“[His] answer, as always, is work and persistence. His schedule of travel and engagements reads like an election itinerary. Government sources say his advance teams are going flat out. He never misses an opportunity to grab a headline, giving opinions on everything from Arthur Boyd to rugby league to the troubles of Phil Coles. And day after day he is on talkback radio, striving to develop some kind of matey relationship with ordinary Australians that, Hawke-like, he so obviously craves. [He] is unlikely to achieve that bond with the electorate that, for a few years, Bob Hawke enjoyed, but it will not be for the want of trying.”
Who is he? [more]
With all the criticism that has been heaped by the media on Kevin Rudd for his ‘preoccupation with the media cycle’ it might be expected that ‘he’ refers to Rudd, although some readers may suspect that those named point to an earlier era and conclude correctly that ‘he’ is John Howard.
The quote is from a piece by Laurie Oakes in his Power Plays column in The Bulletin, published on16 May 1999, a decade ago.
It’s remarkable what a short memory the media seems to have. Those of us who have lived through the Howard years know that the ‘preoccupation with media cycle’ started long before Rudd came on the scene. We heard Howard on talkback radio and saw him on TV day after day. Can anyone remember the media working itself into a lather about Howard’s love of the media? If so, please remind us all. When Peter Beattie was Premier of Queensland, in his usual disarming style he readily acknowledged he was ‘a media tart’. This was good-humouredly accepted by the media; I can no recall no trenchant criticism.
Rudd, with Joe Hockey, cut his teeth in the media on Channel Seven’s Sunrise programme where they appeared together regularly. Although their conversation was political, it was a light-hearted dialogue about contemporary issues. It was popular. Other channels envied Channel Seven’s scoop. Also Rudd was a frequent guest on TV and talkback radio on matters related to his shadow portfolio – Foreign Affairs. So even before Rudd became Opposition leader he was well known in the media and frequently sought after. So it should not surprise us when he became Leader of the Opposition that he looked for opportunities to appear in the electronic media to match the established habits of Howard.
Howard started, and Rudd continued what was for both an awareness of the media cycle and its power in promoting oneself and one’s ideas and plans. So it’s curious that the media has been so critical of what they see as Rudd’s ‘domination by the media cycle’. The criticism is accompanied by a deduction that Rudd and his Government are therefore ‘all spin and no substance’. Such disparagement was widespread in the media in the first year of the Rudd Government, but seems to have died down somewhat as the Government now engages in feverish and visible activity. The Opposition still uses the ‘all spin’ accusation, and occasionally journalists such as Paul Kelly have a sideswipe at the Government over specific instances of what he sees as spin.
Consider though who it is that still criticize Rudd for what is regarded as his obsession with the media cycle. It does not seem to be the electronic media – TV and radio. It seems to be only too happy to have any number of politicians, and of course the party leaders, on air any number of times. In fact there are complaints when the politicians refuse. No, it’s the print journalists who seem to complain most about the ‘Rudd fixation’, both in their news outlets and when they appear on political programmes such Insiders. So the dissonance is not between the media and the PM as much as it is between the electronic and print journalists. Why is this so?
A plausible explanation may be that journalists in the electronic media live in a different world, in a different era from that of print journalists. The former accept the unrelenting hunger of the electronic media for news, every minute, every hour, every day, while the print journalists are used to a more leisurely pace, although the parallel presence of an online version, many with blog opportunities, ought to be dragging them, perhaps reluctantly, into the electronic age.
This piece suggests that the dissonance is not between Rudd and the media as the print journalists like to suggest, but between the electronic and print journalists. It’s time the print journalists caught up and entered the age of fast moving media, something Rudd has already done, and stop complaining about Rudd because he happens to be jump ahead of them. The world has changed.