05 July 2012


Once again, here, Michelle Grattan has drawn upon her years of experience to miss the story completely.

The story here is that Washer has been nobbled. He has been pushing for many years to end mandatory detention and to deal with refugees in ways other than punishment; as a backbencher in the Howard Government and now in Opposition, he has shown consistency in his contribution to successive debates and flare-ups of issues concerning refugees.

Grattan has reported that he's done pretty much a complete about-face on this issue. Anyone who still had their journalistic curiosity about them would wonder why, and given the anodyne nature of his statements would probably need to undertake investigation beyond merely taking Washer's words at face value.
LIBERAL moderate Mal Washer, one of the cross-party MPs trying to get a compromise on asylum seeker policy, last night wrote off the group as "buggered".
Washer has repudiated the position he stuck fast to throughout his career, and Grattan just takes it at face value. The term "buggered" is striking but hardly rich in policy nuance.

So much for Grattan's reputation in the journosphere as a fair and thorough journalist: only briefly toward the end of nowhere in (thanks bb!) this article does she quote any MP or other stakeholder who disagrees that cross-party discussions are "buggered", or that the Houston committee is "a waste of time". Nowhere does she do any analysis on why the Coalition might take that position, given their record of denying bipartisanship or any opportunity for the government to prove itself over the Coalition. She has a line and she's plugging it, which might be convenient but is also detrimental to a hard-won reputation for hard work and calling it as it is. Look at her recent articles and see if these criticisms do not apply to most of them. Even those who devour her every output must surely agree she's past her best, whenever that was.
Dr Washer, who last week said he would vote for legislation to allow the government's Malaysia solution if his vote could get it through, told The Age he now thought the government should "roll over" and accept the Coalition's position.

This is for processing on Nauru and the use of temporary protection visas. He said that course would put the acid on the Coalition if the policy did not work.
That's rubbish, and Grattan should call it out (or at least do some analysis and maybe even some of that Good Old Shoe-Leather Journalism of which she is, apparently, the doyenne).

Journalists like Michelle Grattan would write it up as a victory for the Coalition. At a time when they have been caught out playing silly-buggers over Ashby-Slipper and Thomson-Jackson, at a time when they have failed to block a carbon price that wasn't as apocalyptic as first thought, they are clearly in need of a win to maintain the MSM narrative (which Grattan plays a lead role in determining) that Abbott is inevitably cruising to government. The political solution would mean that journalists would simply stop investigating the issue, considering it settled. News on asylum-seekers would be downscaled in prominence, just like it was in the Howard government - or even more so now that people like Washer aren't speaking out any more.

Look at that phrase "roll over". It is used in plea-bargaining in criminal trials where the defendant accepts a lesser punishment than the initial charge to spare them the risk and ordeal of a full trial. The Coalition may think that they're the prosecutors and the government the defendants, but there is no reason why a journalist of many years standing should adjust their reporting to such spin.

If the Gillard government were to reinstate Nauru and TPVs, one of two things would happen:
  • If it succeeded, the Coalition would claim it as their triumph and an implicit acknowledgement of failure on the part of the government; and
  • If it failed, meaning that more people took to more boats and ran greater risk of dying at sea, the Gillard government would be blamed for mismanaging the policy - giving the Coalition grounds to claim that only it can manage immigration policy.
Either way, the Coalition is a winner if it convinces the government to cave in. The reputation that the Coalition has for strength and momentum against the government depends entirely on whether or not the government accepts the Coalition's assumptions. When the government gets up on its hind legs and refuses to play the Coalition's game, the Coalition looks pretty bereft (until the MSM lift them up again).

