There’s more I can’t locate now. Enjoy and suggest more in comments.
We’ve been used to imagining the global supply of euphemisms as limitless, but if Dennis Shanahan keeps at it, the world will be running short by the time the Abbott government leaves office. In a single column (Google it) he manages to refer to “accusations of broken promises”, “the shift on the Gonski education promise”, “the repudiation of Labor’s Gonski education promises”, “The management of the Gonski “unity ticket” on education funding”, ” accusations of broken promises” (again), “The readjustment of expectations on Gonski” “the painful Gonski process” and “a cusp of credibility”. Given his leader’s penchant for three word slogans, perhaps a three-letter word starting with “L” might be what Shanahan is reaching for here.
Among those hyperventilating about the ABC decision to publish the information about the spying fiasco, Andrew Bolt has been every bit as vociferous and hyperbolic as you would expect. Of course this is silly: the UK based Guardian was going to publish anyway, and if they had, for some reason, chosen not to do so, Snowden and his team could have given it to the Indonesian press, which would have been an even worse outcome for the Australian government.
In this context, it’s worth recalling that Bolt wasn’t always so highminded about protecting our nation’s secrets. Back in 2003, when Andrew Wilkie resigned from the Office of National Assessments because he could not stand the way Iraq intelligence was being “sexed up”, Bolt was denouncing anyone and everyone who suggested that the Iraq war was anything other than a brilliant success based on overwhelming evidence. Somehow, he received a leaked copy of a report written by Wilkie, which, with his characteristic method of selective quotation, he used to attack Wilkie’s credibility. The Howard government (which could not, of course, quote the original report) used Bolt’s article to attack Wilkie. As Mike Seccombe observed at the time
You have to admire the neat circularity of it: top secret information is leaked to a government-friendly journo, who puts bits of it deemed damaging to Wilkie on the public record. Downer’s office briefs Senator Macdonald using that information.
This is part of a more general information. When secrets embarrass the government, leaking them is a major crime. When the government wants to attack its opponents, leaks are just part of politics. I don’t have a problem with journalists who publish leaked information without fear or favor. But someone like Bolt, willing to be used as a conduit for leaks that make the government look good, and then to pontificate about the immorality of leaks that make the government look bad, isn’t a journalist – he’s a lackey.
And looking back again, it’s worth remembering that Wilkie was right, that every word Bolt wrote about Iraq turned out to be utterly, howlingly wrong, and that he has never apologised or retracted. The credibility of anything he writes now should be assessed in that light.
As I said in my last post, Tony Abbott has set himself the tightrope-walking task of maintaining his government’s official endorsement of mainstream climate change, while keeping his denialist base happy. Having made a mess of this with his bushfire comments, he had a chance to rectify the situation when he gave an interview to denialist and conspiracy theorist Andrew Bolt. Newscorp ran in under the headline “Andrew Bolt tackles the PM on the big issues”, but Bolt was playing touch, not tackle.
The interview was a sycophantic exercise in mutual admiration, with all the tough questions you might expect from, say, Anne Summers interviewing Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd interviewing himself. But such interviews present smart politicians with the chance to play against type, by disagreeing with the interviewer on an issue dear to the base, but politically problematic for a would-be statesman. Presented with a soft lob question about the bushfires, Abbott could have taken the chance to define his own position as the “sensible centre”, by repudiating both Bolt’s denialism and the “alarmism” of those stressing the link between bushfires and climate. Bill Clinton famously did this when he denounced radical rap artist Sister Souljah, signalling the shift to the right undertaken by the Democratic Leadership Council of which he was part.
Instead, Abbott chose to dig himself deeper, extending his denialism on bushfires and further claiming that the observation of record high temperatures is not evidence of climate change. I mentioned in my last post that he would have a problem in formulating a response to the likelihood that 2013 will turn out to be the warmest year in the Australian observational record. He’s chosen his answer now, one that is unlikely to carry much credibility except with those already committed to denialism.
His summary of climate science, previously reported as “crap” has been replaced by “hogwash”, perhaps in deference to the sensitivities of Greg Hunt, who took strong exception to being confronted with the previous term by a BBC interviewer. I won’t link to Bolt, but the relevant passages are quoted over the fold.
