Tuesday, 7 July 2009
How is it that the Murdoch press got something so fundamentally wrong and what were the journalistic standards which applied? These are just basic questions which we – I haven’t heard anything from the three editors in question, I haven’t seen any statement from them, but I did see that the Chief Executive of News Ltd organisation said yesterday that it was all fine and dandy.
Kevin Rudd 2 July 2009
As soon as the email was demonstrated to be false, the Canberra press gallery focused its criticism on Malcolm Turnbull who had given the fake email unintentional credibility. As the polls quickly established, the unintended consequence of the saga was to discredit the Opposition Leader and enhance the credibility of the Prime Minister.
So what is Rudd’s problem? It seems he does not like criticism and, consequently, does not see any reason to be gracious in victory.
Gerard Henderson SMH 7 July 2009
Mr Rudd’s claim that critiques of his government are “journalistic retaliation” for criticisms levelled by members of the government is misplaced. Our analyses of this or any government or opposition are grounded in sound principles that are as relevant now as they were in 1964.
The Australian editorial 4 July 2009
There has been almost a touch of genuine bewilderment in the media at Rudd’s follow-up attacks on the Murdoch stable after the Ute-gate fiasco. To the media it seems incomprehensible why, after they set upon Turnbull after the email was exposed as a fraud and pronounced Rudd the clear winner, the PM should then carry on a vendetta.
Of course, it is the media that actually continued it. Rudd’s comments were generally in response to journalists persisting, like Turnbull did last week, in raising the issue. But the decision by Rudd (and Gillard) to bite back came not in spite of ending up in front, but because of it. Leaving aside the largely irrelevant issue of journalistic standards, the Murdoch stable stuffed up and Rudd was putting the boot in. Just as he did with Turnbull, Rudd was using his advantage to settle scores while he could.
The media has a strange relationship to this government and like so much about it, the media is struggling to work out what is going on. It is not so much that the media has that much trouble with the policies of what is arguably Labor’s most conservative Prime Minister since Federation, but rather Rudd’s style, especially the way he treats the media.
The Australian’s Imre Salusinszky, adding his bit to the slew of defensive responses from the Murdoch press in recent days, touched on some more interesting features of this relationship but also the same confusions.
One of the touchiest areas of the media’s relationship, especially for its political reporters, is Rudd’s fondness for programs like Rove. Salusinszky bizarrely thinks he was following Obama’s lead on The Tonight Show, but of course Rudd pioneered these type of appearances in 2007 when Obama was still a terrorist-loving candidate struggling for the Democrat nomination. It was one of his strengths against Howard that year and Howard gives a sly tribute to Rudd’s mastery of the format:
The reason I didn’t do that kind of media is that I didn’t think I would be very good at it. But I also thought the prime minister oughtn’t to do too much of that stuff. I took the view that my responsibility was to go on serious programs. Although I did do talkback radio, I didn’t avoid the serious interviews.
Howard’s chief of staff grudgingly claimed this as an example of Rudd’s ability to appeal to a younger audience, which is often attributed to Rudd being from a younger generation himself.
This won’t do. Rudd may be younger than Howard but hardly stands alone on age in Parliament. Yet it would be hard to think of any other MP (except possibly Garrett) who could do that same type of show (and that includes Gillard, to be returned to at a later date). Politicians avoid that type of show not because it’s ‘easy’ and they yearn the tough questions of a Kerry O’Brien but because it is anti-political. As also on FM stations, the very thrill of the chance to ask inappropriate and scatological questions to leading political figures makes it difficult to do that type of show (as our loveable Shrek found out) while keeping authority.
This is what made Rudd’s latest appearance on Rove such a master-stroke. Rudd needed to defend his personal integrity in Parliament, but it had made him look awfully like an ordinary politician during that week. Finishing it with his appearance on Rove and photo-op with Bruno was necessary to counter-act it. As public relations consultant John Wells put it:
They would have had that programmed in advance of that previous week, and having had the outcome they did and all the shenanigans over ‘Utegate’, it would have reinforced their thinking that ‘We’ve got to get out of here and soften that harsh, argy-bargy parliamentary persona into a softer positioning’.
But the anti-politics of these type of shows has repercussions for what is happening to traditional media as well.
Murdoch may be struggling with the internet but if there is one sure way he has worked out how to please advertisers on his papers’ web sites, it is to attack the blogosphere. Nothing is more guaranteed to get the links and the traffic to the opinions of some otherwise very ordinary commentators. Unsurprisingly this is usually seen by the blogosphere as merely confirmation of the rising influence of political blogging.
In reality though it is less about the new power of political blogging than the declining power and authority of the mainstream news. The internet has exposed a problem that was already there before but now made tangible. The problem is not so much that people are concerned about bias of the press. Nobody who read the Murdoch press during the Whitlam years or read the Sydney Morning Herald’s editorialising against Labor in almost every election since Federation, would have ever thought the press in this country was balanced.
But at least it was known that the line taken by the press represented something in society, the establishment. In political coverage that meant journalists had the best connections to the political class who themselves knew what was going on.
In 2007, however, we saw the unravelling of that whole set-up. We saw a political class that had lost its historical purpose losing its ability to understand, let alone control events. In turn, we saw political journalists losing track with what was going on as their contacts with a disoriented political class became worthless, so, for example, leading to desperate attempts to make polling fit a reality that simply did not exist and create an opening for our noble psephological sites. Finally in the end it produced a government that the traditional political media can’t understand and a Prime Minister, which increasingly bypasses them and whose popularity baffles them. The response by some quarters in the press, such as Murdoch’s new ‘blogging’ site, has tried to adapt to this lack of authority but its writers expose the underlying problem even more. They simply raise the question, who are these people? Who cares what they think?
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 7 July 2009.Filed under Key posts, Media analysis