31 July 2011

A leadership vacancy

According to this article:
Mr Weatherill has previously said that if there was a leadership vacancy he would be a candidate.
Let's leave aside the fact that the word "previously" is redundant because the sentence is expressed in the past tense. There is already a vacancy, with almost no prospect that it can or will be filled. Rann has been terminally undermined and anybody who ends up in the big chair cannot escape the perception of being there solely because of the backroom boys.
The much anticipated move on Mr Rann was made late on Friday, when he was given an ultimatum by two senior members of Labor's Right faction - stand down or be removed.

In a meeting in his State Administration Centre office, the pair, Right faction powerbroker Peter Malinauskas and Treasurer Jack Snelling, told Mr Rann the factions had agreed on a new leadership ticket that would see Education Minister Jay Weatherill installed as premier and current Deputy Premier John Rau continue in the role.

Mr Rann was told that the factions wanted the new leadership team in place before the start of the spring parliamentary session on September 13 and that he must stand down during the winter break.

The factional deal means that if Mr Rann opts not to stand aside and forces a leadership ballot, he would lose if members vote along factional lines.
SA Labor had been headed for defeat, but now it is bound for the kind of shellacking that makes those who care about such things fear for its future. Why aren't Malinauskas and/or Snelling running for Premier? If factionalism meant anything, both those guys would die rather than have someone from the Left in the job.

Kaeting fronted Bob Hawke in 1991 and told him the challenge was on. By contrast, from the above we can only assume that Weatherill will be carried into his state's top job on a sedan chair. He will never be able to escape perceptions the reality that he will not be his own man and he will not have the scope for action that leaders should have.

Not only is there the recent example of NSW Labor, where Rees and Keneally learnt that the top job isn't worth having unless they can have full scope within it; but there is the example of the SA Libs in the '90s, where Nick Minchin took a mannequin from the window of John Martin's and put that in place of a popularly-elected and decent Premier, scuttling a Liberal government so as to free up resources for the feds.

Rann's only hope is to campaign against Malinauskas and Snelling (and Weatherill, insofar as he matters), causing such a ruckus from one end of suburban Adelaide the state to another so that Labor MPs take a chance on popular support rather than publicity-shy factions. He can then return triumphant, sack Weatherill and Snelling, and cruise past Bannon and Dunstan in style rather than limping into the spring.

The Liberals are being very quiet and the SA media are too stupid to throw the spotlight on them at the very time when their victory seems more assured. Now that Minchin is spending more time in Action Town he will be playing a similar sort of role in determining preselections etc to that played by Malinauskas and Snelling. Isobel Redmond faces the very real prospect of being overridden and undermined by Liberal backroom boys.

Worst of all, the people of South Australia face being presented with two bunches of front-people; while those who make the decisions which affect voters, and who should be held to account in a democracy, can stymie democratic checks as well as the supposedly fearless media simply by refusing to answer phone calls.

Update: Rann quits - no doubt he's sick of all those jerks and he's well and truly had his go. However, if he stood and fought he coulda been so much more than Media Mike. Now we face a future where Rann will stand as a titan merely through longevity, and that's sad.

27 July 2011

Things to do in opposition when you're dead

I just don't know what to do with my time
I'm so lonesome for you, it's a crime
Going to a movie only makes me sad
Parties make me feel as bad
When I'm not with you, I just don't know what to do

- Burt Bacharach & Hal David I just don't know what to do with myself
So: you've been elected to Parliament as a loyal member of a party that has not shared your fortune, at least not sufficiently to form government. What do you do with yourself, apart from representing the good people of your electorate?

You can plug away like the Victorian ALP.
Fresh from receiving federal Labor MP Alan Griffin's post-mortem of the November campaign, Labor has embarked on a second review - this time to overhaul the way policy is shaped ahead of the 2014 state election.
Either Daniel Andrews is keeping a challenge from the door by creating activity and hoping that it looks like progress, or the guy is genuinely having a red-hot go at knocking off an opponent who is too slow off the mark. Baillieu has ceded too much early, energy-sapping and legacy defining ground to the religious right; Andrews is clearly seeking to psych him out at every step, like Cadel Evans against the too-cautious Schleck brothers. Good on him for refusing to accept Griffin's pulled punches.

Mind you, he is leader of the Victorian ALP:
Admitting that many of the former Brumby government's election promises failed to capture the imagination of voters, Mr Andrews said the review would look at a range of areas: the way policies are developed (including getting more "suburban mums and dads" involved); the type of policies Labor should put to voters; and better ways to communicate their plans.
They failed to engage voters because they were mediocre ideas, Brumby would hype them as though they were great and would brook no equivocation as to how they could be improved. Because the way those ideas were communicated was transparently bullshit, nobody believed anything he said and nobody believed he could evolve with the state. Baillieu seemed more flexible and approachable, and a state that believed in democracy first gave him a go (sort of - not by much).

Nothing wrong with getting those "suburban mums and dads" involved - just so long as they don't, y'know, try and change anything. If they remain fixated on the "better communications" they will end up like the Libs in NSW (and indeed federally) - "nothing wrong with out policies, they just weren't communicated properly", followed by a Lasseters-Reef-style hunt for the perfect media opportunity that was reported favourably and believed absolutely by all marginal seat voters at the same time.
"We needed one of those 'Year 9 experiences' each week," Mr Andrews told The Sunday Age. "We had a clear vision of where we wanted the state to go, but perhaps we didn't describe that and didn't sell it to the Victorian community."
A new opposition leader has to balance distancing himself from the loser government without becoming totally lost, especially as Andrews himself was a minister in that government. Here he sounds like a mealy-mouthed twat, not distancing himself enough - but it would seem that his actions belie that, meaning that he's either the wiliest reformer of his own party since John Howard or the reform process is going to get away from him.
The policy review will be conducted by opposition backbenchers ... widely regarded as rising stars within the party ...

Insiders say part of the problem was that many of last year's election policies were shaped by cabinet, leaving rank-and-file members in Labor's policy committees feeling frustrated.
It isn't clear where Andrews is going to conjure up "suburban mums and dads" who have the time to participate in ALP decision-making, the temperament to put up with that crap (the ShortCons will go berserk) and who, most importantly, also have something to contribute.

At least the Vics are trying - I mean, what is this warmed-over Bruce Hawker shit? Failure compared to what?

I can't believe that two intelligent and experienced operatives could only come up with this:
We need to be clear about what the brand truly stands for ...
You lost me at "the brand". At a time when consumers are media-savvy enough to see through branding, two clowns who should know better retain their newly-minted-MBA faith in fucking branding and apply it to what they should hope would not be some perishable commodity.

In an associated article the Keneallys define "the brand" not as something owned and imposed by others, but which is manufactured in Sussex Street and pumped out with no feedback mechanism.
For a start, we should abandon the Blackburn declaration that we stand for "the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features." We should be clear that we stand for increasing the incomes, opportunities, choices and self determination of working people and their families.
What a coincidence, that's what the Liberal Party was founded on and still stands for. Better yet, who would you trust to deliver on that stuff - Barry O'Farrell, or Princess Wonkyhair? We know the answer. The Blackburn declaration is sufficiently mealy-mouthed to serve as a salve for a divided Labor Party conference, and it shall stay to serve that purpose - the dodge on gay marriage at the most recent conference showed the extent to which the deal-cutters and pap-meisters run the NSW ALP, and what could be more apposite than a declaration conditioned and compromised into meaninglessness?
We should avoid compromising the salience of this proposition with a raft of additional concepts such as sustainability, equality and rights. While important, none of these are core to our mission.
Harrumph! Quite so, what! John Murphy wants all those idealistic do-gooders to join the Greens and who are you, or the Keneallys, to quibble with Captain Stroganoff?
Ah yes: Labor as an ossified Ben Chifley Appreciation Society. How different it all seems, with a mad thwarted Foreign Minister on a UN jag, a Immigration Minister who looks like the most colourless bureaucrat imaginable, and with even a Wong or two. Every working person knows that whenever a Labor luminary quotes Chifley and/or Curtin, they are about to introduce measures that screws working people good and hard.
If we want to be a successful party, we need people. And in particular we need working people. People who can argue for us with their friends and families, donate to our campaigns, and most importantly advise and influence our candidates and MPs.
No possibility of those people bringing their own ideas or even replacing those MPs, oh goodness no.
Granting automatic membership to every member of our affiliated unions would radically shift our membership towards working people in one stroke.
It would give them something they don't want and don't value, and the organisation should be prepared for the full ramifications of that: bloat and apathy, the Keneally recipe for success.
Our party needs candidates that can win the support of working people.
What about candidates who are working people? Look at all those early caucuses, with their autodidactic tinsmiths and cabinet-makers and wharfies. Face it, a candidate like Chifley or those potato-headed Premiers between McKell and Askin couldn't beat someone like, say, Verity Firth or either Keneally in today's ALP.

The federal electorate with the highest number of qualified tradies is Casey (Vic), held by a particularly gormless Liberal. Do you think the ShortCons will put up anyone but an equally gormless Labor candidate, some hack who'll run dead in the name of getting a good spot on the executive of the Amalgamated Bludgers & Whingers Union executive? You betcha.