I’ve been struck by the fairly straight reporting of the IPCC Working Group 1 report on the physical science of climate change. Even Graham Lloyd at the Oz could find only one para for delusionist Benny Peiser in his report, headlined “Science solid on global warming, IPCC declares“. What happened to the much anticipated delusionist counterattack?
I think we have the Daily Mail to thank for the no-show. As readers will recall, the Mail ran a story by David Rose under the headline “‘World’s top climate scientists confess: Global warming is just HALF what we said”. This was obviously absurd, and the Mail was forced to retract, but not before the story had been circulated throughout the denialosphere, notably including Bolt, the Oz, and the Torygraphs (both UK and Oz). The Oz eventually retracted, but Bolt didn’t bother. This misfire made it pretty much impossible to get much traction out of the modest adjustments that were actually contained in the report, such as reducing the lower bound estimate of climate sensitivity to 1.5 degrees (it was increased from 1.5 degrees to 2.0 degrees in the Fourth Assessment Report0
What’s interesting here is the fact that such obvious nonsense as Rose’s article got such a credulous reception. The idea that estimates of warming since 1950 could be out by a factor of two, or that a few years of additional data could change them substantial is entirely implausible, and a “confession of error” unsupported by a quote ought to raise alarm bells. Multiple levels of stupidity are needed to explain this. First, the majority of delusionists are simply innumerate, and ignorant of the most basic facts about data (we saw this with the claims about “no significant warming” since 1993). Second, the confirmation bias that affects everyone is magnified to a pathological extent in the parallel universe created by the right. Third, the tribal character of the movement means that there are no incentives to correct error. Presumably there are at least some delusionists who must have thought the “confession of error” story too good to be true. But no one would have thanked them for raising doubts. Whereas real climate scientists disagree vigorously among themselves (though all but a handful agree that the evidence for the basic fact of human-caused climate change is overwhelming), “sceptics” never criticise any claim on their own side, however absurd.
Most obviously, Judith Curry who was quoted in Rose’s article (not as a source for the bogus claims) must have realised it was nonsense. But she implicitly endorsed it, after its publication, but before its retraction. Note that, while saying the article quoted her accurately and would not be welcomed by the IPCC, Curry carefully avoids
mentioning taking a position on its main claim, which she must have known to be false (she mentions the dispute briefly, at the bottom of here post, but offers no opinion). This is fairly typical of her, and her role-model Richard Lindzen.
But in this case, it was too clever by half. A smart delusionist if one existed would have jumped on Rose’s error and used it to build up some credibility for the future.
fn1. Peiser is, or was, a social anthropologist, and, according to Wikipedia, is currently a visiting fellow (not a real job, I suspect) at the University of Buckingham (definitely not a real university). He’s therefore eminently qualified to represent the delusionist viewpoint on issues of physical science and the interpretation of statistical evidence.
fn2. To be boringly clear, I’m fully aware that Buckingham is an accredited institution with lecturers, degrees and so on, legally entitled to call itself a university. It’s still not a real university.
… is trending on Twitter, thanks to the appalling UK Daily Mail, which ran a full length attack on the late Ralph Miliband, socialist academic and father of Opposition Leader Ed Miliband. On the strength of a scathing diary entry Miliband wrote as a 17-year old refugee, and his opposition to the Falklands War, the Mail claimed that Miliband “hated Britain”. Illustrating the proverb about glass houses, the attack only served to draw attention to the fact that whereas Miliband served in the Navy in World War II, the Mail backed Hitler and the Blackshirts throughout the 1930s, and has continued to push racist hatred ever since (unsurprisingly, it has seized on the spurious notion of “political correctness.” 
The Mail’s attack on Miliband has divided the UK right into three groups (google x+Mail+miliband)
* Those who have condemned this appalling and dishonest slur, including Michael Heseltine and Nick Clegg
* Those who have stuck to a weaselly line scripted by Tory minders that “of course Miliband should defend his father” such as David Cameron, William Hague and Boris Johnson
* Those who have backed the Mail all the way, notably including James Delingpole, Rod Liddle and Michael Gove
It’s notable that all those I’ve listed in the third group are prominent climate delusionists. As we’ve seen again recently, the Mail is the source for many of the lies about climate change that are reproduced in the Murdoch press. This is, as they say, no coincidence. Climate delusionism isn’t a mistaken belief about the world, it’s an expression of tribal hatred, all the more effective because most of those who push it know, at some level, that their arguments are false. Putting forth such arguments is an expression of tribal solidarity, like asserting that Obama was born in Kenya. Naturally, the tribal haters love the kind of stuff that the Mail dishes out.
