Why do journalists ask silly questions?

At the National Press Club in Canberra on 22 March, ten journalists were given the privilege of addressing questions to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on the subject of their debate, health and hospitals reform, a debate that was critiqued in the previous piece: Comprehending the Great Big New Health Debate.  

Amongst many striking aspects of that debate was the calibre of the questions asked by the ten journalists.  Presumably they were the cream of the media outlets that nominated them.  In a sense they represented the rest of us, those of us who would have valued the privilege of asking questions, but couldn’t.

How well did they ask questions on our behalf?  In my view, not all that well.  Which begs the question – is that the best there is?

This piece critically analyses the questions they asked, queries what some of them were hoping to achieve, and asks why most of the questions were unnecessarily verbose and at times scarcely intelligible.  In some instances a more succinct alternative is offered.

First I acknowledge the source of the questions – a piece by Grog on Grog’s Gamut of 23 March The Health Debate – Kevin grins, Tony grits, Journalists talk.  You will find it a reliable and very readable account of the health debate.

Referring to the questions asked, Grog observes: “...any journalist who complains about Rudd going on and on, should look at how long most of these questions are...”

Let’s take the questions seriatim.  They have been placed in italics.  Suggestions for alternative wording are in bold italics.  Because the questions are replicated verbatim, this piece is quite long.

Paul Bongiorno - Network 10
Prime Minister – why 60-40, why not 100%, aren’t you at least going to have a 40% blame game?

That is a sound question, laudably brief, but hardly incisive.

To Tony Abbot – I judge from your remarks today that you’re not happy with the 60-40, does that mean you want 100%, is that what you will hold out to the Australian people? And you’re critical of bureaucracy, who will run the hospital boards, who will appoint them? Will it be a new layer of bureaucrats, or will you trust the states this time as you didn’t when health minister and you felt they needed to hand over everything to the Federal Government?

Another reasonable question, but so tortuous.  Why not say: To Tony Abbot – I judge from your remarks today that you’re not happy with the 60-40; does that mean you want 100% Federal funding?  And as you’re critical of bureaucracy, what bureaucracy will be needed to run the hospital boards in your plan?

Like so many of his colleagues, Paul asks a multi-choice question, in this case about the bureaucracy: Who will run hospital boards?  Who will appoint them?  Will it be a new layer of bureaucrats? Will you trust the states this time as you didn’t when health minister...?

Why do journalists do this?  I suppose it’s to pack a number of questions into one, but it serves only to confuse the audience and lose their attention, and allows the politician to answer whatever part of the question that is easiest to address.

Did we get an answer to his multiple questions?  No.

Sandra O'Malley - AAP
“To both leaders – we’ve heard the horror stories of how the aging population will overwhelm the budget in the coming decades; at the same time many of us drink too much, smoke too much, don’t exercise enough, adding to the burden of chronic disease; at what point do Australians need to become more realistic about what they can expect governments to provide in terms of health care, and why shouldn’t there be a sensible debate about health care rationing as part of public health care policy into the future?”

That’s over eighty words.  She could have used just thirty words: With the aging population and the steadily increasing burden of chronic and lifestyle disease, should we be considering rationing health care rather than trying to meet people’s unrealistic expectations? 

But surely she didn’t expect a politician to endorse the concept of rationing, which makes it a silly question, a wasted question.  Why did she ask it?

Sue Dunlevy -The Daily Telegraph
“There’s a gaping cavity in this nation’s health care and I want to extract an answer from each of you on the problem. Over 1 in 4 Australians has untreated tooth decay – half a million are waiting for up to 10 years to get dental treatment, and we’re getting Thai Buddhist dentists coming out to Central Australia to do charity work because there are not enough services in this country.

“Kevin Rudd: your Health and Hospital Reform Policy on page 83 says we should have a nationally funded dental health plan paid for by a 0.54% increase in the Medicare levy – will you deliver it?

“Tony Abbott: you say in your book, Battlelines on page 104 Medicare should fund dental care for every Australian – will you deliver it?

That’s 126 words.  Questions about dental care are appropriate, but instead of the long-winded preamble, in which she tries to strike a clever note, why not simply ask: This question is to you both – please tell us your plans for dental care for which there is a pressing need?   And asking 'will you deliver it?' is hardly likely to elicit a negative response.

Lyndal Curtis - ABC Radio
“You both come into this debate with experience in health, as a bureaucrat and as a health minister, yet neither of you has brought your whole policy here.  We’re only months away from an election, and neither of you have the full answers to questions, like how are you going to deliver more hospital beds, what are you doing on aged care, and what you’re doing on mental health, isn’t this just a chance for you to score political points from each other, and isn’t that just what voters are heartily sick of?”

This was a typically acerbic Lyndal question and another multi-choice one – hospital beds, aged care, mental health.  She knows full well that neither intended to bring the full health policy to the debate – Rudd intends to present it in stages, possibly on the grounds that to reveal the lot at once would cause confusion in journalists’ minds, and have them accuse him once more of complexity and overkill.  Abbott never intended to reveal his, and it appears to be fragmentary anyway.  So why did Lyndal waste the question?

She could have asked: When will we see the full health policy from each side? Or How long will the electorate have to wait for the full policy from you both?  Or as Grog suggested: What are you going to do about aged care or mental health?

