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Perils of prediction

March 26th, 2012 30 comments

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[1], 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”.

Read more…

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, Oz Politics Tags:

What to do about Rupert?

March 12th, 2012 18 comments

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.
Read more…

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, #Ozfail, Media Tags:

The Oz as a (dysfunctional) group blog

September 19th, 2011 108 comments

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.

Read more…

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, #Ozfail, Media Tags:

Scandal

August 31st, 2011 72 comments

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.

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, #Ozfail, Media, Oz Politics Tags:

Oz meltdown continues

August 16th, 2011 42 comments

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.

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, #Ozfail Tags:

Just when you think the Oz couldn’t get any lamer

August 13th, 2011 14 comments

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.

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, #Ozfail, Media Tags:

Murdochracy vs Quiggin: One last snark

August 13th, 2011 39 comments

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.[1] 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.

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, #Ozfail, Media Tags:

Murdochracy vs Quiggin: another round

August 11th, 2011 59 comments

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.

Meanwhile, the Australian’s War on Science continues. Tim Lambert has instalment #67.

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.

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, #Ozfail, Media Tags:

Quiggingate: NYT vs the Oz

August 4th, 2011 18 comments

Not exactly, but Paul Krugman, writing in his NY Times blog, has backed me up in my latest stoush with the Murdoch Press, as has Brad DeLong. As Paul says, this kind of attack is a badge of honour.

Meltdown at the Oz: Quiggin edition

August 2nd, 2011 69 comments

The Oz has always been thin-skinned, and my piece in the Fin the week before last attacking the Murdoch press (I’ve reprinted it over the fold) was bound to elicit a reaction. It came in the form of a full-length hit piece, written by Michael Stutchbury and including a fair few quotations to this blog. The headline An economist who is good in theory but on the far left in practice gives the general line. It has a bit of a phoned-in feel, like an exercise in party solidarity rather than a sudden concern with my errors and obviously wasn’t a spontaneous outburst – Stutchbury told me had been directed to write it. That’s part of the price of working for the Empire these days (compare Caroline Overington’s part in the attack in Julie Posetti).

Mostly, the piece doesn’t misrepresent me – it’s quite true that I think Barack Obama is too centrist, and that Julia Gillard doesn’t care about equality. However, as I said to Stutchbury during our phone conversation, it’s a bit precious to complain about various pieces of colorful language on my part in a paper which referred to me as having a “totalitarian mindset”. At least, unlike the anonymous editorialist who penned that description, Stutchbury calls me out by name rather than coyly referring to “an opinion writer in a financial tabloid“.

More significantly, Stutchbury ducks the issue on climate change, saying

On climate change, Murdoch has backed giving the planet the benefit of the doubt. The Australian supports putting a price on carbon over Tony Abbott’s direct action. But the journalistic default should include some scepticism over whether scientists can accurately predict the climate decades ahead.

He must be reading a different paper to the one that has now racked up 60+ entries in Tim Lambert’s Australian War on Science series. And that’s without considering the truly appalling stuff put out by News International outlets like Fox and the Sunday Times.

Update Michael Stutchbury has called me to take issue with my statement that he told me he had been directed to write the piece. That was my recollection of our conversation, but he was very firm in rejecting it, and I’m not going to insist on my version of events, so I’ve struck out that part of the original post.

Read more…

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, #Ozfail, Media Tags:

Burying the lede

July 19th, 2011 31 comments

That’s US press jargon for putting the key item in a story so far down no-one will read and it certainly applies to this David Carr story about NewsCorp in the US. You have to get down to the bottom of the first page to discover that News settled, very generously, a claim in which it was accused of hacking a competitors systems. That seems to undermine the common assumption (including mine) that the specific pathology of hacking was confined to the UK.

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, Media Tags:

The revolt against Murdochracy

July 10th, 2011 69 comments

Continuing on the theme of #newscorpfail, the ever-expanding scandal surrounding hacking, bribery, perjury and obstruction of justice by News Corporation in England has already brought about the closure of the venerable (at least in years) News of the World newspaper, but looks likely to go much further, with significant implications for the Murdoch press in Australia.