The link between Temporary Protection Visas and fewer asylum-seekers is to ignore basic logical rules about cause and effect. You may as well wear your lucky undies to a day at the races as draw a direct relationship between the two. With all her experience and contacts, Grattan has no excuse for leaving it out of the story.
He had "moved on" from believing in the cross-party group, of which he and fellow Liberal moderate Judi Moylan were foundation members.
Oh come on. A man does not just "move on" from a deeply-held conviction. Did Gough Whitlam "move on" from being sacked? Did Malcolm Turnbull just "move on" from the republic or human-induced global warming?
Dr Washer also said the reference group of parliamentarians being set up by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, in conjunction with her expert panel headed by former Defence Force chief Angus Houston on asylum policy, was "a waste of time". "It all comes down to the politics in the Senate" and what could be got through there, he said.

Last week Dr Washer said that if the opposition declined to nominate representatives to this group, he would accept the PM's invitation for Coalition MPs to nominate themselves.
Well, yes it does - so why has he given up a decade-and-a-half of being part of such a process all of a sudden? That's where your story is, Michelle. Did Abbott's office convince him that a deal which did not officially involve the Coalition would scupper their chances at the next election? Was he threatened, offered inducements, to change his mind and his position?
Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne has dismissed crossbenchers' efforts to get a compromise as "faffing about". Mr Pyne, who is manager of opposition business in the House, replied sharply to an email sent this week from the office of Labor MP Steve Georganas on behalf of the group, inviting MPs to a meeting on July 24 to hear guest speakers on the asylum issue. The email referred to the "Cross Party Working Group on Refugees".

In his response sent to MPs, Mr Pyne wrote: "This is not a 'Cross Party Working Group on Refugees'. The Coalition is not formally involved in any way … All the sitting around talking is just faffing about, hand wringing and achieving nothing."
Apart from the 'hand wringing', Pyne coul be describing the Coalition's own position, waiting for the government to accept the Coalition fantasy that the policy that didn't work for anyone in 2002 has all the answers in 2012.

When he was a moderate Pyne would often be accused of 'hand wringing' by rightwing oafs like Cory Bernardi. Now he thinks he can just pass on this accusation to those who recognise that neither the past nor the present policies work, and who are working on something that might work for the future. Again, Grattan just takes Pyne at face value rather than evaluating whether or not the Houston committee really is just a talkfest.

Is Pyne really some sort of practical action-man? Is his armoury of twaddle at Question Time not just so much "faffing about"?
The opposition has not said whether it would nominate representatives to the committee Ms Gillard is setting up. A spokesman for Mr Abbott said the opposition would respond to Ms Gillard's invitation to nominate three MPs "in due course".
When you've been covering politics for as long as I have, you'll recognise this pantomime: the Coalition pretend to consider carefully requests that are put to them by the government in the name of bipartisanship, only to denounce them in the bratty terms Pyne uses above.

When you've been covering politics for as long as Michelle Grattan has you have no excuse, none, for this kind of po-faced transmission of bullshit. This is not "high-value journalism", and the veneration of this counts far more heavily against mainstream media than, say, their failure to embrace multi-digital platforms.

Given her efforts above, here is a not particularly extreme parody of Michelle Grattan covering the entire gamut of Watergate:
Reports indicate that White House operatives were involved in last week's break-in to Democrat headquarters in the Watergate. However, this has been denied by the White House.

The continued insistence by several leading Democrats that White House operatives were in fact involved, despite official denials, is mischief-making on the Democrats' part, seeking to cover up the fact that Senator McGovern is well behind President Nixon in the polls ...

Michelle Grattan has done a quick pass over a story and got the wrong angle on it. She likes it when major parties unite behind their leader and dislikes members of the same party having different opinions about the same issue. What does the treatment of Washer by his own people say for the country under an Abbott government? Why did a seemingly tireless campaigner for rights and freedoms simply toss in the towel?

How do you tell when a once-revered journalist is past her use-by date? When was the last time a Michelle Grattan summary of a situation really showed the breadth and depth of her experience in summing up a complex situation simply (without being simplistic)? Can Fairfax bring forward her accumulated entitlements while still remaining solvent? I accept that many some a few might find the very asking of these questions impolite, but given the evidence they are hardly impertinent.


