18 October 2011

The shadow boxing champ

The best things in life are free
But you can keep them for the birds and bees
Now give me money
That's what I want
That's what I want, yeah
That's what I want

- The Beatles Money
There is no point in giving this parasite a column to justify his own existence unless you can call him on his more egregious bullshit. Mark Textor is on a very sweet arrangement thank you very much and you will not do anything to upset that arrangement.

The headline is wrong for a start - Mark Textor doesn't want to give the public a voice. He's never been in the public voice business, no money in it. P J O'Rourke said that the public might trample you to death but they will never buy you lunch. What Textor wants is for the public to shut up and not only listen, but give his words more credence than they often deserve.
political parties exist for only one simple and, yes, confronting reason: winning votes for candidates. Sound bad? It's not.
Classic bit of straw man work there. Nobody thinks political parties soliciting votes is "confronting". Nobody thinks it's "bad". He's trying to knock down an argument that nobody makes in the hope that nobody will put a telling argument to him, one that costs him in dollar and reputation terms.
And before folk scream "political parties are just negative"
What 'folk'? What screaming? Is it not possible to hold to such an opinion after careful consideration of facts, and speak it in a voice so quiet that Mark Textor and other mainstream media bloviators will just talk over it?

Let's put that back into context and have a good look at it:
[Political parties] can do this only by discussing what is personally relevant to voters, after carefully listening to their views and offering them a clear choice between parties. And before folk scream "political parties are just negative", two things: forget the bluster of Parliament, most candidate material is positive and these days most successful political advertising is positive. And, to the extent there is negative messaging, our adversarial system is based on keeping the others to account.
When you counter one dollop of bullshit with another, you aren't holding anyone or anything to account. And Textor's idea of "positive" isn't mine. At the last election I lived in a marginal Labor seat. Textor-inspired drivel rained down upon me and went into the recycling bin because he didn't and doesn't care what I think. The material was "positive" in that it presented the candidate in the best possible light in some highly general sense, but wasn't positive in the sense that it would explain how he gets things done. I participated in a forum recently where the now-MP answered every question with "That's a very interesting question!" - if Textor had explained this was the sort of muppet he was putting up it would have been a lot more positive.
Your lovin' gives me a thrill
But your lovin' don't pay my bills
Now give me money
That's what I want
That's what I want, yeah
That's what I want
Besides, political parties put people into Parliament and have more responsibility than Textor accords them in producing little more than "bluster".
If political parties are not funded adequately, I would suggest this would encourage corruption of our political system, not diminish corruption.
Well Mark, how much is "adequate"? In the absence of such a definition, people are probably going to cut corners. We needn't wait long before Mark offers a suggestion as to how much is enough:
Why? Share of voice.

If political parties cannot speak directly to voters - through direct mail, radio and TV advertisements, the internet and through resourced direct contact - then others have control of that otherwise open conversation.
How much is enough for a political party, in Mark Textor's terms? Enough to be the controlling, if not the only, voice across all media. That's all.

In 2007, the Howard government spent more than $50m of taxpayer money on advertising WorkChoices. Even so, there will still other voices in the community expressing different opinions. Under Textor's theory, the then government should have ramped up the spending so that if you wanted to know anything about WorkChoices, the only voice you'd hear would be that of the government.

WorkChoices wasn't an election campaign in itself but it is an example of how (not) to get a message across, and what it takes to do so.

"Share of voice" is a nebulous concept. I have a voice, and you do too, and so does Mark Textor. Textor doesn't want share of voice. He wants you to listen only to what he wants to tell you. That's share of attention, not share of voice - but he dare not convey that he doesn't want to share attention with anyone else.
A hundred or so folk in the Canberra press gallery decide what you should hear, not what a candidate wants to tell you based on their feedback from the community.
First of all, this overuse of "folk" grated when Kevin Rudd used it, and it's no better when used by someone who wants all the benefits of political power without the hat-wearing, glad-handing, pie-eating and income-disclosing that goes with running for public office.

Second, the press gallery runs free advertising for political parties. The Liberal Party are getting the best run you can get from a press gallery at the moment. Yes, they would be crazy to rely on them continuing to run their lines on face value and not considering basic questions like whether Abbott really would be a better PM than Gillard, and why - but this leads to my third point:

I read the tweet and tried to think of a single example in the history of Australian politics where a major political party spent absolutely nothing on advertising and relied entirely upon free media in the journosphere. There isn't one (let the monkeys who work for him support their boss' claim that there is). Textor's idea that poor political parties are being held back from advertising at all until they get into a position of "control" is, frankly, ridiculous.

