06 March 2011

They would say that, wouldn't they

The voice of the media isn't the voice of the people.

First, Ben Packham gets sucked in:
The nation's commercial broadcasters ... say they're picking up a new level of frustration in their audiences they've not heard before.

They would say that - they're just entertainers drumming up business after all. Packham would have you scurrying for a radio, tuning into little men is padded rooms jabbering away to themselves as though they have some Truth about the nation and the way it is governed which is otherwise denied to you or I.
Mr Windsor blamed "shock jocks" for death threats he'd received, including one he played on national television.

Yes, he did. He did not blame all "commercial broadcasters", as stated in Packham's second paragraph, which is why I cut it out of the first quote above. It's hardly news that said broadcasters would fail to blame themselves for what tumbles out of their faces.
But Sydney broadcaster Ray Hadley said [Tony Windsor MP] was "stark, raving mad" to play the threat on television.

"He should have contacted the Australian Federal Police; he chose not to do that," he said.

He did that as well, Ray - but you knew that. He chose not to go on your show and do that, and couldn't you have used the ratings had he done so? Windsor showed that the threat was real and exposed the gutless, anonymous threat for what it was. There are people out there who recognise the voice on the tape: a little man in a padded room who can only deal with feedback that has been carefully vetted would not be expected to do so.
Broadcaster Leon Byner, from Adelaide's FIVEaa, said the only thing he was guilty of was "inciting public interest" in matters of importance. "I think it is easy to blame broadcasters for all sorts of stuff," he said. "I think it is as much the kind of temperature of the debate at the moment on a range of issues, as it is anything to do with people on or off air."

Byner has no idea what happens off air. The vague, framework-only nature of the debate means that it is easy to write the debate over a carbon tax off as something that only energises Canberra-watchers. Byner and Hadley and others have no job if they don't make stuff up and whip listeners into such a frenzy that they (at the very least) ring Byner, Hadley et al and tell them how successful they've been at having been manipulated.
Byner said the carbon tax was a "tax on living" and many of his listeners were upset about it.

Much like the GST, and you saw how quickly the media beat-ups and Canberra hoo-ha dissipated once the tax was in place and people were paying it.

It isn't only "shock-jocks" who believe their own PR. Michael Gordon, a man who never successfully hid his adoration of Keating and another firm believer that vox media, vox populi, came out with this
YOU don't get many free kicks in politics, but Tony Abbott seemed to rack them up at will across the country this week when he made the early running in the great carbon tax fight with Julia Gillard - and he did it without straying far from the national capital.

He then goes on to quote talkback radio spots where Abbott beat up Labor policies for the edification of people who vote Coalition anyway:
Or former Liberal MP Gary Hardgrave on Brisbane's 4BC, who confided: "Look, Tony Abbott, you say you can't stop the anger over the tax. I've got to tell you, no one needs to whip it up. It is very, very thick in the real world outside of Canberra."

Michael, you're supposed to be a professional journalist and careful about the words you use. Is "confided" the right word for what a "shock-jock" says over an open microphone? How would Gary Hardgrave know about "the real world outside of Canberra" given his ultimately unsuccessful political career and his not-necessarily successful career as a radio announcer?

Did it not occur to you not to take these words at face value?
The Opposition Leader had two punches to throw this week and he executed both with customary energy and flair - the broken promise and the prospect of (another) big tax on everything. Julia Gillard struggled initially for just one reason: her failure to give a simple, cogent explanation for declaring on election eve that there would not be a carbon tax if her government were returned.

The Opposition Leader knew that talkback radio loves a beat-up, and he believes that beating up non-issues is his job. I would argue that showing us what an Abbott government would look like is his job, but maybe that's what he's doing: hype and bullshit while shirking the big issues.

Gillard should have someone in her office with the necessary level of brain damage to anticipate how "shock-jocks" will operate and how to countermand them. It worked a treat with Alan Jones: her mere presence reduced him to his natural state of being a nasty, petty man, the sort not to be invited into one's home by electronic or any other means.
Gillard knows that this debate will determine her fate, and her initial failure made it all the more difficult to move to the ground where she wants the battle to be fought, the ground where it will ultimately be decided - the question of which side of politics is better placed to avoid what scientists warn will be the catastrophic consequences of man-made climate change.

That rather clumsy sentence-paragraph tells us nothing new, and fails to demonstrate any examination of the issues or of the politics. Gillard is proposing something: Abbott is proposing nothing.
Gillard's challenge is all the greater because she can't yet say what the carbon price will be, who will pay it (and when) and how households will be compensated for higher energy bills. The only certainty when the tax commences in July next year is that every cent raised will be used to assist households, help businesses move to a clean energy economy and tackle climate change.

Well, no Michael: it isn't a certainty, as even a well-designed program may have flaws that will only become clear in the execution. If you were an experienced journalist, you'd know that.
In this vacuum, Abbott found photo opportunities at a fruit shop and a fish shop as he asserted that household power bills will increase by $300 a year, the price of petrol will rise by 6½¢ a litre, and that the increases will "cascade right through the economy".

Those photo ops were not substantive things that filled the vacuum, but another aspect of the vacuum: he wouldn't know what costs are going up or down, and he doesn't know much about the economy because he is a proven economic retard.
The scare campaign was relentless, with some unforseen consequences.

