Here are four examples - two by the same person - of where The Narrative isn't even working for the journalists, let alone the reader/etc or the body politic in general.
First, Samantha Maiden has finally written the article that should have been published at any point in the last two years. "Devil is in the detail" is the code-phrase that the journosphere use to excuse their lack of skill and interest in actual policy, when that lack is at the core of their profession's problems. Being new to this policy stuff Maiden has let herself down by begging a few questions:
1. Turning back the boats sounds strong. But implementing the policy is dangerous and difficult ... It would also involve negotiating with Indonesia to accept the boats.Indonesia's Foreign Minister and President have stated repeatedly and unequivocally that they will not accept asylum-seekers sent by Australia. That isn't the start of negotiations, it's the end. Read Abbott's disgracefully adolescent address-in-reply when President Yudhuyono last addressed Australia's Parliament and see how far the Coalition are out of their depth on this issue. This is so inadequate it's close to misinformation.
2. After resisting the Coalition's calls to reopen Nauru for years, Labor has run up the white flag. It's early days, but there's no clear sign it has stopped the boats.The Coalition has no other policy option than that, Labor does. White flag, my arse; the Coalition are being played - be careful what you wish for - but they have lulled the media into being too dumb to see it.
1. The bonus [of the Paid Parental Leave scheme] is that all women would be better off in cash terms under the Coalition's scheme than under Labor's. But is it affordable? Abbott once pledged paid maternity leave would be delivered over the Howard Government's dead body, now he's rushing to deliver it to improve his standing with female voters.The Coalition's grizzling about spending means that this policy has no credibility. Nobody believes it will not go straight onto the chopping block so why even bother entertaining the idea - unless you're a press gallery journalist desperate to curry favour and whip up a non-story to fill some blank space.
2. A Coalition government has set the ambitious target of working with the states to ensure 40 per cent of year 12 students are studying a language other than English within a decade.It's not ambitious, it's a lie. I said in February that there was no commitment to it in terms of funding or any other policy that would buttress it and place it at the core of government policy (i.e. no overarching increase in engagement with Asia), no indication of what would be cut in order to fund it (apart from IT, viz):
4. It will take action to address disadvantage in schools, help children with special needs and address cyber bullying.No it won't; this lot don't even understand the NBN, let alone cyber bullying. They see education as an act of mass charity rather than an investment.
1. The Coalition has pledged to ask the Productivity Commission to review childcare if elected.Great, they're going to hit the ground reviewing. What have they been doing for five years in Opposition? Sounds like they need another five.
2. Extending the 30 per cent childcare rebate to nannies would also be considered. Concerns that quality and safety reforms and red tape are driving up costs would also be considered.
3. The Coalition would also reintroduce the $12.6 million Occasional Care funding.Rubbish. Black holes and all that.
3. The Coalition has pledged to work with the states to slow the quality and safety reforms if required. But some of the reforms are popular with parents because they include improving staff-to-child ratios and requiring better training.Hmm, sounds like they haven't thought through a policy with direct impacts on many thousands of Australian families: that counts for more than all of Abbott's pie-eating, hat-wearing stunts put together. We should get a journalist to look into that.
Second, Michael Gordon, the poor man's Peter Hartcher. Gordon describes a bit of parliamentary back-and-forth in the worthy terms you would expect from a Year 10 excursion to Canberra and then fretfully admits to readers he has nothing to say:
Suddenly, Australian politics has entered a new phase of uncertainty, where the dominance of the Abbott-led Coalition and another tilt by the Rudd forces against Gillard are still generally expected, but can no longer be assumed.What dominance? Saying no all the time and offering no alternative was always a dud strategy. Expected by whom, Michael?
If there is one word that describes the state of play right now it is fluid.Well, yes; but isn't it always? Even when it isn't, the seeds of what will eventually break up a smug consensus will start germinating when the situation seems least fluid. This is lazy journalism - a hung parliament, a year out from the election, and a fluid political situation? Wow, really?
This, overwhelmingly, is Gillard's achievement, though Abbott's uneven performance in recent weeks has also contributed. The main ingredients are the relatively painless (so far) introduction of the carbon price, Gillard's focus on a positive agenda (especially around schools, dental care and disability insurance) and the hostility generated by cost-cutting and job-slashing by conservative governments in NSW and Queensland.No, this is a result of the destruction of Abbott's credibility. Abbott said the carbon tax would be a disaster: it hasn't. People are looking to Abbott to offer an alternative: he hasn't got one. People are looking to Abbott to be a better person than Gillard is: he isn't, he's a prick.
Gillard is still an unpopular leader, but her resilience is winning her grudging respect. She is exuding more confidence, but her every move is still seen by many in the gallery through the prism of leadership - and whether the prime motivation is to keep the man she replaced at bay.Why is it seen that way, Michael, and how can we get them to see things differently? Isn't leadership getting things done? Why would two men who stopped things from getting done (Rudd and Abbott) be more popular than someone who gets things done?
Could it be that polls are less important than has been assumed? Who will stand up to the editor who believes that polls = story and tell them no?