Hopes are often disappointed, but it does seem as if the global party of stupid is starting to reap the whirlwind it has sown. The continued publication of delusional nonsense has produced a rightwing base that embraces delusional strategies like the US shutdown, or attacks on a man’s dead father, in the belief that everyone else will share their positive reaction.
fn1. It’s also being claimed that the father of Mail editor Paul Dacre didn’t serve, but this (sauce for the gander) claim hasn’t been verified AFAIK. Another tidbit is that the Mail was the target of
Churchill’s Stanley Baldwin’s famous jibe that it sought “power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”.
fn2. Gove hasn’t stated this, but he has tried to stop schools teaching anything about climate change. He has the additional motive that his wife has a highly paid job with the Mail.
fn3. It’s a striking commentary on the weakness of people like Bolt and Oz “environment reporter” Graeme Lloyd that, as well as being incapable of telling the truth, they also seem to be unable to come up with original lies.
Along with many others, I pointed out the absurdity of Graham Lloyd’s piece in the Oz, headlined “We got it wrong, says IPCC”. The Oz has printed a “correction”
blaming their absurd error on “the production process”. In the sense that the processes of the Oz, from the hiring of general editor Chris Mitchell and environment “reporter” Graham Lloyd, combined with uncritical reproduction of claims by discredited sources like David Rose “produced” the error. I guess this is true. But, this is part of a consistent pattern. Errors like this have been produced routinely in the past, and will continue to be produced in the future. Regular, but inadequate, retractions are part of this process.
I’ve often observed that the best way to understand Murdoch publications, notably the Oz, is to think of them as dysfunctional rightwing blogs. They’re prone to spectacular meltdowns when subject to the same kind of criticism they happily dish out.
Unattractive as the Oz group are when on the defensive, they are even uglier when celebrating a win. The Murdoch-LNP election victory last week was the signal, among other things for an outburst of climate delusionism on a grand scale. Amid a large pile, it’s hard to go past this piece by Graham Lloyd, with the blaring headline “We got it wrong on warming, says IPCC”.
Those who remember the conventions of 20th century media might read on expectantly, waiting to find a quotation (perhaps a little mangled) from the IPCC or someone associated with it. But there is no quote at all. The opening para says
THE Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest assessment reportedly admits its computer drastically overestimated rising temperatures, and over the past 60 years the world has in fact been warming at half the rate claimed in the previous IPCC report in 2007. (emphasis added)
. That would be pretty startling if true. After all, historical temperatures are usually estimated with thermometers, not computers. And while some warming delusionists have tried to claim biases associated with urban heat islands (the most recent effort, led by Anthony Watts, was a total fizzle) an IPCC admission that the planet had only warmed half as much as we thought would be a big story indeed.
Of course, no one from the IPCC is quoted, and we are left with the mysterious “reportedly”. The next para suggests that the report comes from that reliable source, the UK Daily Mail. But having failed 20th century journalistic ethics, the Oz can’t manage that most elementary of blogging functions, a hyperlink. So, it’s necessary to do some digging and discover the source is a column by the egregious David Rose. To cut a long story short, Rose is confusing the historically observed rate of warming since 1950 (an annual rate of 0.12 degrees per decade, almost exactly as reported in 2007) with estimates of the likely future rate of warming (generally about 0.2 degrees per decade). Lloyd continues with more errors than I can be bothered with. More gory details, and further links here.
Those are the terms chosen by young American voters to describe climate change deniers in a poll conducted for the League of Conservation Voters. LCV is obviously pro-environment, but historically nonpartisan, and they used both a Democratic and a Republican pollster.
The fact that, to be accepted in Republican circles, its necessary to be ignorant, out of touch or crazy or, at the very least, deferential to the crazies who dominate that side of politics, is being recognised as a problem for the Republicans and an opportunity for the Democrats, going well beyond the specific issue of climate change.
The climate denial issue came up again in Andrew Bolt’s interview with Kevin Rudd, and I’ve been reminded of his repeated claim that I got estimates of the climate impact of the government’s emission target wrong. In fact, it was Bolt who was wrong, as on almost every topic he touches, in this case, out by a factor of 100.
