Living in a bubble of unreality

Reading today’s editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald, Rudderless leader? creates the feeling that there must be another world out there inhabited by a collection of journalists whose perception of reality is in sharp contrast to that of the man in the street.

After publishing the essay by Kevin Rudd at the weekend and having been accused of giving him a free kick, is this the SMH’s way of evening the score, kicking Rudd where they think it might hurt? [more]

It begins: “Is Kevin Rudd capable of governing Australia in a timely and effective manner?  For some time questions about the Prime Minister’s leadership qualities have been growing. At best, he is seen as a politician constantly seeking political cover for his decisions: national ideas summits, consultative forums, a tax review that excludes politically unpalatable options, and this week a vision of what Labor might do about our inefficient and at times dangerous health system. Less charitable observers discern timidity and prevarication.”  And later: “His failure to make change happen has disappointed those who celebrated his ascent to power.”

Where does the writer live?

First he (I presume maleness) uses the oldest of techniques, vague assertions without naming sources: “For some time questions about the Prime Minister’s leadership qualities have been growing.”  Who has been asking questions?  How many? How long?  About what?  This week’s Newspoll says two thirds of those polled prefer Rudd as PM.  Are they the ones asking questions?  Or is it the 16% preferring Malcolm Turnbull?

The editorial asserts Rudd is seeking ‘political cover’ via consultations and reviews.  Political cover?  Is asking the stakeholders for its views ‘seeking political cover’?  Would the back-of-the-envelope approach John Howard used for his water initiative be preferable – ask almost no one, even Treasury officers, just announce a $10 billion plan without consulting cabinet?  Is that how we want our PM to behave?

What so many in the media have been so slow to see, certainly reluctant to accept, is how Rudd operates, how he goes about addressing problems he needs to solve.  There are countless businessmen, scientists, professionals in many fields, ordinary folk who have a community problem to address, even politicians, who do just what Rudd does – define the problem, set parameters for addressing it, select experts to gather and analyse the relevant information and recommend actions, test the feasibility and appropriateness of the recommendations among the stake holders and make adjustments in the light of feedback.  To that the politician adds a process of ascertaining the political and financial implications, seeking cabinet and party room endorsement, and then, and only then, fashioning enabling legislation.  In some instances changes to the Constitution may be necessary.  What’s inappropriate, tardy or indecisive about that process?   

Does the editorial writer have a different formula for making decisions, for example about his newspaper?  If there’s an easy way of making decisions about highly complex problems he should share the secret; he’d have an eager audience.

This is the modus operandi of our PM.  The media should get used to it or suggest a different way.  It should explain how decisions can be reached easier, quicker, smarter, more ‘decisively’.  But they never do - because they don’t know.  The issues politicians deal with are seldom uncomplicated; they are usually multifaceted and operate within a highly complex interactive system where every change has a consequence for all other elements of the system.  Why do so many journalists hold the view that political problems can so easily be fixed?  Like ‘fixing’ the health care system?  If they only took the time to look at the complexities within their own microcosm – the newspaper company, they might get an inkling of the much greater complexities that characterize the political system.

The editorial gives the impression that nothing much has happened in the eighteen months since Labor’s election.  Where has the writer been?  Here are some, free of spin:

Ratification of Kyoto
Apology to the stolen generations, and follow up to the intervention
Abolition of WorkChoices and the introduction of a new IR scheme
Abolition of the Pacific Solution
Withdrawal of remaining combat forces from Iraq
Several stages of the ‘education revolution’
Completion of the Garnaut report, Green and White papers and introduction of the CPRS, and a ‘green jobs’ initiative
Initiatives to investigate CCS, clean energy and solar
Moves to support manufacturing, especially in the car industry
A national homelessness strategy, with public housing initiatives
A national broadband network plan
Pension and carer payment reforms
Henry review of the tax system due by year end
Large boosts for home buyers and home building
Bank guarantee, now acknowledged as successful
The three stage response to the GFC: cash stimulus, shovel ready schools and local infrastructure, and major infrastructure, now bearing fruit and possibly avoiding or ameliorating recession and high unemployment
Initiatives to support those who become unemployed with retraining, more announced today
Support for jobs, small business and apprenticeships
Tax breaks for business to invest in plant and equipment
Paid parental leave scheme
Productivity Commission report on book imports

Comprehensive review of the entire health care system with over 100 recommendations
Numerous regional and international initiatives and diplomatic moves

No doubt there’s some I’ve omitted, but for eighteen months' work that’s a solid performance, and with more reports due soon more initiatives will result.