Mark Riley – Network Seven
“Prime Minister, of the $42b stimulus package about $16b was spent very visibly on improving schools, school halls, and sometimes duplicate school halls and libraries, I wonder if you can explain why none of that money was spent on another sector – the health sector, the hospital sector is crying out for capital investment – we visited dozens of schools [he meant hospitals] with you in recent months and it’s obvious that there’s a real need there for capital investment; why have there not been more operating theatres, more cancer centres built with that stimulus money that would have flowed through the economy just as well?

“And Mr Abbott if you take government before the money is spent would you redirect some of the stimulus spending, the infrastructure spending towards capital investment in hospitals, and if so how much?”

That’s over 130 words.  What a hotchpotch, and how inept.  If Mark doesn’t know by now that capital investment in such items as hospital theatres and cancer centres take lots of planning time, far more than was available to address the urgent problem of an economy heading towards recession, he should get another job.  And of course he had to give an unnecessary backhander over the BER just to be smart.

Why didn’t he say to Rudd: Why didn’t you spend some of the stimulus money on hospital theatres and cancer centres?  It would have been no sillier than the one he asked, would have taken much less time, and would have evoked the very response he got from Rudd which demonstrated how silly his question was.

Laura Tingle – Australian Financial Review
You’ve both talked about cutting bureaucracy as part of this whole exercise, but I’d like to know where between the 150 odd local hospital networks in the Labor’s case, or the 750 odd local hospital boards in your [Abbott] case who would actually run things? Who are those bodies going to answer to, are they all going to ring Jane Halten [the Secretary of the Dept of Health and Aging] in the Department of Health? Do you presume that when you get rid of area health services in New South Wales there will be nothing between them and head office in New South Wales? How is it actually going to work so that all the money you both say the Commonwealth doesn’t get enough say in, actually is accountable to the Commonwealth and Commonwealth taxpayers?”

Laura is a top journalist and her question was one that needs answering, but did it need over 130 words arranged confusingly into multiple questions?   Why not say: Since you both wish to reduce bureaucracy, how will you do this Mr Rudd with your regional networks, and Mr Abbott with your local hospital boards?  She could not expect anything other than general comments, which begs the question, was her question worth asking in the form in which she presented it?

Matthew Franklin – The Australian
Hi gentlemen, to Prime Minister I’d like to follow up on Mark Riley’s question. I understand why you spent the stimulus money, but when you sat down and worked it out, why did you decide that we need to put a building in every school rather than addressing what you here today say is a major problem and that is deficiencies in the health system; was it because you got more political bang for your buck by putting a school hall in every school, rather than a smaller number of hospital wards?”

I suppose Matthew thought he was being clever in asking this long winded question, but I wonder did he realize that an estimated 900,000 viewers were watching him being a smart aleck?  The question portrayed his bias, which has been on display in his articles in The Australian where the theme of ‘waste and mismanagement’ in the BER have been pursued with a fervour that has come to be the hallmark of News Limited papers.  The question was treated with the disdain it deserved.  It was a silly question, a wasted question.

“And Mr Abbott you have proposed to do something very un-Liberal – increase a tax to provide what some people say is an excessively generous paid parental leave scheme (but you wouldn’t say that would you – I think he just did... some people would) but I would just like to know, if health is so important have you considered… and why don’t you lift taxes so that you can find the money to make the sort of improvements that I think we all can agree are needed in the hospital system?”

What a contorted question, what gibberish, what grotesque English from a senior journalist from our national newspaper? 

Grog assessed Matthew’s questions thus: “...this question to Rudd was perhaps the worst of the day, and displayed even less economics acumen than did Riley’s. His question to Abbott was a better effort, but really did he seriously think Abbott was going to say he would increase taxes to pay for hospitals?

I won’t attempt to rephrase this silly question; it never should have been asked.

Michelle Grattan - The Age
“Mr Rudd, can I to take you to Private Health Insurance.  Apart from the means test on the rebate which you haven’t been able to get through the Senate, can you guarantee that if you’re elected for another term there will be no more changes to the Private Health Insurance rebate arrangement?”

Michelle should know by now that asking politicians to ‘guarantee’ anything is unlikely to evoke a positive response.  So why does she waste a precious question doing so?

“And to Mr Abbott, you’ve talked repeatedly about the problem of divided responsibility – you’ve said in Battlelines that any hospital reform program is beyond the states, we know that you have advocated a Federal takeover of policy and funding when you were in government and health minister, why can’t you just say now “I believe in the Commonwealth being the sole or dominant funder and having made policy responsibility, I will work out an alternative plan to the Government’s one, but taking that as the central principle?”

Another pointless question and long winded at that.  Abbott had already said he would reveal his health policy ‘well before the election’.  So why ask for it now – clearly he either didn’t have one or he was not going to tell us what it was.

It is surprising that someone as experienced as Michelle wasted both her questions.

Jayne Azzopardi Nine Network
“Look I want to talk about what I think most voters think about when it comes to hospital reform, and that’s bed numbers. Now Prime Minister you’ve mentioned funding from the past but you still say we need more beds, yet your plan doesn’t actually specify any extra beds, how can voters take you seriously this close to an election when you’ve called this debate and you haven’t covered that issue?”

Was there any need for the impertinent “Look I want to talk about” and “...how can voters take you seriously...”.  Who does she think she is?  Is this the best Channel Nine can muster?  Had she forgotten that increases in bed numbers are already being funded?  Did she seriously think the reform plan would not address bed shortages?  Did she not read that greater emphasis on primary care was designed to treat more people outside of hospital, thereby reducing the number of hospital beds needed?  Why do journalists come to such debates so ill-informed, so ill-equipped to ask sensible questions?