Since we’ve been discussing Andrew Bolt, I thought I’d dig up another of his columns from ten years ago, in which he denounces all those who criticised the lies he help to propagate. It was published in the Herald-Sun on 9 June 2003, but can now only be found via republications in Internet forums – the link they give is broken. Comment is, I think, superfluous.
At Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell points out that it is now exactly a decade (24 times 5 months) since Charles Krauthammer told us that
Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We’ve had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven’t found any, we will have a credibility problem.
Despite being utterly and repeatedly wrong about Iraq, and many other things, Krauthammer is now, as he was then, a prominent columnist at the Washington Post.
What about our own Krauthammers? The leading candidate is surely Andrew Bolt, and a search through the archives finds him denouncing the Left saying, triumphantly “they were wrong”. Those attacked include Carmen Lawrence, Bob Brown, Robert Manne, Andrew Vincent and Paul Dibb. Here’s a typical example of Bolt’s vitriol
NO one tried harder to save Saddam than Greens leader Bob Brown, a notorious scaremonger, who claimed more than 100,000 Iraqi children would die in this war. He also quoted from a leaked UN report which predicted 900,000 refugees. In fact, hardly one Iraqi refugee has fled in four weeks.
Of course, Brown was right.
Bolt is pretty big on demands for retractions. So, has he ever apologized for this appalling, and utterly wrong, attack on the reputations of those who correctly predicted the disastrous outcomes of the Iraq war?
fn1. The News archive doesn’t seem to go back 10 years, so I’ve been using the Factiva database. Google found Bolt’s spray reproduced on the Free Republic (I haven’t heard anything of the Freepers for years, but apparently they are still going). I’d welcome any help with data sources, and also any suggestions for more absurd wrongness from 10 years ago. If there are enough good links, I might make this a regular feature
fn2. From the days of the Iraq debate, I can just imagine someone quibbling about Brown’s reference to “children” and demanding a source that specifies the ages of those who died as a result of this tragedy. Such quibbles, and their authors, will be treated with the contempt they deserve.
The big political news yesterday was a national opinion poll showing, on its face anyway, that Labor would easily win an election held right now. you didn’t see it? I wouldn’t have either, except that it was in my Twitter feed for about five minutes and I happened to be looking at it. AFAICT, none of the major national news organizations even mentioned it. There seem to be a couple of possible reasons for this. One is that some people don’t like Morgan as a pollster (I don’t follow the polls closely enough to have a view on this).
The second is the idea that a result so far out of line with other polls (52.5-47.5 for Labor) must be a “rogue” or “outlier”. This reasoning reflects the fact that political journos still don’t understand stats. It would be sensible to ignore a poll finding if it was the result of a breakdown in sampling procedures, or a biased question. But this is the same poll Morgan has been running for many years, presumably with the same procedures. What is more likely is that, by chance, this particular sample population was more pro-Labor than the population as a whole. Every sampling procedure is subject to this kind of error. But the correct response is not to discard the data, but to collect more, or combine it with existing evidence.
Given four or five of recent polls with results around 53-47 for the coalition, simple averaging suggests that the best estimate would now be around 52-48. A better procedure would be to use a Bayesian model. This guy has done it, and Hey Presto, concludes that the best estimate is 51.9-48.1.
Coming back to the statistical illiteracy of journos, the problem may be put as follows. On the one hand, they know that it would be silly to run a “Labor ahead” story. On the other hand, they don’t have the technical chops to explain Bayesian updating, or even weighted averaging, and to do so would make it impossible to write future stories suggesting that small variations in poll numbers have any meaning.
Even so, I think Tony Abbott has had a lucky break here (as has, in a secondary way, Julia Gillard). The only thing keeping him in his job is the perception that, while he may be unpopular, the LNP are sure to win. Even a single poll challenging that could pave the way for a spill. And if the result were to return Malcolm Turnbull, the outlook for the Gillard government would suddenly get a lot worse.
Journalism academic Julie Posetti has just announced a move from the University of Canberra to the University of Wollongong. This represents a small step up in the status hierarchy, but not exactly front-page news. Except of course, at the Oz, where Posetti ranks high on the enemies list, having induced editor Chris Mitchell to issue absurd threats of a defamation action, based on a tweeted report of statements by a former Oz journalist. So, this story gets the full Oz treatment with references to Posetti’s “notoriety” her “ducking of questions” about the possible move (standard practice when you are in negotiation, AFAIK) and “incidents” that have “rocked” the UC journalism school.
