19 March 2011

Sorry for what?

Matthew Parris was a British Conservative MP who later became Parliamentary Sketchwriter for The Times. He had the ability to take a snippet of parliamentary proceedings and link it to wider issues in British politics.

Annabel Crabb was a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald who also had the title of Parliamentary Sketchwriter. She was abysmal in that role because she would take snippets of parliamentary proceedings and either ignore broader issues in Australian politics, or try and shoehorn them into whatever had caught her eye that day. By the end of her time her writing had not improved, her ability to pick wider movements and key issues was no better, and she remained wedded to the politico-media death spiral. Editors found this charming, for some reason, and she has a loyal following of readers who are every bit as silly as she is.

Now it is Jonathan Green and the ABC who are stuck with publishing embarrassing drivel like this:
Okay: I'll be the first to say it.

Sorry, Kevin.

After all the fuss about the Foreign Minister flouncing in post-tsunami and imperiously demanding nuclear updates from the Japanese foreign minister, it's now pretty clear - after a horrifying week - that he was right to do so.

Timing is everything in politics. Kevin Rudd had it in 2006-8, then lost it after he apologised to the Stolen Generation. In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami in Japan - when lives were in the balance and the priority was on restoring the sort of basic communication required to make society function and respond to crisis - people were entitled to say: not now, Mr Rudd, not now. We're gathering live bodies, the data will have to wait and so will you.

Since then more information has come to light, including information not formally announced about just how rubbish Japanese authorities are at dropping the pretence and getting aid to those who need it. Rudd needs Japan's support in international forums for any initiatives he way wish to put up (including his own post-Australian-politics job prospects); getting people's noses out of joint at a time of extremis is not in our interests or his.

It is, however, in Annabel Crabb's interest to curry favour with a politician she once brown-nosed, but who she has pretty much ignored since his dumping as Prime Minister. Julia Gillard got to where she is without the help of Crabb and other hacks, so no point brown-nosing her; journos have not paid Rudd the same attention for almost a year because they assumed he'd be packing his bags by now. Crabb has decided that if you want a Labor insider who's prepared to dish on Gillard, who better than her most high-profile victim?
After all the intrigue about Kevin being out of control and off the reservation and personally obsessed with establishing a Rudd-shaped no-fly zone over Benghazi, it might now be time to admit the possibility that it was the Foreign Minister who was right all along, and the Prime Minister who lost a little focus.

Based on what?

The Prime Minister was behind as wide an array of options as were available to support the anti-Gaddafi forces. Rudd's obsession with the no-fly zone still hasn't borne fruit: it's increasingly looking like a cover for inaction. Gillard was being appropriately modest about Australia's lack of skin in this game, while Crabb's crap about "a Rudd-shaped no-fly zone over Benghazi" is way beyond whimsy and well into the realm of stupid. It's not reporting, as opinion it is less than half-baked, and it is empty of wit. Why toss out a line like that without backing it up?
And while evidence exists to support the contention that the Foreign Minister is a deeply, ornately strange human being, it's certainly fair to say that if ever global circumstances could suit the characteristic oddities of a man whose very favourite thing is to sit up all night phone-stalking the members of the UN Security Council, then these are they.

No, it isn't. There is no Australian skin in the game over Libya, and many others deserve credit for the Security Council's resolution ahead of Kevin Rudd: to fail to recognise this is laughably parochial, and ignorant to the point where one can scarcely call oneself a journalist. Put Rudd's efforts into perspective and all you have is an aforesaid odd man.
First: Relationships are everything in politics. Mistrust between a PM and her senior Cabinet ministers is as corrosive for decision-making as a goanna loose under the bonnet is for trouble-free motoring.

If Annabel Crabb can work this out, so too can practitioners of diplomatic and political arts in foreign countries.

It is not difficult to imagine a foreign diplomat/politician receiving Rudd with all the ceremony and courtesy due to his office, listening politely to what he might say, and responding with: "That's all very well, Mr Rudd, but have you checked that with your Prime Minister?". This is why the Foreign Minister can only speak on behalf of his/her country's government with the support of the leader of that government, and vice versa: if Rudd wants to be a free agent, good luck with that. Rudd operating independently from Gillard isn't impressing anyone, it makes him look like he's not a team player both at home and abroad.

No, Crabb was not hinting at that. She was, like, imposing a schoolyard prism over politics, that Rudd is "strange" rather than self-defeating in policy and political terms.

