Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Drum piece and a National Press Club rant

My Drum piece today is on the Oscars. I have been putting off getting back to writing about politics for a long as possible. I suppose I could have churned out something on the Australia Day stuff, but, meh.

Due to my book writing labours I’m not able to quickly get out a piece in a few hours on Tuesday afternoon, which is disappointing because I would have loved to have written about Abbott’s lame National Press Club speech, and the lamer response by the assorted journalists there and those watching.

Any one who had any thoughts that Abbott would “flick the switch to positive” found themselves to be much mistaken yesterday. Abbott read out a speech he must have given at least 50 times by now. It contained nothing new. Nothing. Not a thing.

Here’s the thing – why can’t the press gallery slaughter this chump? It’s not like they can use the excuse that they didn’t know what he was going to talk about. Nothing he said was new. Nothing.

The same sound bites that he uses – came out again and again. Here’s a taste:

Australia was a stronger society because we had a stronger economy. Between 1996 and 2007, real wages increased more than 20 per cent, real household wealth per person more than doubled, and there were more than two million new jobs.

Since then, real household wealth has declined, productivity has stagnated and 2011 was the first year since 1992 without a net increase in jobs.

Well shit me. You’d almost think there was no Global Financial Crisis, eh Tony?

No good government would ever spend more than a billion dollars putting pink batts into roofs and a billion dollars to take them out again. It wouldn’t spend $16 billion on over-priced school halls while the standards of academic achievement actually fell.

Only thing is of course it didn’t spend $16b on “over-priced school halls”; no report anywhere has suggest it did. But hey – let that one go through to the keeper. Academic achievement actually fell?? Actually what happened is the NAPLAN tests revealed that 

93 per cent of students are achieving at or above the minimum standard in reading, writing and numeracy, but that the best students were not doing as well as in previous years.

The NAPLAN report also found

'The line representing the trend is almost completely flat … This picture of no change applies equally to males and females as well as to students with a language background other than English and students with an English language background.''

Now firstly – that is according to NAPLAN, which is just one indicator – but “the best students not doing as well”, or “the trend is flat” does not mean “academic achievement actually fell”, actually. What it means, actually is that Abbott is making stuff up.

Through to the keeper.

Big savings could be made in the government’s $350 a throw set top box programme since Gerry Harvey can supply and install them for half the price.

Ah Gerry Harvey. Praise be the non-complaining business man. That no journalist in the room nailed Abbott to the wall on this bit of shite is just another one to add to the pile of indictments. The set-top box scheme was demanded by the Liberal Party – they were worried about pensioners and the like being left sitting in front of a TV that didn’t work. Harvey can do it for less? Well good, because here’s what he needs to do for $350, via the DBCDE website:

Fact: the $350 figure is an average cost for the assistance package per household, not just for a set top box. It also includes:

  • Administration costs for Centrelink to advise people if they are eligible, to set up appointments for installation, follow up phone calls and checks
  • A set top box which is accessible for the elderly and people with special needs. The Consumer Expert Group was consulted on the appropriate set top box for the Scheme.
  • Installation of the set top box and any re-wiring, antenna adjustment and demonstrations.
  • An in-home warranty.
  • Access to a free hotline for 12 months following installation.

As Conroy said at the time, if Harvey can do it for less, there’s a profit to be made Gerry, go to it. Now this little furphy has been around since May last year. Where are all the stories of rorts and waste? Sure there some good ole anecdotes, but are you telling me if I didn’t ask around I couldn’t find anyone who has some complaints with something they bought from Gerry Harvey? 

I keep wondering why journalists are so stymied by Abbott, but really the reason is clear – he’s a journalist. The guy was a leader writer for The Australian. He thinks in anecdotes. He thinks the one does actually represent the all. There’s a school with a poor BER spend? Why then $16b was wasted. Gerry Harvey says in an interview that he could do set-top boxes for less? Why then it must be true. Run with it! So when he spouts lines in the same manner that journalists would report them, well geez… what do journalists do… hmmm maybe ask if he is going to go positive?