The scandal over hacking and other criminal behavior has now become an all-out revolt of UK politicians against Murdoch’s immense political power , which has had successive Prime Ministers dancing attendance on him, and rushing to confer lucrative favors on his News Corporation. Those, like Labour leader Ed Miliband, who are relative cleanskins, are making the running, while PM David Cameron, very close to the most corrupt elements of News, is scrambling to cover himself.

The hacking and bribery scandals appear (as far as we know) to be confined to the UK, but the greater scandal of Murdoch’s corruption of the political process and misuse of press power is even worse in Australia. The Australian and other Murdoch publications filled with lies and politically slanted reporting aimed at furthering both Murdoch’s political agenda and his commercial interests. Whereas there is still lively competition in the British Press, Murdoch has a print monopoly in major cities like Brisbane.

It seems likely that News International will be refused permission for its impending takeover of BSkyB on the grounds that it is not “fit and proper” for such a role. That would have important implications for Australia.

Regardless of how the current scandal plays out, we need to remember that while the productions of News Corporation be papers, what they print is certainly not news.

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, #Ozfail, Media Tags:

Families slugged by NewsCorp Innumeracy #NewsCorpFail

June 14th, 2011 58 comments

According to Steve Lewis in the Daily Telegraph

CONSUMERS will be slugged with price rises on everyday items like milk, cheese, chocolate and pizza’s as the carbon tax puts the squeeze on retailers and producers

(the apostrophe in pizza’s suggests News may have cut the subediting budget a bit too far). He illustrates with a picture of a mother of three who is currently paying $300 a fortnight for groceries.

Steve can’t say how much, and neither can his sources, though they are happy to give scary quotes. So, instead he quotes some big-sounding numbers derived from the Dept of Climate Change analysis. Woolworths, for example, will pay around $73 million a year in higher electricity costs. That certainly sounds like it would put a dent in the household budget. As the old saying has it, a million here, a million there, pretty soon you’re spending real money. That’s where Lewis leaves the story

But those of us capable of primary school arithmetic can take things a little bit further. There are 20 million or so people in Australia, so the cost amounts to aroun $3.50 a year, or 7 cents a week for us. For the archetypal (if unrepresentative family of four) that’s around 30 cents a week or 60 cents a fortnight (an increase of 0.4 per cent for the mother in the example). Looking at the illustrative photo, that’s rather less than the difference between the Kleenex tissues in the shopping trolley and the home brand alternative.

For a validity check on the impact, we could look at Woolies’ total sales of around $18 billion a year. A cost increase of $73 million is approximately 0.4 per cent. Of course, this doesn’t really get to the right answer either, because it doesn’t take account of changes in the wholesale cost of goods (so-called Scope 3 emissions).

But doing the analysis at an aggregate level fixes this pretty well. A tax at $26/tonne will raise around $10-$12 billion, depending on exemptions and particularly on the treatment of petrol. That’s about 2.5 per cent of total household expenditure on goods services, meaning that the gross impact of the carbon tax will be about a quarter that of the GST (note however, that the GST was offset, for goods, by the removal of Wholesale Sales Tax). The increase will be greater than this for energy services (electricity, gas and so on), and therefore must be less on non-energy goods. Overall, it’s safe to predict that the impact on grocery bills and similar items will be around 1 per cent.

Over the fold, I’ll do the cents per week exercise for all of Lewis’ examples when I get a moment

Categories: Media Tags:

Reality-based journalism: some updates

May 25th, 2011 10 comments
Categories: Media, Science Tags:

Reality-based journalism in the US

May 24th, 2011 54 comments

The fact that, with no observable exceptions, the US Republican Party relies on delusional beliefs for most of its claims about economics, science and history has been obvious for some years. But, until recently it’s been outside the Overton Window. That seems to have changed, as witness:

* Jacob Weisberg, who only a little while ago was giving qualified praise to the Ryan Plan, now says the Repubs have

moved to a mental Shangri-La, where unwanted problems (climate change, the need to pay the costs of running the government) can be wished away, prejudice trumps fact (Obama might just be Kenyan-born or a Muslim), expertise is evidence of error, and reality itself comes to be regarded as some kind of elitist plot.

* USA Today comparing Republican climate change delusionism to birtherism and saying

The latest scientific report provides clarity that denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. It paves a path to a future fraught with melting ice caps, rising sea levels, shifting agricultural patterns, droughts and wildfires.