This is pathetic, but typical of what happens when you give a third-rate group blog like The Oz the resources that allow it to pose as a national newspaper.
I really need to get back to the analysis of tax and expenditure options I’ve been working on, but the absurdities of the Oz keep distracting me. Today’s paper runs a front page story claiming “Temperatures were higher 2000 years ago“. The story is based on a study published in Global and Planetary Change, which uses tree ring records to estimate (with lots of caveats about uncertainty) that Northern Hemisphere (presumably land) temperatures were warmer in the 1st Century AD than in the 20th. More precisely, “The first century AD was the warmest 100-year period (+0.60C on average relative to the 1951-1980 mean) of the common era”. Take that, warmists!
There’s are a couple of minor problems with the story. As part of the Murdoch empire, encompassing 20th Century Fox, the Oz has apparently not noticed that the 20th century ended some years ago. And, being prone to printing silliness about pauses in warming, the writer, Graham Lloyd, did not bother to check whether the temperature today is warmer than the 1951-1980 mean. This isn’t hard to do. The US National Climatic Data Center reports global temperatures on a monthly basis. It reports that the Northern Hemisphere land temperature for September 2012 was +1.04 ± 0.26 above the 20th century average (I’ve checked and 1950-80 was about equal to the average for C20 as a whole).
So, the correct headline for the story should have been “Northern Hemisphere warmer than at any time in past 2000 years”
One more point, just for completeness. Readers might reasonably assume that the graphic accompanying the story is taken from the journal article it reports. In fact, it’s credited to the Global Warming Policy Foundation – given the fact that the Oz has linked to it, you don’t need to be Einstein to guess what kind of policies the scientific ex this foundation (headed by Benny Peiser) is pushing.
Update Reader andrewt points us to the actual article. The GWPF graphic is taken from the article, with the addition of a bunch of chartjunk. The article actually focuses on Northern Scandinavia, though its results are broadly consistent with other reconstructions at the hemispheric and global scale. And, while I won’t bother linking, it’s clear that Lloyd has taken his story, and interpretation of the results, from the Anthony Watts “sceptic” site.
The past seems to be catching up with Alan Jones, just when his most recent outrage has caused him more trouble than all the others put together. First, he lost an appeal against a finding that he incited racial hatred in the leadup to the Cronulla riots. Then 2GB got caught in another cash-for-comment scandal. Now he’s been told to go back to journalism school, to learn about checking his facts, in relation to his silly claim that ”The percentage of man-made carbon dioxide Australia produces is 1 per cent of .001 per cent of carbon dioxide in the air.” (Similar claims have been made by Andrew Bolt, and by some commenters at this blog.) As Lenore Taylor observes, if 2GB and Jones really want to check their facts, they’ll have a lot of work ahead of them.
I happened to look at the front page of The Australian today, something I don’t do very often. Of five front-page stories, one was a brief teaser for a business story about Channel 9. The other four were hit pieces on the Federal government. Even a piece on increasing inequality was presented as an attack on Wayne Swan. One (on asylum seekers) was accompanied by an “opinion” piece by Greg Sheridan, notable for the fact that it was more sober and balance than the “news” story on which Sheridan was commenting.
As I’ve said before, I don’t see this as a problem requiring a regulatory solution, as suggested by the Finkelstein Report. Rather, we simply need to recognise that 20th century assumptions about “the press” have ceased to be applicable. The Australian looks like a 20th century newspaper, just as Fox resembles a 20th century US TV network, but both are far more like political blogs in terms of their content and operating procedures.
An obvious implication is that, while Murdoch should be free to publish whatever he likes, his employees should not be accorded any of the special privileges that were routinely accorded to journalists in the 20th century, such as press passes, access to press conferences, special privileges shielding sources and so on. These should either be made available to everyone, or restricted to media organizations willing to commit to factual reporting, fair treatment of the issues in news stories and so on.
The most important asset of the traditional media is not a formal privilege but the assumption that journalists, unlike you and me, have a right to ask questions of perfect strangers on matters of all kinds, and to expect an answer. In a context where the answer is bound to be used dishonestly, this makes no sense.
