After filling so many column inches with stories about PM Gillard’s multiple ‘stumbles’, how embarrassing must it be for so many of the press pack to have themselves made such a monumental stumble this week. Still smarting from having stumbled almost two years ago, being caught flat footed when PM Rudd was replaced by PM Gillard, they found themselves caught yet again on Friday when Julia Gillard arrived at her press conference to announce her reshuffle with Bob Carr in tow. The collective sucking in of breath in astonishment could be heard down the corridors; and minutes later in the breathless and incredulous way they posed their questions.
Journalists hate being wrong, being wrong-footed. Political journalists regard themselves as the insiders, privy to the labyrinthine goings-on in the corridors of power. They yearn for the scoop, one that places them a cut above their colleagues. Being out of the loop is anathema to them. They foster contacts, their ‘sources’, from whom they suck whispers, or speculation, or information, which sometimes turns out to be misinformation, accidently purveyed or deliberately so by Machiavellian operators. Although at times it must be hard for them to know what to believe, that does not seem to inhibit most of them from rushing into print with their ‘exclusives’, so long as it makes for a good story, and trumps their fellow journalists in the process.
In the aftermath of one of the most tumultuous weeks ever in Federal politics, it is informative, and amusing, to read what they have to say this weekend as they scrape the egg from their faces after a week in which they made a host of confident assertions, dire predictions, and outrageous speculation, along with biting condemnation of the process and the players, particularly the ‘mistake-prone’ PM, ‘who never seems able to get anything right’, and who is unable to capitalize on any small bit of good luck that comes her way.
From the outset though, let us acknowledge that we shall never know the full story of all that transpired this past week. There were so many players in and out of parliament, so much back room discussion, so many ‘deals’, so many old scores to settle, so many egos needing to be fed, so many whispers and leaks to so many journalists, that it is impossible, and fruitless to boot, to attempt an unraveling. All we have is the statements we have heard on the record from the PM, her ministers and key players, and the stories we have had from the journalists from what they have discerned and what they have been told. No doubt they will seek to stick to their stories, and where they are manifestly wrong, to attribute their inaccuracy to others, who presumably have mislead them. Don’t expect a mea culpa
though – that is a bridge too far.
In assessing the response of the press pack, let’s see if they can be categorized. To me they seem to fall roughly into three groups: the Julia Gillard is doomed
group that believes no matter what the PM does, she is already beaten; the bob each way
group that, determined not to be wrong, believe she won’t recover, but that miracles still happen and she might, and the there is plenty of time to prove herself
group. We shall see where our erstwhile journalists fall.
Let’s start with what Brendan Nicholson had to say in The Weekend Australian
in Surprise for all as Carr makes a smooth entrance
because he seems to sum up the astonishment of the press gallery: ”Journalists waiting for the reshuffle media conference in parliament's Blue Room expected Julia Gillard to arrive at the head of the usual line of elated, relieved, and disappointed ministers. But, after a frenzy of camera flashes in the corridor outside, in walked the Prime Minister with the craggy-faced Bob Carr. After days of claims and denials, surprise was complete.”
The lead story in The Weekend Australian
, a more or less ‘factual account’ of the Carr appointment, came from Sid Maher in A Bob each way then Julia Gillard gets her man.
It begins: “Julia Gillard has gambled her leadership on the appointment of former NSW premier Bob Carr as foreign minister, staring down the ambitions of Defence Minister Stephen Smith. After fending off stories about aborted efforts to draft Mr Carr to the foreign minister's job for much of the week, Ms Gillard yesterday entered a news conference with the former NSW premier by her side, revealing she had offered him the job again on Thursday morning.
"I have put together the strongest possible team to do what the nation needs, to make us the nation we want to be in the future - a stronger and fairer country," Ms Gillard said.
The announcement defied expectations that the foreign affairs post would go to Mr Smith, who remains in Defence, and resistance in cabinet to the appointment of an outsider to a plum ministerial post.
And the Prime Minister has moved to assert her authority, dumping key Kevin Rudd supporter Robert McClelland to the backbench after telling him his advocacy for the former prime minister's leadership challenge had gone too far.”
That’s where the facts cease in The Australian
and the learned opinion begins. More of that later.
Next let’s switch to the Herald Sun
to see what the doyen, Laurie Oakes had too say. He opened his Julia Gillard finds a spine, turns defeat into a breathtaking win
with ”That’s one for the books. Julia Gillard unbotches something. Turns failure into success instead of the other way around. Bob Carr's appearance at her side as the new Foreign Affairs Minister - after the apparent collapse of the deal earlier in the week - was a breathtaking political development.