* The Washington Post, home of High Broderism says “the Republican Party, and therefore the U.S. government, have moved far from reality and responsibility in their approach to climate change.”

* Even GOP house journal Politico draws the formerly off-limits link between “skeptics” and “deniers”, regarding the Republican adoption of fringe economic theories suggesting the US can safely leave the debt ceiling unchanged.

Why is this happening now, after years of apparent Republican immunity from any kind of fact-based challenge? And how will this affect public debate in the US and elsewhere?

Read more…

Categories: Media, World Events Tags:

On the Internet, pretending to be a dog doesn’t help

March 4th, 2011 23 comments

As I mentioned below, I had an email discussion with Gerard Henderson regarding the proportion of alarmist cranks in the Coalition parties (he says 75 per cent, while I think a near-majority of Liberals and perhaps even some Nats are pro-science). The whole thing has now been posted at his Media Watch Dog site, but with an odd twist.

The conceit of the site is that the material is posted, not by Henderson, but by his dog. As if to demonstrate this, the item (taken directly from our emails) has my name repeatedly mis-spelt as “Quiggan”.

Categories: Media Tags:

#Ozfail #6 and #7: Outsourced to Ken Parish and Irfan Yusuf

February 24th, 2011 10 comments

With a big staff of crack journalists, opinionators headline writers and sub-editors, led by the energetic Chris Mitchell, The Australian produces mistakes, misleading headlines and outright lies much faster than one blogger can possibly document them. So, I’m forced to do some outsourcing, and I’m happy to say, fellow bloggers are eager to help.

Ken Parish writes

I thought I’d draw JQ’s attention to another and equally egregious Oz misinformation campaign, namely to mischaracterise the report of the recent ALP review team of Wise Old Owls Carr, Bracks and Faulkner as recommending entrenching and enhancing trade union power. It’s a theme running through several recent Oz stories, including this one by Ben Packham and James Massola:

Ken focuses on the bizarre claim that recent changes to the internal structure of the ALP give unions power over preselections for the first time. As Ken points out, unions have played a central role in the ALP (including preselections) pretty much since the party was founded. I’m of the view that breaking this nexus would be good for unions, and probably also for Labor, but it had not occurred to me that even the Oz would deny its existence,

And here’s Irfan Yusuf on the paper’s advice to Muslim Australians

Writing editorials that sound like something authored by Glenn Beck doesn’t do much to improve your poor circulation.

Both Ken and Irfan point out that the Fairfax alternative is hardly flawless. In particular, the relentless tabloidisation produced by lists of the 5 most-read stories is highly damaging. Who’s going to read an informed analysis of carbon pricing when something like “AFL sex scandal ‘did not involve goats’” is clamouring for our attention at the bottom of the webpage. Even if you want to avert your eyes, you can’t.

Update #Ozfail #8 And they keep on coming! In comments, SJ points to this amazing beatup in which routine deletion of a tasteless blog comment is turned into “Crikey forced to remove fake Abbott story”. The story apparent started with some ego-Googling by Matthew Franklin (admit it, we all do it), but the task of writing the beatup was handed to Caroline Overington, who seems to be on permanent punishment duty at the Oz, presumably for having once been a real journalist.

Categories: #Ozfail Tags:

#OzFail #5

February 22nd, 2011 14 comments

In the wake of the revolt against the Gaddafi regime, various deals done with Gaddafi by Western governments, particularly those of the US and UK, have come under scrutiny. Among many dubious deals, the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Megrahi stands out as a betrayal of the British justice system, one strongly opposed by the Obama Administration[1]. But last year, the Murdoch Sunday Times managed to find a way to blame Obama, accusing him, in its headline, of ‘double-talk‘. This was amplified even further by the amazing Oz subeditorial team, which managed a headline directly contradicted by its own report.

The Sunday Times piece is a bizarre spin on a letter written by the Obama administration opposing Megrahi’s release, and saying that, if he were released, it would be better to keep him in Scotland than to allow him to return to Libya. The British government ignored this and sent Megrahi back to a hero’s welcome (I wonder where he is now).

