24 December 2015

Going in too hard

This exchange on Twitter shows how social media can apply good sense to political journalism where it would otherwise be miserably absent:

David Crowe from The Australian was, in line with his predilections and those of his employer, galumphing down the road of a shock-horror story of differences of opinion within the government until social media pulled him up. Naturally no consideration of the issue at hand, and its effect beyond Canberra, is forthcoming or even possible from such an experienced press gallery denizen. The post from Richard Cooke (not a press gallery journalist) above shows a perspective that Crowe lacks, but also reveals that Crowe is not even sure what politicians like Fierravanti-Wells are up to. What is the point of all those support services in the press gallery when people like Crowe - no blow-in, supposedly a senior operator there - disregards years of slow and patient policy in favour of cliched schlock? It was good of Fierravanti-Wells to put out her statement within Crowe's working hours.

So Fierravanti-Wells and Abbott are both conservative Libs from NSW. Crowe, like many experienced political journalists, can't draw on past events to explain what is going on now. He's probably right in assuming such audience as he has cannot even handle nuance, but a good journalist would make an effort nonetheless. Once you understand the Fierravanti-Wells/ Abbott relationship, Crowe's feebleness in lunging for the low-hanging fruit of division (and missing!) becomes apparent:
  • Fierravanti-Wells ran against Abbott for preselection in 1994.
  • When she later decided to run against Bronwyn Bishop in the adjacent electorate, under the assumption that the older woman had her go and Howard didn't like Bishop anyway, Abbott supported Bishop.
  • When Abbott became leader he made Fierravanti-Wells opposition spokesperson on seniors, while Bishop was opposition spokesperson on ageing; an inexplicable balls-up unless you see it as a means for fomenting clashes between two people whose relationship was already damaged.
  • Fierravanti-Wells is no dummy; but she didn't have the impressive pre-parliamentary career that Julie Bishop had, nor is she a serious policy wonk like Marise Payne, nor is she a factional death-star like Bronwyn Bishop, nor is she representing a marginal seat. Each of those qualities may have seen her advance beyond the uncomfortable position she appears to be in today.
  • When Abbott became Prime Minister, almost all of his opposition frontbench became ministers for the portfolios they had shadowed. Bishop became Speaker. Fierravanti-Wells was demoted.
  • Abbott and Fierravanti-Wells both used to believe that Muslims were a conservative constituency who should be courted by conservative politicians. Abbott chose to depart from that belief, and that departure led him to where he is today. Fierravanti-Wells stuck to her beliefs in light of the evidence before her.
After all that, Crowe could only run the stale and pointless SPLIT SHOCK narrative.

Over nine years of blogging I've dismantled Crowe's finest constructions numerous times, and I think I've established that he is a galoot. He stands at the dead intersection of both press gallery drones and Murdoch yes-people, the most unfortunate crossroads since Robert Johnson's in the 1930s. Unlike Johnson, Crowe is not developing any new licks; he is just assembling and reassembling political cliches from the journalistic tailings provided by his employers. I almost feel sorry for him. Perhaps it's Christmas sentimentality, or perhaps I'm just losing my touch.

On one level, I really want to believe that a) press gallery journalists work hard and b) are clever enough to get around political manipulation; but because the evidence points away from such a belief I just can't support it, and can barely even humour true believers. We need more and better information on how we are governed (and how we might be governed) than the press gallery are capable of providing: such a belief should be more widely shared, given the failure of the contrary assertions and the manifest inadequacy of the political choices proffered to us. People make dreadful decisions when they're misinformed, when at the ballot box, when making investment decisions, or at the Cabinet table.

Nobody in the press gallery, nor in the wider Australian broadcast media responsible for political news, is any closer to getting this than they were in 2006. They cannot bear their own culpability. They would prefer to blame things beyond their control (the internet, ad revenue), or even invent them ("24 hour news cycle"), rather than change their ways.