A solid, community-based campaign would push lazy Tony Smith into oblivion, but he can rest assured that Victorian Labor would never trust a campaign to "suburban mums and dads".
We cannot allow our preselection processes to become an industrial battleground, nor our candidates and members to be hostage to public sector unions.
Too late for that, too hard to unscramble that egg.
Each Federal and State electorate and each Council area should be required to hold at least 10 meetings per year to which every party member in the area is invited. Sitting MPs and councillors should be required to attend these meetings.
Earlier you said those meetings are to be interesting, right? Which party leader is going to give sitting MPs leave from sitting days to attend local branch meetings? Then again, if you've listened to enough Keneally you'll watch out for phrases like "should be".
An advisory, policy development oriented conference would, by contrast, enable more far reaching and thoughtful debates and seminars because of the lower stakes involved.
And would thus be more appealing for participants? This is real let-them-eat-cake stuff in terms of being disconnected from members.
Policy is the core activity by which we deliver on our brand promise.
No, delivery is the core activity by which you deliver on our brand promise. The NSW governments of 2007-11 had policies up to billy-o but had no capacity to deliver, and were punished accordingly.
The establishment and maintenance of an effective progressive "Think Tank" should be a head office responsibility.
And they will be appointed through head office patronage, with no connection at all to realities.
In the new media landscape, where investigative reporting is expensive and opinion is cheap and effective at attracting eyeballs, "balance" appears to consist in having commentators from both the Tory right and the anti-Labor left. Whenever we do take a progressive policy direction we face a strong reaction from a range of establishment forces.

Of course, this is really nothing new for the ALP. We used to run our own newspapers and radio stations to combat the problem. Our challenge now is to develop direct communications capabilities so we can manage within this context. This includes direct contact with our members and supporters using new forms of media – we should be able to send detailed responses and refutations of critical stories to every branch member within hours of a negative story.
See, they're still focused on elite broadcast-only messaging, they can't bear the idea of feedback and engagement. Look at that quote and consider who is meant by "we".

"Come join the Labor Party, you'll get deluged with spam" - nah, doesn't work. Why on earth would anyone want closer engagement with a failing, fading mainstream media?
One of the key messages of the NSW defeat is that disunity and personal misbehaviour cannot be tolerated.
Yeah, that'll really convince people that you've changed. The whole Princess Wonkyhair image fell apart because the bland pleasantries spouting nonsense over dysfunctional policies contrasted so sharply with the "Ah-am-very-angry" that accompanied every resignation, like the snarl of some miffed Pekinese. See the earlier point about delivery: nobody would mind if David Campbell got his dick sucked so long as the transport system worked. Campbell was taking time out instead of, not as well as, his official duties.

One person's or two people's "disunity" is someone else's passionate debate: depends what you think makes for an "interesting" meeting I suppose.

The Keneallys can take some comfort from the fact that their guaranteed-failure model of branch member disengagement and the draining co-dependency with a dysfunctional media is being embraced even more enthusiastically by the Federal Liberals. For all the dismissal of fringe online media by the journosphere and people like Lindsay Tanner, this piece contains some of the sharpest political commentary around.
... opposition Senators who still haven’t come to terms with being in opposition decide to tie up the committee on some faint hope of uncovering a scandal or shopping a ‘gotcha’ moment to the channel-hopping press gallery.
That's what you shouldn't do, if you ever find yourself in Opposition: make yourself a tool of the press gallery. Make them do their own bloody research. You can see why media organisations cut their graduate intakes: when Opposition Senators volunteer to go trawling for you like they have nothing better to do, why train journalists in analysis?

I've said it before, and it bears repeating: why would the Shadow Attorney General make a dill of himself for the sake of a media organisation?
I asked the chair of the committee – a Government Senator – why they allowed this time-sucking waste of oxygen to spool out day after day, and was told exactly why. As long as the opposition are using up endless hours grilling public servants into a state of semi-consciousness, no possibility of actual transparency, disclosure or accountability is likely to arise.
And so long as the government is capable of playing the opposition for mugs - 100% of bills put to a hung parliament by the Gillard government passed and enacted - you have to give them the benefit of the doubt, even in the face of appalling polls. If the Coalition were capable of the kind of cut-through at the policy level that their leader demonstrates on the non-policy Stunt Man level, they would have the calm assurance of a coming government rather than the shrill bluff they have now.

You can't refuse to engage openly and fully with people and issues and expect to worm your way back into government. Oppositions who think otherwise have either gone through searing re-examination and restructuring, like the Federal Libs did by the mid-'90s, or - like these jokers described above - are kidding themselves. It really is too much to expect vision and recognition of timeless values in a changing landscape, isn't it.

26 July 2011

Leaves of astroturf

"Astroturfing" is the process by which companies create PR campaigns that look like the work of grassroots communities, but which are really designed to suit the aims of the companies that create them without looking like naked self-interest on their part. Tabloid newspapers are suckers for astroturfing campaigns because they engage in astroturfing themselves. It is no tragedy when tabloids are closed down because disposability and deniability is in the nature of astroturfing campaigns. People (whether senior executives or 'umble 'acks) who do consistently poor work are not redeemed by occasional brilliance, nor by the Nuremberg defence.

First to Peter Lewis: "We are all tabloid", he says. Really? If such a preposterous statement could have meaning, what would that mean?
It would not be stretching it to argue that News Ltd has changed the Australian media landscape but also, arguably, the way we look at our world: in bold words, with strong opinions, with a demand for action.

In short, I would argue that we are becoming a nation of tabloid consumers.
Yes, it would be stretching it, particularly given Lewis' own examples about the low trust that exists with newspapers (and broadsheets would have higher trust ratings than tabloids). Lewis is seriously attributing a human and Australian characteristic - strongly held opinions boldly expressed - as an attribute of a commercial product that we can only get through consuming it. This is so ridiculous that every utterance from Essential Media Communications must from now on be taken with a grain of salt.

People like Peter Lewis probably start with a genuine desire to analyse the media, but honest analysis requires fearlessness and a preparedness to ruffle powerful egos; people who establish a niche and wish to continue in that business can end up pulling their punches so much that their every utterance becomes the kind of pap you see in Lewis' article.

Then to Ros Wynne-Jones' defence of the indefensible, veering between good points well made and missed points served up with lashings of class hatred or mawkishness.

I don't think this was too bad an idea:
Twitter is already calling for Rebekah's Law, the right to know when a News International operative is living near you.
There was a time when journalists could crack funny like that. Until very recently none of them, except probably some lefty broadsheet/public broadcaster who wouldn't work for Murdoch in a fit, would come up with something like that. Only tweeps have both the perspective and the intimacy necessary to craft such a telling jibe, it seems.
It is ironic, of course, but wasn't tabloid media always?
No. The tabloid media regards itself as having a great sense of humour but this tends to evaporate when it comes to themselves. You might think that the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader are four-square liars, that the managers of once-mighty businesses like David Jones or Fairfax are clowns, but does this also apply to Harto or (gasp!) James Murdoch? Perish the very thought.
Long before Hackgate, tabloid journalists were surveyed as less popular than second-hand car salesmen. Can we really complain now that we are held in lower esteem even than MPs? Finally, the industry's critics have the ammunition they have been waiting years for. We knew we despised you for something!
People always despised people who'd say anything, do anything in the name of their job: that's how tabloid journos started in such low esteem and have only sunk deeper into it. The worst stereotype about the least trusted professions - politicians, dodgy financial planners, used car salesmen - is that they will lie, cheat and steal in order to meet their objectives. Tabloid journalists do the same, and are therefore held in the same regard. Whatever satisfactions may come of such a way of operating, part of the penalty is that nobody will lift a finger to help when you find yourself in a difficult position. Some people will like you and some won't, but it is never smart to give people reasonable grounds to attack and despise you.
But watch them give up the bits of the Evil Empire they find a little more conducive to their own tastes.
Yes, let's watch Murdoch close down The Sunday Times and see if there is the sort of rioting in the streets we've seen with the closure of News of the World - i.e. none.

This really is the point that denizens of the journosphere cannot face: the biggest-selling publication in the English-speaking world disappeared and nobody (except those who worked drew income from there) missed it. That is the difference between a genuinely popular and authentic piece of communal life, and the easy-come-easy-go approach to the withdrawal of any other sort of discontinued product line.

Wynne-Jones is trying a class-war thing, trying to make middle-class people feel uncomfortable about sneering at tabloids. She is trying to make tabloids authentic representatives of working people. She is trying to deny a moral case against tabloids by accusing the accusers of hypocrisy: the whole notion that, because you're not perfect, you're in the shit with us and we can get away with murder. It doesn't work because tabloids aren't authentic, they aren't missed when they go, and nobody ought to feel uncomfortable about consuming legitimate issues.
As pundits push for greater press regulation, don't think the corporate wrongdoers won't be rubbing their hands with glee ... the News of the World told us about corruption at the heart of Fifa and Pakistani cricket in the same breath it told us about Max Mosley's indiscretions.
Andrew Jennings in The Independent did the heavy lifting on Fifa, and the broadsheets and television have done plenty on corruption at every level in Pakistan; Max Mosley was trivia, another quirky fruit from a seriously weird tree. The work
Tightening press regulation will suit the bad guys immeasurably well. The ordinary folks – who are also the tabloid's readership – get to lose out twice over. Last time I looked, the broadsheets weren't campaigning heavily on the mundane issues that deeply affect working class people – the holiday rip-offs, the loan-shark thugs, the tawdry parasitical underclass that prey on the poor and elderly.
That's what television is for: see, newspapers are not a world unto themselves. Those who apparently target working-class people as described above are people without political power, people unlikely to accost Rupert Murdoch at a black-tie function or sue him in open court. Shove your class war back up your arse, Ros.
... campaigning is one of the things that tabloids do best.
Sure it is: there just isn't anything authentic or community-based about it.
... John Pilger revealed the cold truth of Cambodia's Killing Fields in the Daily Mirror
Yes he did: do you think he'd have worked for a Murdoch paper? Do you think he'd have worked for a paper that tapped people's phones for fun and profit? Me neither.
... the stream of revelations that showed the hypocrisy of John Major's "back to basics" cabinet.
Hmmm - time for a re-examination as to how those stories came about?
I've been thinking a lot this week about an event that happened in the mid-Nineties ...
Why do you have to go back decades to find evidence that tabloids did a few good things, while you only have to go back days or weeks to find measureless fathoms of tabloid ordure? In a pathetic attempt to foster sympathy for tabloid journalism, what we need are some desperate, starving, war-torn people to associate with for the sake of cloying tugs at the heartstrings and another lunge for the moral high ground:
Like many other tabloid journalists, I have felt deep shame at some of the revelations of the past weeks. Now freelance, I watched the phone hacking scandal take its latest toxic twists from the capital of South Sudan, where I was writing a series on the challenges facing the new country for the Daily Mirror. Some broadsheet readers may be interested to know that there is still room for this kind of journalism in a modern tabloid.
Many, many honourable colleagues I know lost their jobs that week because of the actions of a few.
No, they were all in on the culture of bullying and illegality at News, but only some were caught. Fuck them all. They must never be employed as journalists again.