For days the PM had been lambasted in Parliament and the media for weakness because she had allegedly allowed a few senior ministers - particularly Defence Minister Stephen Smith - to veto the recruitment of Carr. But suddenly on Thursday she discovered a spine - and a bit of political nous - and decided to revive Plan A despite the opposition from her colleagues. It was a show of strength. And not before time. If Gillard is to capitalise on her resounding defeat of Kevin Rudd in last Monday's leadership ballot, she has to show both courage and flair.”
Later he says:”The ridicule the Coalition hurled at her in Parliament, devastatingly effective at the time, carries no weight now. She is in charge. And Carr's sparkling performance at their joint news conference yesterday left little doubt that he will be an asset.”
He concludes: ”His [Carr’s] return to politics will help Gillard. And, by showing the toughness and determination to ignore those opposing his appointment, Gillard has helped herself.”
So the old man of political journalism has enough ‘humility’ to grudgingly give her a tick. I think he’s a bob each way
The other doyen, Paul Kelly, begins his: Julia Gillard's great escape
with: ”In a surprise – almost comic – moment, Julia Gillard has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, securing Bob Carr as foreign minister after her leadership victory over Kevin Rudd.
It has been a week of high farce in Labor politics. Carr's appearance yesterday by the Prime Minister's side, three days after this exact event was abandoned, was the final stage in a farce redeemed only because of its satisfactory ending.
Kelly was not going to let go of the ‘farce’ meme; he even described the press conference as straight from Monty Python. To abandon that would have been too much – but at least he acknowledged she had a win in the end. If you can get behind the paywall, you will read an account of what Kelly believed happened, constructed to align with the story The Australian
ran earlier in the week about the approach to Carr, one described by Julia Gillard as ‘completely untrue’, an assertion he mocks. Yet embedded in the middle of his account is this: “Carr said on Wednesday that Gillard “had definitely not made an offer about the foreign ministry, nor had anyone on her behalf.” No doubt, that was technically correct. The truth, however, is that Gillard wanted Carr.”
I suppose that convoluted statement is intended to convince the reader that no matter what denials PM Gillard or Bob Carr made, they were only technically correct
, certainly not correct by the stratospheric standards for correctness that characterizes effusions in The Australian.
He concluded: “Gillard must revitalize and change this Labor government in terms of image and content. Carr helps in this project. This is the reason her failure to realize her plan to make him foreign minister would have been such an embarrassment. This is the week Gillard got out of jail twice.”
We will never know how correct his version of events really is. Does he have impeccable ‘sources’? Does he have information denied to others? How much of his account is supposition, how much conjecture, and how much verifiable? But we can be sure his story will not change; there will be no mea culpa
, even if warranted.
I cast him as a bob each way
journalist. Age brings with it a sense of history and commonsense.
The editorial in The Australian
: False political narratives pervade our democracy
begins: “An extraordinarily complicated political week ended well for Julia Gillard with the appointment of former NSW premier Bob Carr to the Foreign Affairs portfolio, strengthening her ministerial team.
"But the Prime Minister is unlikely to get all the praise she deserves because of the failure to tell the real story of this appointment, and of much of the media to report it for her. The tortured process of Mr Carr's elevation reveals what is wrong with this government and the reporting of it. Today in Inquirer we analyse the false narratives that define this government, driven by spin and a press pack unable to see beyond it."
So a small bouquet is soon clobbered with a sizable brickbat about this awful Gillard Government and its ‘false narrative’. The writer takes a surprising tilt at the press pack, blind to the real story, the real insight, that only The Heart of the Nation
has and enjoys. Arrogance writ large!
In the Letters
section of The Australian
, the first under the heading: Gillard's flip-flop on Bob Carr merely reinforces doubts
wasn’t so generous:
”I am sure that Labor spin doctors will be out in force in the next few days declaring the Prime Minister to be a political genius in securing the services of Bob Carr. But I suggest that this action by the PM merely reinforces voters' perception of her, that she lacks integrity and habitually bends the truth.
“It is also time for the Canberra press gallery to stand up to her treatment of them at press conferences. For heavens sake, could one journalist just ask her a tough question on impulse and not be intimidated by that karate chop she uses all the time? The country deserves better."
