the press gallery! I know you do Andrew. Yesterday. My goodness. I found the reporting of Tony Abbott's reaction to Martin Ferguson's declared departure hilarious. They bought it. The tears welling. The voice breaking, the lauding of Ferguson as a great Labor man from a once great party. Abbott was having fun. He was putting on a panto. He was really saying the A LP is now so hopeless that even a stalwart like Ferguson is jumping ship. It is all so dreary.

    1. Anon

      Cassidy went in hard on Faines show

      Interested to see how the Q and A session with Bernardi goes next week.

      A.b.c have had some great guests of late including Bill Gates.

      Creepy Bernardi is always amusing to watch as he espouses his own extremism

    2. RRR has a nice little show that does some decent political analysis

      Spoke with Michelle Bennett

      Tuesdays 10.00 am till 12.00pm

      Great interviews with Crikey,Ex spin doctors and a political wonk

      Nice stuff for a younger demographic

    3. Re Abbott's ham acting
      Thanks Anon. Yes I heard Barry Cassidy and I was delighted to have my suspicions confirmed. I did not see Abbott make the Ferguson speech but I heard him and I knew immediately that he was performing. I can't understand why journalists don't try to enliven their jobs by being alert to motives, the unsaid, the untrue, the overstated, context, history ... With few exceptions they all sound the same. Someone by now could have written a very amusing piece about the blue ties they are all wearing, and jackets for the ladies. Is it a trivial matter? Yes and no. I think the uniform says a lot.

  10. Andrew we will if the Libs win lament the hopelessness of our political journalists.I now do not believe any of them and feel so frustrated at the ABC for a lose of belief in their investigative ability and their willingness to ask questions of the oppositions policies. They will not and cannot provide the voters with information to come to a decision about how to compare policies from the two major parties.
    I do look forward to your posts.

  11. My bet is this small target strategy, abetted by the press gallery, will blow up in Abbott's face.

    People will go with the devil they know - after 3 years its really not so bad. Shit has gotten done.

    Abbott on the other hand, the longer he goes without an election (hence the AWU, Thomson and Slipper hullabaloo) the longer the piece of rope he will hang himself with. Case in point, today's expose of this weeks lies regarding the election funding. Legislatively he doesnt have a leg to stand on. What has he contributed in the past 3 years? Nothing.

    It should have happened a lot sooner but the press gallery has been as full as shit as Abbott.

  12. Looking at the media frenzy of a comment made by that guy whose a president of a football club..

    .Its not just confined to the political spectrum

    Polite racism is a nice sign of decay...

    I wonder what the jokes about Obama are by those idiot apparatchiks in the young liberal lounge these days or that cafe in Canberra.

    Sorry to go off on a tangent but decay in the media and indigenous health with those nasty interventions has been overlooked by' polite racism'........