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The Oz feeling the heat

September 14th, 2010

As many bloggers know, The Australian is hypersensitive to criticism, which is unfortunate, since so much of what is printed in its pages calls out for correction. The most consistent example is its War on Science (particularly climate science). Tim Lambert’s series on the topic is now up to 50 entries.

Until now, the usual MO has been to make the attack without identifying the target, though in such a way that anyone actually involved knows who is intended. For example, I got a whole editorial to myself, in which I was described only as “an opinion writer in a financial tabloid” and as a “green activist” with a “totalitarian mindset”. I’ve finally got around to adding the latter bouquet to my sidebar, along with various other compliments.

But, as the Oz has become more and more openly partisan and dishonest, the criticism has come not only from bloggers and occasional columnists but from leading lights of the journalistic establishment, who can’t be ignored in this way. Laura Tingle had an excellent piece in the Fin (paywalled) and the Oz today identifies Barrie Cassidy and Fran Kelly as fellow-critics. The Oz takes offence at a description by Fran Kelly of “front-page editorialising”, but that’s too generous. Party-line propaganda masquerading as news can be found on every page of the Oz.

And what’s true of the Oz is true of the entire Murdoch empire, from Fox News to the Times of London. The former paper of record[1] was recently forced to print a humiliating retraction of the lies it told about the spurious “Climategate” scandal[2], something which the Oz has (I think) failed to do.

Obviously, Murdoch is not incurring any short-run costs from abandoning the truth. His readers and viewers have demonstrated, over and over, that they prefer comfortable lies to inconvenient truths, on everything from the Iraq war to climate change to birtherism. But sooner or later, the political right in the English-speaking world will pay a heavy price for its collective decision to disregard reality.

fn1. To be absolutely specific, it was the Sunday Times – I’m not sure of its exact relationship to the weekday edition.
fn2. Of course, the real scandal was the theft of private emails, and the use of distorted extracts for defamation, a crime in which almost everyone in the anti-science movement was complicit to some extent or another. Their standards of morality are even lower than their standards of reasoning.

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  1. Alice
    September 14th, 2010 at 18:34 | #1

    You know…I actually miss Packer. Murdoch is just so insistently and blackly political that reading his papers never comes with the feeling you are being “informed” and often comes with the suspician you are being “misinformed.”
    Really takes the joy out of reading the newspaper.

  2. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 14th, 2010 at 19:29 | #2

    Alice, there is a difference between reporting the news and that of pushing a particular line of thought (push strategy) for the latter is not news.

  3. September 14th, 2010 at 19:55 | #3

    There is no such newspaper as “the Times of London”. You may be thinking of the Times, which happens to be published in London.

  4. Tony Abbott for PM
    September 14th, 2010 at 20:15 | #4

    John it is pretty clear you are out on the lunatic far left fringe, so of course any sensible news paper will appear to be partisan.

  5. Richard Green
    September 14th, 2010 at 20:28 | #5

    I have to take issue with the last paragraph. Fox News might be finding a market for blatant dishonesty, but the negligible readership of The Australian (which is less nationally than the Adelaide Advertiser, or in NSW less than the Newcastle Herald) means that it runs at a significant loss (not alone amongst the Murdoch organs – Fox News is an Ailes operation). The truth is that The Australian’s battles are heavily subsidised by arms of the empire that actually find audiences, including films like Avatar which the Australian subsequently rails against.

  6. jquiggin
    September 14th, 2010 at 20:38 | #6

    @Tony Abbott for PM
    Oh, touché !

  7. Rationalist
    September 14th, 2010 at 20:52 | #7

    Don’t be silly, Australia won’t feel the heat because global warming is bunkum.

  8. Wombat
    September 14th, 2010 at 20:53 | #8

    Excellent points that you raise, John. I am particularly concerned that as the evidence increasingly mounts in favour of man-made climate change, those who refuse to believe in climate change become increasingly shrill in their denial. The sane thing to do would be to be gradually admitting that the science is becoming more certain, but these denialists insist on attacking the source of the science instead of confronting their own beliefs.

    On another note, I agreed with a comment in the Crikey editorial some months ago that The Australian is the premiere (premier? sorry) newspaper in this country. That it has also become so horrifyingly partisan greatly upsets me. I can still read it because I know enough about the bias to strip it away from the articles and actually get the “news” out of it; but I don’t believe that the Fox News method of preaching lies to the converted is a rational or ethical business decision.