  1. Andrew, thanks again.

    The reason I found [and stuck with] this blog was because I was getting sick of reading newspaper articles by supposed insiders and experts and thinking: "but why aren't you asking the obvious question.." - like: Washer's change of heart; Ashby's credibility; Jackson's motivation; Rudd's policy stumbles; etc., etc.

    I don't have the time or resources to get the information I want about these issues and used to depend on the critical thinking of the "professionals" but instead I get credulous reporting tailored to fit "the narrative" (journo speak for "soap opera" as far as I can tell)

    So I come here for the insight (and to LoonPond for some extra zing!)

  2. I am so past my reverence for Michelle Grattan - this fantastic post should convince many that she no longer deserves any. Her contempt for the Prime Minister is pathological; her admiration for Tony Abbott simply bewildering.

  3. Anyone reading that article, as I did, would have immediately read on to find out the reason for this amazing shift.

    We all read on in vain.

    Shallow and disappointing.

  4. Bang on Andrew - Grattan ought to have been put out to pasture a long time ago. I can't think of a single truly original thing she's written in the last decade.

    You're right too about Abbott too - in your previous post I think it was: the more he's made to look like the bullshit artist he is, the less sure his position is. There was a hint of that just after the carbon tax passed Parliament: a sense that many who'd taken him at his word that he'd stop it suddenly realised it was all so much bluster. With any luck the tax coming into effect will accelerate that drip-drip of doubt.

  5. On 30 April Michelle wrote:

    Credibility gone, PM should fall on her sword


  6. Sorry, tangent looming, hopefully not a red herring one.
    Have you seen this?

    "What used to happen under the Howard government was that naval personnel would board boats and they would ensure they were seaworthy," Mr Abbott said.

    "They would remove fuel from the vessels so that the only option for those vessels was to return to Indonesia."
    Mr Abbott said such decisions would be left to "naval commanders on the spot".

    PS Maybe you could sic Michelle onto it.


  7. Grattan's starting point these days appears to be a deep seated dislike for the Prime Minister. I hope I live long enough to find out what went on there.

  8. Yesteday on her guest spot on RN with Fran Kelly, Grattan declared to Fran Kelly her absolute delight at a possible contest between Katter and Palmer. What else would a political journalist need, she moaned in delight. Nothing could match it, oh the joy!
    It was a great insight to how Grattan has dived into following a sideshow rather than political analysis.

    Shame for the voters of Australia, as Grattan has just declared her own slogan

  9. Grattan is in desperate need of regression therapy.
    It is rumoured that she had an attractive, red-headed, highly intelligent, extremely capable with extraordinary negotiation skills younger female school captain whom Grattan has considered her nemesis throughout her whole life.

  10. "The Coalition may think that they're the prosecutors and the government the defendants, but there is no reason why a journalist of many years standing should adjust their reporting to such spin."

    I think there is a reason: Grattan is beginning to realise that she's back the wrong horse and is increasingly desperate.

  11. I find it incredulous that Mal Washer would have this about face, I can only imagine that some very heavy pressure has been applied to him by the bovver boys at party headquaters.

    As for Grattan, I'm sure she has dementia.

  12. I dips me lid to Andrew for having the strength and courage to delve into the bizarre landscape of Michelle's mind - anyone who tries to enter into Michelle-world and survives to tell the story deserves a VC. As for me, the Age and Michelle have long since disappeared from the world I inhabit, and so has the ABC. I have cut and run, I'm afraid.

  13. Andrew ,love to see you awarded for your jouralisim
    Is abnott now talking to another demographic, regarding
    Hockey and himself mentioning what was done in the howard years
    Regarding the boats being turned back
    . I am wondering what intenall polling is telling them ,,is it saying
    they should have voted for malaysia, So they are remindng some of
    How good a job they say they did in the howard years :-) :-) :-) :-)
    with out policies
    they need talking points
    Where is morrison why is pyne now seeming to do the talking
    one never hears him mention education which is his shadow

  14. TThe entire media is at fault with the exception of Peter Van Onselen who pointed out that the only thing they are debating is how to break the law, the constitution and all human rights of one small group of people who have asked us for help.

