Greetings fellow Swordians. Today I'd like to report on a worrying trend which I have noticed creeping into political reportage of late in this country. I am not quite sure how extensive it is yet across the country, only that I have noticed it increasingly here in Sydney on Channel Nine. So I'd also like to know if anyone else has perceived it in their neck of the woods, and I'd also appreciate it if fellow Swordians could keep a Watching Brief to look for more examples of it, because there's one thing I do know, and that is the manifest nature of the Australian Press to behave as a herd, and once one outlet debuts a new idea for them all to follow it and push it to further extremes.
So let me just start by outlining one particular incident in this new trend, which I have christened: 'Gotcha! Politics'
On Thursday night on Channel Nine 6 pm News the newsreader, Peter Overton, in his initial summary of the night's top stories, referred to an upcoming 'Channel Nine Exclusive', “that exposes another one of Kevin Rudd's 'Broken Promises'”. That teaser led me to expect that the Nine media organisation had done the hard yards of investigative journalism and had a scoop that exposed a heretofore unknown broken campaign promise.
With trepidation I sat and waited for the story to unfold. I thought to myself, if it's such a big deal as to be bringing to light another broken election promise which Channel Nine have uncovered, they'll come out all guns blazing with it as their top story. So with bated breath I waited. It wasn't the top story. Or the 2nd, or the 3rd. It was the 4th story, and after an ad break!
Well, I thought, they must be going to prop Laurie Oakes up in his chair from Canberra to make the announcement of this momentous 'Exclusive'.
Thus it was to my ultimate bewilderment when, after the ad break, I, the viewer, was informed that this new 'Broken Promise' of the PM referred to the fact that Kevin Rudd had said to Dr Richard Phillips of Hornsby Hospital in NSW, in January this year, that he would visit the Public Hospital which Dr Phillips administers, and check out its dilapidated state of repair. Well, now for the scandalous part. By gum, it's June already and the Prime Minister has failed to keep his 'promise' to visit the run-down hospital, which we were shown in graphic detail, down to the last dust bunny in the corner of the wards. We were then breathlessly informed, with a disapproving and disappointed tone in the voiceover from Peter Overton, that Dr Phillips had tried to contact the Prime Minister seven times already and had, as yet, not had the courtesy of one reply!
Now, this is where this story gets really interesting, and shows to me the extent to which media organisations in Australia are now attempting to manufacture the news and the political narrative, rather than simply reporting it.
As I said earlier, I was fully expecting this story to have been broken by Chief Political Reporter for Channel Nine News, Laurie Oakes. He was nowhere to be seen. Instead, this story was 'broken' by Ben Fordham, who, until as recently as last fortnight, had been a foot-in-the-door and ambulance-chasing 'journalist' (and I use the term advisedly), and fill-in compère of 'A Current Affair'! Which is not to say that he doesn't have what it takes to be a serious political journalist, just that, looking at this specific example, that is not how his role is being developed by Channel Nine with respect to his political reporting. Instead, what his presence on the federal political scene has heralded is the era of ‘Gotcha! Politics’, and the appearance on the scene of the ‘Gotcha!’ political journalist.
To see exactly what I mean I'll take you through the rest of the timeline of how this story unfolded. So we started with the groundwork being laid by the newsreader, Peter Overton, creating, to me, a false impression that probably in parliament that day Kevin Rudd had been exposed by the Opposition, through forensic questioning in Question Time (well, you never know), as having broken another campaign promise.
Then, left to sit through the ad break we were left on tenterhooks to reflect upon and reinforce to ourselves the meme of 'Rudd Government broken promises', which, to my mind, serves to build on the sense of resentment the electorate feels towards the PM and his government because of this. At which point, after the ad break was over and the suspense had been built up sufficiently, the political ground tilled and fertilised, we were finally made privy to the story. However, instead of a story from Canberra, we were dished up one which had been totally confected by Channel Nine News, their 'Exclusive', as they would have it styled, in cahoots with a doctor from Hornsby Public Hospital, and, I would not be surprised one bit to find out, with the federal Member for Berowra in the House of Representatives which covers the area in which Hornsby Hospital is located, one Phillip 'The Cadaver' Ruddock, and the Liberal Party of NSW. For, as it turned out, this 'Exclusive' was a total tabloid current affairs-style beat-up, and Ben Fordham (son of media industry veteran and heavyweight, John Fordham), was just the man for the job, as the story mirrored exactly the confected outrage that 'A Current Affair' and 'Today Tonight' specialise in. Except this time they weren't just attempting to scandalise over a dodgy Used Car Salesman, they were attempting to ensnare the Prime Minister of Australia in a totally contrived controversy of their-own mischievous making.