“And Tony Abbott you talk about consideration of 3,500 new hospital beds; is that an iron clad promise or could the number reduce if you can’t find the money?”

Here we go again – asking for ‘an iron-clad promise’.  Abbott might hint that is his intention, but an iron-clad promise, no – he would not be that stupid.

Both questions were silly – a precious opportunity wasted.

Karen Middleton – SBS
“I have the same question for both leaders. The Prime Minister mentioned earlier that the patient should be the centre of this. One of the common complaints we hear from people using the health system now is that even if you have private health insurance you’re still out of pocket when you go to the doctor or you receive hospital treatment. We’ve heard a lot about funding and the structure of the system, but I’d like to ask, what are you polices going to do to reduce the out of pocket costs of people actually using the system – the patients?”

Out-of-pocket expenses are an issue, but why ask about them in the middle of a debate about a multi-facetted hospitals and health reform, as if she expected some announcement here and now to reduce them?  Co-payments are here to stay and with health funding likely to fall further and further behind that needed as the population ages, they are more likely to increase than decrease.   The reason the health debate is on now is that the cost of health care will be unsustainable via state budgets by 2050.   

So this is another wasted long winded question that could have been restricted to just her last sentence, if it was worth asking at all.

Andrew Probyn - West Australian
My question is directed at the Prime Minister primarily, but I know you’ll want a say, and it’s about activity based funding of hospitals, which is (for normal people) a fancy way of saying you pay for services that the hospitals provide. Victorians have been doing this for 17 years and they decided that the so-called case-mix doesn’t work for rural hospitals; in fact they dumped it, instead they give block grants. Now why do you think Prime Minister that a Federal activity based funding model would work when the Victorian Health Minister says it won’t no matter what weightings you give it?”

That was the last question and the most pertinent of all.  It did evoke a response from Rudd that he would consider block funding rural hospitals for which case-mix might prove unsuitable.  That has been described by the media variously as a ‘concession’, a ‘back flip’, a ‘change of policy’, or ‘policy on the run’.  It’s none of these.  Go back to the earliest statements on funding mechanisms and you will find that Kevin Rudd and Nicola Roxon both indicated that if case-mix funding proved unsuitable for rural hospitals, other funding mechanisms would be considered, and that no rural hospital would close because of unsuitable funding arrangements.  Some journalists have short memories or don’t listen attentively.

In summary, the calibre of the questions asked was poor.  Several were irrelevant or too vague, most were too wordy, some were convoluted, a few were impertinent, and all except a handful really challenged Rudd or Abbott or tripped them up.  Around a half were plain silly.  Opportunities to ask questions on such important occasions are few; what a pity so many were wasted by the journalists and the public they represented let down.  Being a journalist is a serious pursuit, not a game.  The privilege of asking important people questions on our behalf should be taken seriously.

Journalists seem not to understand even the fundamentals of questioning.  In medicine, where sound questioning is at the heart of decision making, it has long been known that the style of question governs the likely response.  Direct questions are likely to evoke a direct answer: “Are you intending to increase funding for mental health?”  Closed questions require a specific response: “Is your plan to double dental health funding?”  Leading questions demand a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer:  “Are you going to resign?”  Open questions do not presume a defined response.: “Tell us about your plans to improve primary health care?”  Each has its place, and should be used adroitly to elicit the type of response required.  It’s not that difficult, but seems to be beyond even some of our most experienced journalists. 

There seems to be a strong element of one-upmanship among journalists when asking questions, a touch of smart aleck behaviour, a trace of arrogance and impertinence, a degree of prolixity that sometimes surpasses that of the respondent, a level of gobbledegook that exceeds what they endlessly criticise the PM for speaking, a paucity of background information on the subject, a limited memory even for recent events, and a restricted capacity to ask relevant questions in a clear and succinct manner.

Which leads to the depressing question – is this the best there is?

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27/03/2010Yes. Sad, isn't it?


27/03/2010Ad Astra, Forensic and absolutely first class dissection of the journos' performance! Would that some of our better-quality journalists, such as Peter Hartcher, had been given the opportunity to ask questions. He would have done much better than the above crew. If you wanted to be truly provocative, AA, you could e-mail the blog to the 10 journalists in question, and invite them to make a response. If they are conscientious about their craft they will take the time to reply. Suffice to say, it is my belief that, when given the opportunity to ask one question only, journalists seem to thus want to get the most bang for their buck, hence the multi-faceted nature of their inquisitions. For example, the Sue Dunleavy question. It seems plain to me that she had obviously consumed the 'Health and Hospital Reform Policy' Document, and read Abbott's 'Battlelines' book, and her head was filled with the text she had obviously highlighted. Thus, in the way of a rote-learner, she filled her question with the quotes from the book she wished to bring to the debaters' attention, then embroidered the rest of her question around them. I think it would be better for these journalists to maybe write down their questions, and then take the time to condense them. It would thus provide for a much punchier question, with less wriggle room for the politicians to manouver around.


27/03/2010AA Another excellent piece. Thank you. It was amazed Franklin and Riley actually got a guernsey (Top 10???!!!) but the inanity of their questions did not surprise me.


27/03/2010Hi Ad Thankyou Ad for another brilliant piece. Not one of those questions would score 6 out of 10 they are all pitiful,sad for us all. Mark Riley 10 out of ten for smart aleck, all his aim was to let Abbott spill a barrage of words on the pink batts, pathetic. Mathew Franklin shameful gobblygook. Jayne Azzopardi rude and impertinent. Very disappointing. As a viewer it really does take a concentrated effort, most of the time, to understand what they mean, such tangled and long winded questions. Another thing too, they don't seem to have any respect, this is The Prime Minister of Australia who has given his time to them.


