Reflect on how often you have heard a Fourth Estate political commentator argue: “Because of this set of facts, I am of the opinion that so and so is true”? Seldom. How often have you heard one of them say: “My opinion is based on the following propositions…”? Practically never. How often have you heard or read: “If you put together these facts, it is logical to conclude that…and here is why”? Never.
So what do they say? “He/she showed poor judgement” (no supporting evidence advanced). “That was an appalling mistake” (no facts or reasons for that view provided). “That will play out badly with the electorate” (why this is predicted is not stated). We see this time and again. This piece asserts that it is the substitution of unsupported opinion, often arising from a partisan mindset, in place of evidence and reasoning, that is the genesis of most of the media ‘bias’, about which there is so much contemporary angst.
Let’s examine a recent case in point. Here is what Niki Savva said in her discussion with Sky News Political Editor David Speers on 25 February in an Agenda
session: Are we too focused on polls?
Referring to leadership speculation, Savva insisted that PM Gillard: ”brings it on herself”
because: ”she performs badly, not just once, but repeatedly.”
And: ”She has shown continuously that she has bad judgement…it’s a case of her own missteps. She calls the election for September 14 and then within a matter of days…she announces the departure of two senior cabinet ministers…”
Read that again, or better still, play the YouTube video of the Agenda discussion
Reflect on her words, and if you watch the video, take a look at Savva’s body language.
What are the relevant facts? There are two: PM Gillard announced a September 14 election and two days later announced the resignation of Chris Evans and Nicola Roxon. Indisputable facts. The rest of what Savva says is simply opinion – her opinion.
She offers no reasoning. She simply states, with her usual self-confidence, that: ”she [Gillard] performs badly, not just once but repeatedly”
, and that she has “bad judgement”
. In the next breath she says: “She [Gillard] calls the election for September 14 and then within a matter of days…she announces the departure of two senior cabinet ministers…”
, as if that is sufficient reason for her to condemn the PM vigorously. Savva is of the opinion
that announcing the election and then the resignations is ‘bad judgement’, a ‘misstep’. Who says so, apart from Savva? No doubt other anti-Gillard journalists, such as Judith Sloan, who agreed recently on The Drum
But not one journalist that I have heard or read has argued why these actions constituted ‘bad judgement’ or a ‘misstep’. On what basis were they so? What precedents suggest this is so? We are supposed to accept this journalistic ‘wisdom’ as if it were gospel, without the need for facts, evidence, argument, or reasoning to support it. This is what we the public are confronted with day after day – opinion masquerading as informed reasoning, well thought through conclusions, fact based logic. It is a monumental con. It’s time we cried out in protest.
But remember that Niki Savva and her ilk are intelligent. They are certainly not stupid. So, if she eschews the verifiable facts that you and I can access, or interprets them in her own idiosyncratic way, what generates her behaviour? It can’t be nothing at all. It must be another set of facts.
In my opinion, judging from her behavior time and again on Insiders
and other TV programs, what seems to motivate her, what appears to condition her behavior, is a desire to see PM Gillard gone and Tony Abbott installed in her place. Her oral language portrays a loathing of Julia Gillard, as does her body language. That ‘fact’ seems to me to be what energizes her. What generates her behavior appears to me to arise from her values and attitudes towards PM Gillard and Labor, her apparent disdain. What do you think?
The question for us then is how congruent are her values and attitudes with ours, and therefore how acceptable are her opinions to us.
Savva’s attitudes and values were exposed as she argued with Kerry-Anne Walsh, the other panelist on David Spears’ Agenda
. Presumably Walsh was included because she had a strong opinion about the way the media uses opinion polls to create news stories and influence the politics. If this was so, Spears got his money’s worth of conflict and argument. Walsh suggested that the purpose of polling was to generate stories, particularly surrounding the Labor leadership, for the benefit of those who own the polling organizations. She went on to accuse the media of using polls to deliberately manipulate the politics. As soon as she did, she was set upon by an indignant Savva and a self-righteous Spears, both of whom denied Walsh’s accusations vigorously. They protested that the media was only following ‘the story’, one that had its origins in the anonymous leaks, corridor whispers, and back-grounding from Labor politicians. They didn’t make this up, insisted Savva and Spears; they were obliged to follow ‘the story’.