Since the 1980s Australia and other countries have undergone far-reaching economic reforms which have led to the closure of workplaces that provided many people with an income, a sense of purpose, a skill set and a community. Many of these closures have been reported in the media. For some reason, when a newspaper closes it is considered to be more tragic than the closure of mines, factories, abattoirs etc that employ people other than journalists.
Their crimes are no greater than anyone working in news or entertainment.
They haven't ruined people's lives ... Of all the people I know who have lost their jobs, not one would even remotely consider an action as grim, heartless and incomprehensible as intercepting the mobile telephone messages of a murder or terrorism victim.
In the eight years between the disappearance of Milly Dowler and these actions coming to light, none of these supposedly honourable people stood against those who did the wrong thing.
Meanwhile – breaking news – many tabloid journalists welcome the idea of an ethical broom sweeping through the industry.
Yeah, they welcome the idea - just not the reality. Everyone's corrupt, right Ros?
There has been feigned shock that investigators have been used by Fleet Street, but investigation is at the heart of good journalism.
Yes it is - when done by the journalist themselves. Outsourcing investigation is used for deniability on the proprietor's part, and to cover basic skill deficiencies for the journalist.
There are arguably papers at least as pernicious than the departed News of the World trundling on with their bile on a daily basis.
And which might they be, o fearless truth-teller?
Mass readership naturally accrued political power to the tabloid patrons.
Naturally - not the mass readership themselves.
Meanwhile, tabloid readers are consistently underestimated, particularly those of the red-tops. They may have less time to peruse lengthy articles – many work in manual jobs with very small commutes and short breaks, or are at home looking after kids. They want bite-sized information about the world around them, entertainment and silliness to cheer up their day.
The "may have" reveals a modesty about in-depth knowledge about working people that is most unbecoming of a tabloid journalist. They are meant to assume vox media vox populi and swat away pointy-headed assertions to the contrary. Wynne-Jones should also explore the possibility that the longer an article is, the more questions it begs and covers up; it can be hard work unpacking all that crap.
Maintaining a benign interest in celebrity (as opposed to say chess, gardening or cryptic crosswords) is not a crime. Television, music, film and sport regularly sell their products on the basis of the personalities behind them. Broadsheets devoted acres of coverage to the death of Jade Goody, dressed up as social commentary. Is Cheryl Cole's hairstyle really less relevant than which wine has had a bloody good year in Burgundy?
This isn't an argument for good journalism, it's more class war bullshit. In order to have "a bloody good year in Burgundy" it is not necessary to commit subterfuge against, say, the wines of the Barossa (note the alliteration there?).
... tabloid readers are both ardent campaigners against injustice and generous donors ...
If only management and journos were as good as their readers, eh Ros? Stop hiding behind them. They won't miss you when you go.
Most hacks also possess a naturally deep disdain for authority, establishment and big business.
Except those that employ them.

Wynne-Jones touches on a central problem with the defence of tabloids, but if anyone's going galumphing straight through the middle of it then it has to be Toby Young:
the reason tabloid hacks sometimes cross the line into illegality is not because they’re dishonest or corrupt or lack a moral compass. It’s because they have until 5.30pm that evening to nail the story and they know that if they don’t some other bast**d will.
It's the Nuremberg defence: anything can be justified in the name of following orders, doing one's job.
Without the unscrupulous, appalling, “shocking” behaviour of red-top reporters, we probably wouldn’t know about Cecil Parkinson’s infidelity or John Prescott’s affair with his secretary.
Cecil Parkinson also had an "affair with his secretary", so it is unclear why different language is used for each man. Parkinson was a Conservative (if not, in his sex life, authentically conservative) so Young's use of "infidelity" looks like some sort of technical breach in describing Parkinson. It took a broadsheet to point out Parkinson's deeper crime: the child born to him and his mistress, Sara Keays, was disabled and requires expenses in excess of those of most children. Parkinson has refused to see Keays or the child, and there is some he-said-she-said back-and-forth as to whether Parkinson is meeting his obligations on even the most niggardly financial level. It takes that depth of analysis to establish that man's lack of fitness for high office; tabloid fare like "oo, 'e 'ad a bi' of nookie, innee?" and Young's euphemisms don't cut it as analysis or as any sort of explanation of that issue.
Yes, the ink-stained wretches regularly desecrate the graves of dead girls, but they also speak truth to power and they do it more often – and with more impact – than the broadsheets.
They very rarely speak "truth to power". A footballer exposed in extramarital sex isn't a figure of any genuine power: the story steals media attention away from figures of real power. The people providing money to and threats against Pakistani cricketers were not exposed at all, just a bunch of frightened rabbits bedecked with logos of organisations which they were not really representing.

Secondly, a murdered girl and those rendered vulnerable in hoping for her return are not collateral damage in the hope that one day, on the off-chance, a tabloid journalist might do something worthwhile.
But how do you shield them without also shielding wrongdoers?
In all my years of never having worked in the media, I can't answer that question. Start sending a few editors and journos for a spell in prison and you'd come up with some answers. Oscar Wilde came up with some very interesting ideas on the nature of love and justice during and after his time in Reading Gaol, and one can only imagine how much more perceptive Toby Young might get faced with such a prospect.
Alan Rusbridger’s line is that you can regulate the tabloids without clipping their wings. They’ll still be able to go after corrupt sports officials, just not the grieving parents of dead girls. They can be forced to behave more responsibly and still speak truth to power.

But is that feasible? Can you have the good without the bad? I’m not so sure.
Rusbridger is an editor and you're not, Toby. Editors and other senior managers have to deal with subtleties and compliance issues all the time, and when they don't journalists go after them and ask them why. The feeble mind cannot handle complexity, let alone explain it, and starts jabbering on about slippery slopes or anti-French tubthumping and the like - sometimes you just have to get out of the way and let the professionals do their work.

US journalist Tim Redmond confuses tabloid journalism with journalism generally:
So what do you "regulate"? Voicemail hacking? It's already illegal. Snooping into bank accounts? Likewise.
Redmond said he "liked" that quote but didn't say why. What you regulate is the sort of structure that made authorities too frightened to enforce those laws.
The Pentagon Papers were stolen property, received by the New York Times.
Yes, and The New York Times did proper, non-tabloid analysis of those documents and what they meant. They did not just crow about the fact that they had the documents or use them to run mawkish stories about dead soldiers in Vietnam, which is what would have happened if the Papers had ended up with tabloids.
Wikileaks puts out illegally obtained information all the time.
It does. Under the editorship of Bill Keller, however, The New York Times does less fact-based investigation and more bitchy takedowns of the guy who dropped all that juicy material into their laps. This means that The New York Times is pissing away its basic value proposition; professional and brand suicide on its part is neither here nor there when it comes to tabloids.
I guess I'm biased by the fact that I've never believed a lot of what I read, so I don't take this stuff too seriously -- and I worry about the people who do. But the world of journalism is a little smaller and a little less colorful after the death of News of the World.
So: investigative fact-based journalism matters and tabloids don't. Couldn't agree more, but it is no defence of tabloids.

When it comes to Australia, the same people warning ominously against changes to media regulations are the same people who didn't get Lindsay Tanner's Sideshow. With the Murdoch press, though, there is added spice. First, the bastards are fighting across a number of fronts and want to shut down any instability in what is for them a small but vital market. Second, they think that their campaigns are all one-way traffic: for Julia Gillard and Bob Brown not to just cop News Ltd jihads against them (including accusations of cowardice and deceit), but to stand up and dish it back, is clearly discombobulating. For a start, News Ltd people like Michael Stutchbury (not to be confused with Mike Stutchbery) did not simply dismiss Gillard or Brown as liars, or blithely claim that any investigation they did conduct would be an expensive stuff-up: these people are seriously worried, in the same way that tobacco companies are over removal of branding.

As part of his campaign to move far and fast from any sort of reputation for upholding the rights of free individuals in a free society against government and corporate interests, George Brandis is wrong when he says:
Julia Gillard attempted to divert national attention away from her failing carbon tax campaign [sic] by opening a new front on the issue of press freedom, she relied upon two [pretexts]: the News of the World scandal, and the 2008 report of the Australian Law Reform Commission into privacy.

The first of those pretexts was immediately seen for the dodge that it was.
No it wasn't: even now it rocks this country's dominant media organisation to its core, bringing home all too acutely what they had tried to brush off as a far-off scandal. Previously persuasive company advocates like John Hartigan have no purchase with the current government; News Ltd do their worst day after day to the incumbents and they are still standing, making a mockery of old notions of media-mogul power. Brandis looks foolish in standing by an outfit which is doing no real favours for the Liberal Party, and will be less able to deliver over time.

As Shadow Attorney General and a QC, he looks even more foolish with this:
... where was the evidence to suggest that similar practices [to illegal operations in News Ltd operations overseas] were engaged in by any Australian media organisation?
I don't know, George: let's have an investigation and find out. The ALRC is not, as you know, an investigative organisation. You're not scared of an investigation are you? Michael Stutchbury said it would be a lawyer's picnic: sounds like your scene, surely. He talks about the "government's enthusiasm to control the media", when all they really want to do is rattle it - well, one particularly hostile part of it anyway.
The government was given the ALRC report in May 2008.
Yes it was: three years before the toxic culture of News became apparent. The prospect of an inquiry into the Australian media and its relationship with that ALRC report is about the same as, say, the link between the report Little Children Are Sacred and the reality of the Northern Territory intervention.