  9. Austin
    September 14th, 2010 at 21:11 | #9

    The cost will probably be borne far broader than “the political right in the English-speaking world”, though that group will be the one responsible for the liability.

  10. jquiggin
    September 14th, 2010 at 21:28 | #10

    @Rationalist
    I’m not sure if this is parody or self-parody, but either way it raised a smile.

  11. Rationalist
    September 14th, 2010 at 21:51 | #11

    @jquiggin
    It is a parody of a self parody. If it raises a smile then I am doing my job.

  12. Donald Oats
    September 14th, 2010 at 22:40 | #12

    A pale imitation of itself, the Australian is.

  13. Donald Oats
    September 14th, 2010 at 22:49 | #13

    At lunch today I read a copy of the Australian – wouldn’t sink to paying for it – and Lo! and Behold! There is our old friend Bjorn Lomburg, explaining how doing $100million of R&D is somehow a better spend than trying to avoid more than two degrees centigrade increas in temperature by cutting GHG emissions by 80% before 2050. Apparently, so his argument goes, we can ignore the horrible costs of exceeding 2C temperature increase, because spending $100mill a year (globally) on R&D will lead to wonderful solutions, whereas the cost of trying to bring down GHG emissions – according to him – would bring the world economy to its knees.

    No sign of an alternative opinion. Crickets chirping. Where is the Janet Albrechtsen outrage at the lack of showing “both sides of the debate” in her eminent rag? Crickets still chirping…

  14. Tony G
    September 14th, 2010 at 23:11 | #14

    The ‘revenue lobby’ (comprising the ATO, the Treasury and their allies in politics, ACADEMIA, the media and the welfare industry) is alive and well.

    Do you think one paper is enough to counter all those foes? Next you will be saying the commies at the ABC are non-partisan.

  15. Jill Rush
    September 15th, 2010 at 00:47 | #15

    The Australian has Dennis Shannahan to put on its front page so it will remain a cheerleader and propogandist. How effective in establishing a story is the question. On the pink bats it has certainly established a short hand way of undermining the governmetn and the BER Waste is another myth that has been firmly established in the public mind as a “fact”. So it punches above its weight. However the latest cheap offers in the paper itself to entice people to subscribe indicates that it is prepared to take less in order to sell a little more. It would be interesting to know how far circulation would fall if government departments ceased to buy it and be influenced by the shrill opinions. Those same govt departments are very sensitive to criticism and so in this targeted way the Oz is very successful.

  16. John G
    September 15th, 2010 at 01:50 | #16

    I was interested to see that Fran Kelly was named as a critic of the OO (from LP). Despite this, I heard her on Breakfast Tuesday raising questions about the BER waste with Chris Evans. I would have thought that Fran would be aware of the massive hyperbole that the OO put into this story and should have dropped it by now.

  17. Sam
    September 15th, 2010 at 11:19 | #17

    I agree with most of what you say John, except for the part about the Right paying a long term cost for it’s (self) deception. In a world where marginal voters take no serious interest in the world around them, I don’t see why this state of affairs couldn’t be permanent. Perhaps the long term decline of newspapers and Murdoch’s inability to understand the internet will save democracy.

  18. Peter Evans
    September 15th, 2010 at 11:40 | #18

    Well, here’s hoping the Australian goes pay-walled. Then the loonies can just talk among themselves (which they mostly do anyway, but it’s quieter, if you know what I mean). Too bad about the advertising revenue:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/online/has-rupert-murdochs-paywall-gamble-paid-off-2067907.html

  19. Alice
    September 15th, 2010 at 12:10 | #19

    @Peter Evans
    I agree Peter – here is hoping it does. This is what one advertiser says of Murdochs decision to go paywall on the Times
    ” “We are just not advertising on it. If there’s no traffic on there, there’s no point in advertising on there.” Lynam says he has been told by News International insiders that traffic to The Times site has fallen by 90 per cent since the introduction of charges. ”

    Well in other news – my hubby just ditched one of his local papers here for advertising (Manly daily). Things were getting slower and slower and the paper getting skinnier and skinnier – then they dropped the cars guide and started putting his ads for used cars in the boat section and showed NO flexibility on price for apparent loss of service and readers….Murdoch still wants to charge a fortune for local ads.

    Huge ego. Thinks he can run politics via the media and still thinks people will pay for his crap papers on line and still thinks they will pay the same for advertising even though his readership is deserting the hardcopy papers left, right and centre.

