It’s not possible to pin down what day that was. Takeovers can be abrupt or ever so subtle. This one was subtle, at least initially. It probably derived from about the time that Kevin Rudd retreated from his response to climate change, his ETS, and put it on the back burner for a couple of years. Until then he was riding pretty high, although there were a few journalists ready to challenge him and subject him to forensic questioning; Kerry O’Brien and Tony Jones come to mind. About that time of retreat respect for the nation’s leader was irreparably damaged, and the journalistic jackals, salivating over the prospect of tearing into a wounded prey, bared their claws, armed their questions with poison barbs and flung them disrespectfully at their victim. From then on it has been all down hill.
I suppose the inflated egos of so many in the Canberra Press Gallery were always seeking to express themselves, even as far back as in John Howard’s time, and before, but the vulnerability of Kevin Rudd after his backtracking on his ETS, and that of Government ministers, gave expression to the worst in human nature, a readiness, even a savage desire to tear down someone in authority, someone in a high place, someone who many journalists had come to dislike. Like jackals in a pack they smelt blood and went in for the kill. Of course they would argue that Rudd deserved all he got, and that it was their job to hold him to account, a questionable role, but the relish with which they went about their savaging of the nation’s leader bespoke a primeval urge to humiliate, to destroy, to kill. And unedifying it was to see.
Since then Kevin Rudd has gone and Julia Gillard has come. With the smell of blood in their nostrils, they were not prepared to pull back. They gave Julia Gillard the shortest of honeymoons. They would argue she deserved no better. So they set about savaging her with arrogant questions, rude preambles, and disrespectful language. The questions reflected two things: gross disrespect for her, but even more dangerously a belief that the Canberra Press Gallery knew best what the Government should be doing, the right to insist that it did so, and the right to question, in the most arrogant way, why the Government was not doing what it ought to do.
Many commentators have written about the role that political journalists have assumed in recent times. How many times have you read that the journalists have made themselves part of the story instead of simply reporting it? Mr Denmore, himself an experienced journalist, in his blog The Failed Estate
says in a piece End of Affairs
: “The second problem with current affairs, as it has evolved, is the cult of the host. This is the idea, never expressed directly, that the program really isn't about the issues; it's about who's presenting them.”
This has two elements. First it assumes that journalists know their stuff so well that they are entitled to express their views and critique the views of politicians without question. Next it assumes that the reporter is integral to the story. They believe they are expert interpreters of what politicians say and do, adept at describing the ‘atmospherics’ surrounding the story, and able to interpret any numeric data that accompanies the story, such as poll results.
They are quite shameless in their interpretations, they seldom modify them with caveats that those of a more scientific bent might feel compelled to add, and lay their opinions on their reading and listening public as if they were handed down from on high on tablets of stone. Mr Denmore calls it ‘institutionalized innumeracy’ in his piece, Noise Vs Signal
: “This institutionalised innumeracy is rather unfortunate and perhaps explains why an experienced journalist like Barrie Cassidy, appearing on a taxpayer-funded public broadcaster, can just sit mute as one of Rupert Murdoch's professional trolls
[he’s referring to Andrew Bolt] is paid to come on the Insiders program and spray deliberate mistruths to support a far right political agenda.”
Bolt ‘sprayed’ several bits of numeric data, all incorrect, but Cassidy failed to pull him up.
It is now commonplace for journalists to place their own interpretations on poll data even when the pollsters are more circumspect. For them there are no ifs or buts, they simply know, for example that Labor’s recent poor performance in the polls is directly attributable to ‘the carbon tax’ or ‘the broken promise’ not to introduce it, or Labor’s ‘alliance with the Greens’, or whatever enters their head. Of course some explanations are likely correct, but that does not absolve journalists from backing their assertions with evidence, or at the very least qualifying their conclusions with words like ‘possible explanations are…’, instead of their absolute and uncontestable words.
The other aspect of this focus on polls is that the polls become the story rather than reflecting what the people think. The way the questions are framed and sequenced influence the outcome, and the interpretation journalists place on the results fashion public opinion, not just reflect it. Newspoll
in particular has cleverly positioned itself as the key indicator of public opinion, far above all others, without acknowledging that through the supplementary questions and the interpretation placed on the responses by the likes of Dennis Shanahan, public opinion is being shaped towards that desired by the journalist, editor or proprietor, or all of the above.
Today in a press conference about the rescue efforts by Australians in Japan, our PM was subjected to rude and arrogant questions, not related to this matter. One was on ‘Kevin Rudd’s Brisbane Bronco Declaration’. The latter was brushed away with: "I didn't know we now had press conference by rhetorical flourish" refusing to dignify the question with an answer. What right does Samantha Maiden believe she has to address such an irrelevant and pointless question when the PM is talking bout Australian personnel being exposed to radiation? Who does she think she is? There is an answer – she, like many, many others in the Canberra Press Gallery think they are surrogate rulers of the country, that they know what should be done, that they are entitled to ask any stupid, irrelevant, nasty, discourteous question of this nation’s leader, that they can harass and mock her with abandon with their infantile questions like cheeky schoolchildren, and still expect a considered, rational and unemotional response.
Well from today’s performance Julia Gillard is not going to take any more nonsense from this inconsequential self-opinionated clutch of journalists, and all except rusted-on Coalition supporters will loudly applaud as she slaps them down and puts them in their miserable place – lowly reporters of the passing scene.
Journalists are our servants. Too many seek to morph into our masters, to tell us what to think, what to believe, what is true and what is false, but all through their own biased optics. They believe they are governing the country through the thrust of their journalism. They feel entitled to question, confront, assail, even threaten those we have elected, because after all, they know best.
They had better get the message that we are fed up with their insolence, their arrogance, their inflated opinion of themselves, their misplaced self-confidence, and their disrespect for those WE THE PEOPLE have elected to be our leaders.
Let’s put them in their place – servants of the people, purveyors of the facts and figures, reporters of the truth, and supporters of the democratic process. We are not remotely interested in their opinions unless they can back them with verifiable evidence, not hearsay, and argue their position logically and with conviction.
Despite what it thinks happened those twelve months ago when Kevin Rudd went into decline, despite what entitlements it assumed it had to attack the nation’s leaders, the Canberra Press Gallery is not governing this country. We must imprint this message on their self-important skulls.
What do you think?