Hockey looks a goose. Abbott said he’d reveal savings–he didn’t. Abbott’s promise clearly wasn’t gospel even though was scripted.

LaurieOakes on Twitter

Give us a break. The media aren’t annoyed with Abbott because he lies. Abbott has been dissembling constantly, even before he took over the leadership. While the media played around with Abbott’s flip-flopping in the occasional interview, their narrative for the last few months has been that Abbott has been making headway because it was Rudd who stood for nothing, not Abbott.

What Abbott did that so annoyed the media this week was to openly admit it in a way that suggested he didn’t care too much about it, i.e. that maybe in a lot of those interviews he was just mouthing off to journalists. Abbott’s crime was to show disrespect to the importance of the media, just as his counterpart in the same chair a week earlier, by referring to those in “7.30 Report Land”, dared to outrageously imply that the media might be a little detached from what was going on.

In reality, Abbott’s ‘challenge’ to Rudd has always been as much a media construct as is Gillard’s current ‘challenge’ to Rudd or was Costello’s ‘challenge’ to Howard. None of them pose or posed any political alternative, nor could they even point to any polling in the electorate to support the claim. Abbott at least had an improvement in the Coalition polling against the government, but as suggested by Abbott’s own mediocre ratings, this had more to do with the problems of the government than anything that was coming from the Coalition ranks.

While the media would get annoyed with Rudd for deliberately dissing them and by-passing the traditional rigmarole of Australian politics, they were starting to get annoyed at the Coalition less intentionally doing the same thing. In the last few weeks there were already stern warnings from some of the more pompous sections of the Australian press that sooner or later the Coalition would have to start coming up with “policy” etc. etc. As usual, the media looked to what is becoming that increasingly hollow ritual of the Budget when all of this was so supposed to emerge.

There is only one real economic policy in Australian politics at the moment, spend a lot when the economy slows down, spend less when it speeds up. Both sides agree to this, no matter how much they might like to pretend that there are profound differences between them and that a real economic debate was being conducted. Unfortunately, Abbott’s Budget in reply speech gave the game away and centred around cuts that were so important that he decided to leave them to Hockey to explain, who himself wasn’t that worried about leaving it to Robb, the least articulate of the three. That it could just have easily been left to Joyce a few months earlier shows how seriously all of this should be taken. As it turns out, since most of those ‘cuts’ were dropping programs funded by a tax they opposed anyway, they weren’t really cuts at all.

This is all very naughty of the Coalition. So Hockey was hauled in front of teacher last night to be given a dressing down by Kerry O’Brien in an interview, much of which consisted of ticking off Hockey for making journalists run around by not detailing the cuts up front. Like any of us outside 7.30 Report Land cared.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 20 May 2010.

Filed under Media analysis

Tags: , , , ,


34 responses to “The ‘challenge’ begins to fade – an update”

  1. James on 20th May 2010 1:38 pm

    Yes, once again you have convincingly shown that the media is part of the problem. Lateline should have egg on their faces now that the Coalition’s Budget responses have been dissected. Last week, their coverage of Abbott’s Budget reply portrayed Abbott’s response as “vintage” in a positive sense. In actual fact, it was indicative of a rundown, vintage rust bucket, destined for the tip. How things change in a week.

  2. Invig on 20th May 2010 3:27 pm

    What would you have the media do instead?

    Not judge? Not predict? Just act as faithful communication channels between us and the politicians?

  3. The Piping Shrike on 20th May 2010 7:00 pm

    They could just report what is going on, rather than making up “political developments” that have no basis in reality.

  4. Ian on 20th May 2010 10:55 pm

    Ha! Summed up in a nutshell, PS.

  5. Wood Duck on 21st May 2010 8:46 am

    I sometimes get the impression when I read you that your broad theme is that we should all become disengaged. Leave politics to the politicians and their business mates, and rise above it.
    I’m afraid that I would find this difficult to do and, for all its flaws, I think that we need the media, MSM and others, to let us know something of what may be really going on.