    Lo and behold – non computer literate partner sold more cars in a week after signing up to an internet site for advertising, than he has for months. Now I cant get him off my computer. He is checking site all the time.What he cant understand is why people are emailing him at 1.30am and 4am from the net re his cars. He doesnt understand the net surfing/blogging gen.
    Ive been saying it for a while now. The less people that read his rags the better but its happening anyway. Murdoch is losing his grip. He could try being an honest capitalist.

  20. Peter T
    September 15th, 2010 at 14:15 | #20

    I think Murdoch’s target for his papers is not popular opinion, but public servants and politicians. The papers are loss leaders – he wants to keep the people who might make decisions unfavourable to his real money-making ventures (satellite, cable) off-balance and wary of upsetting him. His end will come when some fed-up politician with spine targets his core businesses.

  21. Alice
    September 15th, 2010 at 15:34 | #21

    I suspect Murdoch is hoping other online papers follow him and paywall all theirs as well (suspect some are losing money anyway with free online) – then they can all happily drop print together and Murdoch will just attempt to extend his reach over the online world.
    BTW – he recently donated a $1million to the republican governors association, which in turn supports candidates (surely he cant be thinking about Sarah Pallin?) ahead of Novermber’s elections putting the reps war chest at $58 and the dems at $40. No wonder some dems are opposing dropping Bush’s tax cuts for the very rich – might upset the donating class.

  22. Uncle Milton
    September 15th, 2010 at 16:26 | #22

    The Australian is a mixed bag. George Megalogenis, for example, is a fine journalist. On the other hand, Michael Stutchbury, who was once a fine journalist, does not appear to have had a new thought in 20 years. Glenn Milne is beyond parody. Hedley Thomas’ reporting on the Haneef affair was the best in the country by a long way. The editorialists have the sale-importance of the editor of the small town Tasmanian paper who, during the Sino Russian war, began an article with “We warn the Czar …” The general problem afflicting the Australian is that it is not content to report on the players, or comment on the players; it wants to be a player.

  23. gianni
    September 15th, 2010 at 18:06 | #23

    John Menadue on ABC Radio 702 this morning provided an excellent (and damning) analysis of the media’s failings during the election campaign. Specific comments regarding The Australian start at about 7:05. He didn’t spare the ABC either.

  24. James Farrell
    September 15th, 2010 at 18:36 | #24

    Coincidentally, Media Watch too lambasted The Australian yesterday.

  25. fredn
    September 15th, 2010 at 19:12 | #25

    You don’t buy the Australian for news, you buy it for right wing political views. Particularly enjoyed the copy one day before JG formed government and one day after. Oh such sad losers.

  26. el gordo
    September 15th, 2010 at 19:46 | #26

    Rupert Murdoch is not playing politics in Australia, his stable punted for different prospects. On the issue of climate change they have leaned to the sceptical side, away from the consensus.

    This is healthy journalism. The MSM is robust because of the dialectic, not just the rhetoric of Fairfax and the ABC.

  27. Alice
    September 15th, 2010 at 19:53 | #27

    @el gordo
    Murdochs stable in Australia has punted heavily in the Oz to take the Greens down (I could list the articles but Id rather not – they are all there) – he is playing politics in Australia. He plays politics in a lot of places but he certainly plays politics noticeably here in Australia. He hasnt let up on the Greens since Gillard got back in.

  28. gerard
    September 15th, 2010 at 21:30 | #28

    When I see the Australian lying around in the staff room, I just put it in the bin.

    You can too!

    Today’s front page was how Kevin’s lip quivered as the faceless Shorten was sworn in – and how he exhaled deeply when Arbib was sworn in…

    into the bin it went, under the leftover soup.

    Personally I favour the Fijian solution.

  29. el gordo
    September 15th, 2010 at 22:14 | #29

    Alice

    The Greens are fair game, especially now that they have formed a relaxed coalition with Labor.

    The recent election in the UK saw the Third Estate take sides, as they have done throughout history. It’s no big deal because people will make up their own minds with or without the msm.

    In the climate change debate it is difficult to discern the pseudo facts from scientific fact. Just like the bad old days behind the iron curtain the proletariat read Pravda (the truth) between the lines.

    So in the short term it may be difficult to discriminate between opposing views, but ultimately the truth will be out and then we will all LOL.