27/03/2010lyn1, Familiarity with the Prime Minister appears to breed contempt amongst the Canberra Press Gallery.

Daisey May

27/03/2010This is a brilliant piece of analysis and I couldn't have put it better myself. I watched the debate and the woeful questions that followed simply confirmed what I have long believed. The majority of the political journos in Australia are little better than shop girl gossips who pepper their pieces with hoary cliches, hackneyed phrases and the most pedestrian observations passed off as serious comment. Most of the News Ltd hacks are beyond repulsive and have grown fat and lazy. They and their tawdry ilk will shit bricks if paywalls come in. Who in their right mind would pay for such dreck? The beauty of sites like this is that you get contributions of a far higher calibre from people who are far better informed about politics with a degree of articulation that puts most of the Fourth estate to shame. Hillbillies' suggestion to forward this critique to the dickheads concerned is marvelous but there is no need. We all know they read sites like this one for ideas and up to the minute information about what is actually happening in the political sphere. Lastly and sadly I don't think things are going to improve anytime soon. All the old hoofers have to be carried out in a hearse before they will relinquish their role in this farcical situation. Many politcal journos just right of Ghengis Khan were at pains to complain about how the worm started to plummet even before Tony Abbott started to speak in the debate. I'd wager that many people out here in voter land feel exactly the same way about the dreadful standard of journalism being foisted upon them. Quite often I'll see a picture, a byline and a header that will make my flesh crawl. How do these people live with themselves? The other thing to say about the excruciatingly trite questions asked is the manner in which they were delivered. Have we ever seen such pathetic mugging for the cameras? Poor old Michelle Gratten looked like a Gorgon, Mark Riley was wearing more rouge than Abbott and Laura Tingle did more hair flicks than Farrah Fawcet. They all behaved worse than B Grade celebrities and the grotesque vanity on show made the whole thing seem like an outtake from a Fox News blooper reel.

Sir Ian Crisp

27/03/2010Another well crafted piece from Ad Astra. It is only rarely that I can see journos at work because Ad Astra has banned me from being a regular reader of their columns and comment pieces. Some questions that could have been put (to both alleged leaders) are: In these modern times when we are told to work smarter and do more with less, our state governments are an anachronism. Why not launch a campaign calling for the abolition of state governments with the money saved being ploughed into the health system? Mr Abbott, given the complexity of a commonwealth take-over of the health care system why not allow the voters to study your policy in detail rather than put the ‘top secret’ label on it? Mr Rudd, in view of the 2000 hospital beds you closed in Queensland, if you created 2000 hospital beds wouldn't that appear to be a 1990’s redux and any figure that falls short of 2000 hospital beds would mean you’ve failed? Why are we bringing chronically ill people into Australia? If Australia’s health care system needs an injection of funds would the spending on multiculturalism currently about AUD$3.2 billion each year be better spent on our health care system? If Australia’s health care system needs an injection of funds would it be much wiser to spend AUD$2.5 billion fixing our health care system rather than giving that money to Indonesia?


27/03/2010Hi Ad Daisy May you are wonderful, what a great comment. Love all of what you wrote, but this bit is just it. [quote]Mark Riley was wearing more rouge than Abbott and Laura Tingle did more hair flicks than Farrah Fawcet. They all behaved worse than B Grade celebrities and the grotesque vanity on show made the whole thing seem like an outtake from a Fox News blooper reel[/quote]. You are a hundred percent correct sites like The Political Sword are so valuable. [quote]The beauty of sites like this is that you get contributions of a far higher calibre from people who are far better informed about politics[/quote] The thoughtful, measured, pieces by Ad Astra provide us with quality commenters that are priceless. There are on last count, approximately 40 regular commenters.


27/03/2010Ad Astra, Surely an oversite on your part because the question did not come within the framework for the debate. However, for mine, the best question was asked by Chris Uhlmann in order to put Tony Abbott on the spot as he was answering one of the other journalists questions, I think, midway through his persiflage intended to cover his backside for the fact that the Howard government had indeed decreased funding to Public Hospitals as a % of GDP. Uhlmann's pointed question, perfectly timed, so as to give Abbott no option but to answer truthfully, was the sort of question I had been expecting from all of the journalists on the day. I expect a fit of pique at being lied to by the Liberal Party over the funding issue may have motivated Mr Uhlmann to make his intervention from the chair, against the formal rules that had been laid down for the debate. Might I also make this off-topic point that I forgot to make in the last blog. That is, that the Liberals better not continue their contemptuous dismissal of 'The Worm', as one day the electorate will wake up and make the connection that contempt for 'The Worm' is contempt for the electors and their honestly-expressed opinions.


27/03/2010"the grotesque vanity on show" Couldn't have said it better myself, Daisay May. What seems to be happening here is that the "journalists" are more interested in themselves and how they are coming across than they are in eliciting information on behalf of the wider public. My first experience of nauseating disgust at the behaviour of a noted journalist was when watching an interview with PM Margaret Thatcher, conducted by Jana Wendt. Jana was so rude and impertinent, I couldn't believe it! I couldn't believe what I was seeing, some little Aussie upstart treating a world leader with such contempt! I certainly wasn't a supporter of Thatcher but, for God's sake, she was the bloody Prime Minister! Now we are treated to an endless litany of bootstrapping, bias and opinions expressed on the appropriateness of Speedos for men when they are swimming. They're swimming! Let it go!


