Have you noticed how sensitive the media is becoming to criticism from politicians? The rules of its game are that the media is entitled to criticise politicians ad nauseam, whether or not it has its facts right, whether or not its interpretation of them is accurate, whether or not the subject matter is of any real importance, but should the politicians retaliate and accuse the media of bias, the media is entitled to huff and puff, to wag its finger at them, and to darkly remind them that criticizing the media is not just inadvisable, but could be dangerous and lead to a backlash. This attitude is a sign of the incredible self-importance for which much of our media is gaining a reputation. [more]
This Sunday’s Insiders exposed how deep these feelings run among journalists. Fran Kelly, Lenore Taylor and Michael Stutchbury were the panellists.
Fran Kelly was at her most assertive. She not only knows what Kevin Rudd and his Government should do, can see at a glance what mistakes they are making, is finely tuned into public opinion, and can predict what is likely to happen as a result of Rudd’s words, actions and motivations, which she can perceive in an instant. She was the one who protested most loudly about Rudd’s criticism of the media. She began with a comment about Rupert Murdock giving Barack Obama a hard time in his papers over Obama being ‘anti-business’. She pointed to the similarities between Obama and Rudd – Obama ‘has been having a chop at Fox News stations being anti the Obama presidency’ and Rudd having a go at a local broadsheet [The Australian]. She added her considered opinion that it’s never in the interests of a leader to take on the media – ‘it just reveals a glass jaw’. ‘You’ve just got to sit and take your medicine’ she instructed. She went on to quote Murdoch as saying ‘We need more non-obsequious journalists in this country’ and added – that’s just Murdoch giving a warning. She repeated that there is no mileage in politicians making a big deal about criticism by the media – Kevin Rudd, you have been warned – just sit and take your medicine.
What breathtaking arrogance!
It also emerged that Chris Mitchell, editor of The Australian, stung by Rudd labelling that paper as ‘right-wing’, had responded by correcting him – explaining that what he had said was that the paper was ‘centre-right’. He added that he was being ‘verballed’ by the Prime Minister. Who’s got the ‘glass jaw’ now? This from the man who verbals the PM over and again through the pages of his paper! It’s the old story – the media can criticize the PM, his ministers and the Government as much and as often it wishes, but should the reverse occur, there are accusations of unjust verballing. Dear oh dear!
Michael Stutchbury vigorously defended The Australian against Rudd’s tagging it as a right wing newspaper, voicing the well-worn journalists’ protest ‘We have to do our job’. But what is your job Michael? If as economics editor is it to give a balanced picture of the economic conditions facing the country and your opinion about how the Government is handling it, how well do you think you’ve done? Let’s take the economic stimulus. Your columns gave the impression that you were less than impressed with the need for a stimulus and you questioned whether it would work. Would the cash bonuses be spent or saved? You favoured the latter – after all that was the rational thing for people to do. And of course some money was saved, but you seemed not to entertain the possibility that money saved would later be spent. As we all now know that is what happened – money flowed steadily into the retail sector and jobs were preserved. Then you had a go at the schools program, eagerly joining your paper’s criticism of the problems in administering it. It was wasteful and being poorly administered, you said. That there were just a handful of problems, 69 in the 24,000 projects, most now resolved, did not deter you from savaging the scheme and for your paper to keep a running tally online for all to see how awful the scheme was. And you are still saying that, and in the process giving The Australian a pat on the back for highlighting the schools program ‘debacle’.
Anyway, despite your expert economic opinions about the wisdom of the Government’s actions, a recession has been averted, at least to date. But that was not in accord with your predictions, so far from giving the stimulus due credit you emphasized all the other factors that contributed to the good outcome and switched your attack to the need for the Government to wind back the stimulus. Your need to be right seemed to override your objectivity. Do you think that pieces like yours might be the reason that Rudd labelled The Australian a right wing newspaper? You indignantly defended your paper and its journalists for ‘just doing their job’. Criticism hurts doesn’t it Michael, but that’s no reason to stop dishing it out to politicians; as Fran Kelly says, they have ‘to just sit there and take their medicine’.
This Sunday’s Insiders exhibited more than any I can recall recently, the cocksure opinions of the panel, and even Barrie Cassidy, about the Government’s errors in handling the recent asylum seekers boat arrival, indeed all recent arrivals, what Rudd should have said and done and the policy he should adopt, and that this might be the issue to sink his popularity. Once the Insiders transcript is available, that display of unparalleled arrogance will the subject of a post on The Political Sword.
But what do you think on the issue of politicians being warned not to poke the media as it might bite back?