Ever since he became Leader of the Opposition, the relationship between the media and Kevin Rudd has been patchy. While he, with Joe Hockey, once enjoyed a convivial regular association with Channel Seven, a connection that still exists, and while his appearances on Channel Ten’s Rove Live have been well received, the regard in which Rudd has been held by other sections of the media has varied widely. ABC TV’s Kerry O’Brien oscillates between aggressive interrogation and benign enquiry, Michael Brissenden makes light of whatever turmoil is engulfing Rudd, ABC radio’s Chris Ulhmann ranges from balanced questioning to nit-picking. Journalists like George Megalogenis, Paul Kelly and Laura Tingle write even-handedly about Rudd, but others, such as Dennis Shanahan, give Rudd credit through gritted teeth even while longing for the return of the Coalition to its rightful place in power. This piece reviews the media’s response to the last few weeks of financial turbulence, culminating in the recent batch of polls (Morgan, Essential Research and ACNielsen) that have been favourable to Rudd and his Government
Tony Wright, in his 20 October article on the ACNielsen poll in The Age, Rudd shows that cometh the hour, cometh the man, begins: “Leaders are made or broken by crises, and Kevin Rudd – who has been riding a wave of voter approval for a year now – is having his credentials as a leader confirmed and heightened as most of the world crashes towards recession.” Talking about voter optimism, he says: “A lot of that optimism, misplaced or not, originates in a belief that Rudd is handling the fall-out from the global financial crisis in a reassuring and decisive manner.”, but adds the rider “His constant use of the words ‘decisive action’ as a requirement to combat what he has spent the past week or so describing as ‘a new and dangerous phase’ of the economic crisis has worked a treat.” In other words, ‘good spin’. Later he reiterates: “... today's poll is all about how voters tend to reward strong leaders in tough times...”
Peter Hartcher, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald in his piece PM: master and commander says “If there is opportunity in crisis, Kevin Rudd has found it. By every measure in today's Herald (ACNielsen) poll, his swift and decisive response to the financial crisis has given him an enormous boost. It has vaulted Rudd to a popularity peak that only one other prime minister in the past 36 years has reached.” But here comes the qualifier: “The financial crisis, which is in the process of becoming an economic crisis as well, may yet destroy Kevin Rudd's prime ministership. But so far it is the making of it”. Kevin, please note! Hartcher goes on “It has transformed Rudd's role from long-term problem solver to commander in a time of crisis.”, and ends “In a crisis, the people want a leader in whom they can put their confidence. So far, Rudd has shown that he is worthy, and he has been rewarded.” So far - feel better now?
Phillip Coorey, in his piece in the SMH He's never been so popular writes "Kevin Rudd's popularity has skyrocketed to record levels and support for federal Labor has soared after the Government's handling of the global financial crisis, the latest Herald/Nielsen poll finds. The national poll, the first to test the Government's recent reaction to the dramatic worsening of the crisis, also finds overwhelming support for Mr Rudd's handling of the situation, including his $10.4 billion rescue package. And, despite the dire forecasts, the poll finds 58 per cent are optimistic about the economy over the next two to three years”. The only qualification came from the pollster, John Stirton, who said "...it was common for voters to get behind governments during a crisis" In another piece in the SMH Most upbeat despite doom and gloom Coorey says “Support for Mr Rudd's handling of the crisis is strong among voters of all persuasions. Overall, 76 per cent support Mr Rudd on the crisis. Among Coalition voters, he has 59 per cent support and, among Labor voters, 92 per cent support." [more]
Glenn Milne in his piece in The Australian Hairy-chested PM bids up Malcolm Turnbull, begins “Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan and Lindsay Tanner aren't the only politicians who so far have been enhanced by their response to what the Prime Minister, as is his acronymical wont, refers to behind the scenes as the GFC” Guess who the other one is. And don’t get too excited about his praise for Rudd – he went on to assert that Malcolm Turnbull was usually a step ahead of Rudd, and that Rudd’s counter was to ‘outbid’ Turnbull. You can rely on Milne for the twist of the knife.
Bernard Keane writing on 20 October on Crikey expresses some surprise that the current circumstances ”have enhanced even the popularity of Kevin Rudd; times in which dour, consensus-building managerialism is prized.” Even Kevin Rudd! Good heavens.
Then to cap the week, there was Rudd’s appearance at Channel Seven’s special aired on Sunday night, Minding Your Money: An Audience with the Prime Minister – touted as “the first chance (for families and pensioners, first home buyers and small business owners from around Sydney) to question Kevin Rudd since he announced measures to protect the economy from the global credit crisis.” Leesha McKenny writes in the SMH in her piece Rudd finds himself the star turn in money program “For about an hour, Mr Rudd looked relaxed while fielding questions ranging from superannuation to corporate payouts, first home buyers' grants to small business confidence.” So this nerdy, process-oriented fellow, who looks so serious on TV interviews, is capable of smiling, joking, holding a TV audience for an hour-long question and answer session, in the same way he’s completely at home among the people in other community settings.
So where is the media now? There’s grudging recognition that Rudd’s bureaucratic, process-laden approach is bearing fruit, and that even when there’s little time, to use his well-rehearsed phrase, he’s capable of taking ‘decisive action’. There’s tacit acknowledgement of the high esteem in which he’s held by the public; the fact that his satisfaction and preferred PM ratings are so high means many Coalition supporters like him too. There’s acceptance that the consistently high 2PP rating is a measure of his Government’s appeal, and talk of ‘the end of the honeymoon’ has all but evaporated, no doubt awaiting resuscitation if and when the long-anticipated ‘narrowing’ occurs. In the light of these results it’s hard for the media to escape the conclusion that Australians believe they have a competent Federal Government that knows what it’s doing, that is governing sensibly, that is capable of resolute action in an emergency, and whose recent actions have the endorsement of around three-quarters of the people.
So is this another chapter in the great media awakening for which we’ve longed? Although it’s been slow, and reservations persist, the reality may be dawning that Australia has a competent, resolute, forward-looking, articulate and personable Prime Minister called Kevin Rudd.