27/03/2010Hi Ad Here goes: An example of tomorrow's newspapers, you only need one. Abbott for breakfast, lunch and tea. boring menu. Note the time at the top 12am, 28th tomorrows date. http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/national/tony-abbott-competes-in-nsw-ironman-triathlon/story-e6freooo-1225846358241.


27/03/2010Good post Ad A. I would love to know how the group were chosen. In thinking about what I would have asked, where I one of the chosen eleven, I would likely have followed Tingle's path and asked to whom would the boards ultimately be responsible, thogh I would have also done more research with health workers in say Victoria to find out what the pertinant issues are. The biggest problem with the questions are their preambles - utterly superfluous, and rather foolish as all the eleven would have seen how preambles to questions are used by the respondants during Question Time. The best questions were actually those asked by Uhlmann as follow ups.


27/03/2010Who cares if Tony Abbott is doing a Triathlon today? I thought he was a politician. Does he want to be Prime Dude or Prime Minister?


28/03/2010We would all be better off if reporters got over the inclination to make *themselves* the story. The audience would be better off; that almost goes without saying. And I believe the reporters, plus the media organisations that employ them, would be better off, too, as it is difficult to respect them or even contemplate paying for their "product" when it is this incompetent and vacuous. Being that most of them would be great fans of The Market, let The Market sort them out, I say. The sooner the paywalls go up and these nobodies starve out of existence the better. And more power to independent bloggers such as AA, who write with the sincerity that is lacking in the sad seatwarmers of the MSM. PS & Off-Topic: Great to see Daisey May at this blog. I've enjoyed your writings elsewhere.


28/03/2010[b]TODAYS LINKS [/b] http://grogsgamut.blogspot.com/2010/03/oh-earth-hour-why-do-you-waste-so-much.html http://andrewelder.blogspot.com/2010/03/making-yourself-story-peter-van-onselen.html http://blogs.crikey.com.au/purepoison/ http://petermartin.blogspot.com/ http://northcoastvoices.blogspot.com/2010/03/mcgrath-foundation-public-relations.html http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/03/28/2858070.htm?WT.mc_id=newsmail


28/03/2010Two political journalists from the Sydney Daily Telegraph on the panel of the Insiders today, is hardly balanced. Especially when one of them is Piers Ackerman whose commentary can be reliably counted on to be virulently anti-Rudd government and fulsomely in praise of Tony Abbott. There is no accusation against the Rudd government that Ackerman will not think too outrageous to make. Today, he was shouting about the lying Prime Minister. It wasn't true, of course, as David Marr struggled to make clear over the din from Ackerman. It is worth noting again that Barrie Cassidy is the only host of Insiders that has anything to do with Ackerman and Bolt. Why? Especially when Chris Uhlmann has just recently shown him, and everyone watching, how the Insiders should be run. It is not meant to be a tabloid feeding frenzy, I thought it was meant to be a serious consideration of the political issues of the day with learned commentary provided by senior political journalists, not pamphleteers for the Opposition, such as Bolt and Ackerman. Might I also express my objection, while I'm at it, at the new segment at the beginning of the Insiders, where they cut and paste segments from the week past in politics, and which is basically a pisstake, which seems to have been instituted for the purpose of skewing perceptions. I doubt that it will ever be favourably inclined towards the Rudd government, as today's wasn't, taking as it did the new meme that the worm should be considered an unreliable indicator of public perception and so should be mocked. It appears to be the case that if something doesn't agree with the journalistic pre-conceived line, in this case that Tony Abbott should have been supreme in the Health Debate, then it is to be demeaned and attacked until it is delegitamised, and until the journalists regain their position as the ultimate arbiters of political worth. It's a dead shonky approach. Sadly, the journalistic class appear to value their positions as quasi Delphic oracles more highly than reporting the truth, and they are prepared to wrest back control of the narrative away from the honest truth to maintain that position in the ongoing discussion about politics.


28/03/2010Rx, I second that emotion wrt Daisey May. She is very perceptive. Now, Daisey, do you think you could find yourself a nice Avatar, as a valued member of the AA/BB family? :)


28/03/2010lyn1, That 'North Coast Voices' blog is spot on. There is no one in Australian political life as narcissistic and relentlessly self-absrobed, nor as ruthlessly manipulative of the media it seems, than Tony Abbott. The focus on this Iron Man Triathlon today by the commercial media has been sickly. Channel 9 even have a 'repoter', who is actually just one of the Pretty Young Things that they use to populate their news bulletins these days, on permanent, day-long watch, to breathlessly monitor Abbott. This is taking politics as Reality TV to its nadir. No thoughtful analysis of the issues just marveling at Tony's manliness. Which he exploits relentlessly. I seem to remember the Prime Minister undertaking a gruelling bushwalk through the Tasmanian Wilderness in January with his family, but he didn't feel the need to co-opt the media to chronicle every step he took. If it's going to be a battle in the upcoming election between 'The Jock' and 'The Nerd' to become Prime Minister of our nation, give me the hard-working Nerd anyday.

Sir Ian Crisp

28/03/2010Meanwhile, on the mean streets of downtown USA the once forlorn and dejected cousin of Skippy has a new spring in his hop. Skippy's cousin now has the PM on his side. It's interesting that the PM didn't have time for another debate yet has time to do an episode of "Skippy, You're Free". Is the PM doing a Tony? How very ungracious of me to even suggest that.