Most in the press gallery are hamstrung because he thinks like they do. Paul Bongiorno actually had the temerity to stand apart and introduce some facts taking about the fact all credit agencies rate Australia AAA, that the cash rate is lower than when the Howard Govt was in office, and the response was “lower taxes, less waste yada yada yada”. It was a good effort by Bongiorno, but he had little support.

Take this from Abbott yesterday – again nothing new:

Finally, the coalition’s plan for a more prosperous future will try to ensure that our children and grandchildren look back appreciatively on the big decisions this generation has made.

We have a responsibility to ensure that our land is as productive as possible, that’s why we are looking at new dam sites especially in northern Australia which could become a food bowl to Asia.

Sounds wonderful. Geez, I wish it could be so, but here’s the thing – In February 2010, the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce released a report. This was a Taskforce that wanted to find good news. It had Bill Hefferrnan as its chairman. Here is a paragraph on ITS FIRST PAGE

The north is not a vacant land. It needs to be actively managed for resilience and sustainability, based on a contemporary and informed understanding of the complexities of the landscape and its people. Contrary to popular belief, water resources in the north are neither unlimited, nor wasted. Equally, the potential for northern Australia to become a ‘food bowl’ is not supported by evidence.

Now I was sitting at home, writing away on a chapter for my book incidentally about how journalists use social media, and I heard that statement by Abbott. I immediately thought, that old chestnut, hasn’t that been shown to be a pipe dream?

A 20 second search on Google found the report. I didn’t link to it, but I did link to this ABC article on it titled

Report kills northern food bowl dream

Now maybe Abbott has some new evidence he can tell us about that has come to light since 2010. We’re all ears Tony, ante up.

Who was in the gallery, either in the NPC or online was also thinking “that old chestnut”?

No one. Instead we had the likes of James Massola, who made the statement on Twitter after seeing some tweets by ALP MPs who were also watching Abbott’s speech:

seems like a few Labor MPs tweeting from the same script following the Abbott press club speech. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

When I challenged him that all I had seen was a couple MPs mention the figure related to spending as a proportion of GDP, he replied:

also 1 about taxes and small business. as i said, "not that there is anything wrong with that". it just stands out in tweetdeck

Well geez. Two tweets. Well done, ace. Good to see you’re using social media for all that it is worth.

Last month the NY Times public editor wrote a column that asked:

Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?

I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.

Well hell. You can only imagine the response.

But here’s the thing – who is being a truth vigilante here? All I see is journos repeating what Abbott said and then telling us that he cuts through, then they go looking for signs of how the ALP are reacting, of if Rudd’s about to challenge. Take Peter Hartcher’s oped on Abbott speech. It’s all bullshit blather about his tone, and how he’ll need to be positive and how yesterday was a start down this road:

He told us not only what he opposed but what he stood for. He was pro-immigration, pro-environment, pro-manufacturing, pro-social spending, pro-Aborigine, pro-infrastructure, pro-tax cuts and pro-productivity.

You gotta be kidding me.

We knew that all before yesterday.


What we also knew what that those statements are based on nothing. Pro-environment? What does that even mean?

Last year I wondered how Abbott could continue after he admitted to Kerry O’Brien that he stretched the truth during the cut and thrust of interviews.

I wondered how could a guy who admitted to lying when it suited him survive. But of course, he was only lying to journalists. Who the hell wouldn’t? Most people if you asked  them – would you lie to a journalist if that meant they would go easier on you? The answer would be a “Hell yes”. Most people would say anything to get rid of the journalist, most people don’t trust them, so why should it matter if Abbott lies to them? 

Where is the journalist who is sitting at his/her desk and is linking to reports and ABS data as Abbott speaks? Latika Bourke transcribes everything said at any press conf quite well. She is good to follow if you can’t watch it yourself. We don’t need two of her. Where is the person who has the knowledge of policies so that when Abbott (or Gillard, or Pyne or Swan or Hockey or Combet or Robb) says something in a press conf, he or she is known as the one to follow because he or she will find the evidence that either supports what they are saying, or the evidence to show its all bullshit?