But Wait. There's more!
Following the Tabloid TV-esque wonky and gloomy and shaky hand-held camera shots of the dust bunnies and Band Aids holding together light switches above walls with crumbling painted surfaces, we had the extended interview with Dr Phillips himself, which, we were told, Channel Nine was 'privileged' to have been given (!?!) by the good doctor. Cough.
In exasperated tones, with appropriately stern and concerned expressions on the face of Master Fordham, we were informed by Dr Phillips that he had contacted the PM seven times since January about keeping his 'promise' to visit the hospital, and he had not yet received one reply from the PM or his office!
So, now we had not only the magnification of the 'Broken Promise' meme, but also the 'Imperious PM and Non-Responsive Office' characterisation tacked on for extra effect.
Guess what happened next?
Ben Fordham popped up in the Canberra press pack at the PM's Presser to announce that Paid Parental Leave had finally been passed by Parliament.
Guess what Ben Fordham asked about?
You got it. Nothing to do with PPL, and everything to do with the PM's 'Broken Promise' with respect to Dr Phillips! Groan.
However, and thank goodness for the PM and his very smart 'Junior Woodchucks', they had come forearmed with the facts to this particular fight. When Master Fordham, who seemed to have a camera team all to himself in tow, asked why the PM hadn't responded to the seven!!! requests from Dr Phillips to keep his promise, made back in January, to visit Hornsby Hospital, the PM calmly explained back to 'Master of the Universe' Fordham, that six of those seven communications had been via Twitter(!!!), and one by E-mail, which was the most recent, and which had been responded to promptly, with a visit having now been tee'd up to go and take a look at Hornsby Hospital.
Well, you'd think that that would've been enough to put Master Fordham and Channel Nine back in their boxes, the shallowness of their case having been exposed for the sham it was. Well, you would be wrong. This is the foot-in-the-door brand of political journalism that is being worked up here. No backward steps are ever to be taken. Instead, you take the response you have been given by the PM and develop a new line of condemnation and censure out of it. 'If at first you don't succeed...', and all of that.
I tell you, I sat there gobsmacked in front of my TV, as all this played out in front of me, on what is supposed to be the 6 pm NEWS Bulletin. Because, as I said, Channel Nine weren't going to be satisfied here for one minute with their 'get' of the PM 'failing' to keep his 'promise' to visit Hornsby Hospital, and the implication that he had been dodging it because he would rather be seen only in neat and clean hospitals, as opposed to being filmed in a run-down hospital. No, it was onwards and upwards with the next condemnation to be heaped upon the 'beleaguered Prime Minister'.
Wait for it. This one is a doozy.
Channel Nine heaped outrage on top of scorn, due as a result of the PM's 'Broken Promise', because Kevin Rudd does not personally reply to every Tweet he gets on Twitter from twits like Dr Phillips!
Well I never! The Prime Minister should be sacked forthwith! I mean, the Premier of NSW, Kristina Kenneally had just the other day participated in a Twitter Debate, doncha know? Ergo, communication by Tweet has now thus been legitimised, and the Prime Minister of this country ought to therefore be held to account for not responding to each and every one of his importuning constituents Tweets in real time.
How patently absurd and contrived! But instructive, as it should, and probably has, put up in neon lights in the PM's office, just what lengths media organisations in this country are prepared to go to to trip up Kevin Rudd, using the tools of the new Web 2.0 media, and also the depths to which they are prepared to sink, in order to lay a trap for our good and kind-hearted, reformist PM, and to give the Press Gallery's pro forma anti-Rudd memes and mischaracterisations credence.
We therefore need to be alert and alarmed (ha, ha) about the new 'Gotcha Politics'. Thus I put out a 'Call to Arms' to fellow Swordians to monitor this new development in their own media backyards and join with me in documenting each and every instance of this new type of political journalism, as I fear we haven't seen the last of it, and I doubly fear that the Liberals are behind it as well, as they seem to have vacated the floor of parliament in order to take their battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate four square into the media, with the media's help and complicity.
I don't like it!
And this woman knows all about the skullduggery, with the aid of the media, that the Liberal Party is capable of: I don't like it!