So why does our editorial writer write such an ill-informed piece, riddled with omissions, built on unspecified hearsay, and making such unsupported and damning assertions?  And end up by making a childish play on the PM’s name.  Rudderless indeed.  Why can’t some journalists fight their way out of the bubble of unreality in which they seem to live?   

We deserve better.  No wonder newspapers are declining.

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Rx

30/07/2009I didn't read the piece and I deliberately will not grace it or its publisher by clicking on the link you've provided, Ad Astra. Some right-wingers (who wouldn't recognise media bias if they tried) call the [i]Sydney Morning Herald[/i] the [i]Socialist Morning Herald[/i]. Clearly a misnomer, ever if made in contemptuous derision, given that Tony Abbott blogs sporadically for them, and they carry Miranda Devine, for example. How jaundiced are these diatribe spitters - and after only 18 months or so of Mr Rudd. What state are these people going to be in if he gets to stay in the job for two or three terms or longer? They'll be tearing their hair out! They'll make Philip Adams' blasts at Howard over the years look like adoring notes of endearment. I gather the writer of this "piece" remains anonymous while punning nastily on the Prime Minister's name? How convenient. Shame hides its name.

Bilko

30/07/2009Since ltdnews has slightly curtailed its anti labor vitriolic attacks the SMH in need of a circulation boost jumps on a bandwagon, any bandwagon will do. harping on about the visionless libs is not increasing circulation so an about tack is needed. Kevin may need to have a go at them also. AA apart from all those things you have listed what has the labor gov done for us (shades of Monthy Python Life of Brian) talk about hostile media.

Just Me

31/07/2009Grabs drink and popcorn. Sits back in comfy chair to watch another unfurling chapter in the slow, self-inflicted death of serious mainstream 'print' journalism in modern Australia. Free front row seats, and the chance to hurl the occasional gratuitous comment into the fray, courtesy of the new non-profit model of blogger-journalist-debater-citizen.

Ebenezer

31/07/2009Next they will be trying to tell us Malcolm is the man. The really sad thing is they actually believe the trash they write. Cheers Eb

ozymandias

31/07/2009Editorials are referred to by journalists and subs as "leaders". In this case, the term may only be applied ironically; as you suggest, AA, the SMH is riding the OO/ABC bandwagon, and alarmingly wide of the mark of public perceptions of Rudd.

Bushfire Bill

31/07/2009The editorial writer omits to mention the GFC, which entered the scene with a vengeance about mid-2008. One would have thought Rudd could be excused for this disaster, and the need to combat it successfully, taking his attention off the less pressing, deferrable problems of our society. If the response to the GFC is included, then the Rudd government has accomplished very much indeed. It has made sure our economy has survived the worst, kept employment relatively high, guaranteed bank deposits and has accelerated infrastructure spending. Most of this has been done off-the-cuff, fighting a king-hit from pretty-well out of nowhere. When a ship sails into a typhoon everything but survival is forgotten. No-one cares (or should care) whether it will arrive a day or so late at its destination. The rudder is used to take the vessel wherever it needs to go, in whatever direction it needs to travel in order to save the ship, passengers, crew and cargo. In some ways (and only a very small "some") I'm disappointed that the GFC wasn't harder on Australia and of longer duration. Starting with a low government debt position left by the Howard government (credit where credit's due) Rudd, his ministers and advisors have done an excellent job steering our country so that, when the time comes, he and his government [i]can[/i] get back on course towards the main agenda. However, there is not much point in having a policy agenda if your economy has imploded. The editorial could just as well have commented that, as with the Liberals, there's not much point having a party without a policy, or a leader without any claim to fame other than he is all that was found awhen the bottom of the barrel was finally scraped clean. It is a measure of how desperate the Liberals are that they even [i]consider[/i] Tony Abbott, pin-up boy of the NSW Jesuit Conspiracy, the Pell Candidate From Hell as a potential leader. Oh that the Liberals had a rudder! Oh that they had a ship! Or a sea to sail on! What the public needs to be distracted from by editorials such as this is that Turnbull barely even qualifies as "any port in a storm".