If John Hewson had won the 1993 election, John Howard would have been carrying on like Rudd is now, in some other field of policy than foreign affairs.
Second: The relationship between Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd is especially compelling - partly because of their seniority, partly because of the relationship's rather lurid immediate past, and partly because, as anyone who viewed the pictures of the pair's Brisbane hostage situation election encounter would readily intuit, these two are a pretty long way away from being comfy around each other.

So: last August they were uncomfortable with one another, and here we are in March and the most significant policy upshot of this is a couple of announcements? Is "lurid" the most appropriate word to use to describe the events of June-August 2010? Really? That's your idea of "compelling"?
Thirdly, there's no denying it: We in the media love a blue.

So? We outside the media, we consumers, we citizens and voters, hate it that the only journalists available are distracted from big, real issues by confected outrage and "blues" either real or imagined. If there is a "blue" then it gets in the way of the policy, doesn't it? Isn't that the point, rather than your attempts to cultivate Rudd as a source?

I don't care what sort of story you want to write, and you should be smart enough to know that wherever there's a "blue" in politics, it's almost always a feint for the real action happening elsewhere.
And fourthly, a narrative that has Kevin Rudd pinging around the place as a sort of intergalactic Mr Fixit, reeling off Benghazi rebel stronghold coordinates in one breath and complex calculations of reactor core temperatures and radiant millisieverts with the next is one that is exhaustively familiar around Canberra.

Fine, but the job of journalists is not to confuse activity with progress, or to only report on federal politics in such a way that is "exhaustively familiar around Canberra". At this point, you would hope that those who love quality journalism would realise that confusion is the very death of journalism, and would act to clear it up: it may mean recognising that Annabel Crabb and her adherents (Bella Counihan, Katharine Murphy, Latika Bourke, James Massola, Samantha Maiden to name five) are not journalists and stop paying/employing them as such.
Just ask John Brumby, who tore his hair out behind the scenes when Mr Rudd, as prime minister, developed a strong interest in the grass-roots logistics of the Black Saturday response. Mr Rudd's reputation for occasional obsessive-compulsive overkill is sufficiently entrenched for apparent fresh instances unthinkingly to be filed under T for "Typical Kevin".

Did Rudd impede the Black Saturday response? Is it in the interests of public order and good government to keep him the hell away from doing something similar in Japan or wherever else disaster may strike? Why did he not take such an interest in the relief efforts affecting his electorate? If you were a journalist, Annabel Crabb, those are the questions you'd ask.
... the Julia versus Kevin soap opera ...

What soap opera? Last August she had the numbers so overwhelmingly that Rudd didn't even run. By contrast, Tony Abbott beat Malcolm Turnbull by a single vote the previous year and not even Annabel Crabb is going on about "the Tony versus Malcolm soap opera". If the carbon and mining taxes go through, Gillard will be able to crush Rudd, Arbib and other flakes; if they don't, Labor still won't have Rudd back. Again: what soap opera? Why is soap opera more important than policy outcomes?
... to the extent that that happened, it was wrong.

Oh, piss off. No names, but plenty of journosphere pack-drill. The qualifier that negates the apology is standard journosphere bullshit, the product of an ego too big to get over itself and too fragile to bear rigorous self-reflection.
I didn't write a massive amount about it, but I certainly committed thought-crimes on most days.

What thought? Why were your writings about goings-on in Canberra any more or less piffle than that for which you're apologising (or not apologising, as outlined above). Having gutted the apology of all force and substance, why bother delivering it?

That, however, is not the biggest "thought-crime" (to the extent that that happened, of course). This is:
Annabel Crabb is ABC Online's chief political writer.


  1. Good article but you're going to lose points for two instances of "s--n in the g--e".

  2. Feelng better, Andrew? You deserve to.

    The silly, self centred arrogance of so many of the current crop of political reporters must be very hard to take for any politicians trying to run the country.

    Too many, both male and female, need to work much harder at reporting facts and asking well founded questions instead of looking pretty, writing clever columns and mouthing smart sound bites.

  3. "Annabel Crabb is one of the most puerile and vacuous observers of politics in Australia. She is ABC Online's poor comedy writer."

  4. Patriciawa, there's facts and there's facts. Why go hunting when [insert pollie or media advisor here] will spoon-feed you dollops of nothing to fill up your quota?

  5. Well thought out. I am increasingly exasperated by style over substance and vacuous and sensational story lines by the big names. Thank you.

  6. Chris Grealy25/3/11 4:40 pm

    Methinks Crababel is setting herself up to be a shock jock - about 20 years too late. If her scrawling is supposed to be comedy or journalism, I'd say, "Try again".