If Murdoch has to divest some or all of his media interests in Australia, Gina Reinhart will buy them and run them in the same private-interest, patronising/crusading way that Murdoch did. The more cowardly Australian journalists will find mogul-based employment enormously attractive, and thus what we might consider the contemporary style of Australian tabloid media has more of a future than might be apparent to the more timid dish-it-out-but-can't-cop-it types in that profession industry.

That said, to hell with tabloid journalism and its patronising attitude to its readers. To hell with "devil's advocates" who stand up for them at a time when they are clearly revealed as having failed (the devil is not short of advocates). To hell with their half-witted "campaigns" and their bloody astroturfing, which shows that if the mainstream media really want to survive then the tabloid approach is not the way to greater market share and profits: it is the way to loss of credibility, and thus oblivion. We are all tabloid? Not all of us mate.

25 July 2011

You've been had

Well, you knew that already, and so did I. But why didn't anyone tell Katharine Murphy? There we've been, railing against the insular Hole In The Hill Gang and they've just ploughed merrily on, churning out the stuff that they want to write rather than what we need to read/hear/see. Now, Katharine has a glimpse that not everybody does things the same way as they do in Canberra, and she comes over all shocked. The only possible response to Murphy and her water-cooler pals is: Der!
There is no more grinding and time-wasting ritual in federal politics than the rubbish inflicted on the public between the hours of 2pm and 3.30pm. I know this is a very big call, but I'm going to make it anyway.
It is not a very big call at all. It is like saying that rugby scrums take a long time to pack down or that water is wet or the sun is very sunny: it is so obvious that Question Time is a waste of time that it doesn't bear mentioning. Imagine if Katharine Murphy turned her journalistic talents to other parts of her employer's operations:
At ANZ Stadium last Saturday night, the Springboks scored 20 points and the Wallabies scored 39 points. Not only did the Wallabies win the match, but they were the home side and scored almost twice as many points as the visitors from South Africa. I know this is a very big call, but I'm going to make it anyway.
The forecast for Sydney tomorrow is 18 with a "possible late shower". This means that it might rain, and it might not, at some point later in the day. In Brisbane the forecast is 22 with no rain at all. I know this is a very big call, but I'm going to make it anyway.
Moody’s Investors Service has cut Greece’s sovereign credit rating three steps, saying the European Union’s financing package for the debt-laden nation implies "substantial economic losses" for private creditors. I know this is a very big call, but I'm going to make it anyway.
Question Time is so pointless and banal that you wonder what sort of people participate in this spectacle (not only the members of whatever house has chosen to humiliate itself by broadcasting its QT that day, but here we rope the journalists in to the whole sorry event). Now you see that the entire careers of people like Annabel Crabb, Michelle Grattan, Jacqueline Maley and, yes, Katharine Murphy have been utterly, utterly wasted. There is no connection at all between what they write and what we need to know about what government is up to.

For those of us not in Parliament watching it live, Question Time is broadcast on the ABC before the afternoon re-run of Play School. One of the basic language skills that you teach small children is how to answer a simple question: it is possible to answer a simple question with a simple answer, especially if hundreds of well-trained and resourceful people have written answers for you in a folder. After watching Wayne Swan fumble and bumble his way through a straightforward question about the economy, combining a straightforward if dull answer with a lecture on economic theory, a glossy interpretation of recent economic and political history, a few digs at people which are not fully understood even by people who follow politics closely, then an anecdote that is beside the point at best and topped off by a 'dad joke' or euthanased by a point of order ... after all that, the dulcet tones of, say, The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round really is like cool water to a thirsty soul.
Question time in its contemporary manifestation symbolises everything that's wrong with political discussion in Australia — an exchange of manufactured sound bites and confected television "moments" signifying nothing at all. It is at once uncomfortably aggressive, spiteful and gladiatorial, and completely soporific.
So: the basic idea that a banal spectacle can be set up so that it produces compelling television is false. Viewers don't believe it, the smarter politicians don't believe it, people who work in television don't believe it - only staffers and nongs like Abbott actually believe that carrying on like chimpanzees makes for the very opposite of entertaining and informative television. Finally, Katharine Murphy has realised it.
Given the absence of hope for a better reality, a radical person would conclude we should just dump it.
Hardly. Senator Alan Ferguson, who presided over more than a few Question Times and was one of the least radical politicians we have seen in recent years, made that very call a few weeks ago.
Our elected representatives owe the voters a better process.
No, what the voters are owed is better information, which should be available from (amongst other sources) web-accessible reporting engines. Journalists should go and find that information, wherever it might be, and report on it to us; instead, they bellyache:
As a mechanism for genuine accountability, it's a joke. As a spectacle, it's pathetic ... In an attempt not to go mad, Canberra political reporters have lurched into the practice of cracking jokes and effectively talking among ourselves until some kind person blows the whistle at 20 questions.

Its sheer awfulness has a strange lulling effect — like the victim of an abduction, you slowly develop Stockholm syndrome, becoming too worn down to hope for something better.
Get off your arses and go elsewhere in Canberra, or even outside it, in order to find the information that we need. Witter ye not about Stockholm syndrome; journalists are not trapped in parliament, and ought to consider it a failure of their occupation to report non-stories, rather than the vindication that it is today. True, journalists report to crusty old editors who love their clichés and who clearly consider Question Time as a necessary chore for journalists to sit through - but in an age where even media companies are hunting for efficiencies, smart journalists would keep one step ahead and sharpen their information-gathering skills beyond jumped-up staffers and dreary pollies.
This was my state of being until last Wednesday night, when I tuned in to the House of Commons question time-style debate in Britain convened in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
If you were any sort of political junkie you'd have watched several PMQs. They're on the 'net, not only with Cameron (a loaf of white bread in a suit), but Blair and Thatcher. You understand why such a nuf-nuf as Gordon Brown could rally his followers once you say him at work in PMQs. Thousands of Australians have been to London and seen the Commons in full cry; to call yourself a press gallery journalist without understanding how other parliaments (and yes, other press galleries) work is a joke. To borrow from Kipling, what do they know of Canberra who only Canberra know?
The exchanges, moderated by an adroit Speaker with well honed reflexes for containing frippery and grandstanding, was fast, free flowing and informative. Oddly, given the high political stakes involved for Cameron, the tone of the debate was respectful; striking a functional balance between persistent interrogation, critique and basic civility.
Yep: those of us who have travelled and who forage widely for information know that indulging pollies' wank-fantasies as the politico-media complex does is pathetically, ridiculously inadequate. It forms the basis for blogs like this, which insular journalists simply blow off by equating any and all criticism with the musings of Graeme Bird or Anders Behring Breivik.
Did you see politics actually working?

Most intriguing for many observers was the apparent freedom of the discussion, symbolised by Cameron's tendency to speak and react like a human being. At one point, the Prime Minister simply growled in frustration and sat down. (Imagine Julia Gillard, in minority government and, like him, under siege, having the confidence to do that.)
If Gillard starts to cut loose and stuff Alan Jones into his own chaff bag, Katharine Murphy would be the first one to complain that she was departing from the script: the journosphere loves its clichés and hates politicians who depart from it. Worse, imagine if Gillard's approval rebounded as a result, leaving the journosphere bagging a Prime Minister who was becoming popular. The irrelevance of the media would be exposed.
We shouldn't be too credulous, of course. Presumably there were tactics, presumably there was discussion and war gaming by the brains trusts of both government and opposition about lines of attack, about what would be owned and what would be "finessed"; presumably Cameron delivered carefully prepared formulations for the most serious questions.
This is so dopey I don't know where to begin.

Yes I do: wait until Murphy finds out that the Poms actually have political commentary media, and that much of it has canvassed the very issues which she speculates here. Imagine her reading it, and finding out that Andrew Sparrow or Simon Jenkins or Janet Daley on a bad day are far, far better than Michelle Grattan standing at the full height of her experience and misplaced stature. Then you'll realise how badly we've all been had by sloppy journalism covering beef-witted politicians who all get huffy when we call them out for being second-rate.
Politics doesn't change its spots just because it occurs in a different hemisphere.
No shit! Here, have a Walkley.
And at one level it's completely unfair to compare a special sitting of the British Parliament in some extraordinary circumstances with a routine question time in Australia ... The culture of the British parliamentary system apparently allows the legislature to cut its jib to fit the circumstances; parliamentarians there must be a more flexible bunch than their counterparts here, folks who like what they know and know what they like — the opportunity to declaim with limited interruption, not necessarily the opportunity to interrogate one another.
Particularly when they suck so hard at interrogation. It must have been wonderful to watch two of the country's top advocates, Menzies and Evatt, go at one another: an experience wasted on the journalists of the day. By contrast, Whitlam, Daley and Killen reprised set-piece routines from nineteenth-century debates in the House of Commons and were acclaimed as the great wits of our parliamentary history. To regard Peter Costello as some sort of lion of Question Time, as people like Katharime Murphy did, absolutely did my head in.

The myopia and stupidity of the press gallery in not only transmitting the banality of our Parliament, but hyping it, has locked them into a co-dependant relationship of mutual decline. The pollies could snap out of it - but, if Sideshow is any guide, they won't; now it's up to the journalists, and they won't either. Two weeks from now, pounds to peanuts Murphy will have forgotten she ever doubted Question Time or that she dared imagined a world where she could just go and do something more productive.
Truth is, the occasion in London was highly significant, and the British Parliament rose to it. Optimists argue the same would be true here: when questions are being raised that go to the very heart of power, whether significant institutions are healthy or corrupt, the Australian Parliament would also rise.

You'd hope so.
Based on what?