Another tilt at the press gallery, shamefully intimidated by the PM’s karate chop! Poor dears.
The other two letters outside the paywall were in similar vein.
Promise you won’t gasp at what Dennis Shanahan wrote in: Masterstroke or muddle: leader assertive at last
”Julia Gillard arrived at the right decision to appoint Bob Carr as foreign minister after going about it the wrong way for the wrong reasons. How it will all turn out is still unclear but the Prime Minister has undoubtedly regained lost ground and authority in the past 48 hours.”
He gives her a qualified tick. Referring to Carr’s appointment, he concludes: “But how this plays out will determine her fate and not some inexorable slouching towards another challenge. After fumbling from weakness, Gillard’s taken the chance on offer to reassert herself…”
From this piece he looked to me like a bob each way
man. But don’t be fooled.
In another piece: The myths of Labor's grand public deception
Shanahan continues his vitriolic campaign against the Gillard Government. It begins: ”During most of the years of the Howard government, the Labor opposition ran a self-delusional narrative that John Howard was hated, hateful, unpopular, a liar, unelectable and against immigration and workers. It was a false narrative at odds with his electoral success but encouraged by an anti-Howard commentariat.
“The Labor Government is now in danger of doing what it did in opposition by believing a false narrative built on its own spin about policies, politics and personnel. Although problems have been obvious from the beginning, critics have been undermined and isolated, gross mistakes passed over and excused, policy and implementation failures blamed on others, and myths created to cover fundamental flaws as part of a great public deception.
“Worst of all, many members of the Rudd Gillard governments can’t see through their own deception or are so complicit in the errors they can’t afford to acknowledge the truth and deal with it rationally. These are deep seated problems that cannot be swept aside by the simple political circuit breaker of appointing Bob Carr as foreign minister”
So there are Shanahan’s real feelings. There he’s a PM Gillard is doomed
I’m incredulous that even one as biased as Shanahan could write such a tirade in the face of 269 bills already passed at last count, and a progressive reform agenda that pales into insignificance anything John Howard did in his latter terms. Where has Dennis been? It’s as if he exists in a dream world of his own, perhaps shared by some others at The Australian
where reality is what they purport it to be, not what is happing in the real world of Federal politics. If anyone is delusional, could it be Dennis?
We ought not to let News Limited hog all the space. In the Sydney Morning Herald
Michelle Grattan, who has been no supporter of the PM, wrote a mildly conciliatory piece PM's trump card defies critics as Carr revs up
that began: “Julia Gillard has pulled out a sensational reshuffle trump card, recruiting former New South Wales premier Bob Carr to add lustre to her government as Australia's new foreign minister.”
The rest is just ‘she said, he said’.
Shaun Carney in A tough road ahead for Gillard as the dust settles
begins: ”The high praise for the Prime Minister as some sort of political genius, the declarations of certainty that she would lead Labor to a magnificent victory next year were fine in the context of last week but will come across as deluded, given the government's weak public support. The iron rule for all politicians is don't believe your own publicity.”
Much of his account too is also ‘she said, he said’.
Phil Coorey writes a similar piece, but at least his headline is positive How the PM engineered an impressive turnaround
As you read them, you will see that bootstrapping is alive and well, as Bushfire Bill keeps reminding us.
Michelle, Shaun and Phillip may be edging towards the bob each way
group, but don’t bank on it.
Michael Gordon, in the Sydney Morning Herald
, in The Carr coup
was more charitable in his conclusion: ”Gillard still faces a very tough road if Labor is to be competitive next year, but she showed this week that she might just have what it takes.”
He looks like a member of there is plenty of time to prove herself
I could make this piece twice as long by giving an account of the hundreds of inches of column space devoted to this week in Federal politics, but this will have to do.
What is obvious is that while a few are prepared to give grudging acknowledgement of PM Gillard’s achievements this week, even her strength and resolve and by implication her triumph over those who so many insist control her like a puppet on a string, a balanced assessment of the commentary leads inexorably to the conclusion that some of the media, particularly News Limited and its flagship The Australian
are prepared to give her no leeway. They want her gone, and in the light of this week’s success will redouble their efforts to put her down, stung as the are by being outflanked, outwitted and outmaneuvered by this awful, deluded, narrative-destitute PM who does nothing but make one stumble after another.
The fact that once again the Canberra Press Gallery has had another major stumble enrages them to the point of apoplexy. Hell has no fury like a journalist scorned
What do you think?