  30. Alice
    September 16th, 2010 at 08:13 | #30

    @el gordo
    el gordo – of course the greens are fair game for the loss leading right wing propaganda merchant journos but I really dont know many people who actually buy the Australian. The fact that you say “it is difficult to discern pseudo facts from scientific facts” on climate science is a measure that the propagandists like the OZ have had some success at convincing readers that fact is fiction and fiction is fact.

    I dont know why OZ even makes comment status in the news reviews on the ABC morning news. Its comforting to know that at election time, the voters speak and outnumber the media army. I actually think the media was asleep at the wheel in the recent election – it was engaged in inciting ABBOT v GILLARD tournaments of childish interaction, infotainment style and playing old tired themes (attempting to float the boatpeople again.) The media actually ignored the greens but raised disgust in the electorate with both major parties.

    Maybe he is losing his grip on his rank and file downstream…..

  31. el gordo
    September 16th, 2010 at 08:39 | #31

    Alice

    The media was producing mostly puff during the election, because it sells. The real story is about climate change, but it was never a serious contender.

  32. September 16th, 2010 at 17:41 | #32

    Pr Q said:

    Obviously, Murdoch is not incurring any short-run costs from abandoning the truth. His readers and viewers have demonstrated, over and over, that they prefer comfortable lies to inconvenient truths, on everything from the Iraq war to climate change to birtherism. But sooner or later, the political right in the English-speaking world will pay a heavy price for its collective decision to disregard reality.

    The reference to Murdoch’s forthcoming day of reckoning should be read in context with Keyne’s old line: “in the long run we are all dead”. So how far off is the day when the electorate will exact this “heavy price”?

    The “political Right in English-speaking world” has done surprisingly well at recent elections and polls, the more so as it has continued to “disregard reality”, on ecologic matters at least.* The Abbott-L/NP forced Rudd to back down on climate policy and then got Rudd sacked. And the Palin-REPs look set to win back the House from the Obama-DEMs.

    The Right’s come-back in the US has been even more impressive. I thought Obama would only be retarded by “Right-wing ballast” in his first term, restricted to a mostly “janitorial” role. I thought the Tea Party generated more smoke than fire. I was fairly confident that the hollowness of the Right’s economics and ecologics would be exposed in time and the DEMs could risk a more Left-wing program in Obama’s second term.

    Wrong on all counts. The US Right has come back with unprecedented vengenance – and make no mistake – the Tea-Party is populist, not elitist, political movement. It is unseating the REP establishment, a sure sign of grass-roots vitality (or ferality, if you like). It could well drive the US’s political agenda in the next few years.

    Taking an anti-scientific position on a Big Issue will not cost you votes. It seems that “people can only bear so much reality” and are happy to indulge their fantasies at the ballot box, for the sake of some cheap thrills. This conclusion is profoundly depressing for those who might have hoped for a more reality-based democratic politics.

    * Exactly the same criticism can be made of the way in which the political Left in the English speaking world flagrantly flouts science in cultural policy. Allthough the Left’s war on anthropological science takes much longer to inflict headline-making casualties, and indeed is shrouded by a politically correct veil of silence.

  33. Alice
    September 16th, 2010 at 19:48 | #33

    @Jack Strocchi
    Jack – and I thought you were a serious political predictor? Ive seen you wrong a lot lately. You keep predicting the resurgence of the mad right, quite a lot (somewhat more than any outcome). There is a song called “wishing and hoping”.

  34. Jill Rush
    September 16th, 2010 at 23:49 | #34

    ‘prefer comfortable lies to inconvenient truths”

    It is not comfortable lies but a determination to be ignorant in the face of all of the evidence – a narrow piece of self interested rhetoric full of prejudice.

  35. jakerman
    September 17th, 2010 at 17:00 | #35

    The Oz is redefining who “Business” is on the run. If various business leaders make competing claims, the OZ lets you decide in a fair and balanced manner (sarc).

    One of the Oz’s, reliable sources is Macarthur Coal chairman Keith DeLacy, who says:

    “We should not be looking at a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme in advance of the rest of the world,” [...] “It will reduce our competitiveness and won’t necessarily reduce carbon emissions.”

    Shorter Coal Boss:

    The Coalition under Howard was promising a carbon price in th 2007 election that would have “reduce our competitiveness”.

    Another Shorter Coal Boss:

    The GTS reduces our competativeness.

    In reality neither is true, as the price on carbon can be taken off exports and added to imports just as the GST is.

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