28/03/2010Great post Daisy May and your last sentence "They all behaved worse than B Grade celebrities and the grotesque vanity on show made the whole thing seem like an outtake from a Fox News blooper reel." says it all. Hillbilly, The Insiders is not worth watching. I don't know if Cassidy chooses his panel himself but if he does he should hang his head in shame to foist the likes of Akerman on his viewers. Ad astra, I would very much like to know who chose the 11 journos to ask the questions. What they did was choose the dregs of the 4th Estate. I must say I expected better from Laura Tingle even though I've never been particularly enamoured with her work. Michelle Grattan has passed her use-by date and the rest of them are second rate at best.


28/03/2010[b]TODAY'S LINKS PART 2[/b] http://www.nationaltimes.com.au/opinion/politics/just-say-no-20100327-r41c.html http://www.nationaltimes.com.au/opinion/politics/is-that-a-pretty-pollie-hiding-behind-the-budgie-smugglers-20100326-r2z8.html http://adam-cruickshank.blogspot.com/2010/03/just-in-case-any-of-you-have-missed.html http://alexwhite.org/2010/03/this-triathlon-is-great-news-for-tony-abbott/ http://davidmrussell.wordpress.com/2010/03/28/the-perils-of-paranoia/ THE ABC IS GIVING UPDATED REPORTS ON TONY ABBOTT'S IRONMAN STUNT http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/03/28/2858070.htm http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/opinion/abbotts-plans-for-the-nation-can-be-read-like-a-book/story-e6frezz0-1225846346204?from=public_rss

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28/03/2010Folks Thank you for your kind remarks about this post. I can see that most of us are of similar mind about the indifferent quality of many of our supposedly top political journalists. While being incompetent is a serious problem, being biased is more so, and pernicious to boot. An upcoming post by Bushfire Bill starkly highlights the latter. HillbillySkeleton Regarding your suggestion that I send the piece to the journalists concerned, since, as Daisey May suggests they probably take a look at such blog sites anyway, I’ll rely on that. It’s already featured on [i]Wotnews[/i], and [i]Crikey[/i] may pick it up tomorrow. I feel it may be a little bold for me to send it to them directly. You’re right that Chris Uhlmann’s question to Tony Abbott that evoked the admission that funding to hospitals had been reduced relatively during Abbott’s time as health minister was pertinent and more telling than the journalists’ questions. You’re right about the worm. If it had favoured the Coalition they would have embraced it warmly. As you say, as they dismiss the worm they also dismiss a segment of public opinion – those present in the studio. How representative they were of the electorate we will never know, but it would be hard to argue that they were totally unrepresentative. BK I think the only way Matthew Franklin and Mark Riley got a guernsey was because the organizations for which they worked nominated them. Franklin’s bias comes through in almost everything he writes, and Riley, through his attempts to satirize politics, leads viewers to see him as a lightweight. lyn1 For professional communicators, it is amazing how poorly they frame questions. Generally they are too long, and also they are often convoluted. There’s a fair bit of ‘look how smart I am asking this clever question’. As ever, your links are informative. Andrew Elder’s dissection of Peter van Onselen’s piece was very well done. I hadn’t counted the regular contributors, but I’ve noticed how they have increased. The quality of comment on [i]TPS[/i] is outstanding. adelaidegirl I agree with you that the disrespect shown to politicians by journalists on radio, TV and at press gatherings is shameful, and it seems more prevalent among the more junior. They are talking to the PM, his ministers, the Leader of the Opposition and his shadow ministers, yet too often they are treated with disdain. No one objects to politicians being challenged about their statements or policies, but at least they should be afforded common courtesy. The media’s rough treatment of Kevin Rudd is, I believe, one reason he makes himself unavailable to some and less available to others who complain about his not being as forthcoming as they would wish. Journalists seem to feel they have a divine right to summon politicians to suit their programming needs, yet treat them with contempt when they oblige. Grog Thank you for the use of your painstakingly typed transcripts of the debate questions. I agree that the preambles were a big problem – too wordy and too tortuous. Chris Uhlmann did well not just as a moderator, but as a pointed questioner, a role I read was not intended, but turned out to be more useful to the audience than the selected journalists’ questions. Rx Exactly – too many journalists try to big note themselves with their questions instead of genuinely seeking information the public wants. In their pursuit of kudos, there’s a lot of upmanship and competitiveness among them. If only they realized that the most kudos comes from high quality writing and reporting.

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28/03/2010Daisey May Thank you for your complimentary remarks about [i]TPS[/i]. You presence here is a welcome addition to a growing number of quality contributors. I agree that if the offerings of the current crop of journalists are put behind pay-walls, few will miss most of them. But it would be a pity if quality journalists such as George Megalogenis, Paul Kelly, Mike Steketee and Laura Tingle were thereby less read. I see that already Uncle Rupert is putting some of his US papers behind pay-walls, and that when the iPad is introduced next month, [i]The Australian[/i] will be available on it in its printed paper format, but at a fee. So pay-walls are coming – it will be interesting to see what that does to printed papers and the online versions. Will Murdoch be happy if his journalists are quoted less often as a result? I wonder did those who protested that the worm dipped even before Abbott spoke, and rose before Rudd spoke, get the message that the audience disliked Abbott, even before he said anything, and liked Rudd?