Nine years from now the thick crust at the top of the press gallery will probably still be there, and coverage of government won't be any better, and the media organisations probably won't have the good grace to shut down and stop wasting everyone's time and resources. In calling for more and better, over and over, perhaps I am repeating myself; but this is true of anyone with a cause unfulfilled that is too important to be abandoned, yet so bereft of measurable impact that it fails to attract the like-minded to put their shoulders to the wheel.

Yeah political coverage is broken, but what can you do? You won't change them. That's why I go in hard here: the failure of Australian political coverage matters, it has far-reaching consequences and the incumbents cannot be persuaded. When journalists are sacked I neither cheer nor weep but am amazed that the press gallery is spared, while proper journalists are dumped unpaid from a profession that needs the good ones more than ever.

It's so stupid that coverage of East Timor and West Papua, or the Rugby World Cup, is better than that of the federal government.

Should I take the time to show political journalists how they should be doing their jobs, per the dotpoints above, or do press gallery journalists work for billion-dollar corporations that can do their own fucking research to save their own worthless employers from further discrediting themselves? Isn't the whole point of them to provide information to those of us paying attention, but too busy to do so fulltime?

You don't have to do your own foraging to eat - so why should you have to do your own journalism to find out what's next, and what your options are? People talk about the future of journalism as though current employers of journalists have one. In an information age information providers should be making out like bandits. The fact that broadcast media aren't, that they are not only incapable of organising a booze-up at a brewery but are dying of thirst in such an environment, shows that they are stubbornly persisting at something other than providing necessary information. Rarely can you stop them lapsing back into their stock of cliches to try and describe situations that simply don't fit them.

Not being a press gallery journalist I knew Abbott would be a fuck-up as Prime Minister, and said so. Every day he held office defied political gravity. I thought he'd be such a fuck-up that he wouldn't get there in the first place, and I underestimated the extent to which Crowe and his silly mates covered for him and made such a clueless man look like he had all the answers.

Not being a press gallery journalist, I can amend a previous post where it is eclipsed by better information.

All the very best to you over Christmas and the New Year, dear reader, even if you are like Crowe and the still too many others who can only write the same stories about the same things in the same way that he does: it's called media diversity. I'm still considering doing formal in-depth study into the sheer depth and breadth of the failure of Australian political coverage 2006-2015. Summertime is good for reflections and suggestions, and as ever any suggestions on how this blog can be improved will be welcomed to the extent they are constructive.


  1. that's "cannot handle nuance" in 3rd par?
    Interesting piece

  2. Merry Xmas, Andrew, and thank you for your tireless kicking against the pricks in parliament and the Canberra Press Gallery.

    I'm sure a whole book could be written about it but I would be interested to know from your perspective how and why it is that the Australian media works almost as a Borg together to validate a Coalition government, despite their mistakes, but just as tirelessly to invalidate a Labor government, should they ever go around the Press Gallery and directly connect to the electorate and win their support? Not to mention the never-ending job of trying to make sure a Labor Opposition Leader is humiliated in the eyes of the nation on a thoroughgoing basis.

    Yet, when a proportionately more bumbling leader of the Liberal Party is in place all stops are pulled out to paper over their mistakes and minimise their inadequacy? To such an extent that they, the Canberra Press Gallery, are generally successful in their mission. Until such time as it's obvious to Blind Freddy what a bunch of incompetent nincompoops are in the Coalition government and they get kicked out into Opposition, and the whole cycle starts again. With the Coalition Opposition being built up into Leviathon status by the time of the next election. Or the one after that, if for some reason unbeknownst to the Press Gallery and the Media Proprietors Labor is re-elected.

    Everyone in the electorate in their heart of hearts knows this to be true but like a mob of sheep (thanks, John Howard), they just go along with it.

    Which is, at the end of the day, what the function of the Press Gallery is. To craft the stories, day in, day out, to maintain the status quo for the Proprietors. Which is why they will never go away. No matter how much the sane and reasonable amongst us would wish them to. It's also why they appear immune to criticism from the 'Twitterati'. They don't care. They have a job to do, that's all. No ethics worth a damn, just a mindset.

