Oz Blog News Commentary

Ecco journo

November 5, 2015 - 07:56 -- Admin

Australian political journalism is abysmal. Very Serious Journalists tell us that deeply inadequate politicians really do have the answers for our country, Light Bright and Trite ones insist that they're not so bad against all the evidence, and then they all unite to describe the inevitable demise not as an indictment on their experience and judgment, but as fickleness and ingratitude on our part.Curb your enthusiasmI could pile on to the criticism of Annabel Crabb, which of course can never be anything more than pathological hatred of Australia, and everything and everyone else really, because what sort of monster goes around criticising Annabel Crabb? Or sits at a computer, criticising Annabel Crabb? In May we learned Crabb has ascended to a high clear place where she is absolved of any and all criticism, like Remedios from One Hundred Years of Solitude. Now she has gone one better than your highfalutin' think-mag, she is down with the cool kids at Buzzfeed to show just how you brush off online whinging. If they call you a Nazi, they must have already lost the argument, right? So yeah, anyone who's ever criticised Crabb is a Nazi, or something:

“I think I’ve been called ‘Nazi’ more in the last 48 hours than ever before, it’s been bracing,” Crabb said, referring to the outpouring of tweets accusing her of “humanising” treasurer (and former immigration minister) Scott Morrison.“I get all sorts of helpful feedback all the time,” she joked.

Like most journalists, Crabb is more than happy to accept unqualified praise. What she won't do, owing to the shallowness of the ideas she brings to any examination of politics, is engage with any ideas people may have. While she undoubtedly cops what could only be called mindless abuse, I doubt very much it is the only feedback she gets. In fact, it isn't. There are some real ideas in here that Crabb should have engaged with, and didn't. There is no sign of her actually engaging with different ideas about how she might go about what she does, or whether there's any difference between what she seeks to do and what actually happens.

But she was unapologetic.

Has she ever been apologetic, really? About what is she supposed to apologise? Crabb misrepresents McQuire and sets up a straw man made from newspapers to knock down:

“I think we owe an obligation to the great central tenets of democracy to try and engage as many people as possible. I don’t think with the rather snobbish view that you can’t be interested in politics until you’ve consumed The Financial Review and The Sydney Morning Herald and every daily newspaper,” she said.

She's unapologetic about a criticism nobody is making? She thinks democracy is not something that comes from people themselves, but is some sort of outreach program from the powers-that-be? You can see why she's going onto a site that won't question her too closely.

It’s all about broadening the appeal of politics to more people.

No, it's about telling us the politicians we have are the best we can possibly expect.

“I like to think that if you publish and broadcast different kinds of content about politics, and give people different access points to politics than you’re working to include a greater proportion of the population.”

Here we get into a difference between what Crabb likes to think, and what democracy needs from political journalism.Democracy needs reliable information about how we are being governed, and options for how we might otherwise be governed. That information can be presented in a densely earnest way, or in a breezily engaging way, or somewhere in between; but without that information it pretty much fails, regardless of the format. It's much like a meal: a fancy meal can be more or less nutritious, and so can one that's cheap and quick to prepare; but let's not pretend disdaining fancy cookin' makes you some sort of providore to the starving masses.

And in the end, getting a look into their personal lives of politicians actually makes you understand more about the decisions they make.

No, it doesn't. Nothing about that episode with Morrison makes you understand why he took the decisions he took. In other interviews, Morrison spruiks his Christian faith but when asked to consider it in the context of his treatment of people in detention centres, he shrieks that faith is a private matter and he is not to be questioned on it. He touted on-water operations as core to his job - and then when he insisted that he did not comment on such matters, none of the fierce lions of the press gallery so much as demurred. Unless he wanted to, that is. He promised to get children out of detention centres by December 2013.I'm still none the wiser about why Morrison took/didn't take those decisions; unless there's some pearl of wisdom curled up on the floor of the editing suite, neither is Crabb. Crabb wasn't humanising Morrison, because she can't; the very verb is a nonsense. Crabb is no more human than Morrison. Humans do all sorts of things; they are human when they hug their children, human when they brutalise others. Morrison has spent his life appearing to be nice and reasonable, and then acting in ways that is neither of those things - all too human, hardly the first to do that. In a democracy we judge representatives by whether they serve us well or badly - not by how human they are. All politicians, all public servants, are human (or acting under command of humans, like police dogs).If the Morrison episode was the first episode ever of the show, there may be some slack to cut Crabb in the hope things might get better. Sadly, this isn't the case:

  • In the very first episode, Christopher Pyne avoided going one-to-one with Crabb (and does so again next week). The death-knell of the Abbott government was sounded by Pyne weeks after it was first elected, when he declared bipartisan commitment to Gonski education funding was a lie non-starter and the press gallery called him on his lie agreed that he'd be a witty dining companion.
  • The first episode of the second series features the man who delivered the 2014 budget, without a trace of the document that came to define him. We see Hockey's eagerness to please, but it would have taken real insight to show that quality actually negated any principles that he might have brought from his upbringing into public life.
  • The one after that is on Bronwyn Bishop, who greets Crabb in the way that a card shark greets a wealthy but frequently unlucky gambler. Crabb has a weird fascination with Bishop that has never yielded any insight into her at all. She never asks the question we'd all like to ask Bronwyn Bishop ("why don't you just fuck off and die?"), but instead indulges her in her delusion that obstinacy is the same thing as principle and strength of character; that partisanship and personal advantage are tangible and important while balancing national interests are to be disdained.
  • At the end of Series 3, Crabb does Tony Abbott and he does her back, gibbering about the emptiest thing in recent Australian politics - his record, and what it might mean in government.
  • The nearest thing the show has ever gone to any actual depth was with mental health, featuring Mary Jo Fisher and Andrew Robb. This government has continued the bipartisan approach toward mental health - talk about it, appear concerned, discourage any initiatives and limit funding.

Her show doesn't work even by her standards, and there are more than thirty episodes. But she don't need your stinkin' feedback - so long as Mark Scott is blowing sunshine at her, other people can make mistakes and learn from them. She's learned everything there is to know and will go on until she stops, and a well-informed democracy be damned.If you're talking to me, your career must be in troubleThe Abbott government became politically constipated when it could not pass its agenda through the Senate. That government's leader in the Senate was Eric Abetz.Eric Abetz achieved nothing as Employment Minister but an increase in unemployment. Abetz has spent what passes for his life sneering at moderates. Ian Macphee, the epitome of moderate liberalism who held the equivalent job in the Fraser government (who believed in centralised arbitration and conciliation long after Bob Hawke had given up on it), has a stronger record of achievement in that portfolio; so does Julia Gillard. The late Michael Hodgman was designated "the Mouth from the South" because journalists thought he talked too much and achieved too little. Compared to Abetz, Hodgman was a Caesar.This is quite the record of failure Abetz has earned for himself. Press gallery journalists are usually pretty good at latching onto winners, but on the day after the Melbourne Cup Latika Bourke did to Abetz what Annabel Crabb does to Bronwyn Bishop:

But Senator Abetz has told Tasmanian newspaper The Advocate that he would "of course" take a ministry should he ever be offered one but said he was in politics to "serve [and] not to succeed."

Nowhere in that piece is there any actual journalism from Bourke, not even her usual trick of sticking a recording device under a politician's nose and simply transmitting their remarks. She's re-heated journalism from elsewhere, under the mistaken impression that her readers are gagging for news about some loser from Hobart. Now that politicians have their own websites and broadcasting capacities, it defeats the old media excuse that anything a politician says must be newsworthy. Bourke destroyed what little news value her story had with anonymous-quote work. Then came this:

The party's "right", as it is known[sic], has lacked a recognised leader ever since former senator and Finance Minister Nick Minchin announced his retirement in 2010 and has remained splintered ever since his departure in 2011.

And yet, in that enfeebled state, it still propelled Tony Abbott into the Prime Ministership and bent supposed moderates Christopher Pyne and Joe Hockey to its will. If I was a political journalist, that's what I'd be investigating rather than doing the expensive collage "Latika Bourke" (as she is known) is doing here.

Senator Abetz said Mr Abbott, whom he described as an "opinion and thought leader" should stay in Parliament because he would have an important role in guiding conservative allies in the party.

On what basis is Abbott an opinion and thought leader? On what basis is he anything but an example of what not to do? Bourke's journalism is as dead as Abbott or Abetz in their capacity for thought leadership.

Mr Abbott ... has been seeking the advice of friends and supporters about whether he should stay of go [sic]. The advice provided to Mr Abbott is understood to be mixed with some urging him to retire while others, like Senator Abetz, want him to continue serving.

Neither Abetz nor Abbott could command anything like the incomes they are on now elsewhere in the economy. There appears to be no thoughts on which they offer any leadership worth the name. These are not people who can be entrusted to run any organisation well or to have constructive opinions about it. Again, Bourke here proves one of the key rules of bad journalism: that the passive voice is a sign the journalist is up to no good. It would be cruel to quote the final two dribbly pars of this piece. One speech from last month is not a hit circuit, and you can command nothing if you are a hostage to demand (or lack thereof). Bourke reports to Peter Hartcher. Guys like him and Mark Scott think pieces like this are the sort of thing that's good enough for the likes of you in your quest to understand how we are governed.