The very future of the planet and the economy is at stake in the carbon debate, and Katharine Murphy and her pals are out covering Chris Monckton or Tony Abbott. Aboriginal people are withering under the Northern Territory intervention, which people like Katharine Murphy are ignoring because Barnaby Joyce might make an announcement this afternoon. The Australian Parliament faces real and pressing issues every time it sits, issues far more important than watching Jimmy The Idiot Boy perform at the helm of a global corporation in much the same way as Phaeton apparently did at the reins of the sun-chariot.
The Australian Parliament would do well to study the British example last week.
On a regular basis, delegations of Australian politicians toddle off to London. Clowns like Katharine Murphy write these off as junkets and don't bother to ask what they learned from their so-called "study tour". It's a cop out to admit what everyone knows:
We who report on politics have to share culpability. We enable the rubbish we witness by not declaring it rubbish.
... and then to confess that you can't do anything because you've got Stockholm syndrome, that you can't not report on Question Time, that sitting around having a whinge is somehow more productive than getting out and getting real information some other way.

Remember: the only people who are impressed by announcements are journalists.
It might be a downpayment on bringing a frustrated and disenchanted community back to politics.
Or it might not: you know what journalists are like, anything you put before them would be pearls before swine. That way journalists can write articles like we get the representatives that we deserve, which only leads to further disengagement and getting representatives so bad that only journalists deserve them.

22 July 2011

I'm not a conservative and neither is Toby Young

On top of the usual preoccupations, as a teenager I was preoccupied with questions of what stays the same and what changes to fit the times. True, this is not your average teenage behaviour; but I never felt obliged to be average. When I was about 18 I would have excreted something like this, but I didn't. Someone called Toby Young did so and should have known better.

Before I get to that, let's look at Young's site: "No Sacred Cows", it's called, designed to set him up as some sort of iconoclast (while somehow, at the same time, being a conservative - nope, me neither). The notion of sacred cows comes from Southern Asian belief systems such as Hinduism and Jainism, where adherents believe the spirits of their ancestors are embodied in cattle. The presence of cattle in those societies serve as reminders that those alive today are inheritors of what has come before. For those people, to disrespect cattle is therefore to disrespect their ancestors and what they have bequeathed. It seems like an embodiment of Edmund Burke's notion of society as a compact between those who have gone before, those who are alive and those who are yet to come.

To trumpet "no sacred cows" isn't conservatism, it's nihilism. It can only be explained in racist terms, as though these people and others like them ought not take pride in their ancestors or are showing such pride in the 'wrong' way. There is nothing conservative about dismissing the idea of sacred cows.

Then there's his motto: "Comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable". If I had to sum up socialism in six words, those are the ones I'd choose. I certainly wouldn't have that as a personal motto.

I recognise that the comfort/afflict thing is a journosphere cliché - and yes it is a cliché, having moved from a frequently-used expression owing to the death of its meaning. Those whose job involves shouting through a widow’s letterbox or making the children of a celebrity adulterer cry are doing the reverse of that cute little saying, not fulfilling it (while I have no proof that Young has engaged in these behaviours directly, they are not inconsistent with his piece on "conservatism" nor his elsewhere professed love for the media and those who work are employed in it).

So much for the site itself: now onto Young's article. Let us scroll past the youthful banalities that serve as the foundation for his life and go to what political substance there is:
My only quibble with the Coalition is that its public service reforms aren’t radical enough.
So Young is a radical and not a conservative. A conservative would be mindful that the public needs to be served, and that such service ought to be the focus regardless of the method of providing it; and that any transition in service from a taxpayer-funded model to some other form ought be made with the minimum of disruption to those who are served, the public. To wrestle in the gutter with statists in the battle over what the state does and doesn't provide and how much it all costs might be jolly fun, but from a conservative perspective it misses the point.
So my 14-year-old self would be appalled, right? ... Well, yes, up to a point.
For God's sake, no conservative can does or should cavil before some adolescent. This phrase "up to a point" comes from Evelyn Waugh's novel Scoop, in which a character employed by a media mogul uses this equivocation when he fears to contradict his employer directly. Punks have names like Johnny and Sid, not Toby. Get a grip, man.
Back then, I felt like an outsider, an alienated youth, whereas today I’m a fully-paid up member of the petit bourgeoisie.
I bet Young's 14-year-old self didn't earn the money with which he purchased NMTB, and nor did he seriously contemplate nicking it. He was always a member of the petit bourgeoisie, because they we buy products from shops to affirm who they we are (regardless of whether the object in question is a square sleeve of cardboard containing a vinyl disk or a "Jermyn Street shirt", about which more later).
If my neighbours play their music too loud I knock on their door and tell them to turn it down and if I see anyone dropping litter in my front garden, look out!
I've got two small children and live in a quiet street: I have no idea about my neighbours' musical tastes. If they were to play loud music I'd rip the relevant fuse out of their fusebox and sell it back to them only once they fully understood the consequences of disturbing the peace. As for litter, look out for what? A tap on the shoulder and "excuse me, would you mind ..."? What are you, some sort of enviro-nazi?
But, fundamentally, my political views haven’t changed. As a 14-year-old anarchist, I felt the same implicit mistrust of the state as I do now. The reason I support the cuts is because I think the state has become too big. Between 1998/99 and 2008/09, public expenditure increased by more than 50%, leaving Britain with a national debt of over a trillion pounds. We’ve borrowed so much that it cost the British taxpayer £43 billion last year just to pay the interest. That’s £120 million a day.
Conservatives talk about cutting the size of the state, but while they trim it a bit when in government they never actually reduce it substantially and keep it down. They make a great fuss of trimming a few pennies from useful things like public schools while subsidising things that should be able to sustain themselves, like tourism. Thatcher in Britain, Reagan in the US and Howard in Australia all perpetuated public service bloat and waste; the effects of government spending as a proportion of GDP below a certain level exist only as make-work schemes for economic modellers at so-called "think tanks", they are not something we are in any danger of realising in our daily lives or in that of the nation.

In Australia, a conservative government came to office in 1996 and reduced public service numbers. Canberra experienced a boom in restaurants (people held farewell parties for departing colleagues) and home renovations (even though the value of real estate declined, dumped public servants used their payouts to renovate their houses), and then when government inevitably expanded those same people were rehired. It was all more expensive than simply keeping capable people and getting rid of the incompetent, which is what a conservative would have supported. It made a mockery of libertarian notions of small government generally, and particularly the idea that conservative politics (UK Conservatives, Australian Liberals, US Republicans) can be entrusted to reduce the size of government with a view to making it better serve those who are governed.
I agree with Adele that the top rate of tax is too high. Why should a gifted musician and performer, who’s worked hard to get where she is, be forced to hand over half her income to the government on pain of imprisonment?
The last time Britain had such a high rate of taxes, a band of scouser millionaires had a three-minute whinge about it:
Don't ask me what I want it for (Taxman Mister Wilson)
If you don't want to pay some more (Taxman Mister Heath)
'Cause I’m the taxman
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

- The Beatles Taxman
That song is better than it looks, I promise.

Another band of millionaires in a similar position, the Rolling Stones, moved their operations to a low-tax jurisdiction where they decided it was better to pay spivvy accountants than, indirectly, teachers and nurses (the very sorts of people who bought their records and made them wealthy in the first place), cauing the sort of social dislocation that appals conservatives. Those spivvy accountants then proceeded to rip off the band, and there was nothing that the British state could do when that band appealled to them for redress.

Tell Adele that Wilson and Heath were Britain's political leaders in the late 1960s. If she wanted to cover that today, tell her that substituting those names with Cameron and Miliband won't scan. Ask Adele whether she's been to Athens lately: from what I hear it's a low-tax paradise.
My political philosophy can be summed up in the words of Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform. “I don’t want to abolish government,” he said. “I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it in to the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
I have always found those words chilling, even when I went through a libertarian phase in the late 1980s. They call to mind not something heroic on which great things can be built, but the horrible fates of Milly Dowler or Lieby Kletzky.
That’s what I believed when I was a punk and that’s what I believe now.
Well fuck you, weirdo. You have the right to remain silent; anything you do say, etc.
The Black Bloc anarchists believe that capitalism is the root of all evil and once you’ve built a socialist Jerusalem there will be no need for laws and police officers and nasty things like that. In their view, the state just exists to protect the interests of the top hat-wearing ruling class – Lord Snooty and his Pals. Once they’ve been put up against the wall and shot – or, at the very least, denuded of their property – the state will no longer be necessary ...
No, they're pathetic and excitable young fools like Charlie Gilmour, who as a small-c charlie is closer to 1977 Toby Young than Young today.
What I would dispute is that it’s possible to have a truly socialist society without a heavy dose of state control.
And if you were a conservative, you'd believe that a heavy dose of state control is bally well what is required to keep the socialists in line, of the very sort that will keep potent threats to all that we hold dear (like Charlie Gilmour, apparently) off the streets.
If history teaches us anything it’s that high-minded political experiments quickly degenerate into tyrannical despotism. Shortly after the October Revolution in 1917, Lenin could rightfully claim that Russia was the free-est society in the world. Forty years later, at the time of Stalin’s death, there were two-and-a-half million political prisoners locked up in the Gulag.

Is it unfair to point to the French Revolution, the Soviet Union and Paul Pot’s Cambodia as “proof” that the kind of radical equality espoused by Black Bloc anarchists inevitably leads to state terror?
This is all very well (apart from "Paul Pot" - is he one of those celebrity chefs?), but it doesn't just apply at the political margins of places like Britain and Australia. State bloat happens under conservative governments. I get paid for having children, something my wife and I would have been inclined to do had there been no state, or a state which would have taxed us extra for the privilege. We drive past Family Relationships Centres, places where public servants will teach us how to relate to one another were we so inclined to seek their counsel. I pay to lock up asylum-seekers from Afghanistan who have a 95% likelihood of being genuine refugees and worthy of better treatment (including sharing the burden of tax revenues) as a member of the community.I could go on; the point is, conservative governments generally make these things worse, and rarely better, so it's best not to consider yourself a partisan conservative.