If I were advising the government at this point, I would suggest a routine policy of “no comment” in response to any question from an employee of News Limited. Obama tried this with Fox News early on, but other news organizations threatened to boycott his press conferences in solidarity and he backed down. That was, I think, a mistake.
When the move to boycott Alan Jones began a week or so ago, the ‘savvy’ conventional wisdom of media experts was that advertisers might pull their ads for a while, but that they would be back as soon the fuss died down. The recent examples of Rush Limbaugh and Kyle Sandilands were cited in support of this claim. I don’t know about Sandilands (is there any info on advertisers who publicly dropped him, then returned?) but I don’t think Limbaugh’s case supports this claim, and the decision of 2GB to run Jones ad-free makes it even more problematic.
In the US, it seems that, far from returning to Limbaugh, big corporations have concluded that advertising on hate radio of any kind is a losing proposition, now that people outside the immediate audience are paying attention to what they are doing. Far from returning to Limbaugh they are pulling ads across the board, in favor of straight news shows, or away from radio altogether. The new model for hate radio is narrowcasting, as practised by Glenn Beck, who relies on his own merchandise and small advertisers. That’s commercially viable in a country as big as the US, but it ensures that Beck remains a marginal figure, with none of the influence he had in his days with Fox. Limbaugh hangs on, but he’s a much diminished figure, who no longer inspires terror, even among Republicans.
The 2GB “ad-free” strategy seems like a panic move. The obvious problem is that you are either ad-free or you are not. So, presumably they are planning on a relaunch, in which a bunch of advertisers return simultaneously, and with a fair bit of publicity. If I were the PR director of a major national company, I don’t think I’d be keen to be part of that. So, their best bet is to line a bunch of rightwing small businesspeople who are willing to take one for the team. Perhaps that will carry him long enough for some bigger companies to sneak back, but I doubt it. The boycott campaigners are seeking commitments to stay away through 2013. With no ads running anyway, making such a commitment, and getting loads of good publicity as a result, seems like a no-brainer for most companies.
Today’s Oz runs the headline, “Carbon tax pushes Brisbane City Council rates up 40pc“, which, as a Brisbane ratepayer, I would have found alarming, if it had been printed in a newspaper, rather than a Murdoch rag. The story, bylined by Rosanne Barrett, reveals that the true number, according to Liberal Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, is 1.8 per cent, out of a total increase of 4.5 per cent. Blame for the ludicrous error must be shared between Barrett, who tried a beatup in her opening line, saying “AUSTRALIA’S biggest council has blamed the carbon tax for almost 40 per cent of its rates increase next financial year” and the Oz subeditor, who, not surprisingly, translated that into a 40 per cent increase in rates, not 40 per cent of a 4.5 per cent increase.
Update The headline has been (silently) corrected to read “Carbon tax helps push Brisbane City Council rates up $55″. Good to see the Oz reads me, though not, as a rule, vice versa. I picked the story up from the Making Environmental News digest service, to which you can subscribe here.
fn1. The numbers are disputed by the Labor Opposition.
This comments thread raises a fun question. If a geomagnetic reversal somehow required the New York Times to be produced in Australia, who would fill the slots of the top reporters and commentators. I’ve started the ball rolling by claiming Krugman’s spot (natch!). But how about Tom Friedman, David Brooks and Maureen Dowd, to name just a few? And there’s no reason to confine yourself to current columnists – do we have a Will Rogers or a Tom Wicker? Feel free to suggest variants.
Just a reminder, this is an occasion for (perhaps mildly malicious) fun, not for defamatory attacks either on NY Times columnists or on their putative counterparts
Showing my dedication to moving with the times, I’ll be staying up late to guest-tweet on #lateline tonight. Covering French elections, tobacco packaging and, inevitably, Peter Slipper.
Update Turned out to be a complete bust from my POV. The whole show (except for an out-of-place Foreign Correspondent style piece on asbestos in Swaziland) was spent on gotcha questions about Slipper, with Roxon playing a straight bat. Nothing on any of the topics where I could have made a useful comment. Apparently, this was unusually bad – #lateline is a trending topic on Twitter tonight, and not in a good way.