Finally, there's the "drover's dog" argument that, even if Gillard puts Labor in a competitive position to contest the election, the caucus would switch to Rudd if they believed he would deliver a better result. This underestimates the loyalty to Gillard and hostility to Rudd.Nobody with any credibility thinks like that. It is late-night Holy Grail talk, and everyone learned the folly of that at the last election - except Michael Gordon.
Right now, Abbott is an even more unpopular leader, but is still strongly favoured to be prime minister after the election.Nobody but pollsters and journos believes this. In 2010 the Coalition's momentum stopped dead a week into the campaign once people realised if you vote Coalition, Tony Abbott becomes Prime Minister; they didn't and so he didn't, and it will happen again. To believe otherwise is to be so captured by the press-gallery circle-jerk that you cannot report on it accurately.
Having exceeded expectations when they were low, he now faces the challenge of meeting them when they are high.That sentence should read: he was fine when under no scrutiny, but when put under scrutiny himself he squeals like a stuck pig and even though we can smell the pork frying we cannot describe it to you.
Having displayed extraordinary self-discipline in the last campaign, he must avoid major slip-ups in the lead-up to the next.Depends what you mean by "self discipline", really. Everyone's had a gutful of him being "on message" with nothing to say and nothing to offer. We don't have to Let Tony Be Tony or judge him by his own lights.
While Abbott will come under increasing pressure because of the polls to switch to a more positive agenda, he will resist it for three reasons: the assault on the carbon price remains his top priority; announcing policy would require mastery of detail and consequently involve risk; and the time to move is much closer to the campaign.The first shows the sort of misjudgment that felled better leaders than him; the second shows both that he is no better than the journalists who "cover" him, and not good enough for the country; and that by then he will have no credibility and his stunts/announcements will have zero impact.
In the meantime, the strategies of both sides are short-term and could easily come unstuck.Really? Labor's energy and education policies extend well into the next decade and the NBN goes far beyond that. The Coalition's education policy relies on trust and credibility in Christopher Pyne, who can't be guaranteed to hold his seat. "Both sides"? Really, Michael?
But there are two other possibilities.Well, yes, and why are they in the second-last paragraph? They bob about uselessly like flotsam from a sinking ship rather than actual facts supporting real arguments. This is desperate stuff, unsourced gossip and graveyard-whistling masquerading as strategic insight. If Gordon was a poker player his table would echo with cries of "ya got nothing! Show us!". If you don't understand politics any more, collect your cheque and go do something else.
Our final victim used to be a regular target of this blog until she became ubiquitous, which meant that no-comment became the best policy. I refer of course to Annabel Crabb:
Can we please, PLEASE declare some sort of federal amnesty on embarrassing university behaviour?Yes, on two conditions:
1) Said behaviour is a contrast, not a continuation, of attitudes manifested in public life:
- The guy whose uni girlfriend leaves him for another girl, and who then makes some nasty comments about lesbians that don't quite square with his exemplary and substantial later record on GLBTI issues: that person deserves a break;
- The student who rails against job cuts because of deregulation, and who later becomes an advocate for further deregulation in order to foster job growth;
- The East Timor advocate who found the only politician who'd get on side was the last one they expected, John Howard;
- Even Nick Minchin, uni dopehead who became a straight-laced conservative in word and deed.
2) As I said earlier, Marr was wrong to lunge so far back for such an example.
Tony Abbott is a jerk. He was a jerk this year, he was a jerk last year, he was a jerk ten years ago and thirty too. His offences go way beyond fashion crimes. Those heavy-handed legal and ecclesiastical defences have put him in a position where he feels he can do no wrong, and so is blind to objective signals to change course to which others pay close heed. That's the significance of Abbott's behaviour, and it's a real shame Crabb missed it - willfully, insisted on missing the point.
In her coverage of politics, Crabb insists on describing politicians as she finds them, and on taking them and their quoted words as given. All that back-story stuff is beyond her control and her ken. She can't tell the difference between a politician undergoing a spot of bother and one who is doomed. It's one thing to be facile, but to insist that non-facile coverage be discarded is crazy. Crabb saw what happened to Mark Latham after the cabbie's broken arm turned him from a forceful personality to a thug, and whether she likes it or not she should be able to see a similar pattern emerging with Abbott.
Crabb's venture on Twitter today, imperiously insisting we #buythepaper to maintain High Standards Of Journalism, has shot her credibility. Like Richard Wilkins in the 1980s, Crabb is an old person's idea of a groovy with-it younger person; by insisting that we who read widely are personally responsible for "bleeding Fairfax" (while those who hired Crabb and gave her resources that were denied to others escape culpability), she has disappointed her readers while also showing her feet-of-clay to those who placed higher hopes in her reach and acuity. She has been every bit as bombastic as Gina Rinehart was in urging us all to work for the sort of money Crabb would have us spend on a wad of lifestyle supplements.
This is a new phase of uncertainty, all right. The less journalists focus on themselves and refuse to help the rest of us through such a phase, the less likely they are to come through it well; no amount of cramming by Sam Maiden, hedging by Michael Gordon or pearls-rattling by Annabel Crabb will substitute for gathering facts, recognising the story for what it is, and telling it free of the faux-entanglements of The Narrative.