No one in the media that I am aware of. 

For that you need to read blogs. Blogs written by folk who don’t give a damn that some Minister’s press secretary might freeze them out.

And if I’m wrong. C’mon journalists, send me the links with all the articles written today pointing out the dodgy statements, unsupported claims and pie in the sky bull that Abbott said yesterday.

Hit me with them.


BigBob said...

Time and again, it's always the same criticism of the journos.

The number of political commentators who actually look at things with a critical eye can be counted on one hand - with ease.

All we are treated to is analysis of the game, no analysis of the policy, no analysis of accuracy.

I would guess 95% of the population don't access wonk blogs for analysis, so 95% of the population read/listen/watch this 'analysis' to inform their views on politics.

No wonder they can't stand either politicians or journalists

Agnes Mack said...

How about a Quarterly Essay covering this, as a follow up to The Book. This is vintage Grog. Brilliant.

Allan said...

Well done Greg, couldn't agree with you more. Latika is a great follow for verbatim reporting - I too would like to see some accurate journalistic analysis. Will be interesting to see what the journos write after Gillard's effort today.

chrispydog said...

Thanks Grog, you spared me from having to hear more of Abbott's vacuous ranting, although I did catch a line on the news where he claimed there was a 'light at the end of the tunnel'

No Tony, you are the 'lite' at the end of the tunnel, and Grog just called you, and the spineless media, out on it.

Julie Boyd said...

Well said, Greg. The challenge for politicians who are trying to implement policy rather than feed cheap, untrue, soundbites is only going to get worse with the new Hancock media wars. Problem is that intelligent people read blogs not newspapers, those who don't care skim read their Herald Sun for 5 mins over morning toast and believe the headlines.Both vote (and breed) the same! My networks have certainly had a gutful of good policies and efforts being trashed by Dr No, and the focus on Rudd's non-leadership challenge. How to change the culture and power of the meedya - maybe a vilekyle -type campaign might work!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. Thank you. Please submit to The Drum.

HillbillySkeleton said...

Oh Grog. Noble sentiments, but when you consider that the other major story of the day is the prospect of Big Gina buying further influence in the Australian media overnight, and you link it with the statements by Tim Treadgold today that if she does this and journalists who now work for Fairfax don't like it she'll just find ones who do...what hope is there for unbiased and balanced reporting in Australia. And Tony Abbott will be her puppet in government, if that photo I saw of a sycophantic Abbott paying fealty to Reinhart in Perth is any guide.
But we won't hear that in the media,just blogs,until they figure out how to censor them too. Which they are working on and would be a function of a Private Industry-run broadband network responding to government 'oversight'.
I despair for the future of free and open communication among the citizenry.

The Rev Mountain said...

Great post Grog. As I falsely quoted Abbott saying yesterday on Twitter -

"Abbott - You can just say things... anything really. They put them in the paper, it's really good. #npc"

The coverage is/was a joke and the Aus Day protest and aftermath coverage not much better (something I covered on my blog). This past week has been a perfect picture of how much a horse race political journalism has become in Australia.

God bless the blogs - people writing for very little, more likely no, money, and giving us the analysis that's actually needed.

Alistair Baillieu-McEwan said...

It's not the Australian Open and it's certainly not Open Australia. It's winners take all -
Game, Set, Match.

(The word for name tag "rental" says it all - mouths and pens for rent in this land of "freedom")

Unknown said...

extremely well said and a departure from your more considered stances on such issues. It's blindingly obvious that this media obeisance and timidity, and....dare I say it....laziness....has you as angered & frustrated as the rest of us. It's not what Abbott says, it's the fact that he's said it over, and over ad infinitum without validation or challenge. He has a free ride as far as Main Stream media is concerned in this country. It has to stop. I have no issue with challenges to government policy or critiques of policy issues & matters of social good, but don't fill my ears, eyes & mind with pap and expect me to blithely accept it. I won't. & neither should anyone else.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, once again, for cogent and insightful analysis from outside the sycophant pit.

