16 October 2016

The Game nobody wins

Politicians and political journalists in capital cities across the world have different versions of The Game. The Game involves the politicians feeding gobbets of content to the journalists, and the journalists excrete content that flatters the politicians who fed them, and thus two groups of lonely people prop up one another.

Hillary Clinton will almost certainly be elected President of the United States within weeks*. Many of the profiles of her, like this one, return to a common theme:
[Clinton] has been a presence in American public life for more than a third of a century, and yet for all her ubiquity she remains a curiously unknown quantity to many voters.
That, in its purest form, is journalistic failure. Journalists have been observing a person up close for years, hearing their words, challenging them on their positons and motivations, watching them smile and flinch and empathise and snarl, and yet after hectares of print and hours of blather, they concede the person has been hiding in plain sight all this time.

The same publication conceded the same about Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan, and yet it is regarded as the pre-eminent news source in the United States. Other organisations make the same admission: after all this time, we don't know who Hillary Clinton is, so what hope do voters/readers have to form an opinion about her suitability for the Presidency?

In the UK too, at a time of great upheaval (the kind of upheaval that will be felt for years, and whose full effects can't be known by deadline), Theresa May has ascended to the top of British politics while being - you guessed it - unknown. Her Chancellor of the Exchequer, who would be the architect of Britain's post-EU economy, is also regularly described as unknown.

In Australia, the current Prime Minister and his predecessor/stalker are both former working journalists. Both understand the need of journalists to have content several times each day to justify their existences and gum up their employers' output schedules. Both were better at The Game before they became Prime Minister, and each was hopeless afterward.

The Australian media was unable to explain how each of these well-known men would perform the duties of Prime Minister, an office established and occupied for more than a century and covered extensively by political journalists. The morsels that do come to them via The Game are so petty they actually discourage people from taking an interest in how we are governed, and this imperils the very media organisations that employ journalists. Merely by doing their jobs they way they've always done them, journalists are not shoring up their own positions or reaching out to the community they serve; they are committing professional suicide.

The doyen of the press gallery, Laurie Oakes, has known the current Prime Minister since he was an undergraduate. It is not at all difficult to dig up glowing profiles of Malcolm Turnbull as a potential Prime Minister. It ought not be a surprise, then, to find him in the office of Prime Minister but without a clear agenda as to what (or even how) he might put the powers of that office to best use.

In the past week we saw Kelly O'Dwyer accuse her Labor detractors of point-scoring, and then fail to accrue any sort of credit for doing so - other than column-inches and airtime minutes by press gallery journalists shunning the readers/ listeners/ viewers whose patronage keeps their employers in business. But this gets us back where we started.

We are at a point where The Game seems to work for no-one. We've been here for years. Part of the reason why I haven't blogged much this year is sheer disgust at this fact, and disgust makes for poor social media practice. This has changed, however, as evidenced by the fact this thread was three times longer than it is, and will almost certainly spill over into posts throughout the coming week.

It's more encouraging than many might like that I only need to apologise to regular readers when I don't post. This is better than having been your average press gallery oxygen-thief, who has helped piss away decades of goodwill accrued by their predecessors and employers by shitposting every single day. I've missed you too. Let us go forward together.

* Keep in mind how bad my predictions and prognostications have been


  1. While Oakes may be the doyen of the press gallery, its duena, Michelle Grattan, surely outshines him in the portentous, on the one hand, on the other hand, say nothing blather school of space filling commentary.
    As evidence her latest (but really just pick anything she says or writes).

    At the moment, the issue just simmers away there and maybe nothing will happen until the next election. Then of course the parties will have to put forward election policies and it’s really pretty untenable for the Liberal Party to go again to a poll with a plebiscite, which has become, although initially popular with the community, more unpopular as time has passed.

    "So it’s just one of those real burrs under the saddle for Malcolm Turnbull.”

  2. Glad to see you back - you've been missed. Read you on IA of course.

  3. The Game is almost identical to that played by Mantel's courtiers in Wolf Hall. The Courtier Press Gallery. Time to find a Headsman.

  4. AuldBrixtonian17/10/16 12:19 pm

    Welcome home, kettle's on.

  5. I will keep in mind that your crystal ball prognostications are not flash.

    My eyebrows shot up today when I read in the Oz today that Abbott appears to have renounced neo-liberalism. Well Reaganism in particular which means Thatcherism must be on the nose too with Abbott. His heroine, Mawgret. Fancy.

    A small item in the Strewth column claims that Abbott has written an article in this week 's Speccie suggesting that the 'sensible right' could abandon the Reagan doctrine that held that government is the problem, not the solution. He wrote that the 'sensible right' should 'start really believing in the good that government can do'.

    Well, well.

    I do believe journalists should challenge Abbott on his conversion which Strewth claims Abbott placed within the context of 'the crisis in politics across the West, and particularly the Anglosphere'.

    I believe that the former Prime Minister who has spent years in government promoting neo-liberal economic policies which have dismantled Australian manufacturing and made job security precarious for many, should be held to account.

  6. So glad you have a renewed interest and thanks for the efforts. One of the most insightful blogs I follow.

  7. Welcome back.

    Isn't the problem with Hillary Clinton that there has been plenty of perfectly valid reporting and interviewing with regards to her views, values and intentions, but it is drowned out by literally decades of shit hurled at her by right wing sources, which was absorbed and re-hurled by left wingers supporting Sanders? People who feel they "don't know Clinton" are people trying to reconcile the right wing caricature with, you know, things Clinton actually says, but there's not a lack of info out there about Clinton.

    I don't think it's anything like the issue in Australian politics, where there is simply a lack of coverage beyond what is naive at best and mendacious at worst. Turnbull didn't try and tell the public what his agenda would be if he won the election, what his current values really are, how he would manage the conflicting forces within his government, and the press gallery didn't ask him (or even appear to recognise the conflict existed, unlike their glee at any mention of internal dissent on the Labor side, but I disgress).