  3. Bravo, re copping to Windsor's take. Thanks for your sterling efforts, Andrew, and please keep on bending the arc of bastardry towards honesty. Happy Festivus and have an interesting New Year.

  4. Bushfire Bill25/12/15 6:42 am

    You don't have to look further than the coverage of Kathy Jackson.

    The way she was feted and set up as a latter day Jeanne d'Arc was appalling.

    Then, on Insiders earlier this year, they discussed the HSU case against her. They noted that she'd been comprehensively outed by 4 Corners... AT LAST! I mean, how much better could it be? An on-air, hour-long confession of insanity couldn't be ignored. But they effected an air of "Who knew?" just the same. The court case. The phoney "mental health" issues. The madness of Kathy Jackson's position couldn't be ignored anymore. But they ignored it anyway, in true Insiders fashion, with a giggle.

    They ignored the incredibly accurate coverage from independent media - largely from Peter Wicks and independentaustralia.net/ - as they had ignored it since the stories about Jackson first emerged.

    Then Mike Seccombe said, "We were right then and we are right now," with a shrug of the shoulders. Everyone nodded. Subject done. Back to the horse race.

    The parliamentary apologies. The fawning interviews. The HR Nichols Society dinners. The heroine at TURC. The lies. The rip-off by taxpayers by her boyfriend with his trumped up "sick leave". The clear evidence of thuggery by Jackson's bovver boys. The misery caused by her crimes and frauds... all were left in plain sight. They didn't even bother to sweep them under the carpet.

    No-one considered that Thomson might have been set up, as he indicated he had been in his speech to Parliament. There was virtually no reporting that he beat 90% of the charges against him, with the other 10% looking dodgy. He was guilty of SOMETHING... that was good enough.

    It was a total lack of self-reflection on their part. An inability to admit that they could possibly have been wrong. As Seccombe said, they were right all the time. Even when they were wrong, and even when it could be shown they were wrong.

    This, and the way they played down the Slipper exonerations - criminal and civil - stick firmly in my craw for some reason. I wonder what it could be?

  5. Thanks for all the good words this past year Andrew.
    Wish you & yours a fine 2016.

  6. Andrew a thoughtful article as always. May you keep on keeping on and have a happy, healthy and wealthy 2016. I check my computer each day to see if you have posted another article, enjoy your work and writing very much.

  7. Thank you Andrew for the work you do to do an analysis of the poorly performing journalists that make up the the press gallery.

  8. I knew there had to be something interesting behind the Abbott/F.Wells matter, but knew equally that I would never find out what was involved from the Press Gallery, the elephants graveyard of political facts.
    Thank you for your clarity and honesty over the last several years and best wishes for the coming year and thereafter.
    Kambah Mick

  9. "In calling for more and better, over and over, perhaps I am repeating myself; but this is true of anyone with a cause unfulfilled that is too important to be abandoned, yet so bereft of measurable impact that it fails to attract the like-minded to put their shoulders to the wheel."

    Sincerely inspiring prose. Thanks, as always. All the best for 2016 - MS

  10. I'm just a 46 year old tradesman, year 11 tech school education, from a poorer suburb of Melbourne, how come I knew the truth about Jackson/Thomson, Slipper/ Brough, long ago, why was I and tens of thousands treated like fools by the MSM/ Gallery when we marched in march well before the election warning of Abbotts incompetence and policy fraud? Why did I have to wait more than two years for these fuckheads to tell me what I already knew?........ And on they go, astounding, even when they are punched in the head repeatedly with their hypocrisy it just doesn't land a blow, cant wait for Murdochs death so they can waist their last collective breaths blowing wind up his arse before they then expire and some form of sanity is returned. Somebody needs to put some mirrors in the MSM media room because the elephant is stomping around unable to see itself. Thank you Andrew, at least you're having a crack, keep up the great work cheers, Marty.