  6. Invig on 21st May 2010 9:26 am


  7. nfpsheppard on 21st May 2010 11:57 am

    Wood Duck – my take on this blog is that PS is explaining the new Australian political settlement.

    The politicians and media are playing “house” – pretending that there are substantial policy differences between the parties when there is instead convergence of policy (with minor tweaks and branding differences).
    Furthermore, PS points out that domestic politics is heavily influenced by international events that politcians have very little control of.

    I think the point is not to be disengaged, but be aware that that is how things are.

  8. Senexx on 21st May 2010 1:41 pm

    As the Piping Shrike points out both the Labor and Liberal parties have an economic consensus on how the economy operates. That is in boom times, taxes go up and in dull times they go down. That’s just commonsense economics.

    Both parties have agreed on how the economy operates for at least the last 30 years.

    The real difference between the parties is on social grounds.

  9. Invig on 21st May 2010 1:42 pm

    My take is that PS is annoyed that the media keep intruding into (and messing up) his calculations.

    I am willing to bet that, although I have never studied it, political science does not regard the media as a valid player in its own right.

    I think PS would prefer that the politicians were left alone to pursue their machinations, and he could apply his learnings to make insightful observations regarding same.

  10. The Piping Shrike on 21st May 2010 4:55 pm

    Wood Duck, I agree with you, we obviously need a media to let us know what is going on.

    The trouble is, often they don’t. I believe the media often have their own agenda that gets in the way of interpreting what is happening. There is a widespread recognition of this, which is why we have excellent psephological sites to interpret polling following the media’s consistent failure to do so.

    But I think it is more than just right-wing bias. I get the feeling that they are intimately bound up in the old two-party system and get annoyed at politicians they see as undermining it. This partly explains, I think, the dislike of Rudd, arguably our most conservative Labor PM ever. As this post argues, it is also why they have turned on the Liberals after their fluffing about in the last few days.

    Their refusal to see the problems of the old two party system comes through in the way they view ‘challenges’. For example, their interpretation of the Liberals’ crisis as a problem of Howard made them overstate the ‘Costello’ challenge where none really existed in political reality. The problems of the government now are seen as a problem of Rudd and so over-stating the challenge of Abbott and now Gillard. Gillard is a possible contender obviously, but not to the extent suggested by the media, at least for now.

    On this engagement/disengaged thing, a blog is just a blog, and can only comment and nothing more in my view. ‘Engagement’ is a real social thing not something that happens on a blog. I think blogs that posture themselves as ‘alternatives’ and ‘engaged’ invariably end up coming up with the same old crap.

  11. Invig on 21st May 2010 6:32 pm

    Funny story:

    Remember the 2007 APEC conference where Costello challenged Howard, but didn’t actually know he was doing it. Howard had a meeting with everyone bar Costello to sort it out.

    Sure, the media ran with the story, but guess who started it. But then next day I had to retract cause Costello didn’t actually read my blog. *laughs*

    You can’t let these buggers get too comfortable is what I say.

  12. Invig on 21st May 2010 6:34 pm

    Actually it was the morning and afternoon of the same day.

  13. Oldskool on 21st May 2010 9:28 pm

    the reporting into The ANAO report On the BER and the downright dishonest reporting on the insulaton scheme, indicate that the MSM have given up it’s traditional role of reporting and providing insightful commentary, to creating and pursuing their own agendas.

    I am in fear that e may have seen the end of truly “fair and balanced” reporting.

  14. Helmeted Honeyeater on 24th May 2010 12:01 pm

    Abbott has been disseminating constantly

    I think you mean “dissembling”, although he certainly has been disseminating a lot of …stuff around the place.

  15. dlew919 on 24th May 2010 12:19 pm

    The MSM is dying: this type of ‘shock, horror’ (much like Joe Hockey’s frequent and ludicrous interjections in the house (‘Whaaattt???? Oh, No..??? Whhaaattt?’)) is merely the death throes of an irrelevant and self-important section of political debate that needs euthanazing.