A little while ago, I got a message from the Fin to tell me they wouldn’t be running any more columns from me, as they are bringing in some new commentators. Given my run-in with Michael Stutchbury (then at the Oz, now Editor-in-Chief of the Fin) last year, and other changes at the Fin since he came on board, I wasn’t surprised. Still, it’s the end of a long-running association, which started, ironically (at least in the Alanis Morrisette sense of the term) when Michael was opinion editor there. My first column, advocating the exclusion of food from the GST, ran in 1992. I wrote occasional pieces after that, and I was a regular columnist for 15 years, which is a very long stint by Australian standards, at least for someone who isn’t a full-time journalist.
I’ve enjoyed it a lot, and I think I’ve made a useful contribution, but now it’s time to move on. I’ll certainly continue to take part in public debate, through this blog and other media, but this gives me a chance to stop and think more clearly about where I want to go with this part of my life.
The observation “Prediction is risky, especially about the future”, attributed to US baseball legend Yogi Berra, is true for more reasons than one. The obvious risk is that events may prove you wrong. But there’s a also the risk that your prediction may be misrepresented, a risk that’s particularly severe when you have enemies like the Murdoch Press. I courted this risk by being too cute with my prediction after the 2007 election, which began
The Liberal Party will never again win a federal election.
I followed up immediately with
This isn’t a prediction of unending Labor rule, rather an observation that the Liberal and National parties are in such dire straits that they can’t continue as they are. They haven’t got enough support, parliamentary representation or ideas for one party, let alone two.
The obvious option is a merger
but the damage was done.
The first sentence has been quoted by various rightwing bloggers, and most recently in the Daily Telegraph, as a suggestion that the conservatives would never get back in.
So, contrary to the claims of the Tele, the fact that the merged Liberal Nationals won in Queensland is a confirmation the prediction in the post. The post also predicted the defeat of the NSW Labor government in 2011, but I thought it unlikely, unless “things go badly wrong for Rudd or for one of the state governments” that the conservatives would win before then.
In fact, of course things have gone very badly for Rudd, and Labor has made catastrophic mistakes at every level. Nevertheless the prediction wasn’t far off the mark with Labor winning five state and territory elections and (by the narrowest of margins) one federal election, and losing two over the relevant period.
At the federal level, the idea of a merger seems to have died, though the current situation is absurd . The National Party leaders in both the House and Senate are members of the merged LNP in Queensland. Still, it seems likely that this misshapen coalition will win the next Federal election. If that happens, I will gracefully admit that my prediction was wrong. But until then, to use another US sporting catchphrase, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the Finkelstein report on the media, nearly all of which (along with the report itself, from what I can infer, having not read it) misses the point. To start with, it’s clear that the central problem motivating the inquiry in the first place is that most Australian daily newspapers are owned by News Corporation, which routinely prints lies, uses its power to demand, and receive, politically favorable treatment and, at an international level, engages in systemic corruption including fraud, bribery of public officials, blackmail, and much more, not to mention the routine criminality of illegal spying on its targets.
The latest round of controversy between Robert Manne and The Australian has followed a pattern that is now familiar. Manne presents the evidence that The Australian routinely distorts the news to fit its political agenda, and equally routinely denies that it has any such agenda. The Oz responds with a stream of opinion pieces, snarky items in Cut and Paste, objectionable cartoons and so on.
If we try to understand this in old media terms, it’s a bit hard to follow. Not only does the Oz violate basic rules like separation between news and opinions, but its reactions seem absurdly oversensitive. As I and others have demonstrated many times now, a single piece of criticism from a relatively obscure academic can drive the country’s only national newspaper (not counting the Fin with its special focus) into absurd paroxysms of rage.
On the other hand, if you think of the Australian as a rightwing group blog (readers can fill in their own examples), everything makes sense.
I’ve never been a big fan of scandals, but occasionally you can’t ignore them. That’s true of the scandals currently afflicting the Labor government. As regards the Thomson accusations, if he is guilty he should resign his seat and will in any case be forced to do so if convicted. That will probably end the government if it happens, but there’s not much I can add in the way of political analysis.
The accusations against Julia Gillard published, and quickly retracted, by The Australian under Glenn Milne’s byline are a different matter. Not only has the content of the retracted article become public knowledge, but News Limited appears to be walking back from what at first appeared to be an unreserved apology, notably in comments by Hartigan and in Andrew Bolt’s column on the topic.