In the hands of beatup merchants Jason Allardyce and Tony Allen-Mills this becomes “THE US government secretly advised Scottish ministers it would be “far preferable” to free the Lockerbie bomber than jail him in Libya”

But what’s really starting is the Oz decision to run this piece of nonsense under the headline “White House backed release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi” and this has naturally been picked up by the rightwing blogosphere, most of which is as fact-challenged as the Oz itself.. To quote directly from the letter in question

“The United States maintains its view that in light of the scope of Megrahi’s crime, its heinous nature, and its continuing and devastating impact on the victims and their families, it would be most appropriate for Megrahi to remain imprisoned for the entirety of his sentence,”

As can be expected with the Oz, the headline is the exact opposite of the truth. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that it often runs relatively accurate AP and Reuters material, and weather forecasts from the Bureau of Meteorology (while denouncing the Bureau in its opinion pages), the Oz would be a reliable paper – we could just assume the opposite of whatever it reports. #Ozfail #Ausfail (hat tip Gary Lord)

Categories: #Ozfail, Media Tags:

Oz Fail #4

February 20th, 2011 16 comments

Oz chief political reporter Matthew Franklin tries for a bit of a beat-up with this story about some platitudinous speeches given by Swan and Gillard at the annual conference of the AWU, where, as is customary on such occasions, they said some nice things about their hosts, Bill Ludwig and Paul Howes. Franklin points out, rightly enough, that the AWU supported Gillard in the overthrow of Kevin Rudd. The real problem is with the sub-editor who ran this routine piece of snark with the striking headline “PM, Swan in praise of union ‘saboteurs’ “.

According to the standard, slightly arcane principles that apply here, the use of single quotes around the word “saboteurs” implies that Gillard and Swan actually used the word as a term of praise, with the rest of the headline being a paraphrase. This isn’t quite as crazy as it might sound – the original saboteurs were factory workers who threw their wooden shoes into the machinery as a crude but effective way of protesting against speedup. A historically minded radical might suggest that similar resistance to the work intensification push that began in the 1990s was to be applauded. But of course, Gillard and Swan are never likely to say anything like that, and they didn’t.

The error wouldn’t be so serious if the article quoted someone else calling Ludwig and Howes saboteurs, though it would be more correct to write “PM, Swan ‘in praise of union saboteurs’ “. But in fact there is nothing of the kind, and no hint that anything has been lost in editing. It’s simply that the sub (or maybe the editor) is incorporating his own opinion. If so, it would be more appropriate to run it as a factual description without any quotes. That would entail dropping any pretence of objectivity, but such pretences have worn pretty thin at the Oz.

There are still pockets of good journalism at the Oz. But when even the craft values of subediting are sacrificed to the paper’s political agenda, there isn’t much hope for the future.

Categories: #Ozfail, Oz Politics Tags:

Oz Fail#3

February 19th, 2011 6 comments

In a snark before a totally unrelated item, Oz Strewth columnist James Jeffrey writes

ACCORDING to the UN (there’s a statement that doesn’t exactly carry a a lot of weight, but let’s push on), the world’s human population should pass the 10 billion mark some time around 2040.

As you’d expect of any factual claim made in the Oz, he’s wrong. The UN medium projection is for a population around 9.2 billion in 2050. Even on the high projection, 10 billion isn’t reached until about 2045.

Categories: #Ozfail Tags:

Crikey group sub

February 17th, 2011 Comments off
Categories: Media Tags:

75 per cent

February 14th, 2011 17 comments

This post, written in the immediate aftermath of the floods (and the subject of some controversy) is looking pretty good in the light of the recent decision to release water from Wivenhoe Dam, with a target of 75 per cent.

Having had some time for reflection, the obvious modification to my initial position is that we shouldn’t have a fixed target, but rather should take account of the seasonal pattern of rainfall and, to the extent that this is possible, of the El Nino/La Nina/SO cycle. One way to do this would be to set targets for the beginning and end of the wet season, designed to be consistent with expected rainfall and usage for the wet and dry seasons. As I mentioned in my previous post, the flexibility associated with desal and recycling plants and the Water Grid would make this kind of management much easier than in the past.