The Gallery is so reliant on the nutrition shovelled at it from pollies, they daren't challenge.

dendy said...

It's a good question. Why is political reporting so vacuous?

I'm not convinced that it's because Abbott used to be a journalist. I think there's more to it than that. Maybe it's that journalists see their job as sports commentators; report the game, not the substance. Maybe relations between the government and the Press gallery is poisonous. Or maybe it's what their bosses want of them - one suspects an honest assessment of Abbott's policies wouldn't get much of a run in News Ltd papers.

I no longer read the opinion pages of the MSM. If I want an honest, believable assessment it's blogs, such as yours, that I go to now.

ICM said...

Thank you, facts not fiction, appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest that it is fear that hold the media quiescent on challenging abbott. And I would call them all, every single one of them spineless cowards. The fear that they hold is not one for the good of society but simply for their own future job security.
Get over it you bunch of wimps. Everyone can start a new career doing something completely different. Most of us have to without choice. You 'journalists' can too and if you are forced to it by your employer just think what a story you will have to publish on your own blog site. Do it for the good of your own children, do it for society. Grow some balls and start calling a spade a spade. You will make a name for yourself and you will be respected by many more people than you will ever realise. Heck you could even become famous as opposed to the nameless, faceless nothings that more and more intelligent people think that you are.

Anonymous said...

Well done, Greg, compulsory reading.

Brilliant response to a nothing speech and the useless analysis of it that followed in the mainstream media. I can't say anything more than what's in this article and the comments that follow.

I've emailed this article to a number of journalists, to let them know that they need to lift their game. Probably won't help but something has to burst the bubble they're living in.

Space Kidette said...

If you go back to old newspapers, there is very little in the way of opinion. Now every journalist has one.

Facts are, at best glossed over, but more often than not, totally ignored, in the journalist's rush to grace us with their opinions, whilst simultaneously educating us as to their lack of analytical skills.

Laurie Oakes said in his Walkely speech this year, that journalists can only do their job while readers trust them or WTTE. Well, that trust is gone.

Savvy readers are actively looking for sources they can trust. (Can't be sure of how true this is for mainstream readers). Which has to be dangerous for an industry that is an inflection point. So I have to wonder what else is at play here that sets the journalistic bar at an all time low.

David1 said...

You said it Greg precisely and I doubt very much you will hear a squeak out of the MSM. They haven't got the guts!!!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post again Grog, no analysis at all in media world, just verbatim repeating of his message. Then they proclaim how well he cuts through. In sharp contrast to the evaluation of who told who where tabot was after he spoke inconsiderately again on Australia day. No amount of investigation and analysis is too much then.

Shame about the typo at the end.

"For that you need to read blogs."

"For that you need to read Grogs"

Fixed it for ya ;)

sue said...

thanks grog,
the best i saw yesterday was a question and answer between matthew franklin and bill shorten after the abbott talk fest. franklin asked that it appeared that abbott was chuffed with his position and didn't need to explain any policies. shorten replied. good question franklin, but that it was upto the press gallery to do their job.

didn't see that in the press today.

Liam said...

Loyalty to a fellow journalist does not cut it for me.

The press gallery are a cynical bunch of jobsworths. They know their salaries and future prospects depend on them boosting Abbott and tearing down Gillard,just as they did Rudd.
Come on, lets face it have a one party media and therefore an enfeebled third rate democracy.

Grog,you put our crap so called journalists to shame, good on you.

Anonymous said...

Four factors:

1. Journalists can detect dog whistles, but they are also experts at detecting what their employers want.

2. Journalism in Australia is a very small pond, run by people with LOOOONG memories and a history of vindicative punishment/revenge. Refer 1 above.

3. Fear & loathing of the affect of the NBN on traditional media. This results in a (subliminal?) bias against Labor in favour of the NBN-hating Coalition. Refer 1 above.

