09 November 2015

Kitchen cabinet unvarnished

Like Andrew Bolt, Annabel Crabb has developed a media persona which cannot admit the possibility of anger. Crabb is locked in to being unrelentingly light, bright and trite in public; to divert from that image would pretty much end her persona (it might make for a more complex persona over time, but it would smash Kitchen Cabinet in the process).

In this piece, she wants to reject any and all criticism of her Kitchen Cabinet episode with Scott Morrison. She talks about how the media landscape has changed - yet, like some shell-backed reactionary from the old school of Australian media, Crabb expects that assertions will take the place of explanation and argument in reiterating the premise of her show. It isn't only politicians or sportspeople who reveal character under duress.

She has, as ever, buried some genuine issues under the guise of incivility - as though the very act of questioning what she does is illegitimate. You'd expect that she would maintain civility throughout, for to let it slip would undermine her position in more ways than one.

I understand why people like Kitchen Cabinet as light entertainment, and it's true that if I don't like it I'm free not to watch it. However, Crabb has said that the show has an importance that goes to the political, how we understand our leaders and representatives. This is the basis on which I criticise the show: I think it fails as political information, the claims Crabb makes for it simply don't hold.

Crabb starts by framing all criticism as inherently unreasonable: nothing more than abusive, violent (stabbing), even "spittle-flecked" - no media channel I use admits or presents information in moist form, but anyway. Perhaps the spittle came not from her interlocutors but from Crabb herself, livid at being questioned yet again by the ungrateful masses.

This is another example of a phenomenon I've noted for years now, as recently as last week, whereby Crabb simply cannot admit the possibility that other people with opinions she doesn't like may nonetheless have a point. As far back as 2010 she delivered a lecture to the University of Melbourne whose basic thrust can be summarised as: do not mess with us. We are the media and you are not, so just don't. We can prank one another but we will not be pranked, so you can all piss off and just buy our products both literally and figuratively. This attitude prevails, even to her most recent article, and I doubt any actual facts can ever persuade her to a different view.

About halfway down the page she stops engaging with spittle-flecked apparitions and deals with an actual person, someone sanitised by appearing in an outlet for which she used to work:
... the most cogently-put and interesting came from TV reviewer Ben Pobjie in The Age:

"What a government minister is like at home – or in the kitchen – is irrelevant to the country: what matters is what they do. And the more we get to know them personally the more we fall for the lie that 'what they're really like' is important."

I can't agree with this. I don't think you can possibly separate what people are like from what they do. Political leaders – like every single one of us – are shaped by the things that have happened to them and to the people close to them. Those factors – what they're like – exert a considerable and usually invisible influence over the most important decisions a political leader will ever make. Namely: which issues they are going to choose to die in a ditch for, which they will pop in the too-hard basket, which they might compromise on. This is the stuff that realistically drives the political process. And fleshy, human, and deeply subjective stuff it is too. Knowing what a person is like is powerful.
In my earlier piece I gave examples of previous KC episodes which failed utterly to create any sort of link between politicians' professed beliefs and their actual performance in office. There are no countervailing examples where Crabb has artfully winkled out some special insight into a politician's soul which informs us to this day.

To be fair to Crabb, Morrison was always a tough sell. Even his old school won't have him. The Australian Women's Weekly did a "puff piece" on him which claimed faith and family motivate him. Yet, his treatment of asylum-seekers shows how little those elements really motivate him in the actual execution of the powers of his office. He blithely declared that he did not discuss "on-water matters" and the fearless combatants of the press gallery simply accepted this. The idea that Crabb supplements strong coverage is garbage.