  16. The Piping Shrike on 24th May 2010 4:53 pm

    Thought Tim Dunlop’s piece on the Drum was interesting on this point. Although maybe the chest beating over ‘doing’ Rudd is more insecurity than the media’s old self importance.

    Oh no HH, you are right. Can I change it without having to put through that strike through thing and still keep blogging etiquette?

  17. Ricc on 24th May 2010 6:19 pm

    As for the media’s ‘role’ in politics. I’d be happy if they went back to simple reporting of facts:

    Mr Menzies said in Parliament today “…”. Mr Calwell said at a press conference today “…”, “The Department of External Affairs issued a statement today”… and that’s the end of it.

    Leave an intelligent audience to make their own sense of public statements by politicians.

  18. Invig on 24th May 2010 8:02 pm


    Uh huh. Like in the good old days? When no one knew anything?

    The thing is that the system is competitive. The reporters who make accurate predictions (and accuracy is good cause it meshes with the ‘real world’) become listened to more seriously.

    Politicians don’t have to abide by the same competitive framework. They have power regardless. And they aren’t interested in enlightening the population – its easier to sell them a simple message close to the election.

    Our media are valuable.

    Shrike – sure you can!

  19. john on 24th May 2010 9:11 pm

    Invig: Perhaps you can enlighten people on the number of reporters who make accurate predictions. Think Dennis Shanahan in 2007 on how Howard would win. Think of the disgraceful partisanship of News Ltd reporters during the Grech affair. Think the number of media which have followed each other blindly in condemning the insulation program without acknowledging that the number of fires per insulation was far, far lower than before it. And, in the good old days, people did know a lot more than they know now because even the most one-eyed of the newspapers (think Frank Packer’s Daily Telegraph in the 1960s because it still differentiated fact from opinion) and readers could make their own decisions based on factual reports without the reporter’s bias intruding into the report and omitting inconvenient facts. Despite its bias on what it would report, Packer’s Telegraph was still far fairer than today’s The Australian, The Herald-Sun, the Daily Telegraph and even The Sydney Morning Herald. There was also in the 1960s, 1970s anbd 1980s an ABC which had staff who reported on issues with some knowledge of the subject. As for the system being competitive, the reality is that we have fewer newspapers today than we did 50, 40 and even 30 years ago. Newspapers dictate the news cycle still – as they did then (think how the present ABC regurgitates what is reported in The Australian without checking on the veracity of the report). Once upon a time the ABC would insist on getting its own reporters to check such articles. So, I say to you Invig, it would help if you knew a little about the history on subjects you pontificate on.

  20. Invig on 25th May 2010 10:19 am

    Well I’m not saying that I can name any who do, especially, but the theory is that they will. I think it is starting to happen. Glenn Milne had a really good piece the other day – which surprised me.

    And I’m no fan of Shanahan (that should be a chant sung outside of the News offices by angry mobs).

    In terms of history, all I know is what I seen. When I see politicians on film from 10, 20 years ago they have one thing in common: arrogance and self-certainty. That only comes from knowing they won’t be questioned too deeply.

    I like my politicians nervous. Then the scum bags make mistakes and we spot them. And the quality people who don’t are left behind. Or at least, as before, that’s the theory.

    Also, I would posit that if we had decent politicians doing a decent job, there would be far less speculation. Witness Rudd. He speculated upon. But his ministers? No, they’re doing a fine job. But perhaps, yes, I acknowledge it would be good to hear more about that…

    I guess its a more complex story, and people only want to know when things are stuffing up. Which is fair enough. I don’t want a lecture on how well build the Sydney Harbour Bridge was every time I cross it – I just want it to do its job!

    Ideally, we wouldn’t need to hear about health or carbon policy at all. It should just work!

  21. Invig on 25th May 2010 10:36 am

    John, is this good reporting?

    It is factual, yet alludes to leadership challenges, and is perhaps biased by the reporter’s desire for a story. Still, I like it. It is illuminating and well-told.