You cannot be governed well by those who despise government. To use a series of petit-bourgeois retail analogies:
  • You wouldn't go to a pub where the bar staff despise alcohol and the licentiousness that comes from it.
  • You wouldn't shop for clothes at a place which doesn't stock your size or chooses not to sell you what you ask for.
  • You wouldn't buy music from a place which doesn't meet your taste (let me guess: 14-year-old Toby Young went into that shop asking for Cliff Richard's latest, only to be laughed at and have Never Mind The Bollocks pressed on him).
As with all radicals, small-government gibberers regard their mistakes as "transition difficulties" rather than proof that their ideas don't and can't work.
Does [the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s] provide any evidence that socialism and anarchism can be successfully combined?
No, and nor does it vindicate the forty or so years of conservatism that followed it. Various bunches of clowns roamed around the landscape shooting, and threatening to shoot, people who disagreed with them. It didn't really matter what they called themselves or what they dreamed of. When the conservatives came in they stultified political and economic freedom in the name of "public order", they kept the population poor and ignorant not for their own sake, but because thus enfeebled they couldn't challenge those who held High Office; which is exactly how conservatives, operating under different brands, like it.

Young refers to Anarchy in the UK but fails to point out its evisceration of left-wing activism:
Is this the MPLA?
Or is this the UDA?
Or is this the IRA
I thought it was the UK
Or just another country -
Another council tenancy
In other words: you can identify with radical causes all you want, but after the thrill of imagination has worn off your grim reality has not changed. It shows the poverty of the Chomsky-Pilger worldview, where anyone having a crack at petit-bourgeois societies is to be supported by those nestled comfortably within them (1977 was the last time Pilger went after a leftwing regime. He's turned his attention to bourgeois states, with much less to work with than the Khmer Rouge afforded him, though he made sure he spelled the dictator's name correctly).

Conservatism is all about practical measures to create a better reality with the means at hand and within the context in which you find yourself. This includes the state (oh yes it does). It includes (but not to the exclusion of all else) engaging in the sort of political activity that the Black Bloc and Francoists despised and conspired to render impossible.

Never mind that song's three chords: he would be better off reconsidering the song's famous final three-word line. Which of those two exhortations is in any way conservative?
Self-interest will always trump altruism.
This doesn't explain why Young's home city of London remains intact and functioning following the terrorist attacks of July 2005 (amongst others): the vainglory of the bombers placing their salvation ahead of others' safety, the emergency services flouting occupational health and safety regulations, the denizens of that great city determined to reclaim public space and social lives (yes, including the earning of incomes) - all of them flout Young's silly rule. Altruism rules, altruism rocks. Millions of people who have better things to do go to London every year, and what they want to see are things created by altruism. Nobody would cross the street to drop litter in Toby Young's front yard unless they were on the way to somewhere else more interesting.
Family ties will always have a stronger claim on our loyalties than some abstract ideal.
When the abstract ideal is in my family's interests, and those of other like-minded families, I'll have to give up a little in the here-and-now and exercise choices at the ballot box and elsewhere to realise those interests. I want to leave my kids a sound natural environment; I can't do it all myself. I wish I had better options from the state and private companies than those before me.
We will always struggle to gain a competitive advantage over our neighbours.
Speak for yourself: sounds like you need better neighbours. I do what I need to do and the neighbours can suit themselves.
Human beings simply aren’t designed to sit around campfires singing Kumbaya ... they are fundamentally territorial and aggressive.
Why refer to your fellow human beings as "they"? Why are singing 'Kumbaya' or being territorial and aggressive the only two choices we have? Conservatives and marxists set up silly dichotomies like this. The whole idea is to expand the scope of realistic options people have, not restrict them so that they fit feeble worldviews.

In 1977, I wasn't wandering around London buying records. I was just over half Toby Young's age. I went to Sunday School at the Anglican church at the end of my street because there was nothing else to do in the small country town where I lived then. We sang 'Kumbaya':

Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Oh Lord, kumbaya

Someone's singing Lord, kumbaya
Someone's singing Lord, kumbaya
Someone's singing Lord, kumbaya
Oh Lord, kumbayah

Someone's laughing/crying/praying/sleeping, Lord, kumbaya
Oh Lord, kumbaya

I always thought 'Kumbaya' translated as "yeah, whatever" or "what do you want me to do about it?". An all-knowing God would know what people were up to anyway without us kids having to tell him. Like the sacred cows, I suppose, 'Kumbaya' inspires you to think about things which are bigger than you (which, when you're eight, is everything) and be thankful that you've known a life that, for all its occasional difficulty or banality, Milly Dowler or Lieby Kletzky might have expected but never got to have.

The Anglican Church is more conservative than it was in 1977, being the personal property not of God or even the Queen but of the Jensen family and their delegates in the money markets. Nothing happens in that church that is not within the limited imagination of those people, which is why I'll not go there to find something so awesome as the Word of God. Toby Young didn't mention the Anglican Church, something of a lapse (or a dodge?) for an English Conservative; he might find the Church as it practices there both too namby and at the same time pamby for his taste.
... their neighbour is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus. Who, in the face of all his experience of life and of history, will have the courage to dispute this assertion?
There's plenty of history out there that refutes silly reductionism like this. That stuff is prehistory, and ignores even the most rudimentary civilisations. Go find some history and stop wasting time. As an Englishman, history is all you've got.
It’s a cliché that anyone who isn’t a liberal when they’re young has no heart and anyone who isn’t a conservative when they’re old has no brain, but it’s true.
It can't be true and a cliché at the same time. That claim doesn't account for people like Winston Churchill or Robert Menzies, two men whose long careers in liberal conservatism (yes, both, at the same time, to differing degrees on a number of fronts) make the heads spin of those who insist on a strict liberal/conservative dichotomy.
The prelapsarian innocence of Eden can never be recovered.
To believe in Eden is to be part of a belief system that maintains that it can, and to be inspired to seek better from the world.
As the playwright David Mamet wrote in an essay ...
David Mamet didn't get where he is by writing essays, motherfucker. He got where he is by writing plays like American Buffalo where the character Teach is the anarcho-conservative Toby Young thinks he is. When you've listened to enough of Teach's nihilist piffle you'll predict where Teach ends up long before he gets there. If Mamet ever was a liberal it was of the Joe Lieberman dog-in-the-manger school rather than the 'Kumbaya'-singing variety.
Politicians can never be trusted. The Times journalist Louis Heron had it right: "When a politician tells you something in confidence, always ask yourself – Why is this lying bastard lying to me?"
Journalists think they are usefully employed listening to politicians. If you want to know how we are governed, the last person you'd ask is a politician, or a journalist for that matter. What sort of conservative bothers much with either?
I’ve come to accept Hobbes’s view that in the absence of a state life would be nasty, brutish and short.
But as Young has admitted, this is also true of countries where the state is very much more powerful than it is in Britain or Australia. Does this make him some sort of moderate?
But our political masters should never forget that their authority is wholly dependent on our consent. Every erosion of our liberty needs to be justified and the burden of proof rests with the state. Power flows from the bottom up, not the top down.
Our political masters will get away with what they can get away with unless they are stopped or made so fearful of losing office that they back off - but there is nothing conservative about that belief. Conservatives believe there is such a thing as Authority and it very definitely and exclusively flows from the top down. They do not believe in this kind of political reflux that Young describes nor in pagan heresies such as vox populi, vox Dei.

They most certainly do not have as much truck with Freud as Young does: besides, Freud has been overtaken by a century of psychology. A generation of politicians in Britain, Australia and other countries is in the process of unlearning that it must tailor its policies to please a conservative authoritarian (who'd like to think of himself as an iconoclast, though probably not a punk).
In my fevered imagination, the anarchist utopia I longed for would be something like the Athens of Ancient Greece – sexually licentious, artistically vibrant and alive with the spirit of intellectual inquiry.
In other words: doomed, waiting for the Persians to come and spank them good and hard, and impose a form of conservatism at its most most bovine.
The notion that [Man] is a work in progress who can somehow be improved now strikes me as laughably naïve.
The notion that Man should have perfectability imposed upon him, yes; the notion that Man should be free to seek more than conservatives and other punisher-straighteners would allow, no.
The purpose of society should not be to transform men into something better, but to stop them cutting each other’s throats.
Why not both, and so much more besides? Conservatism is so inadequate.
Nevertheless, I like to think I’m keeping faith with the spirit of 1977.
Really? You say this like it's a good thing. Was it a time when Right and Good and Proper prevailed?
The punk movement was a starbust of rebellious energy, a nebula of rage.
Hardly. Those who pulled down the Berlin Wall with their bare hands, those who occupied Tahrir Square and levered out dictators: that, Toby, is what energy and rage looks like. Singing "I fought the law and the law won" or denying the Queen her very humanity isn't rebellious, it's not conservative, it's nothing at all really (more like nebulous rage). The punk movement was just a marketing opportunity: ever feel like you've been cheated?
the powers that be ... owe their exalted status to us, we don’t owe anything to them.
Never mind ancient times: that's the attitude of Athens today, and look where it's got them. In response to their anarchy (a word we got from the Greeks and which we can now reapply to them), truckloads of money from Toby Young and other EUers is on its way to them to maintain Order and Authority and a Sound Currency, and all other things with which real conservatives agree wholeheartedly.

Never mind all that, I hear Toby Young cry: what music are they listening to?
I may have gone bald and I may have swapped my Destroy T-shirt ...
'May' have? 'May' have? Which is it, man? A conservative knows what he is about, a conservative does not shilly-shally.
... for a Jermyn Street shirt ...
Now, here Toby Young and I agree. I have a few Jermyn Street shirts myself, but unlike Toby Young it isn't convenient for me to get to Jermyn Street. I purchase them over the internet, a medium that would be confined to the US military if conservatives had their way. The shirts arrive at my door in packages that are marked as coming from Milton Keynes. Some are marked as being Italian in at least part of their manufacture. They're nice shirts, but are they really "Jermyn Street shirts"? Does that mean anything any more? Conservatives worry about that sort of thing.