    Grattan thought the Slipper and Thomson non-stories were so huge that the government had to go away - no mention of the massive scale of AWB, WMD, kids not thrown or anything else that is a trifle more important than paying hookers.

    She lost the plot years ago.

  15. " nowhere in this article does she quote any MP or other stakeholder who disagrees that cross-party discussions are "buggered", or that the Houston committee is "a waste of time". "

    Paragraph 9:

    "Ms Moylan and Mr Windsor both defended the group last night. Ms Moylan said: ''It has a very positive role to play.'' Mr Windsor said it could be ''an invaluable conduit''."

    Your criticisms of Grattan seem to be as inaccurate as they are misplaced, given you obviously didn't read the story properly. You also seem to have very little understanding of news journalism: the Mal Washer "buggered" angle was the news so it took up the majority of the story; the Moylan/Windsor quotes were the balance and the context.

    'Look at that phrase "roll over".' and 'He had "moved on"" Yes, look at them.

    The phrases are in quotes because she is directly.quoting Mal Washer, Mr Elder. She is not making them up. She is writing a news story, not an analytical feature or op ed. Were she doing the latter then she would have amplified with the analysis you would have preferred to read - but only, one suspects, had it suited your particular opinion .

    1. She is not writing a news story, because she is not trying to work out why the story has developed as it has. If you were right she could just as easily have quoted any Liberal MP with a record of sticking to the party line. Washer is the story and Washer's background is significant.

      I take your point on the Moylan and Windsor quotes, and will amend my post as soon as I've written this. You will note that these are buried toward the end of the article, and again are in no way evaluated as to their truth or falsehood.

      The fact that they are direct quotes is not sufficient. Why would those phrases be used? Are those phrases tailored in such a way to convey a meaning beyond that in the dictionary? To work out what is going on with those who govern us, analysis that can be traced back to facts is essential; mere transcription is simply not valuable, particularly when the words of politicians do not necessarily constitute 'facts' or causal linkages to policy outcomes.

      As you know, I read widely and make a point of reading articles with which I am sure that I will take issue. There is not a lot of fanboy work on this site as a regular visitor such as yourself can attest. It's hard to form an opinion when one is badly informed, and the sort of person who reveres the journalism of Michelle Grattan values something other than journalism which informs people as to how they are governed.

    2. Appreciate you correcting the record; have no issues with the integrity of the blog. But again you betray your lack of understanding of what a news story is. A news story is not "working out" why a story has developed "as it has". A news story is succinctly reporting the news as it is at a given point in time. That's why this story was only 11 paras long. In professional journalism, "working out" belongs on feature or op ed pages or is "boxed" alongside the news story. What you are wanting is a fusion of commentary and interpretation into the news - but of course you would only approve of the outcome if it suited your own point of view?

      Fusion of commentary and interpretation of news and the subsequent distortion it can bring was very much Gen X development which is now the major subject of the Leveson Inquiry, Andrew. But no quality broadsheet does it. You should notice that the Guardian does not fuse news with commentary - commentary, when present, is always done (and boxed separately) by a different journo to the reporter who covers the news story. Here, the Age, SMH and Australian generally do the same. It's a long held tenet of journalism that news is coverage of the facts and Grattan is always scrupulous in that regard, as she was with the Washer interview. You are just playing shoot the messenger!

    3. I don't lack an understanding of what a news story is; I disagree that what Grattan presented is sufficient to be regarded as news. Grattan's employer is in dire financial trouble because of its insistence that it be regarded - indeed, can only be regarded - on its own terms.

      That a politician says one thing one week, and then something else the next, is not worth reporting. It may fulfil some tick-box jobsworth idea about what might have constituted news back in the olden days but it is simply inadequate now. I don't care whether it is put in a box or whatever, I want to know why decisions are made - simply reporting that they have been made, with no discussion, elucidation or insight, is simply not good enough.