  22. Ricc on 25th May 2010 5:02 pm

    Invig: you make the mistake of assuming ‘competitive’ [read: appealing to the unwashed in the marginals] is ‘better’.

    I don’t particularly rate democracy highly, thinking it at best a system like your toilet’s flush button, for disposing the rotten ones straight down. It certainly isn’t a system for producing the best leaders.

    And ensuring your politicians are ‘competitive’ does not help in this regard, seeing as there will be diminishing marginal ‘discernment’ among the voting population, especially with compulsory voting.

    I have no problem with pollies being presented by an independent, unbiased media for intelligent and informed voters to judge. The rest then simply become normally-distributed random noise.

  23. Nigel on 26th May 2010 9:43 am

    The argument about “competitive” media creates a more informed populace falls down when you see how peoples opinions are molded over things like the BER etc. In their race to be bigger, badder, better than the competition, the media now manufacture stories and beat things up rather than report the considered facts- this is now considered the norm in news.

  24. Invig on 26th May 2010 12:11 pm

    Ricc – the problem is that most voters don’t have the time, ability or inclination to assess a politician’s statements objectively. So you have to reply upon journalists, experts and political tragics to do that, and the truth is filtered down to the masses after it passes through these layers. This does not always work, but is the only real option given the necessity of a specialised population. However, as the networks becomes stronger (between, say, the ABC and bloggers) then people are forced by developing behavioural norms to act honestly. Of course, Murdoch is a power-hungry game-playing prick, and this infests his paper. But that is an aberrant fact in otherwise-positive trends for the Australian media/blogging sector.

    Look around the world. We have some of the fiercest media around, but also the most policy-driven. The American media are way behind, and the Brits are still focussed on tabloid journalism. Give them some credit is what I say.

    Nigel – there were real concerns over the BER – not least that Julia did not learn her lessons from the computers in schools problems. Just cause a policy is a overall good does not mean we should not expect it to be a 90% as opposed to 60% good. If the media have to exaggerate a little to lead to that improvement – it is a VERY small price to pay. In any case, Julia is doing fine. Her numbers are heading up. If anything this will improve her confidence in policy matters knowing she has a keen-eyed media sector watching her every move. That is a massive WIN for the country!!!!!

  25. Ricc on 26th May 2010 12:49 pm

    This is the ‘free market for information’ theory, which Lee Kwan Yew debunked successfully in his book (which might be revisable with an open internet).

    His point was basically the USA touted a ‘free market in information’ meanwhile the South African Government was busy taking a Washington DC newspaper, to turn it into a pro-Apartheid rag.

    When the US Government discovered this, they shut the plot down; but it made a mockery of the idea of a free market in information. The information market might be more wisely described as a commons – contributed to, but equally easily stolen from, or poisoned, by willing agents.

    I think Murdoch is more than an ‘aberration to your theory’ rather he disproves it. He is a player. With a tightly held duopoly of political power through the two parties, it is no surprise that the duopoly is connected to a media oligopoly as well. Truth doesn’t come into it.

    I’d like to see the ABC return to being independent and not providing opinion or comment. I’m reasonably sure the masses will still get popularised guff from News Ltd and the electronic media, the ABC doesn’t need to participate in this race to the bottom.

    I do have some optimism the internet can break the hold on ‘news’ ie fact even if current affairs is a market that is much more easily controlled, with ‘brand names’ dominating.

  26. Ricc on 26th May 2010 12:57 pm

    When you look at the way our two-party ‘democracy’ works, you can see that politicians are basically weak. They hold the levers of the apparatus of state and the single largest chequebook – but depend on the media for the political ‘credit’ to flow back to them.

    In certain dictatorships they also control the media; but they control the things they want to control (resource allocation, pecking order of the population) much more directly.

    Neither system is wonderful and dictatorship is clearly worse than democracy. But let’s not pretend this is some analogue of a functioning free market for goods and services; it ain’t. And it is no substitute for the rule of law, a system that arose before universal suffrage.