Looking back at the controversy this post aroused, it’s clear that it was due in part to the involvement of The Australian and the anti-science lobby on climate change, which, for reasons that remain obscure to me, decided to run with the line that early release of water from Wivenhoe Dam would have greatly reduced the severity of the floods. It’s interesting to find that being in partial agreement with the Oz is even worse than being attacked by them. The Oz presentation of news on the dam management policy, as on all issues where it decides to push a line, was so selective and skewed that it even relatively simple issues, like the proportion of floodwater that came from the Bremer river, became hopelessly confused.

So, to clarify, both my original post and this one refer to policy options for the future, which might be adopted in the light of the floods, and of the likelihood of more extreme climate events in the future. With perfect hindsight, and discretion unfettered by a rulebook, managers would certainly have made different decisions in the days leading up to the flood. But what is really needed is a long-term change to the management procedures that set 100 per cent of water supply capacity as a fixed target. IIRC, the only calls for such a change in the leadup to this wet season were from those objecting to the release of water, and implicitly calling for a higher target.

Picking up the gauntlet

February 7th, 2011 59 comments

As I mentioned, my Fin article on Thursday was intended as an appeal to those on the “do-nothing” side of the climate debate to take the risk of climate change seriously and abandon silly culture wars, cheap pointscoring and so on. It didn’t take long to elicit a reply in the form of a snarky, anonymous and (of course) hopelessly wrong piece of “gotcha” journalism from the “Cut and Paste” column in the Oz. Tim Lambert does garbage pickup.

Being attacked by The Australian is not something to get upset about. But it does give me a little more incentive to disabuse of their illusions the declining of paper who still believe this worthless gutter press rag to have some value. So, I’m going to add a regular feature pointing out the lies and silly errors that fill the news and opinion pages of The Australian. I’ll try to avoid duplicating Tim’s “War on Science” posts (up to number 60 with the one mentioned above!). I’ll retrospective label the “Factor of Five” post from last week as item 1. Suggested contributions are welcome.

Categories: Media Tags:

Total core meltdown

December 20th, 2010 40 comments

Anyone who’s spent time in the blogosphere has seen it happen, and most of us have been on the wrong side of it once or twice. A blogger or commenter says something silly, gets called on it and doubles down. Before long, they are engaged in meta-disputes about who said what about whom. As the flame war escalates, all sense of proportion is lost, and innocent remarks produce threats of litigation. Somewhere along the way, Godwin’s Law comes into play. If the process runs its full course, the blog in question is taken down (but of course the Internet never forgets), or the commenter identity is abandoned, leading to suspicions of sockpuppetry when someone with similar style and opinions turns up.

Of course, most of us stop before it gets that far. The wisest and most gracious recognise error, thank those who set them straight and may even emerge with an enhanced reputation. Those of us not quite as sensible stump off in a huff before making complete fools of ourselves.

But some go all the way. That’s sad for a blogger, but disastrous in the case of a national newspaper.

Read more…

Categories: Media, Metablogging Tags:

Canberra University stands up for academic freedom

December 9th, 2010 57 comments

Oz editor Chris Mitchell’s defamation action against academic Julie Posetti is so obviously baseless that his only hope can have been that Posetti would not have the resources to fight. Fortunately[1] Canberra University, where she works, has taken a stand in support of academic freedom, and is defending the action. The letter of reply to Mitchell’s lawyers, posted here, is good reading, including the observation

We note also that, while we appreciate that what is published in The Australian (of which your client serves as editor in chief) may not necessarily always reflect your client’s own personal views and is not determinative of the position, it is nevertheless somewhat telling that the “Media diary” article titled “The Posetti tapes” appearing in the online version of The Australian on 30 November 2010 suggested that the “Tweets are a fair summary of what Wahlquist said”.

The line of defence taken by the lawyers is the correct one of fair reporting of a matter of public interest, but I hope they also do discovery for a truth and public benefit defence – we might find out how it is that News Ltd journalists all know what line to take on so many issues.

fn1. One might suppose this to be a given. Sadly, plenty of corporate universities in Australist have done their best to stifle academics who annoy powerful interests, not to mention those who criticise their own administration.