Toby Young might be associated with the Conservative Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in some way, but of itself this does not make him a conservative but rather some sort of liberal. It is the manner of a conservative to insist, sotto voce, that they really were quite naughty in their day, while radicals insist on their normality. The goth and the bikie who have carefully cultivated a forbidding appearance bewail being judged on that appearance, while your gran will regale you across a tea-tray about her adventures on VJ Day with a bunch of American sailors. It's all very complicated, much more than reductionists and partisans will or can allow. It's human, and it's more than conservatives can cope with, which is why neither Toby Young nor I (nor you, I suspect) are conservative.

19 July 2011

News and non-News

Both Phillip Coorey and Peter Hartcher know that Gillard will not be believed over the carbon tax and the compensation that flows from it until the money starts to flow, from people's accounts and to them. Hysterical nonsense following the release of a poll should be beyond these guys.

Polls are released all the time. The fact that a poll is released is not news, especially when it says basically the same thing that other recent polls have said. These guys should know better - especially when those self-same guys have said, time and again, that an announcement wouldn't matter much by itself, that people would judge the carbon tax price thing when it's in place and affecting the way we work and live (remember all that coverage on he day the carbon thing was announced: "proof is in the pudding ... devil is in the detail"). Instead of this hysterical nonsense, why not back off and see what happens and find something else to write about in the meantime?

Tonight they and other journos will be glued to the Bek, Jimmy & Rupe Show live from London. The House of Commons Culture, Media & Sport Committee had better have some members who can actually conduct a thorough examination of slippery witnesses; it doesn't sound promising. Any half-witted bloviators like Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Doug Cameron or Michael Ronaldson will see those characters get off scot-free or even attract sympathy. This is the very period when real news will get lost.

Almost all the coverage in tomorrow's media will add nothing to the story: most people will ignore it and those who don't won't learn anything new by reading the commentary ("proof is in the pudding ... devil is in the detail"). Worse, any press secretary and PR dolly who has bad news to announce will be throwing it out there as we speak, knowing that the journosphere won't be paying attention and won't pick it up later.

This article has a point, but coming from a media outlet known for its jowl-wobbling outrage it will be interesting to see whether it finds itself in breach of the Practice What You Preach Act. Besides, all frenzies, by their very nature, are out of control. Is there any journalist who will be content to have Bek, Jimmy & Rupe burbling away in the background while looking for interesting announcements (assuming that journalists are only allowed to follow a story once a press release has been put out) and applying actual journalism to non-Murdoch-related issues?

Elsewhere: The Referral on what is or isn't news.

14 July 2011

Liar! Liar! Liar!

Michelle Grattan has been a press gallery reporter for forty years. With such time comes experience, but in her case also a lack of perspective that makes her unable to report effectively on what is going on before her, and who her audience is meant to be. This is not an article from an experienced observer that helps you understand federal politics, it is an admission of professional failure.
PEOPLE want an election, according to one poll on the carbon price ...
Which people? What poll? Only journalists and political hacks like elections. Early elections rebound on governments that call them (and you'd know that if you have as much experience with politics as I have). This is a weak hook for a story.
... but what they're getting is an election campaign without the vote.

With both leaders on the hustings - talking endlessly, appearing in shopping centres and workplaces, visiting hand-picked families whose views and circumstances support their side of the argument - we seem to be right back to July-August a year ago.
Who do you mean by "we" (given that she refers to her fellow Australians throughout the article as "they")?

The long-festering issue of a carbon price now has a tangible form that it didn't have this time last year, or two years ago, or ten. Gillard has finally realised that the issue of a carbon price is bigger than her. She has put her negotiating skill to use in coming up with a deal with people who owe her nothing. Only journalists, who think they're gainfully employed by traipsing around after politicians wherever they may roam in the hope that they may say something, think that we're still in an election campaign.
Voters settled nothing in the polling booths then, installing a hung parliament.
Voters, Michelle, set the terms within politicians work. It was the politicians who put together a government and an opposition, with their respective strategies, and the media. It isn't the job of voters to settle public policy disputes, that's for politicians; politicians are judged as to how well or badly they settle those disputes, and the media reports back to us.
They're paying the price, having been forced to endure endless hype ever since, which has now become fevered.
You only have to endure that hype if you get paid to do so. If you don't, you switch off.

The esteem in which politicians are held is almost as low as that which journalists must bear. Journalists could get around the hype if they wanted to - but they can't be bothered. They may even reflect on their own role in the "fevered" state of debate. Those who manage journos lack the wit to redeploy them in a way that would make them more effective in explaining public policy disputes to those most affected by them: taxpayers and voters.
Julia Gillard is in a bind. Being accosted yesterday in front of the cameras by a voter accusing her of lying before the election and lying now touches a damaging electoral nerve. The TV image just reinforces the "trust" problem that is so serious for the PM.

But she has no choice - she has to be out there with Tony Abbott. By playing on his ground, however, she elevates his status, which in itself is useful for an opposition leader.
If the current predicament of Australian politics is dysfunctional, why validate it by saying that it has to be this way? Only if you accept the idea that the Opposition frames public debate, Michelle. Tony Abbott admits that he will say anything when the pressure is on, and when he's caught out he simply pulls out another stunt that the journos will lap up. His last roll of the dice is to frame Gillard as a liar.

Julia Gillard got her job by giving undertakings to Labor factional heavyweights, then to the independent MPs and Greens. Without trust, that all falls apart. Putting together a carbon price with appropriate compensation was seen as Gillard's last chance for credibility, and now that she's done that, the Opposition has two choices: put up a better package, or call Gillard a liar in the hope that the qualities of the package simply evaporate and are never realised.

It's lazy to see the above and say that Grattan is biased, or even that she's not smart enough to see through the Liberal spin effort. It is true, however, that Grattan has too little respect for policy debates, having seen 'em all come and go over time and clearly living the sort of life that isn't affected much by the sorts of public policy issues that lead to far-reaching change and upheaval outside of Canberra (and occasionally within it: but not in those parts of Canberra where you'd see Michelle Grattan, busy as she is in shopping centres and other people's workplaces). In that sense Grattan is not terribly helpful in helping you understand what's going on in Australian politics, for all her experience.

Grattan is using the narrative that the Coalition is handing her because Labor wants to be so flexible that its narrative is only apparent in hindsight. Flexibility is all very well but you can't have a cogent narrative and absolute flexibility at the same time. Grattan should be able to find a Labor narrative if she really hunted for one, but she can't be bothered: the Liberals have handed her "JuLIAR" and like everybody else in the press gallery, she's running with it.
For a while, the political atmosphere has felt rather like that of 1975. There is of course one dramatic difference: unlike then, the opposition is not in a position to block supply (does anyone think that if it could, it wouldn't?) Barring an unforeseen event, the election is two years away.

At the electorate level, things seem to be quieter. Labor MPs are apparently not being inundated with emails and phone calls about the carbon package.
In other words, there's a disconnect between what the press gallery wants to report on and what is really important to readers/ viewers/ taxpayers/ voters. Go and talk to people in Fairfax responsible for circulation and ad sales and ask them how fascinated people are with the sort of horse-race journalism that keeps you going.

In 1975 it was said that the Liberals had no policy to speak of except to remove Labor from office. An experienced journalist would assess whether or not the Liberals were in the same position today. The press gallery on 13 October 1975 expected there to be an election two years from then, not two months: those who experienced that time and are in a position to make comparisons should be wary of being caught unprepared (or worse, leaving readers/ taxpayers/ voters unprepared).
While this could be taken as an encouraging sign, it may also be that many people are simply not listening to Gillard.
Or the press gallery, or the whole issue of framing obscuring what is or is not in the picture.
They may also have become exhausted with the carbon debate.
What debate? People calling one another liars or making wild claims of doom-and-gloom isn't a debate. Real journalists would have gone after members of the Multi Party Committee on Climate Change and got them to reveal some of the behind-closed-doors discussions that have become so important.
The politicians might have been eagerly awaiting the details but ordinary people may now just want to know how they will be placed (which they can find out via the ready reckoner on the web) and wish to be spared the rest of the argument.
What you mean by "rest of the argument", others might consider "tendentious bullshit". Why would bullshit crowd out issues important to readers/ taxpayers/ voters/ etc.?

Smart of Fairfax Online not to link directly to that ready-reckoner; instead, you'll have to Google it, which may lead you away from Fairfax's websites. Nice one! In all of what Grattan said, though, it doesn't occur to her that what she does as a press gallery hack and the way she chooses to do it is pretty much pointless.
Labor complains Abbott is getting away with all sorts of wild claims, and with abandoning positions when they come to be seen as demonstrably false.

That's true.
You bet it is. In another political jurisdiction, the bankruptcy of "ferocious" opposition is clear. And what exactly is Michelle Grattan, doyenne of the parliamentary press gallery, going to do about a situation that is such an indictment of what remains of her profession?

Absolutely stark raving bugger-all. Worse, she seriously thinks she has an excuse:
It's mainly because he has all the benefits of a phoney election campaign against an unpopular opponent, but little of the intense scrutiny he'd face if this were the real thing and he could be PM in a month.
What scrutiny?

Seriously, would that be the same degree of scrutiny applied in the last election campaign? Why is the prospect of an election more important than far-reaching changes to the ecosystem, the economy, and the world in general? If you really regard the interval between elections as so boring, it could well be that you don't understand what's going on in politics as well as you and a few others might hope. Worse, you overestimate your ability to switch to proper investigative journalism (and indeed your judgment in choosing to switch off your analytical capabilities).