Gordon's idea of "unforseen [sic] consequences" include:

  • That Sophie Mirabella and Eric Abetz would say things that were stupid and demonstrated their lack of perspective, manners and propriety; and

  • That whipping up fear, uncertainty and doubt leads to toxic elements in the public debate, like the Windsor death threats (and the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords, Michael; but that happened outside Canberra so forget it).

Maybe it's part of Michael Gordon's charm that he's easily surprised.
Momentum shifted on Wednesday, when Abbott focused his attack on the lack of detail in the Gillard plan and demanded she reveal what the tax would be, who would pay it and how households would be compensated. As Gillard observed, the approach completely undermined all the claims about specific petrol and power bill price hikes that Abbott had nominated to incite his "people's revolt".

By Thursday, the line of attack shifted to the question of whether Australia was acting in advance of global consensus and "frog-marching Australians prematurely into a big, new tax that will raise prices and cost jobs". Gillard responded that 32 other nations had emissions trading schemes. "Australia should not lead the world, but we should not be left behind, either," she said.

In Windsor's assessment, the opposition "flat-lined" as the debate shifted from the "lie" to the substance.

It's the job of a journalist to seek out the substance, Michael, and to contrast any "lies" against that substance. The "line of attack" may be what Abbott wants you to focus on, but it's not really news. Journalists should be big enough to ignore what isn't news and focus on what is.

Abbott is certainly in a strong position ...


A week ago he was too gutless to stand up to Cory Bernardi, let alone Greg Combet and the Cabinet. He contradicted himself four times in as many days on a major issue. Who gives a damn what callers put to air by talkback radio say?
[Senator Bob] Brown had a succinct answer when asked if he agreed the Greens were exerting more influence than ever before. ''Yes, I do, because that's what the people of Australia voted for,'' he said, and he's right. But the real test of the relationship is what it produces when it comes to the detail of the carbon price - and whether the result is acceptable to the likes of Windsor and to corporations and peak business groups that are on record as supporters of action.

Brown was stupid to cloud the issue of carbon tax with gay marriage &c, it was as though he was willing the scheme to fail. There's another story gone begging, Michael.

As a relief from this piffle I went to the usually astute Shaun Carney, but all I found was this:
At this early stage of the debate, the momentum appears to be with the Coalition. Abbott's got some undeserved rough treatment from the media in the past, but he's getting an easy go of it right now, especially from commercial radio.

Tony Abbott has had a better run from the media than any Opposition Leader since Kevin Rudd, because he has buttered up the journosphere to the point where they simply cannot ask him the kind of pointed questions that investigative journalists ask. As to the first sentence, it's unquantifiable nonsense.
Abbott's statement of belief in man-made climate change is ... code and it has been effective to the extent that it has kept Abbott and the Coalition well and truly in the political contest. But it has so far not given him primacy over a weakened government. On the question of cost, Abbott is exposed. His "direct action" approach is funded by taxes. It has to be, and at $10.5 billion it's hardly cheap. And it also follows that by definition an Abbott government would be putting a price on carbon by spending public money on carbon abatement.

The guy has to be asked why he's spending $10.5b on something he is half-hearted about at best. No-one's doing it. If you think the Liberals were split over migrants and multiculturalism, wait 'til you examine them on what has to be the only challenge to economic management as the overarching public policy issue of our time.

Then, however, Carney slides back in to confusing climate skeptics/deniers with those who don't already vote Liberal. Unlike his two other colleagues in the journosphere, he brings it home with this spot-on summation:
Crazy brave is Gillard's only option. The political prize? Tony Abbott would be left with nothing to say, his leadership destroyed.

Lenore Taylor said on Insiders that it would be harder for Gillard once a carbon price figure is set, but I disagree so long as she doesn't buckle. People would rather not be taxed but nobody likes a whinger. All Abbott can do is whinge; all Gillard can do is get on with the job.

The question of lying was dealt with comprehensively, not by any journalist but by drag0nista.

The week before last, Abbott showed that whinging doesn't get you far in holding an increasingly impatient Liberal Party together. He's pulling out all stops and he's no further ahead than he was six months ago. Question the assuption that Abbott is really ready for government; certainly, the assumption that Labor are so inept that they will knock on power into the hands of rugby men Abbott and Hockey is starting to be questioned.

Professional journalists question assumptions. Hacks try to spin out non-stories, not in order to sell newspapers or improve public debate, but because they're lazy and stupid and don't care about the low esteem of their occupation nor the way the country is governed.


  1. Agnes Mack7/3/11 2:24 pm

    "Lenore Taylor said on Insiders that it would be harder for Gillard once a carbon price figure is set"

    Think you'll find Lenore Taylor said it will be harder for Tony Abbott once the gov's put details of carbon price out there.

  2. Agnes Mack7/3/11 4:41 pm

    Sorry , the link I posted above was shortened for Twitter.

    Here is proper link http://www.abc.net.au/insiders/content/2011/s3156321.htm

  3. Agnes Mack7/3/11 4:43 pm

    And I should also have said , that was a terrific blog post.

  4. Indeed she did. Well, someone said it - better go find out who.

    Big ups to Agnes and apologies to Lenore Taylor for verballing her.

  5. Thanks Andrew for another great post. The emptiness at the heart of Abbot's attack will eventually be seen by someone in the press gallery, won't it?