In theory, you can't possibly separate what people are like from what they do. Crabb hasn't made that connection in her show. She hasn't allowed for the possibility - no, the repeatedly demonstrated fact - that those politicians have humoured her, but essentially revealed nothing about themselves and the decisions they take in office. She hasn't deigned to give examples that even rebut, let alone refute, her failure to meet her own standards. There are two reasons for this:
  • There are no examples where she has demonstrated a human moment in Kitchen Cabinet leading to a policy outcome inexplicable by standard political analysis. You can't give an example where all of them (nearly thirty half-hour episodes) fail Crabb's own test.
  • Annabel Crabb doesn't answer to you, peasant. If she's got Mark Scott on side then who the hell do you think you are, anyway, having opinions? If she's learned one thing from politicians, it's to answer a specific question with a generality.
Clearly, the light, bright and trite persona is bogus, and more brittle than a genuine and stable personality should be. Ben Pobjie is right in saying that Kitchen Cabinet is nothing more than light entertainment, though I don't share his affection for it or for Crabb.
Why should it only be political journalists and insiders who get to see [the "fleshy, human, and deeply subjective" aspects of a politician's life]?
This falsely assumes it is. It falsely assumes a political persona in the arena of parliament is somehow genuine. We all saw Joe Hockey and Michael Keenan blubber while vowing that children wouldn't be sent to offshore detention centres, and then we saw them do exactly that which they vowed never to do. All Crabb got was Hockey's Bart Simpson bedsheets. She told us nothing about Hockey's performance as Treasurer, nothing about his determination both to strip entitlements from others and abrogate appropriate them for himself.

Look at every other episode and you'll find plenty of nothing there, too. Kitchen Cabinet has a strong and proven track record as pablum; no future episode will ever be particularly insightful. Crabb seems to think it is a new idea which must be given a(nother) chance.
Now, the defining moments of political journalism will always be the ones where someone gets hurt. We moan about how nasty politics is, of course, but what can match the thrill of Leigh Sales ripping some minister a new one, or the sickening speed with which a pleasant exchange with Laurie Oakes can turn into an episode of unforgettable political violence?

To watch politicians under pressure is always informative, and sometimes it can be popcorn-scrabblingly compelling (who can forget Mark Riley's epic stare-off with a fizzing Tony Abbott?)
If you regard political journalism as a performance art, I suppose, in which politicians and journalists are both performers rather than jointly committed to informing Australians how we are governed. If you do (and Crabb does) then the cooking show is just another piece of vacuous performance art, liable to be manipulated by a politician both familiar with and contemptuous of the press gallery.

Now that the Abbott government is over, we see that Abbott-Riley exchange spoke volumes about how that man would govern - more so than the Kitchen Cabinet episode with Abbott. Again with Morrison: go back through the Kitchen Cabinet episode (oh go on, I had to) and see that it was far less insightful than Morrison's recent smart-arse response to Paul Kelly on a major economic thinker.
To observe such a person in their own environment offers – in my view – some useful information about how they might behave outside it.
Again with the unsupported/ unsupportable assertion: put up or shut up.
Our democracy is big, vigorous and free. I treasure it.
When you spend too much time around politicians you learn to lapse back into a banality, preferably one with a patriotism theme.

Imagine Australia was a dictatorship - and I don't mean under some penny-ante operator like Campbell Newman, but a full Stalin/ Assad/ Kim-style monster. All the proper investigative journalists would be dead or in prison. The state broadcaster would showcase the dictator with Annabel Crabb, who would sit on his knee and playfully tweak his moustache. He would declare that he laughs at funny movies and cries at sad ones, and Crabb would agree this makes him human. They would eat the green-brown slop of Official Rations and Crabb would agree it was good enough for the likes of us. It would be So Watchable because nothing else would be on.
It was suggested to me a few times recently that "PR puff pieces" like Kitchen Cabinet are "swamping" journalism. Dear God. I have never heard such bollocks.
You can't insist on civility above all else, and regard any/all criticism as infra dig, while carrying on like that. Think about all the bollocks to have come out of politics over the past nineteen years: does that really trump them all? Does it come close? See what I mean?
The media landscape is heaving with old and new players, on various platforms, locked in minute-by-minute competition to expose, investigate and hold to account anyone in public life.

There is even enough space and expertise for whole squads of experts to debate the merits of individual television shows!
Peace activists dream of a world where schools and hospitals are fully resourced, but the Air Force has to run a cake stall to buy bombs. So too, those of us who want more and better from political journalism would have it show us and engage us on how we are governed, and how we might be governed, rather than being told Kitchen Cabinet really does have a serious purpose.