When you view the discussion
, see if you can discern Savva’s attitude to Julia Gillard. It looked to me that she was very hostile, critical, and even emotional as she expressed her contempt for our PM. Savva’s values seem not to coincide at all with those of the PM. Savva’s opinions are going to be antagonistic to the PM, no matter what the issue. What then are her opinions worth in the context of a balanced discussion? There is no chance of her making a genuine concession, no chance of her giving the PM credit for anything at all. She acts like a court prosecutor, always seeking to bring out the worst and conceal everything other than that.
Savva is but one of many whose opinions are noticeably warped by their attitudes, values and political allegiances. Peter Reith, a frequent panelist on The Drum
and other TV programs, is another. Have you ever heard him say anything complimentary about our PM or anything Labor has done or proposes to do? He is unremittingly and sarcastically critical, negative and disparaging. Yet, like Savva, he is included, supposedly to provide balance. What are he and Savva supposed to be balancing? How many avid left-leaning, Government-supporting, Gillard-admiring panelists are there that need the counterbalance of a Savva or a Reith? I can’t think of any. Can you? Even Kerry-Anne Walsh, who argued so strongly with Savva and Spears on Agenda
, was not mounting a strident pro-Gillard agenda; she was simply criticizing the media for its preoccupation with polls, leadership and for manipulating the politics. The only supportive comment Walsh made was that she felt that our PM had been unfairly dealt with by the media, not a highly disputable assertion. And on other programs, Walsh has certainly not come across as a Gillard fancier.
Apart from Savva and Reith, there seems to be a plethora of anti-Gillard, anti-Labor opinionistas that can be drawn upon. Among the many are the odious Piers Akerman, rabidly anti-Gillard Andrew Bolt, turncoat Graham Richardson, the oleaginous Graeme Morris, smarmy Gerard Henderson, the egotistical Joe Hildebrand, past-Liberal politician Ross Cameron, Liberal advocate Judith Sloan, the hard right John Roskam, smart Aleck Tim Wilson, the too-clever-by-half Tom Switzer (the IPA has an abundant supply of panelists that the ABC seems compelled to engage). News Limited has an almost inexhaustible stock of anti-Labor journalists that can serve on panels to inject their learned, but invariably biased opinions: the pontifical Paul Kelly, the let’s-get-rid-of-Gillard Dennis Shanahan, fence-sitter Peter van Onselen, the consistently antagonistic Irme Salusinszky and Henry Ergas. There are many others.
Shock jocks Alan Jones and Ray Hadley are extreme anti-Gillard opinionistas. How many moderate ones are there? Jon Faine on ABC 774 Radio is one. I know of no left-leaning shock jocks. Do you?
As one would expect, panelists drawn from political parties are extreme in their views. George Brandis, Eric Abetz, Barnaby Joyce, Christopher Pyne, Scott Morrison, Julie Bishop and Sophie Mirabella are consistently acerbic and unremittingly negative to Labor, more than matching Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. This is no surprise, but that doesn’t stop journalists from engaging them on panels and at doorstops to ‘give balance to their programs’. They provide the conflict and entertainment the media craves.
Are there any journalists out there that can and do give a balanced opinion, an opinion that is ready to give credit to, as well as criticize any of the parties? Some of those, who in my opinion fit that specification, are Mike Seccombe, Dennis Atkins, Laura Tingle, David Marr, Ross Gittins, Peter Martin, George Megalogenis, Andrew Probyn; and Steve Cannane, Tim Palmer and Julia Baird of The Drum
give the impression of being ‘lefties’.
What this piece is arguing is that the electorate is bombarded day after day with opinion from the opinionistas that derives far less from facts and reasoning than from the political orientation, the political preferences, and the attitudes and values of the opinionistas. In other words, it is what political outcome they desire that determines their utterances and writings, not the hard, cold facts, not a logically reasoned conclusion derived from them. In short, their opinions are worthless.
All they portray is what they
want, what they desperately wish and hope for. Not what logically follows from verifiable facts. We are being sold a pup, by con merchants, deliberately and shamelessly. And we’re fed up with being treated like idiots.