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28/03/2010Sir Ian Thank you for the compliment. I’m surprised you follow any of my advice, but there! Not surprisingly your questions reflect your views: State governments should be abolished and the saved money used for health. Tony Abbott should reveal his health policy. Kevin Rudd’s ‘closure’ of hospital beds when he was a bureaucrat in Queensland over 15 years ago should be set against any increase he effects now. Chronically ill people should not be brought into Australia. The $3.2 billion now being spent on multiculturalism should be spent on health. The $2.5 billion being given to Indonesia should be directed to health. I trust I haven’t misrepresented your position. Some would agree with you on some points, but not on others; those who value multiculturalism and good relations with Indonesia certainly would not. But we’re all entitled to our opinions. You highlight one of the major problems for all governments, and indeed for all oppositions, namely setting priorities. That’s really what you’re challenging.

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28/03/2010janice I don’t know how the journalists were chosen, but I imagine the invitations were sent to the major press outlets, News Limited, Fairfax and AAP, and to the TV and radio channels and they nominated their representatives. But why Jayne Azzopardi was there instead of Channel Nine’s Laurie Oakes is a mystery. I too was astonished to see Piers Akerman on [i]Insiders[/i] again this morning after all the flak that Barrie Cassidy has had from the blogosphere about him, Andrew Bolt and Glenn Milne. Perhaps they have contracts. It will be interesting to see if Glenn Milne reappears after his removal from News Limited’s Sunday papers. Sir Ian Sometimes you’re too cryptic – do fill us in on Skippy. It must be an engrossing story.

Acerbic Conehead

28/03/2010AA, I notice that Barnaby is philosophical about losing the Shadow Finance gig - he said something about, "if you lose one girlfriend, another one comes along". I also notice that Piers admitted on Insiders this morning he "has a problem with worms". If they were an item, do you think it would be an itchy date?

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28/03/2010HillbillySkeleton Me too - nerds work, jocks play.

Bushfire Bill

28/03/2010Abbott running 93rd in his age group and 1228th overall. Is this really worth the disappointment of the debate?


28/03/2010Hi Ad Bushfire Bill thanks for telling us the score, how did you find out? The best I can do is the Abc, they have reported [b]He was just beginning the final leg, a 42 kilometre run as Vernay crossed the finish line.[/b]


28/03/2010I heard it said that one of those Triathlons leaves you in measurable cognitive deficit for 4-6 months. Hmmm.

Bushfire Bill

28/03/2010[i]Bushfire Bill thanks for telling us the score, how did you find out? [/i] Try here: http://ironman.com/events/ironman/australia?show=tracker Enter "Abbott" into the name and then double-click on "Abbott" to get the details. He's moved up to 87th in his class. Not a bad effort for amateur entrant, but that's not the point, is it? When will he be going to work? [i]The World wonders...[/i]


28/03/2010Hi Bushfire Bill Thankyou for the link ironman.com Hillbilly Skeleton It seems it could be bad, there is a very high risk [quote]Many doubt Mr Abbott will even finish the event - a 3.8-kilometre swim, 180.1-kilometre ride and 42.2-kilometre run. Even the fittest risk injury and weeks of recovery. The sheer drama of the race can drag some entrants to the finish line, Mr Hall says, but "over-reaching" increases the risk of serious injury, colds, flu and chronic fatigue[/quote]. http://www.theage.com.au/national/is-tony-abbott-a-man-of-iron-a-fool-or-a-freak-20100327-r48g.html

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28/03/2010Folks Retiring now. In the morning I'll be posting a piece by Bushfire Bill titled [i]Spartacus fiddles while policy roams[/i] Wait for another gem.

Sir Ian Crisp

28/03/2010For you Ad Astra: Australians upset over LA kangaroo stunt 25 March 2010 SYDNEY — Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Thursday described as "pretty off" reports that tourism officials put a distressed kangaroo in a cage on a busy Los Angeles street to promote the country. Rudd said he hadn't seen the footage but expressed concern at what he had heard about the treatment of the animal, which is featured on Australia's coat of arms. "I'm pretty worried about the reports that I've seen, pretty worried, and it sounds pretty off to me," Rudd told reporters. "Many of us grew up in the days of Skippy, and you know something? If you've grown up in the days of Skippy you want to make sure that our national symbol is being properly respected in the way in which Australia projects itself abroad." http://www.animalsaustralia.org/media/in_the_news.php?article=989 I’ll put on a bit of thinking music for you Ad Astra while you think on this. Should we – the taxpayers – allocate a grant of taxpayers’ money to Australia’s Spanish community so that they may ponce about and celebrate Spain’s National Day (12th October each year)? I use the Spanish community just as an example because there are other such groups and grants. Yes, Spain’s National Day is a day well worth celebrating if you live in Spain. It means nothing to Australians. Why would we be interested in: National Day in Spain The origins of 12th October celebrations go back to the beginning of last century. In 1913 Faustino Rodriguez San Pedro (a wealthy and influential Spanish business man and lawyer and at that time Chairman of an organization called the Iberoamerican Union) proposed that 12th October (which was already a festival in many South American countries and in Zaragoza in honour of the Virgin Pilar) be called Fiesta de la Raza - literally Festival of the Race, i.e. the Spanish race - and be celebrated throughout Spain and Latin America. La Fiesta de la Raza duly became an official national holiday in 1918 in Spain and some American countries, where the 12th October was already a national holiday, started calling their national day Fiesta de la Raza too. Rather than waste money on such trivialities why not use the money to reduce hospital waiting lists? Perhaps contact Mrs Brown and tell her that instead of waiting until October this year for her hip operation it will happen next week. Why not rebuild the Wagga Wagga hospital? The health care system repair list is very long. What’s more important Ad Astra; Fiesta de la Raza or our ailing health care system?