Imagine if you dare, Annabel Crabb dropping off the depleted public broadcaster like a suffused tick and running Kitchen Cabinet from her own phone and YouTube channel at no cost to anyone but herself. You may say this is the stuff of dreams, you may even say it's unrealistic; but again Crabb doesn't wanna hear it and can't engage, so it must be "bollocks".

Mind you, what elevates Crabb above her fellow Age alumnus Bolt is that Crabb doesn't equate all criticism with 'censorship'. She does not do the rounds of all media to moan she is being 'silenced'. She doesn't think there should be no public dissent, as Bolt does; she just thinks she's above it, she just can't engage with it and shouldn't have to.

How little it took for the veneer of civility to fall away. How little remains once it has fallen. There's no better time to can a stale program that has failed to meet even the modest objectives set by its host, whose mask of dimply cake-bearing effusiveness has cracked to reveal a snarling diva who simply will not be questioned by the lower orders.


  1. "She told us nothing about Hockey's performance as Treasurer, nothing about his determination both to strip entitlements from others and abrogate them for himself."

    I wish he had abrogated them for himself, do you mean "appropriate"?

  2. Andrew....

    I've always been a fan of thiis blog but really your critique of Annabella is taking it too far

    I was watching The Andrew Olle lecture with Helen McCabe and if you should chastise anyone it would be people like her and her puff pieces on politicians and their wives

    Ie Mr Abbotts wife seemed to have liked her initial encounter with Tony when he talked about the D-L-P split on their first date.....she found him interesting

    Seriously that's the tyoe of propaganda we need ti deconstruct when her magazine reaches millions of readers especially an older conservative base

    I enjoy her exposing how one dimensional and shallow conservatives are with Multiculturalism

    Yes , love ethnic food but screw the people behind it

    It's hilarious to watch


    1. AWW doesn't pretend to have real political intent, Crabb does and she's wrong to do so. That's why she's fair game.

    2. I have to respectfully disagree with you there.

      They all contribute to the malaise we have in our fourth estate....political or populist

      She has strong connections to those in politics and we can only hope they feature our first Indigenous politician without the same faux sentiments and horrible p.r they did with Ms Gillard.

      If they still exist in the next ten years

      Ms Karvelas and other notable " experts" shouldn't be dismissed either

      Listening to her on rn drive , I'm not sure what strategy their adopting with such shallow interviews

      God how I MISS Waleed Aly in that timeslot

    3. No it's not hilarious to watch; it's tragic that such a shallow woman is provided the opportunity to display her ignorance and lack of integrity.

  3. From a sociological context I will defend Ms Annabella up to a certain degree

    A person's home reveals a lot about them personally

    Eg Our Human Rights Commissioner has revealed

    He has a large life-size print of Reagan in his bedroom

    He uses characters in South Park to deal with controversial issues

    May I kindly remind readers of this blog that
    Mr Tim Wilson is an openly gay man in his early thirties who is working alongside Dr Triggs at The H.R.C. ....he is a proud member of the I.P.A

    How does one deconstruct him fairly when you're nota gay indviidual yourself

    He seems very weird to conservatives and quite horrifying to see a captain's pick with the emotional maturity of a teenage boy

    They're very revealing to psychologists and other people who can see right through them and expose how narrow minded and damaging some of them really are as people

    I call it EVIDENCE...

    1. Ordinary Baracker10/11/15 9:56 pm

      What you say may be true of little Timmy, but I don't see what it has to do with Crabb, or her programme. If you found that information about Tim insightful, can you think of anything similarly insightful coming from Kitchen Cabinet? Hockey's bedding doesn't count. I don't think Milne's "yeah me dad loved the gun" does either.

      Andrew already covered this point with the example of the nodding Abbott.. That short interaction was far more informative than almost anything Kitchen Cabinet has produced.

    2. Tim Freedom Boy Wilson might sadly reflect our next crop of leaders and

      A persons home is an extension of their personality and you get a glimpse of that with Kitchen Cabinet

      Psychology 101

      I learnt a lot from Malcolm Turnballs house especially his wife's body language with Ms Crabbe

      Watch more closely next time and you might see how weird some of them really are

      Student politicians who NEVER grow up in a small clique that protects them from the real world and that invludes abc management

      Look closer next time

      I see elite racism in the media with some well respected journalists I've met who display some pretty low grade bigoted viewpoints

    3. My point being

      A person's home reflects their personality

      You see that in Kitchen Cabinet a lot

      It's a small insight but very revealing.