‘Media bias’ has attracted a lot of attention recently in the Fifth Estate. Arguments have arisen about whether it is real or imagined. Ben Eltham wrote about it recently in New Matilda: The Truth About Media Bias
. Studies have attempted to define bias and document it. Some find that partisan bias is minimal or non-existent; others suggest bias one way or the other. This piece takes a different tack. It argues that the opinion of opinionistas is worthless, in fact dangerous, when their opinion is not based on facts and logical reasoning, instead being predominately a product of their political orientation, attitudes and values, the more so when their political orientation is strongly partisan. Commenting on the Eltham article, Ross C said pointedly: ”We all should remember that a journalist’s role is to dispassionately document what happens, not cause stuff to happen. Overstepping that mark consistently can destroy credibility, and the transition from journalist to commentator is hard to reverse.”
That there are many partisan opinionistas seems undeniable; we see, hear, and read them every day. What might be debatable is the relative proportion of right-leaning and left leaning opinionistas, and how heavily they lean when they do. My impression is that there are many more right-leaning, and that they lean strongly that way. What do you think?
The question that begs an answer, at least for me, is why the right-leaning seem to predominate on current affairs programs on radio and TV and in print. Why are their opinions, which to me are worthless because they lack underpinning evidence and reasoning, solicited so frequently?
A cogent reason would be that some news outlets are actively seeking to bring down the Gillard Government and replace it with an Abbott one. News Limited is one; it looks as if Fairfax has joined them. In ‘breaking news’ in a postscript to an article: Among The True Believers
on The Pub
Bushfire Bill recounted a discussion he had had with journalists at the recent Community Cabinet meeting: "Tony Abbott has lunch at News Ltd HQ every week." Incredulous, I asked the person to repeat it. "Every week, in private, to discuss the latest ‘Get Gillard’ strategies."
BB went on to comment: ”No wonder there’s such a seamless segue between what News writes and what Abbott parrots. He’s dealing with the enemy. They’re writing the script for him.”
If this is so, is it any wonder that so many pro-Coalition opinionistas are on the air and in print, hour after hour, day after day, week after week offering their partisan opinions sans
logic? It is part of a combined Coalition/News Limited strategy to bring Labor down. As BB reminds us: When they really ARE out to get you, it’s NOT paranoia.
Even leaving aside the conspiracy to which BB alludes, its suits media outlets to use these opinionistas because they generate indignation
, now media stock in trade, as NormanK pointed out in a comment on the last piece: ”A few years ago I wrote a fairly lengthy comment here about Mr Abbott's campaign to convince the populace that they had a 'right to be angry'. Angry about a flood levy, angry about a supposed broken promise, angry at renegade independent members who went against the prevailing mood of their electorates, angry about just about everything that stopped their lives from reaching the nirvana that they so obviously deserve. A different theme has emerged in the way in which the popular media approaches just about every story that it covers. Perhaps the tactic has existed for many years but I'm only noticing it now. The new emotion for the decade is 'indignation'. It started manifesting itself in my consciousness when the 'sporting scandal' broke. Remember that 'darkest day' in Australian sport?”
NormanK concluded: ”Next time you have the misfortune to be consuming the tabloid media (I include 7.30 & Lateline in this category) ask yourself whether or not indignation is not the primary emotion that the slant of the story is attempting to engender.”
He is right. Opinionistas generate indignation
. Indignation about the ‘cost of living’, electricity prices, the cost of housing. It must be someone’s fault. Opinionistas invite people to be indignant about PM Gillard, her ‘poor judgements’, her ‘missteps’, her ‘broken promises’, the carbon tax, the minerals tax, many of her policies (asylum policy, gay marriage), her manner of speech (condescending, schoolmarmish), her demeanour, her appearance, her marital status, her willingness to take the fight up to a male opponent, her audacity negotiating and managing a minority government, ‘against the wishes of the electorate’; the list of ‘indignation triggers’ goes on and on. In my view, opinionistas are a curse on our political system. Predominantly, they offer opinions based on partisan positions rather than on facts and well-reasoned arguments. Moreover, their opinions deliberately evoke indignation, which incites anger among the electorate and opposition to those in power. This fits nicely into the anti-Government, anti-Gillard narrative that most of the Fourth Estate promotes day after day.
In my view, the whole tenor of political debate is warped, is cursed by opinionistas. What a difference it would make if those who proffer an opinion did so using verifiable evidence and logical reasoning, and steered clear of partisan bias?
‘Pie in the sky’, I hear you murmuring!
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