There are plenty of examples where mainstream media organisations execute this magnificently well. As with other fields of human activity, journalism is done very well very rarely, done well-to-average-to-somewhat-below-average most of the time, and done appallingly more often than is acceptable. Even more unacceptable, poor journalism refuses to lie still and be buried as with other types of human waste, but will go and wrap itself around lofty principles like Freedom Of Speech or Excellent Journalism in order that its sheer crapness might not perish from the earth.
Bolt's been done and he doesn't care anyway. Here are two examples from award-winning journalists who should know better, who don't know or care that you can't complain about journos having too little time or resources when you produce imaginary bullshit from real events.
Earlier today ABC journalist Helen Tzarimas used her Twitter account to advertise her role in a non-story:
It was just as bad as it looks. The Foreign Minister was overseas engaging in foreign policy, and instead of being asked what he is doing Helen and the gang
Kevin Rudd wasn't running for Prime Minister yesterday and he probably won't run tomorrow. You think the media would have learned from Peter Costello - he spent 19 years in parliament not running for Prime Minister. Whole careers in journalism have begun, lived and died in producing the thousands upon thousands of radio and TV and newspaper things about how not Prime Minister Peter Costello was. When Costello quit in 2009 the supposedly serious Australian media couldn't believe it was all over.
The comeback of Kevin Rudd is exactly that kind of non-story. What's worse is that, for all their "insider" pretensions, you can bet that the parliamentary press gallery will be the last to know if Rudd takes his former job back; the guy who weeds the gardens at the US embassy will have a much better idea than all of the doyen(ne)s and other rabbits who make up the Australian media.
When I called Tzarimas on this, she replied:
That's right: an experienced journalist seriously wanted me to believe that I can tell the Foreign Minister what to do from my phone. Was she trying to deflect criticism or did she just not get it? I want to know what the government is doing, not what it isn't doing. You can make up crap all day really:
- Kevin Rudd refused to rule out a tilt at the Bathurst 1000 this weekend;
- Helen Tzarimas refused to rule out something she never really mentioned;
When the news is full of bullshit like that you make it harder to defend good journalism and freedom of the press. All sorts of bullshit rumours floats and swirls around in the crevices between journalism and politics; very few of them get an airing so there's no excuse for this crap.
Crap leads us almost inevitably to Annabel Crabb. Ken Henry spends his life in the interface between government and the economy - you have to work hard to belittle such a man but Crabb succeeds. She does her usual trick of starting with a small anecdote in the hope that it might illustrate a wider point; she either chooses the wrong anecdote or draws the wrong conclusion from it, or both as she does here:
"I don't like change," he confided to the patient tillmaster.Henry's tax reforms are all about increased efficiency: more money collected requiring less work for the revenue-raisers and the effect on economic activity in the economy either unaffected much or enhanced in some way. If you can have a $2 coin in your pocket this is to be preferred to a dozen jangly silver coins - it doesn't mean you have less money, simply fewer coins. Efficiency: Henry lives it. It's a hallmark of genuine leadership that people in exalted positions live their values. Yet again, Crabb has a firm grasp of the wrong end of the stick.
At the time, I thought it fascinating that the man responsible for so much Australian money should harbour a personal distaste for having it in his pocket.
This week, he was back again in Parliament House's Great Hall, once more rehearsing the arguments for the sorts of reforms he advocated in the review of tax that was commissioned at Parliament's last big think-in.No, he wasn't rehearsing - you don't rehearse for an event that has passed. Henry was reiterating the case for a proposal to a different audience, after events had changed perspective on that proposal.
"It can't be very easy, being Ken Henry", she patronises, then compares a government revenue stream that adapts to the nation's future economic development to a piece of jewellery and a fancy car. She then gives a perfect demonstration of the pearls-before swine nature of journalists being present at important events and misreporting them:
"More important though is the general point that good policy outcomes are more likely where there has been high-quality debate. Good policy outcomes are much more difficult to secure where visionary ideas, big challenges and creative approaches are floated for the first time in the announcement of a policy decision."If that was a parody nobody would believe it - what should have been a bracing slap in the face for every sorry excuse for a journalist was, for Crabb, just a pretext to talk about wildlife.