  27. Invig on 26th May 2010 1:16 pm

    The trouble in all this is your dismissal of ‘opinion’.

    While some people are able to make their own, many cannot. They need the raw data to be processed. And bloggers cannot be relied upon completely to do this, nor can state-run media. We need some large-scale private media with secure customer bases (I myself think they should be part government-funded and have to adhere to some charter that encourages systemic, objective analysis – what the productivity commission fails to do).

    Perhaps the answer to the problem of Murdoch is the same as for Packer when he dominated free-to-air: break them up. Do not allow any more than one outlet in any one region from any one person? Make him sell the Australian, or else sell all his regional papers?


    Rule of law? What an unreliable baseline!! I trust two things; the structure of markets/systems (as per my suggestion above) and the desire for people to be seen by others in a positive light.

    Laws must always be interpreted, and acted upon. Witness the law that the US President must intervene and directly manage any big oil spill. Has he? Nope.

    Laws are dead things. Dead things cannot participate in a human system nor feel the pang of conscience or social stigma.

    That is why souls go to heaven; there’s no point hanging around here 😉

  28. Mr Denmore on 26th May 2010 4:32 pm

    Yep, the structure of markets worked really well in the past couple of years.

  29. Invig on 26th May 2010 6:39 pm

    The point is they weren’t structured. The dividing lines and restrictions were removed. Oversight bodies were fatally compromised.

    It wasn’t a market, it was a massive pyramid scheme.

  30. Ricc on 27th May 2010 5:03 pm

    Invig this is TPS blog so not an appropriate place to have this discussion. This comment is just fluffy bunny stuff though: “desire for people to be seen by others in a positive light”. No such thing. You cannot guide humanity on such wishful thinking. I’ll leave it there.

  31. Invig on 27th May 2010 5:43 pm

    I’m sure Mr Shrike would say if he had a problem with it. In any case, why does it matter where such discussions take place? Is there a law against it???

    Oh you cannot guide humanity on such wishful thinking? Oh, really. lol.

    That’s funnier than you could possibly, or are ever likely to want to, understand.

    BTW you are: 55, white, overweight, academic or lawyer and insufferably self righteous? Am I right?

    What’s that?? You’re insulted? Why? Cause people aren’t seeing you in a positive light? Well fuck me sideways…

  32. Mr Denmore on 28th May 2010 5:07 pm

    What you’re seeing in the media is a race to the bottom as shrinking advertising spending and declining sales squeeze margins force punitive cost cuts and elevate the role of cheap opinion and ‘analysis’ over expensive reporting and research.

    Political reporting is a circus, with the same few people reading each other’s columns and scribbling the same lines as part of a narrative manufactured by much higher paid spin doctors. It’s the same as what’s happened in the financial media, where reporters treated private equity financiers as rock stars and overlooked the obscene leverage involved.

    Democracy suffers through all this. People get fed distorted information, if not outright lies, that are created in the service of a media machine in terminal decline. The worse it gets, the more disengaged and less discerning the electorate becomes, the lower the quality of the media output. And on it goes.

  33. Ricc on 28th May 2010 6:09 pm

    Invig, I try to show some respect for TPS keeping this blog up by sticking to his topics, not yours. If you wait till he has to tell you this I think that is very rude.

    You’re sounding a bit “55, white, overweight, academic or lawyer and insufferably self righteous”

  34. Invig on 28th May 2010 6:18 pm

    I may be pushing the boundary a little, but this space is free and I am not preventing TPS from fully utilising it, nor distracting other readers from enjoying the posts written. The fact is that no on will debate me on my blog, so I must seek it out; else how will I be able to test my ideas?

    Still, perhaps TPS is actually enjoying the exchange? Who knows? Maybe you speak to him privately… I don’t.

    And you’re probably right on the self righteous front. I tend to get that way when someone else claims I am wrong by way of flat assertion.

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