Ad astra reply

31/07/2009Rx, The anonymity of editorial writers is shameful. We know that not all editorials are written by the editor, so we're entitled to know who has penned the piece. The anonymity is somewhat of a mystery as most other pieces name the author. I suppose the papers would claim that the opinions expressed in editorials are those of the paper rather than the writer. If that's the case, they must expect that the sins of the writer will be visited on the paper - not something a respectable paper would be prepared to tolerate. Just Me, The editor of [i]Crikey[/i], commenting today on the Kyle Sandilands/Jackie O affair and what TV, radio and newspapers are doing to retain circulation, says [quote]"Old mass media is a sunset industry. Advertisers and audiences are rapidly fragmenting and migrating in hundreds of different directions. Tackiness, sensationalism and bad taste are increasingly the only resorts available to cling on to those migrating audiences. That's the sad story of modern media and, almost certainly, it will only get worse. Get used to it.[/quote] The circulation figures bear this out. Bilko, Ebenezer, oxymandias, I often wonder if the writers really do believe what they write - whether their bias does distort their perceptions and reasoning - or whether they are following a broad ‘script’ laid down by the editors. Often I believe the latter is the case, which doesn't say much for the so-called 'literary independence' of authors. BB, The GFC is an inconvenient truth, one the Coalition likes to pretend never happened. The Rudd Government just went out and ran up this large debt for no reason at all. Labor always does this - spend, spend, spend, leading to deficit, debt, and even more debt, debt that the Coalition is left to pay off. That why we have two major parties - one to run up the debt, the other to pay it back. If Rudd had done nothing else but steer us through the financial storm, avoiding the rocks and the shoals, it would have earned him the mantle ‘Captain Courageous’. Sorry, I forgot Rudd is a rudderless leader, so how could he have possibly steered the ship of state - must be a fluke. Of course he has done so much more, so much the editorial writer failed to acknowledge, and with a number of reviews/enquiries coming to fruition, much more is about to happen. But with the blurred and myopic vision that seems to afflict so many journalists, that might never be visible.

Just Me

31/07/2009"Advertisers and audiences are rapidly fragmenting and migrating in hundreds of different directions." That is the nub of this change. More competition and transparency, giving greater choice, for better informed consumers. Is not that what the MSM have always claimed to believe in? They may end up being the victims of their own ideological agenda. Back to the popcorn. :)

BH

31/07/2009Might be time to let these so called editorial writers know that their silly diatribe is, apart from no longer buying their paper, another reason why many of us don't even both with their online site either. I have always wondered whether the main buyers of the papers were actually centre/left voters who now no longer need to bother because they can join in with their like on blog sites, etc. which give less stress than reading articles like the Rudderless one today.

Bushfire Bill

31/07/2009[i]"Of course he has done so much more, so much the editorial writer failed to acknowledge, and with a number of reviews/enquiries coming to fruition, much more is about to happen."[/i] Tut, tut, AA. You boo-boo'd there. The editorial writer [i]specifically[/i] disqualified reviews and commissions as being valid "things". Too many reviews. Too much reliance on conferences and committees. It's all there. I'm surprised you missed it. Let there be no mistake: no matter [i]what[/i] has intervened in the meantime, despite the GFC, fully accouting for the Liberal and Non-aligned parties' Senate obstructionism, our Editorial writer tells us... [i]Rudd has no excuse[/i]. Please be careful next time to read all of the article. But seriously... I suspect someone at Lib HQ complained and the SMH found a hack to regurgitate the old Kevin-737, Rudd-as-nerd etc. etc. [i]shibboleths[/i] that I thought were as has-been as a weekly video at the local Blockbuster. Just goes to show, I have no clue when it comes to being a political savant. I should leave it to the experts at Fairfax. Y'know, those [i]fearless[/i] journalists who tell it like they see it and are beholden to no man. One wonders how long it will be until the Australian media realise it's OK not to have to balance every sort-of-pro-Labor word against every full-tilt-Liberal word. What [i]possible[/i] threat could have been made to the editor to get him to run this egregious piece of wombat skat? It reads like the bi-weekly "Liberal HQ" email I receive (as a true Labor guerilla fighter), telling us how Rudd has f--ked up the country in yet another amazing manner over the past few days. There must be some very cowed editors at Fairfax nowadays if they can take a threat from Mr. 16% (or his minions) seriously.

Ad astra reply

2/08/2009Just Me, BH, BB, Thank you for your comments. The response to the Rudd essay from the Fairfax press has been interesting; three balanced pieces from Phillip Coorey, Michelle Grattan and Shaun Carney, but an acerbic article from Ross Gittins. This is the subject of the latest TPS post [i]Is the latest Rudd essay all spin?[/i] http://www.thepoliticalsword.com/post/2009/08/02/Is-the-latest-Rudd-essay-all-spin.aspx
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