Dr Henry's patience demonstrates why he is a hit with Northern hairy-nosed wombats.
She then goes and blames on "politics" what is more properly the fault of the media. The following two paragraphs should have been collapsed into one.
"I mean, let's not forget, the GST in the first place was meant to be applied to food and services," Mr Briggs observed. "I think it has to be discussed ... if you're serious about having a tax forum."If you're going to have a tax forum of indefinite duration and resources, yes; if you've got two days with a lot to talk about, you have to draw the line somewhere. As it was, the sheer breadth and depth of the debate made the heads of Crabb and Professor Judith Sloan spin. Every single Coalition MP (and Professor Sloan) said exactly the same thing about the Tax Forum, that because the Tax Forum just past covered only 99% of taxes levied in this country, it was some sort of sham - and to say so is "uncontroversial"?
Having authored this - under the circumstances - fairly uncontroversial remark, Mr Briggs spent the rest of the day being kicked about by Wayne Swan and disowned by his leaderNo, this was the story of the day: those who dealt with 99% of the nation's taxes were drowned out in the media by part of the 1% that wasn't up for discussion. It was a joke. Briggs' leader has no right to disown any sort of specific proposal given his own vacuity, but once again the journosphere failed to call him on it.
Speaking of vacuity:
The Member for Bennelong, John Alexander, suffered a similar fate a few months ago when he expressed the opinion at an electorate function in August that weekend penalty rates could do with some fiddling ...The whole idea that penalty rates are some crippling impost on Australian capitalism is an idea that was fairly feeble in the 1970s. You show me a business whose success or failure depends upon penalty rates and I'll show you a badly-run business.
Members of Parliament - even newbies like Alexander and Briggs - have vast resources at their disposal. They've had months to prepare for the Tax Forum. Both men claim they got into politics to make good things happen. And all they can come up with is GST on food and bloody penalty rates, neither of which are within the fairly broad remit of the event. God help us. I wondered why Crabb referred to the Tax Forum as a "think-in", until I realised that thinkers will be abandoning Parliament House to the likes of Briggs and Alexander in a matter of weeks.
Someone like Crabb should be calling out these dummies, as well as the media auction of fatuities that arose from their comments. Is she doing that, though? Is she hell:
When did we stop thinking it was a good idea for backbenchers to have opinions on things?As Greg Jericho tweeted today, it depends who you mean by 'we'. Backbenchers go all boring and rehearsed so that you don't get Annabel Crabb and Helen Tzarimas making up crap about what you're not doing and ignoring what you are doing.
And as far as the GST goes, it's not as if there aren't reasonable arguments to be had about it - the thing's 10 years old, after all.And if those discussions had been "allowed", Annabel, you'd have ignored them, like you ignored and belittled everything else that went on.
Perhaps if the tax summit had been allowed to discuss it, we'd have heard them.
Are you suggesting Briggs was "silenced"? Go on, you know you want to. Briggs is a Member of Parliament. He has no shortage of small-f forums* on which to address GST generally or GST on food. The idea that by circumscribing the Tax Forum from 100% to a mere 99% is a dagger at the heart of Jamie Briggs and that his chance even to speak has forever gone, is rubbish.
Mind you, the comment about Alexander and his tennis racket is fair comment. Alexander is more significant as an ex-tennis player than as a contributor to public debate. The man has clearly peaked at the age of [insert Alexander's age when he won that really big tournament].
Journalism fails in the insistence that what isn't there matters more than what is. Genuinely crappy journalism, the kind that props up dictatorships does this all the time. This week we saw a real shift to real news with real things to report and analyse - and two experienced journalists, Helen Tzarimas and Annabel Crabb, couldn't handle it. We look to the ABC for the real news but this week they were appalling. Feed us crap, they insisted, and if we don't get the crap we expect then we'll make some up. We are all impoverished by journalism like this and the editors who make it possible.