Paul of Berwick

28/03/2010And back to the question - what do we expect of our political journalists? Is a sports journalist an apt equivalant? Y'know - focus on the score, the team, and how they play? What about an economics/finance journalist? Approach the topic dispassionately? But the things that these two have in common is a background in the topic they cover. They are generally knowledgeable, even at a professional level, in the field of sports and finance. I would say that they would no doubt have relevant academic knowledge of the area they write on. But political journalists? Is their claim to special knowledge of the art and science of politics simply who they know and what their world view is? Again, do we want articles on the policy and its basis in idealogy? Or do we want considered commentary on how power is formed & wielded? Or are we simply getting commentary on "showbusiness for ugly people" (Jay Leno). In this case, what we are getting is akin to what would be found on TMZ.COM and Women's Day & Women's Weekly. mmm....


28/03/2010Paul of Berwick, How apt. I often worry that my overt interest, to put it euphemistically, in politics is merely an elite equivalent of other's devotion to Oprah.


28/03/2010It seemed to me that none of the journalists actually listened to any of the statements made by the PM or Abbott in answer to previous questions. It looked like they had worked out their questions beforehand. I'm not sure of the rules, but there was quite a bit said by both leaders that could have been explored further from someone with only a moderate forensic brain


28/03/2010If only someone in Australia could put together an open letter like the following one, forensically examining and chronicling the hyperbole, hypocrisy and hatred expressed by our Opposition over the last 2 1/2 years. It would be as eye-poppingly visceral as this one: http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/talk/blogs/a/m/americandad/2010/03/an-open-letter-to-conservative.php


28/03/2010Hi Filippo Filippo you are absolutely correct, spot on . Their questions are written down beforehand ,therefore making them most of the time irrelevent. Your comment also highlights as to why us viewers think the journalists have short memories. I hope you keep commenting on The Political Sword.


28/03/2010Hi Hillbilly Skeleton Thanks heaps for you link it's brilliant. I have to go back and read again. [b]HOW APPROPRIATE[/b] WHAT HAS JULIA GILLARD BEEN SAYING IN QUESTION TIME, OVER AND OVER AGAIN, YOU ARE WRITING TO ME ASKING FOR MORE FUNDING AT THE SAME TIME VOTING AGAINST EVERYTHING. [quote][b]You can't vote and scream against the stimulus package and then take credit for the good it's done in your own district (happily handing out enormous checks representing money that you voted against, is especially ugly) -- 114 of you (at last count) did just that -- and it's even worse when you secretly beg for more[/b][/quote]

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29/03/2010Sir Ian Thank you. I hadn’t heard about Skippy in LA. Tourism Australia will have some explaining to do. Paul of Berwick Your comment is germane. I wonder how many of our political journalists have had any formal education in politics. Probably very few. They seem to be self styled 'experts'. Experienced journalists like Paul Kelly and Laurie Oakes have earned their gravitas. But many of the younger ones seem to have ‘come up through the ranks’ from some other area. Let’s pray we don’t go down the Jay Leno path, but with Murdoch pushing the buttons anything is possible. Filippo Welcome to [i]TPS[/i]. Please come again. How right you are. The journalists had their questions pre-formed, (and even then some muffed their lines), but showed little capacity to change tack in response to what the leaders had already said. It really was journalism that insulted the intelligence of the audience and the viewers. But don’t hold your breath that this experience will result in any improvement; they probably felt satisfied with their indifferent performance. HillbillySkeleton What a discerning piece of journalism is [i] An open letter to conservatives[/i] http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/talk/blogs/a/m/americandad/2010/03/an-open-letter-to-conservative.php Everyone concerned about the direction politics is taking in America, which could set a pattern for Australia, should read it. lyn1 The point you make about the US stimulus package is so relevant to our own and particularly the BER.

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29/03/2010Folks A brilliant piece by Bushfire Bill [i]Spartacus fiddles while policy roams...[/i] has just been posted. Enjoy.


29/03/2010[b]TODAYS LINKS [/b] [b]AD THE POLITICAL SWORD IS ON CRIKEY AGAIN [/b] http://www.crikey.com.au/topic/tony-abbott/ http://www.pipingshrike.com/ http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/03/29/tony-abbott-ironman-or-running-joke/ http://blogs.crikey.com.au/purepoison/ http://northcoastvoices.blogspot.com/2010/03/competitor-number-41-please-return-to.html http://larvatusprodeo.net/2010/03/28/overachievers-not-so-anonymous/

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29/03/2010lyn1 That BB’s piece is already on [i]Crikey[/i] when it was posted only at 8 am today is testimony to BB’s reputation and [i]Crikey’s[/i] diligence in trawling the web for suitable material. The piece on [i]The Piping Shrike: The ‘challenge’ begins to fade[/i] http://www.pipingshrike.com/2010/03/the-%e2%80%98challenge%e2%80%99-begins-to-fade.html is in similar vein, as is the piece on [i]Crikey: Tony Abbott: Ironman or running joke?[/i] http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/03/29/tony-abbott-ironman-or-running-joke/ and the one on [i][North Coast Voices: Competitor Number 41 please return to the finish line - your party needs you! [/i] http://northcoastvoices.blogspot.com/2010/03/competitor-number-41-please-return-to.html

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29/03/2010Folks As all we're now getting here is stupid spam. I'm closing comments.
How many Rabbits do I have if I have 3 Oranges?