Fourth, candidates decide nothing in election campaigns - people like Textor and his equivalent Bruce Hawker decide what the message is. Candidates' faces and names are used to endorse whatever message has been cooked up by the Textors of this world, and if the community doesn't like the message then the candidate wears it - and Mark Textor can't be blamed for low-quality candidates out there, can he?
So there goes the theory about a reduction in negativity if advertising is banned.
What theory? Whose theory? More straw-man bullshit. To reduce negativity in public debate you need a shift of focus by the media onto issues rather than on what Textor calls "bluster".
You could argue that, in Britain, the absence of electronic advertising has led to political editors deciding what gets discussed in the community, rather than the citizen, leading to too much power for some publications and the issue of press corruption, as witnessed recently.
You could, if you weren't paying attention. Textor thinks the answer is to give newspaper editors unlimited amounts of money, because only that will stop/prevent corruption.
Further, if political parties cannot speak to the people directly through a variety of, if expensive, mechanisms (still preferable to a 10-second grab on television), then others will advertise anyway, but on a narrower, less mainstream set of issues. The recent rise of US-style, advertising-led lobbying that targets government and opposition would dominate.
You say that like it's a bad thing, Mark. US-style advertising is one of CrosbyTextor's main offerings for its clients in a campaign. Why Textor is denouncing one of his key weapons is unclear.
The parties act as a clearing house to discuss more mainstream issues ...
No they don't. The parties pitch issues that make them look like potentially responsible and appealing governments. They don't 'discuss' because that suggests an openness to changing their minds which people like Textor have beaten out of them. They are not "a clearing house", they are part of the debate.
So how should the political parties be funded? To me the safest way is a mixed funding model. That is because there are major failings in relying on one source. An over-reliance on public funding would leave political parties vulnerable to the government of the day mandating the use of those funds ...
The key phrase in there is "to me". This is all about Mark Textor's income. It is not about "free speech", because Textor has never been about that. I left that phrase off the end of the quote because in this context it made me gag.

Textor isn't about free speech and the open exchange of ideas about how public policy might work best. No proof that he ever was or is. He';s about getting his message out and getting you to believe it, whether or not that message is what the country needs is a question for people he despises. What he really despises, though, is anyone who gets between him and a big pot of cash.
Money don't get everything it's true
What it don't get, I can't use
Now give me money
That's what I want
That's what I want, yeah
That's what I want
Textor knows full well Liberal fundraisers can't raise enough cash to keep him in the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed, thus the "mixed funding" thing. This is why Textor has very generously agreed to allow the taxpayer to top up his income through so-called "education" grants to parties, which go directly to people like Textor. Public funding will lessen that party's dwindling reliance on volunteer members repulsed by what he has turned the Liberal Party into, so everyone who matters to Mark Textor is a winner from that scenario, and that's the main thing.
In my experience, reliance on low-donor funding leads to the temptation to pursue "shrill" issues because the US experience has taught us small donations are best gathered by "mining" emotion based on reaction to political events. The "angry" on the left and right may dominate under this model.
All advertising aims to harness consideration of election campaigns to the power of the emotions. The US experience shows the opposite, where small donations outweighed the power that comes with a few large donors. Having lots of small donors also gives lots of people a voice, a prospect that appals Textor. President Obama's 2008 campaign wasn't a fringe campaign - and if it was, why would that be a bad thing - oh wait, fringe campaigns don't hire Mark Textor.

Another of Textor's campaign tools is the use of talkback radio, where randoms like the ones he describes have their "share of voice" at no cost (bar the phone call, and that doesn't go to Textor either) - you can see why it upsets him so.

Textor-inspired ads for Tony Abbott's Liberals last year were all about fear rather than a careful consideration of Liberal policy (such as it was) and its applicability to the needs of the country. It held nothing and nobody to account.
A "free market" in large, corporate and union donations could (in the absence of the regulatory regime we have in Australia) lead to undue influence. Again, no funding means media interests dominate.
Who's talking about unpicking the existing regulatory regime, rendering it absent? Who's talking about "no funding"? Small donations are the antidote to big donations, aren't they?

I'm aware that there are specific proposals out there to limit campaign funding. If I were addressing them I'd identify which ones I was talking about and address those - but that's me. Textor refuses to acknowledge them - classic media strategy right there - which prevents the direct engagement that is necessary for an effective democracy and a civil society. I think debate is more important than media strategy. In fact, everything is more important than media strategy. Media strategy does the media no favours, I have no idea why editors shrug and accept it rather than waging war on it.

Anyway, back to Textor: on top of a series of hollow arguments he basically equate his business model with Australian democracy itself. That's where he moves from the merely parasitic to the despicable.
An appropriately regulated mix of annualised public, corporate and low-donor funding of political parties is the best model I've seen.
In other words: it's a system that I, Mark Textor, have learned how to game - and none of you punks are going to mess with my business model.