In a debate where so much is at stake, horse-race journalism has no value - regardless of how long it has been practised. There is no election foreseeable and the independents who merely declined to support Abbott last time now recognise him for the wrecker and a policy lightweight that he always was. Simply reporting that waves of Liberals are flying at the Prime Minister at every opportunity shrieking "Liar! Liar! Liar!" isn't sufficient to tell us what is going on and what we need to do to deal with the new reality. It has failed as journalism, and to venerate the person producing it entrenches poor habits and makes the journosphere unable to deal with changes in the media and political environment that require politicians to be judged on how well they deal with real issues - not the other way around.

13 July 2011

News of the Screwed

Power - pop!

Read about the things that happen throughout the world
Don't believe in everything you see or hear
The neighbours talk day in day out about the goings on
They tell us what they want - they don't give an inch

Look at the pictures taken by the cameras they cannot lie
The truth is in what you see - not what you read
Little men tapping things out - points of view
Remember their views are not the gospel truth

Don't believe it all
Find out for yourself
Check before you spread
News of the world

Never doubt
Never ask
Never moan
Never search
Never find
Never know

Each morning our key to the world comes through the door
More than often its just a comic, not much more
Don't take it too serious - not many do
Read between the lines and you'll find the truth

Read all about it, read all about it - news of the world, news of the world
Read all about it, read all about it, read all about it - news of the world

- The Jam News of the World
Culture warriors of the right should be made of sterner stuff than to complain that lefties are onto them over the British News Ltd privacy invasion scandal. No conservative case can be made for the invasion of privacy perpetrated by News of the World and its sty-mates: it lived in the gutter and it died there.

Defenders of News of the World claimed that its antics were indispensible because one day it might uncover a real story one day, and it would need to draw on some great reservoir of profit and public goodwill to get through. Well, it had 168 years and the most it could come up with were:
  • A footballer having sex with women to whom he was not married;
  • Inside accounts of brothels for the benefit of those lacking the guts to go there themselves, and lacking any empathy for those who work in such places;
  • Medical details for a very ill infant whose father happened to be a prominent politician;
  • Tittle-tattle generally; and
  • That's about it really.
Those are the sorts of things that defenders of News of the World call "the big stories". They're not big stories; they are very, very petty indeed. Real conservatives rail against these things being aired in the public domain, and despair that such nonsense drives out informing, edifying and inspiring news that almost all hacks can't be bothered finding, let alone writing about. This would explain why public support for that newspaper has collapsed so quickly. It reminded me of the way Gatsby's social whirl collapses after the dead girl is found on his premises: one minute he's the King of West Egg and has Daisy within reach, the next minute he's a pariah.

If a government of a democratic-capitalist country set out to ban an investigative media outlet, or something genuinely popular, there would be public outcry and politicians would either back down or relent to some extent. News of the World was one of the biggest-selling newspapers in the western world, yet its only defence comes from those who worked were employed there. Let us have no more of this hypocrisy - I'll get to Christopher Hitchens shortly - that the closure of a factory or a shop is just another story but the closure of a newspaper is somehow a particularly poignant disaster.

I won't blame Hitchens for the headline in his piece but it is indicative of a contempt for readers found in the journosphere. Animals lap things up. No good journalism ever comes from those who mock the meat on which they feed, or who mock those who consume their output.

The reality of the scandals coming out of the Murdoch UK operation is clearly too noisome for one who has so long relied on it for sustenance. Were any other corporation in any other industry to be found to be some ethically retarded as News International, Christopher Hitchens would be first among those to call for it to be shut down. Instead, Hitchens seeks sanctuary in literature.
First, the sad news of human frailty was not bugled with lurid and sensational tactics. It was laid out more in sorrow than in anger, published on a Sabbath day that was still full of legal and moral force, and strove to show how easy was the fall from grace. Second, and in keeping, its reporters and editors took a very high moral tone. They would take the investigation of a brothel, say, only so far.

Once a certain point of complicity had been reached, there would appear a phrase that became celebrated both in print and in court. "At this stage," the reporter would solemnly intone, "I made an excuse and left."

This degree of detachment was thought essential to the proper conduct of business.

Hand it to Rupert Murdoch and his minions: They got hold of the solid old "News of the Screws" or "Nudes of the World" and made it into a paper where the question was not how low can human nature sink, but rather is there anything, however depraved, a reporter cannot be induced to do?
That depravity meant that it had nowhere to go when the public turned against them. The speed with which it was shut down showed the degree to which people were played for suckers: let to run, then reeled in, as editorial whim required.

Hitchens then flees back into literature, only to lunge out at his readers: "Yes, dear reader, you are a hypocrite, too". Even when I was in London I never bought a copy, I never read its website, so he clearly can't include me. When I hear or see the kind of thing that was its stock in trade I feel no surprise, and I doubt there is much correlation between its advertisements and my consumption habits. Can you imagine Sebastian Flyte or George Orwell accepting an invitation to a focus group for News of the World? It was always big on hypocrisy, but it lacked (and its former employee Hitchens is still lacking) both self-awareness and any real engagement with its audience necessary to assess its readership and meet their needs.

Then, he tries his hand at populism, having seen the master at work:
When reporters speak so easily of the great influence exerted on politicians by Murdoch's papers, what they really mean is by Murdoch's readers. His only real knack lies in knowing what they want.
This assumes, falsely, a link between the meeting of said wants and the ability to mobilise readers to meet the interests of the proprietor. News of the World should have been wound down slowly, were it truly an instrument of great power, not snuffed out like a candle once the electric lights were switched on.
The most neglected aspect of the entire imbroglio is this. Most of the allegations of shady practice against the Murdoch octopus have come from another newspaper.
True enough: one of the last newspapers that engages in investigative journalism, The Guardian, has the credibility to rally the public in a way that News of the World never could (and before you think this is some sort of paean to the left, consider that the UK Telegraph has an equivalent reputation for its stories on parliamentary expenses and articles like this).
Over the same period, Rusbridger and The Guardian formed the London end of the media consortium that tried to impose some element of sorting and priority on the mess that WikiLeaks had become.
Here Hitchens lapses back into piffle.

The journalists at the UK Telegraph had the good sense and humility to put all their documentation online and trust readers to help them build the story. Issues requiring detailed knowledge of accounting practice and the rules of claimable expenses was entrusted to informed and engaged readers, and they came through: this is twentyfirst century journalism at its most promising. By contrast, those at the Guardian, The New York Times and Australia's Fairfax are engaged in old-school gatekeeper journalism where lawyers and ad-sales dollies will decide what stories see the light of day, and journalists will simply transcribe them rather than explain. Journalists had nothing to do with Wikileaks: all the data simply fell into their laps, and much of the way they report it shows an insistence on presenting stories as tittle-tattle: what politician A said about politician B, etc.
... a lot hangs on the outcome of the battle between the Murdochian and Guardian world views.
Indeed it does, but not for the dialectical reasons Hitchens might imagine.

Firstly, illegal intrusions into privacy will continue. The knee-jerk response to September 11 has normalised intrusions of that sort. Government agencies do it but they offer the impression of security, far more defensible than insubstantial tittle-tattle. Big companies breach their customers' privacy inadvertently, as happened to Sony recently, and they look like idiots - but News' sins are those of commission, not omission.

Murdoch attempted to hide behind the public that had sustained him, that he felt egged him on in pursuit of tittle-tattle (a bit like some pathetic rapist you'd read about in a Murdoch tabloid, repeatedly bleating "she wanted it" in the face of all evidence going against him). When he elevated titillation to a right on par with accountable government, when he lost perspective on his prurient content, the public that had long indulged him simply abandoned him. Something similar happens to politicians: they can wear enormous popularity like armour, but when it falls away they are left with the deals and the compromises they made in their pomp, when they were riding high and everything they did or said was always "canny".

Secondly, in Australia and elsewhere the exposure of activities of this sort is most likely not from other journalists, but from IT professionals who can play all the games that Murdoch's people did but better, and with the sense and skill to expose them in a way that gives people some understanding of what is going on. Imagine trying to explain to Australian journalists about mobile phone security settings or accessing medical files remotely ("yeah, but did you read what Bolt said about Swanny? I'm trying to get a right of reply. It's the story of the day - everyone's running with it, it's a highly competitive media market you know").

The failure of bad journalism will not necessarily create more space for good. What is most likely is that editors will stuff the vacant space with dull stuff. It is more than possible that some good journalism will suffer collateral damage in all this. What this means is a distancing of journalism from politics: hopefully it will mean a greater appreciation that public and corporate policy includes decisions that aren't made by executive government.

The only journalism that will survive will not be insider goss but robustly independent investigation that knows source documents when it sees them, and how to fit it with a wider story. No amount of shrieking about "proper media outlets" will arrest this, and the shriekers probably know it (though it's hard to be sure without hacking their phones - yes, your colleagues overseas should have considered you Caroline before dragging the whole outfit through the gutter). The celebration of human frailty to which News of the World has no future: on TMZ amateurs will freely film, say, Lindsay Lohan's slow-motion suicide more graphically and pitilessly than Murdoch's complacent apparatus ever could describe it. Political insider journalism, where "favourable coverage" simply jars with a badly-served public, has no value and no future.

In Australia Murdoch owns 70% of the newspapers, yet if they had any clout at all John Howard would still be Prime Minister. In the US, Murdoch has invested billions in rightwing politics - not only in Fox, but in the vast exercise in astroturfing known as the Tea Party. Murdoch has hired almost all viable Republican candidates for President - and yet the most viable, popular and credible is the candidate who needs him least, Mitt Romney. In the UK Murdoch turning on a government followed public opinion rather than having led it.

Non-Murdoch journalism is starting, here and there, to light out for the territories of what people today need from journalism. In areas other than politics and science (IT, say), areas far from micromanaged editorial scrutiny, there are aberrant and occasional pockets of suitability in News Ltd output. The insecurity of the political class - and not just in the UK - in thrall to moguls as a substitute for a lack of community engagement is well made by The Piping Shrike. The lack of any substantial and lasting engagement by traditional media and politics with the public is ultimately their problem, not ours.