No it’s not a misprint for ‘scrum’; I mean ‘scum’.
This piece has been evoked by this morning’s media story in News Limited papers lead by The Daily Telegraph with headlines PM’s jet temper tantrum – Rudd made hostie cry complete with a picture of him waving at the VIP jet’s door, and a video. The accompanying piece Kevin Rudd blows up over special VIP jet meal describes how he became upset when the vegetarian meal he ordered was not available, as he was trying to lose weight. The article goes on to say that a 23-year-old air force staffer wept and reported the matter to the senior cabin attendant after Rudd reacted ‘strongly’ when told his meal request could not be met. Terms used in other Murdoch papers to describe this incident include: ‘abused’, ‘berated’, ‘rage’, ‘air-rage’, ‘rant’, ‘tirade’, ‘temper tantrum’, ‘air-hostess blast’, ‘blow-up’, 'mid-air serve', ‘red-meat incident’, ‘mile-high meltdown’; all examples of literary licence I suppose, but more flagrant than what appears to be the official term, ‘reacted strongly’. We’ve come to expect this sort of florid language from the media, particularly the Murdoch tabloids. [more]
An official report was filed by the crew; the report went onto say "The crew were distressed but later in-flight apologies were made by all."
The front page of the online Telegraph, the same paper that featured fake nude photos of Pauline Hanson, features the Rudd meal story, but makes no mention that I could find of news of the outcome of the G20 summit, which must rate as quite the most newsworthy item for the people of Australia, indeed the world, that has occurred for a very long while. Of the most read items in the other listed New Limited outlets, the G20 story does not appear at all. It tells us something of the quality and thrust of the Murdoch tabloids, but what is surprising is that the G20 story did not even rate in the top ten stories read in the online Australian, although it did give the G20 due prominence. Fairfax papers, not to be left behind, followed suit, and Michelle Grattan reporting by video from London said that Rudd’s successful overseas trip to the US and Britain was ‘soured’ by the embarrassment of being asked about the meal story at the concluding press conference of the G20 summit.
This brings me to the point of this piece and its title.
Why was it considered appropriate by the Telegraph’s Malcolm Farr to ask about the incident at a time when the crucial news was the G20 outcome? Farr is a reasonable fellow who one would expect to know that it is not responsible journalism to embarrass Australia’s PM publically at the end of a summit where Rudd has been acknowledged by senior world leaders as having played a key role behind the scenes, a summit that had ended positively, and one that had adopted many of the initiatives and reforms for which he had been campaigning? Was Farr under instructions from his paper to raise the issue, knowing it would embarrass? The video mentioned above, which is in all Murdoch papers, is of Rudd responding to the question, clearly upset and embarrassed by it. He acknowledged the episode, said he had apologized at the time, that it was a mistake, that being human, despite being the PM, he made mistakes, and apologized again. Not enough for Farr, he then asked ’”Are you bad tempered?” He was going to nail him whatever it took.
Why is the Telegraph’s ‘exclusive’ story being broken now? It is reported that it has just emerged. Really? The incident took place in January on a flight from Port Moresby, over two months ago. If it’s only now surfaced, how did that happen? Has someone in the public service in the know just leaked it? If it is true that The Telegraph has just heard of it, why not wait until the PM has returned and confront him then? Why embarrass him, and Australia, on the world scene?
Knowing the reputation of the Murdoch press, it’s hard to believe that this is ‘breaking news’. What is much more likely is that New Limited has had this story for a while and deliberately chose this moment to publish it. With what purpose? It could only be to embarrass Rudd, to take some of the gloss off his overseas success, but in the process the media has succeeded in diminishing Australia in the eyes of the world.
This is not smart journalism, this is not clever journalism; this is stupid journalism.
No one would suggest that the meal incident should have been swept under the carpet, or that the PM should not be quizzed about it. Rudd himself considers his actions were inappropriate, and was prepared to give an explanation and public apology. But why not leave it until his return where it could have been addressed in the relative privacy of the national scene, in which the overseas press is almost totally disinterested?
I suggest two reasons.
The first is simply to denigrate Rudd personally as part of the political process of putting him down. He continues to enjoy record popularity in the polls, he has done well on this trip, has received plaudits from world leaders, even a star-billing by several, has achieved many of his objectives, and all the while his opponent languishes. There are some in the media, particularly in News Limited, who find that situation repugnant and are ready to use the power of the press to reverse it. A media conspiracy? Well we’ve all seen this behaviour often enough from the Murdoch press; why should anyone be surprised or affronted by that suggestion? And this isn’t the only episode. We saw Rudd confronted about the Fitzgibbon affair in a press conference in Washington in the presence of World Bank president Robert Zoellick. Why embarrass our PM then; why not do so when foreign officials were not present? Ask the media.
But there seems to be a more deep-seated and worrying reason, born of a colonial cringe that still exists in the minds of many. Have you noticed how often Rudd’s achievements on this trip have been down-played by media commentators? How often have you heard Australia described as just a ‘bit player’ on the world scene? How often have you heard Rudd’s efforts sarcastically described as his attempt to ‘save the world’? How many times have you heard reporters, reporters mind you, opining that Rudd was unlikely to achieve his goals, as if they possessed some inner wisdom denied us ordinary people? How often have you head snide remarks from journalists about Rudd’s feverish activity, and his earnestness?
It seems as if many Australians, sadly many of our journalists, are still cringing with their colonial irons abrading them, unable to hold their head high as Australians living in a great country with a proud history going right back to colonial days, of entrepreneurship, versatility, ingenuity, strength and courage, especially in the face of adversity, in times of war, in times of natural disaster, and through man-made disasters such as the current economic crisis. Why on earth cannot the Prime Minister of this country give advice to other countries, why should his well-thought-through ideas be discounted as coming from the PM of only a ‘bit-player’ country? Why is national pride such a scarce commodity among our commentators? Why are they so sure we have so little to offer? The dimensions of a leader’s contribution should not be measured by the size or population of a nation, or its GDP, but by the leader’s intelligence, level of understanding and energy to do something to reverse adverse situations.
That some of our most senior journalists, for whatever reason, are prepared to be complicit in embarrassing our PM and our nation in the eyes of the world is reprehensible in the extreme. It is inexcusable behaviour. That is why I’ve chosen the extreme term ‘scum’ to describe them. We deserve better.