      You're wrong about the Leveson Inquiry: click here and try to find references to Gen X or whatever your problem is. It's longer than 11 paragraphs, so it may be too hard.

      "but of course you would only approve of the outcome if it suited your own point of view" - there you go again. I am trying too develop an opinion on a very complex matter and I am trying to get the information I need to form that opinion - and all you would offer is the insistence on a form-over-function "we are at war with Eurasia, we have always been at war with Eurasia" journalism that is an insult to the very idea that following politics over a long period of time (from this distance, or from up close like Grattan does) counts for anything.

    4. Lachlan Ridge8/7/12 4:35 pm

      Rubbish. Lenore Taylor, Wright, Grattan and Coorey all run "news" stories that are full of truthiness, unattributed speculation and hearsay, and if you're arguing that these constitute a presentation of facts then I'd suggest that you are the one who doesn't understand "news".

      If a journalist had dished up a story to a news editor at the ABC in the seventies with the line "it is believed that..." or "Sources say..." it wouldn't have gone further than the garbage bin, yet this is what is served up as staple fare for readers in this age, and the opportunity there for the writer to inject their world view onto the "facts" is immense, as the whole Ruddstoration saga demonstrated.

      Or maybe you are being sarcastic, as you did use the term "quality broadsheet", and I see no evidence that such a beast lives in this country in 2012. I see a lot of real estate spruiking, but precious little quality "news".

    5. "That a politician says one thing one week, and then something else the next, is not worth reporting. It may fulfil some tick-box jobsworth idea about what might have constituted news back in the olden days but it is simply inadequate now. I don't care whether it is put in a box or whatever, I want to know why decisions are made - simply reporting that they have been made, with no discussion, elucidation or insight, is simply not good enough"

      This is just silly I'm afraid. Takes away from your credibility when commenting on media. And obviously you haven't been following the Leveson Inquiry, which doesn't help either.One would think you'd take an interest in the matters being pursued there.

      Lachlan Ridge: I was an MSM journo for 15 years in the 60s and 70s and you are totally wrong in saying that the "line" ""it is believed that..." or "Sources say..." it wouldn't have gone further than the garbage bin" etc." Complete.utter.balderdash.
      Stories arising from unidentified sources ie whistleblowers - have been the staple of journalism since time immemorial, particularly in political reporting, also police rounds. The most famous political example in the 70s was watergate.

    6. bb, you are insisting on the architectural merit of a house of cards that has already collapsed. Back in your day it may have been sufficient to label any observation you didn't like as "silly", or insist that all coffee-house gossip is Watergate, but look at the non-stories of Thomson-Jackson and Slipper-Ashby to see the MSM can no longer be judged on their own standards. Misrepresenting Leveson is no substitute either.

  16. I suspect we'll never find out the truth of things until Mal Washer speaks of it. Washer, being a Liberal, pretty much ensures there will be no truth, no courage and much sanctimonius, confected hand wringing over the next drownings.

    1. I wouldn't be so blindingly condemning of Mal Washer. It will be an extremely uncomfortable position he is in, and he has a choice. Go all out like Don Quixote and get the very big bucket tipped on him - or take a longer term view of the situation, wait for other players to step up to the mark, and make sure his every action counts.

      As Andrew says in the article "A man does not just "move on" from a deeply-held conviction." I think Mal Washer deserves a lot of credit for his principled stand on this - but perhaps it comes back to the arguement in the 60's - do you reform from within or without?

      David Perth

    2. Not condemning Washer, just sad for him - and sad for the practice of journalism that assumes him saying one thing then another is somehow standard business.

  17. But the whole thing is pointless - there is a panel - 148 nations are signatory to the refugee convention including us.

    We cannot sit around like cretins to find ways to break our own laws, white out the high court and constitution and human rights for one tiny group of people as punishment for daring not to drown and get here safely.

    Has everyone gone frigging crazy?