I could go on and quote the rest of the article but is dissolves into so much treacle: there is no noble principle being defended here, only a bit of shadow-boxing in defence of self-interest. Nothing wrong with self-interest either - I just wish Textor was up-front about it. In Britain, you could argue that four Poms from the 'sixties were up-front about what they were about:
Well now give me money
A lot of money
Wow, yeah, I wanna be free
Oh I want money
That's what I want
That's what I want, well
Now give me money
A lot of money
Wow, yeah, you need money
now, give me money
That's what I want, yeah
that's what I want


  1. I believe you have deliberately misconstrued my tweet to make your third point. At no time did I state, or imply that that there was:
    'I read the tweet and tried to think of a single example in the history of Australian politics where a major political party spent absolutely nothing on advertising and relied entirely upon free media in the journosphere. There isn't one (let the monkeys who work for him support their boss' claim that there is)."
    My 140ch point was that political parties have a right to use a variety of platforms to get their message out. The tweet I posted a few minutes before gave some indication that I was speaking to a broader issue I had tweeted about a lot the week before: i.e. the broadcasting of press conferences and the disparities between what is asked, what is reported and the tone of the questions. I stand by what I wrote about media filters - anyone who watched the three press conferences re: asylum seeker policy - that of the PM & Chris Bowen, c.f. Scott Morrison & then Bob Brown & Sarah Hanson-Young - & how they were then reported - would see the differences. If that makes me a 'monkey' category, Andrew, so be it (for what it's worth, I'm an 'ex-monkey' & haven't been one for almost a year).

  2. Misunderstood, perhaps; deliberate, no.

    I think Textor was asserting a right that is not under threat. Who's seriously claiming that political parties shouldn't use a variety of media - paid and unpaid, different platforms - to get the message out? I thought Textor was implying that he was labouring under some Big Brother scenario and I laughed. Your tweet seemed to make the same point, and I was puzzled so I started to take the issue more seriously than I otherwise would have.

    I take your point about the difference between what goes on and what gets reported. That's really important and it's a bugbear of mine too.

    In the above I was not referring to you as a monkey, but to people who work for Textor (and who probably wrote the article put out under his name). The reason why I wasn't referring to you as a monkey is very simple: it would never occur to me to call you that. Note the final sentence in the paragraph under the image of your tweet, Textor is the target here.

    I have an enormous respect for what you write, even when I disagree with you. I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong impression but please accept that no offence was intended.

  3. lapuntadelfin18/10/11 9:28 pm

    Textor has always been a grub and I am surprised that some (who should know better ) give him the time of day on Twitter or well, anywhere really.

  4. He's gotten away with a great deal, and while it isn't my job to chase every rabbit down every hole it was time to judge him against higher standards and flush him away from higher principles.

  5. Hillbilly Skeleton18/10/11 10:16 pm

    Gotta pay for the Abbottian status symbol bikes somehow.
    So, if Textor has to construe his words in a public forum to achieve his aim of perpetuating his ouvre, so be it. That's what public forums are there for for his kind, to make a full court press for the supremacy of your ideas. Certainly not for rational debate.

  6. Another really interesting post. I enjoy this blog and am in awe of your mind-boggling productivity. I know little about Mark Textor as I don't often go to The Australian without being on some sort of mission and never see the Telegraph. Nevertheless a couple of things occurred to me when I read his article.

    Firstly the tenor of the article reminded me a lot of the continual hypocritical carping from the odious IPA about transparency, freedom of expression and the nanny state etc etc. Similar issues, similar straw man arguments. Textor is elsewhere credited with claiming about political messaging 'fear trumps hope every time'. If as you say he is masterminding Abbott's campaign to destroy Gillard Labor much is explained.

    Second I was struck by the utterly impoverished view of politics embodied in this quote from his article. "political parties exist for only one simple and, yes, confronting reason: winning votes for candidates."
    Really? That's the only reason for their existence? Not there formulate policy demonstrably in the national interest? Not there to lead us only there to exploit our darkest side in the pursuit of power. Ugh!

    Does this strike anyone else as a stunningly impoversihed view

  7. HS: Yes, I think this is something of a loss leader for Textor in terms of drumming up business and reputation, and it also works to reduce the possibility that MSM might give him a hard time.

    Doug: They fish from the same creek (the same creek up which one can find oneself without means of propulsion). Textor not only has an impoverished view of politics but helps impose that view on the Liberal Party, which reinforces it, etc.

  8. Hello Andrew, another top post. The world seems to have two political systems. Dictatorial, where information is clamped down on, not letting a squeak out. The other is so-called Democratic, where fragments of truth are drowned in Oceans of white noise. Either way citizens are largely kept ignorant. Yep, agree Textor is marketing himself with so-called article. More of a reflection of SMH for being `played` for free advert space.