    4. Btw

      You do know Timmy's step dad is a politician in the Victorian Government who he visited briefly on the Mornington Peninsula to give a speech at a fundraising event

      Keep that in mind please next time you see him go on about Freedom

  4. Andrew, you have reflected my sentiments exactly re Ms Crabb. I find her as annoying as Joe Brand, in that they both exude this air of superiority and feel they only have to come out with witty little comments that will avoid having to engage in meaningful comment.

  5. Stephen

    I consider Annabel Crabb, and pretty much anything she has ever done to be appallingly bad. She is to political journalism what Barbie is to feminism, not just bad at it but counter productive. That inane plastic smile and personality belongs in a Chucky horror film,

    3rd rate and banal are all terms that spring to mind immediately even on shows like Insiders she is terrible no insight no deep consideration or analaysis just spewing back whatever pablum was last fed up to her by some spin doctor

  6. Nice work Andrew. I hope your next piece will skewer the lack of cooking advice on Insiders.

    1. Insiders doesn't pretend to be a cooking show; Crabb pretends her cooking show is more than it is. You gotta do what you can.

  7. Not only AC but in my view the whole ABC is a sheltered workshop.While it is great that the beneficiaries have secure employment (whatever that is nowadays) the net result is a pompous and incestuous mediocrity that doesn't reflect the best the ABC is capable of being. Outsourcing and commissioning should be primary and not an add-on feature, I love RN radio but some of the presenters make me weep tears of blood. May the gods spare me, but even Amanda Vanstone is more pertinent than some of the banal droning elsewhere. Personally do not do TV just Internet access.

    1. It's the only way you can get through, traditional media is a lousy way of conveying information.

    2. Hear! Hear!, Persse, and the BBC is exactly the same, maybe worse.

    3. Has anyone ever seen Sharri Markson on The Drum??

      Now that little News Corp Princess is the daughter of Mark Markson , the pr star who wotked for Tony Abbott

      Very bias indeed

      She's a special case and Hilarious.

  8. While I agree with much of the analysis of the problems with the Morrison episode, I don't think the show has no value.
    It's let me know more about some politicians I already liked. And on the other end, I think the Hockey episode showed us everything Australia needed to know before letting him become Treasurer, starting with lazy and lacking respect.
    Abbott cooking himself a steak while serving (pescatarian) Annabel fish was also instructive, I thought.

    1. The Project showed him masturbating at student politics

      A fat chubby lazy student politician who never grew up

      Mr Abbotts daughters were just as spoiled and daft as I think they were

      The kitchen scene where she akwardly tells Ms Crabbe that her daddy objectifying her on Big Brother was not cool made me very angry. ..

      It reinforced what an idiosyncratic man Mr Abbott was....too weird to be p.m

  9. yup. Unless she at some point reveals it's all been some huge elaborate prank whereby she's been putting cat shit in all of the deserts and making them pretend it's delicious on-screen; I can't see any reason she should continue to soak up the ever diminishing ABC resources.

  10. I didn't really have an opinion either way until I read 'popcorn-scrabblingly'.

    Now I will not rest until her head is on a spike at London Bridge.

  11. Andrew

    You state that for Morrison "faith and family motivate him. Yet, his treatment of asylum-seekers shows how little those elements really motivate him in the actual execution of the powers of his office."

    However the study below shows that his faith may be a perfect indicator on how this may influence the execution of his powers in office.

    I bet no MSM would have the balls to flesh out the link between this study and government policy development.


  12. Andrew you have pretty much nailed it. I have always found KC a puff piece that tries to equate serious politics with whether so and so is a good host or has a cute hobby.

    These people are making decisions with far reaching implications and this type of show completely trivialises this point. I don't care who is a nice bloke or a good host for me politicians are there to deliver considered and well thought out policy.

    Clearly evidence of the group think that goes on between the politician and media class.