3. Journalists worldwide are succumbing to the quick sound bite and instant opinion. Young journalists are often inexperienced philistines, while tired, older journalists are dragged into the new instant reporting and are reactively doing what is best for ensuring survival of their own careers. Refer 1,2 and 3 above.

Anonymous said...

Yes and the Murdoch papers are still claiming there was a riot on Australia day and studiously ignoring the year there was one, 2002.

Our journos work in this rarified air of see nothing, hear nothing, see nothing but "what can we invent today" seems to work for them.

Annie said...

Well done, Greg...great article. Geoff Kitney ( today's Financial Review), notes with alarm Abbott's use of 'patriots' characterising his promise at NPC address to cut govt spending.

Greg Jericho said...

Hi Annie - thanks for the tip about Geoff Kitney's piece. So that's one...

Occam's Blunt Razor said...

It's not as if the Journos give the ALP, Greens or independents the the thumb screws either.

As for Abbott saying the same thing day in and day out - that's what you have to do to get a message out through the media.

2353 said...

So 8+ hours later do we have any so called journalists who have corrected Grog's assertion that they did actually write a balanced coverage of Abbott's speech?

No, didn't think so?

Jake Gittings said...

Bernard Keane in Crikey (link: has has a pretty good shot at it. I sent the link to The Drum because you asked, albeit rhetorically, for any examples of some critical analysis of Abbott's speech. Two hours later it remained unpublished so I resent it and suggested that if they didn't want to publish it then they should do you the courtesy of telling you they were blocking replies to your request.
I also linked your Drum piece to the comments at Bernard's piece in Crikey, which they posted.
BTW, your piece was an absolute cracker.

Shane said...

Cracking blog - a real antidote to articles like Lenore Taylor's in response to Tony's speech.

I believe there is space in the universe for blog called 'Hang on...that's bullshit' so statements are not swallowed and restated verbatim but actually critically and factually challenged. If only the time was available to do it.

BigC said...

I loved your Drum piece. The best piece of writing about those who are supposed to report on the pollies I have ever read.

If only mr and ms or mrs Oz would wake up and demand more than the crap dished up by these hacks.

SimsonMc said...

Hi Grog - Great article

For everyone's whinging about the Howard years, but the vast majority of the great unwashed think he was the best thing since sliced bread. Apparently they did a poll on it of course. And why wouldn't they? He treated the electorate like one big Gen Y child. Every time they had a whinge, he would stuff as much money in their pocket until they would stop whinging. And now look at the electorate. They have this sense of entitlement where the great unwashed believe that a couple earning over a $150K a year and look like having their government assistance taken off them somehow have a legitimate grievance. WTF???

Labor need to wake up to themselves. They still have grandeur ideas of playing fair with the electorate and giving them far more credit about their ability to grasp complex policy concepts than they deserve. The Coalition on the other hand get it because their heritage is from big business. They know how to play dirty, they know that anything is justified as long as someone is making money and if it is you or any of your mates even better. I don’t understand why someone in the Labor party hasn’t worked out that they have a brand issue. With TA pressing the inspirational button again, the marketing boys at LNP HQ are going back to the winning formula. No one aspires to be a blue collar worker on Struggle Street whose only joy in life is that they have a warm fuzzy feeling because they and their work mates are getting a fair go. They want success and in today’s society success is about wealth and lots of it. So let’s face it, the Labor party are the Lada of the political world and the Libs are the BMW. Who aspires to drive the pinnacle of Russian automotive engineering?

I loathe the man but I give him credit, Abbott is no dill. JG might be a smart women but I suspect she is a manager not a leader, hence the reason why she is doing so badly. I suspect that the Labor party are like most organisations, mistaking managerial qualities as leadership.

TheFamousEccles said...

HI, I'm one of the souls who was lost in the barren wastes of Limited News - I gave up reading the Australian long ago (the Advertiser even longer - lots of media choice in Adelaide...) as I was off-put by the strident partisan screeching of what is now obviously the third member of the Coalition. I was however lost for information.