In these circumstances, Gillard has no alternative but to disprove the allegation that she derived a financial benefit, even unknowingly, from the fraud committed by her former boyfriend. That seems like a pretty clear-cut question of fact, which should admit a resolution even nearly 20 years after the event.
On the other hand, if the falsehood of the allegation can be proved, the case that News Limited in Australia is playing the same dirty tricks as its UK and US operations becomes all that much stronger, as does the case for treating the entire organisation as a political propaganda/lobbying operation rather than a newspaper publisher in the traditional sense. And, of course, Gillard would have a very strong case for defamation.
All of this pretty much kills my suggestion for a graceful exit by Gillard after the passage of the carbon tax. Until she can put this one to rest, a resignation would look like an admission of guilt.
After Michael Stutchbury’s full-length hit piece, and at least two Cut&Paste snark items in the last week, I would have thought the Oz would have had enough of sliming me for a while. But no, it’s back with yet more.
This time, it has delved into the primordial and come up with Graham Young, last seen scoring a double Godwin with pike, making both Nazi and Communist analogies in a single post.Young pushes the now-standard Oz “help, I’m being oppressed line”, naming me and Clive Hamilton as the enforcers of orthodoxy.
I’m starting feel guilty turning the full power of my blog against a mere national newspaper, backed only by a multi-billion dollar corporation. I’ll talk it over with Clive at the next meeting of the central committee.
Top billing on their web front page goes to this piece saying that the police haven’t (yet) found evidence that News of the World hacked the phones o 9/11 victims in the US, as they did with British victims of the 7/7 attacks, and their families. This banner treatment of a non-story contrasts strikingly with the sotto voce news coverage of yet another arrest in the case a couple of days ago.
In citing Steve Williamson’s negative but content-free review of my book, the Oz Cut and Paste section decided to puff Williamson’s credentials as an expert (an interesting move in the light of Paul Krugman’s evisceration of this kind of rank-pulling argument from authority).
Sad to say, the Oz proved as unreliable as ever on this topic. It described Williamson as “the doyen of modern monetary policy”. “Modern monetary policy” (and, even more, “modern monetary theory”) is a term most closely associated with the post-Keynesian chartalist school. Williamson’s actual claim to fame is something called “New Monetarism”, which is about as strongly opposed to Keynesianism as you can get (at least while still doing DSGE-style macro). But such subtle distinctions are lost on the knee-cappers at News Limited.
fn1. I guess the Oz could be claiming that the term “modern’ here just means contemporary, and that Williamson is the dominant figure in guiding monetary policy today. It’s hard to know whether this more insulting to Ben Bernanke or to Williamson himself, who isn’t exactly a fan of actually existing modern monetary policy.
A couple of very minor updates on my stoush with News Limited, and particularly the Oz. In my response to Michael Stutchbury I raised two main complaints. First, Stutchbury was being precious in complaining about vigorous language on my part, given that the Oz editorial team (writing under cover of anonymity) had accused me of having a totalitarian mindset, but didn’t have the guts to name me, referring instead to an opinion writer in a financial tabloid. My second complaint was that Stutchbury was being disingenuous in claiming that the Oz supported carbon prices.
The other day, my Facebook news feed included a link to a Stutchbury piece from July referring to Abbott “mounting a powerful case against Gillard’s carbon tax”. Not exactly consistent with the supposed Oz line! As you would expect from someone who opposes a per tonne tax on something he believes to be weightless, Abbott’s arguments were in fact lame. The points that most impressed Stutchbury relied on Bjorn Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus exercise, something that even people on the right saw through years ago.
Trying to locate the piece again, I stumbled on this piece of snark (scroll to the end) in the “Cut and Paste” section, where the anonymous troll who runs the piece thought it clever to repeat the “opinion writer in a financial tabloid” jibe. Totally gutless. And these guys look down on bloggers.
Update And, what do you know? Twitter tells me that today’s Cut and Paste has cited the Williamson review of Zombie Economics, without, of course, mentioning the fact that it has been comprehensively trashed in the blogosphere. I wonder if Williamson would be happy about being quoted approvingly by the gutter press. As for me, any publicity is good publicity. If the Oz opinion page weren’t so unreadable, I could expect a bit of a bump in book sales from this free plug.