  13. I wish I were as eloquent as you, Andrew! Well said.

  14. Snarling Diva from the lower orders


    The fourth estate are very class conscious and despite Mark Latham s erratic behavior his critique of them at The Writers Festival in Melbourne was SPOT ON

  15. Scott Morrison is a creep

    If I was Tina Arena's management I would put out an intervention order against him for stalking her


  16. Great piece and spot on. Crabbe for me is representative of the Australian political malaise. Your analogy of her PR puffery with the kind of political 'journalism' that you would get if Australia was not a democracy really nails it. This is a 'show' that politicisan sramble to go on, representing as it does the equivalent of an uber stroll around a shopping mall, (stage managed fake smiles, cheesy grins, easy quips and all) beamed into millions of houses around the country.

    Crabbe does light entertainment/PR for powerful people and to suggest as others on here are have that some kind of meaningful political insight can be gleemed from her puff pieces is as vacuous as saying that you can read profound meaning into the way a pollie dresses, or the way they banter on breakfast radio. Maybe so if your engagement with politics is at the very shallow end of the pool.

    The idea that Crabbe has pretentions to political journalism is just laughable. Her written work exudes a soft middle class (Adelaide private school girl) privilige and complacency that struggles to take politics seriously and reeks of someone who has not had too many encounters with the pointy end of the real world. Her approach is fine if your gig is to host "the Price is Right' but it has no place attaching itself tumour like to politics, the media coverage of which is already in a parlous state. .

    Focusing on the persona of the politician (and not interrogating their values, ideas and political actions) is just another variation on the modern day dumbing down of political coverage. Politics is too important and it effects peoples lives in too real a way to be dealt with like this. This is why the cringeworthy puff feature on Morrison was a bridge too far for many people. The gap between the brutal reality that this guy has inflicted on vulnerable people and the smiling, jokey, fawning, christian family man, good guy (who by the way is a dab hand in the kitchen - would you believe it!) conjured by Crabbe was just too much for people to tolerate.

    I've got nothing against Crabbe's desire to be a media personality and will support a submission to ABC management for Crabbe to host a weekly light celebrity chat show or cooking show thats about the food, but lets have her dispense with the facade of political journalist. Someone needs to tap her on the shoulder and have a long hard chat with her.

  17. My message to Annabel after her article:
    I've always found you an entertaining and witty writer.
    I read your column today in fairfax.
    I think you articulate well what is totally wrong with the press gallery these days.
    Journalism should be about accountability and not about conflict and gotcha moments. Despite what you say, there is little emphasis on accountability in the press gallery. There seems to be as little understanding of everyday Australians from the press gallery as there are from politicians.
    Saying there are some small, independent platforms of real journalism out there, does not let you and the press gallery off the hook.

    It may be your job to make 'Kitchen Cabinet', but it was your choice to get payed huge amounts of money to do this. If you think that making, what is in effect advertising puff pieces, for people who are responsible for the torture of children, is somehow valid journalism, then don't complain when people who actually care about these issues are upset and critical. No one wanted you to stab Scott Morrison in the eye with a butter knife. That is a cop out. You say that your mission here is to provide an insight to politicians. I'm sorry. But it sooo doesn't. Giving a platform to politicians to look cute and cuddly over a ganache does not inform anyone about the political system. Honestly your program comes across as an opportunity for politicians to spin themselves as everyday 'caring' people. Nobody thinks you're a fluff head. If they did they wouldn't be concerned at all. It's much more about the frustration of the press gallery to do their job, - make politicians accountable to the people they represent. Maybe for a bit of journalistic balance you could take a lemon meringue to some of the refugees in the detention centres and let them also have a few minutes to wax lyrical to the people of Australia about what devoted Christian believers they also are.

  18. Bloody great piece.
    Annabel is the Leni Riefenstahl of our political class.
    It's billious tripe.

  19. Enjoyed reading this piece very much,and it's about a journalist had the guts to call out the truth about this so called ''' light entertainment''', Crabb serves up the same recipe every week which Miss''''' above rightly describes as billious tripe,an apt description.
    Ms Crabbs problem has always being the fact that she tries to be a comedian and a journalist,but she ends up being neither.
    She is sucking on the taxpayers tit for too long and should be removed.

  20. Thanks for sharing and it is worth the time reading till the end.