Until I discovered Interwebs. Yes, a late bloomer but making up for it. I was directed to this blog by Crikey and am glad I clicked the link.

I realise that much of this article is singing to the choir, but compared to the sensless, nasty baying that can be found on MSM blog sites (not to mention the supporters/posters at these places!), it is reasuring to know that there are still sites that allow opposing viewpoints to be posted on the same page, and the resulting conversation can be informative and interesting.

I do think though, that even the point-blank calling out of the MSM and Mr Rabbit for the vaucous, uncritical propaganda conduits that they are is only beneficial if it gets to the audience that needs to know - also known as the greater electorate.

Pleased to have found your blog, Grog. I will return again.

JordanT said...

I believe politicians should be accountable for information they present in the same way directors of public companies are accountable for information they provide to markets/stakeholders.

I believe politicians should be held accountable for information they present in the same way advertisers are held accountable for claims made in advertising.

We need a Professor Allan Fels ACCC type commissioner who is empowered and resourced to investigate 'assertions of fact' made by politicians and make/publish rulings/findings in relation to the conduct of politicians and misleading/inaccurate claims.

The Commissioner would need be resourced sufficiently enough to deliver timely rulings, i.e. within 7-14 days of a complaint being lodged.

The Commissioner would need to have the authority to subpoena relevant information and documents.

There should regulations and penalties for politicians who make false and misleading statements.

The penalties would need to be sufficient enough as a deterrent to force a chanhe in the behaviour of politicians such that they get their facts and information straight before making assertions to the public.

William Tell said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am going slowly mad hearing the Abbott line and then hearing the non-analysis.

Anonymous said...

Journalists....they were more like a cheer squad than an analytical audience at the it partly the panic induced by the impending death of mass-circulation print dailies? the need for constant churn of content in 24 hour news cycle? an unfamiliar political paradigm, such that they would have to change their traditional analytical frameworks to understand, and that's all too hard?....some of the most intelligent and morally repsonsible people I've known in my life are or were journalists; very few of them left in MSM now....

Bill said...

I honestly believe the problem is that lazy journalism has crossed a generation and that the current mob really think this is how it's meant to be done - that the story is what was said and the analysis is how it was said.

Couple this with the balance myth - ie: if someone says the world is round, you have to find someone else who says it's flat, treat them as equals and finish with, "Well, you decided who's right. What would I know? I'm just a reporter..." and you've got a press gallery that can be played for mugs without even realising it.

I'm tired of the excuse of the 24-hour news cycle. 24-hour news should give more time for scrutiny, not reports of, "Someone just said something. Here's the thing they said. Then someone said something else."

Peter Prowse said...

I've been in sales for over 25 years and a good deal of that in the IT industry.

We refer to lazy sales people as fax jumpers (ie they sit by the fax machine and jump on the orders).

Journalism today, with some notable exceptions is exactly the same.

There is no questioning, analysis or thought provided, as most journalists can't be arsed checking what is said and then challenging blatant lies by both sides of politics (I know that Abbott is the worst offender, but Julia is no mean slouch and don't get me started on Barnaby or Malcolm Turnbull - he has zero credibility left after his disgusting misinformation campaign on the NBN).

Thank god that people who want to be informed can, if they put in a little effort. The challenge is that 99% of the Australian population - like most journalists - can't be arsed to actually question a statement from a politician, or pseudo journalists for that matter.

Anonymous said...

And of course the main reason they dont pull up Abbott - most of them are grovelling Murdoch monkeys who've been told to go soft on him.

Anonymous said...

Dont know if anyone's seen Annabel Crabbs latest bullshit project- 'Kitchen Cabinet' where she visits the houses of pollies and watches then cook dishes! All part of the glorified gossip column bullshit her and the other pathetic hacks in the gallery now think is reporting.

jaket kulit said...

Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic but I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest writing a blog post or vice-versa? My blog addresses a lot of the same topics as yours and I think we could greatly benefit from each other. If you might be interested feel free to shoot me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Excellent blog by the way!