Categories: Media Tags:

New media, old media, older media

December 6th, 2010 33 comments

Much of the discussion of the Australian’s vendetta against Julie Posetti has focused on the novelty of a lawsuit involving Twitter the latest manifestation of new media. But the real story here is about changes in old media, and particularly those media owned by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch has revived an approach to journalism that flourished in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the newspaper as propaganda sheet.

As others have noted, Chris Mitchell’s bizarre decision to sue an audience member on the basis of a brief but accurate summary of statements made in public by a former employee, and then widely disseminated, has distracted attention from the actual issue raised by those statements. The Australian has ceased to be a newspaper in the widely accepted sense of a publication in which factual reporting is clearly distinguished from statements of opinion based on those facts. Rather the two are inextricably mixed – what is presented as news is politically-driven advocacy, while much of what is presented as opinion consists of unsustainable factual claims.

These developments are most obvious in relation to climate change, the subject at issue in the attack on Julie Posetti, but the same tendency is evident on any topic that presses the political and cultural hot buttons of the right. The same process is at work throughout the Murdoch empire, but most fully developed at Fox News.

Read more…

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Meltdown continues at the Oz: good faith reporting no defence

December 3rd, 2010 37 comments

The meltdown at the Oz continues, with an “offer you can’t refuse” from editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell to academic and twitterer Julie Posetti. Conceding that Posetti accurately reported statements by former environment reporter Asa Wahlquist in two brief tweets, Mitchell is nonetheless demanding an apology, and now offers a re-educational tour of the News Ltd newsroom as part of the deal.

This behavior would be beyond bizarre even from an ordinary corporation. To sue a private individual for reporting, in good faith, a statement made in public represents a threat that could be applied to just about anyone. It’s worth bearing in mind that there is no longer any distinction in Australian law between libel and slander, so the law applies equally to someone who repeats, down at the pub, something they heard at a public event. A company that tried such a thing (the only comparable case I can recall is the Gunns fiasco in Tasmania) would rightly be derided.

But for a newspaper, and one that has repeatedly pushed the bounds of defamation in its dealings with critics (see the sidebar for a relatively mild example), to undertake such actions is a spectacular assault on freedom of speech, one that only the Murdoch press, or maybe the state-controlled media in places like Singapore, would be capable of. It’s hard to see how any self-respecting journalist can continue to work for this deplorable operation.

In this context, it’s striking that Mitchell has apparently not sued Wahlquist or obtained a retraction (he has received a denial of claims that were never made, such as that he personally called or emailed her). Presumably, at least Oz journalists who have been happy to join the hunt against tweeters and bloggers are not yet ready to take on their own colleagues in this way.

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Epic Oz Meltdown

December 1st, 2010 25 comments

The periodic meltdowns at the Oz (see here and here) have been growing ever more bizarre. But it will be hard to top this episode, where editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell threatened to sue academic Julie Posetti for defamation. Posetti’s supposed defamation consisted of two Twitter posts summarising a speech by Asa Wahlquist, for many years the leading environmental reporter at the Oz. As Posetti summarised it Wahlquist found working for the Oz under Mitchell “excruciating” … “torture”, because of the paper’s anti-science stance

I’m a bit behind on this – as usual, Tim Lambert is the go-to guy, and there are more reports at Crikey, LP and the ABC.

What is most amusing here is the way in which a string of Oz journalists spontaneously line up to write articles saying that Chris Mitchell would never tell anyone what to write.

What is most significant, looking at the Murdoch press more generally, is Murdoch’s willingness to trash the credibility of his media assets, built up over a long period, in the pursuit of ideological agendas and (perhaps) short-term profits. The Oz was never a great paper, but it used to be a good one, even if it was pretty reliably conservative. More strikingly, the same process is going on at The Times (of London), once regarded as the world’s ultimate journal of record. The same is true of the Wall Street Journal – before Murdoch took over the general view was that even if the Op-Ed pages were barking mad, the news was always accurate. Now the distinction between news and opinion is disappearing fast.

And the same can be said for the political right as a whole. Their eagerness to see plain issues of fact (WMDs in Iraq, global warming, the existence of a DDT ban) as subjects for political debate hasn’t done them much harm in the short term. But as the “epistemic closure” fuss a while back shows, everyone is increasingly aware that truth and falsehood are no longer meaningful terms for those on the right. This will, I think, entail some big costs for them in the long run.

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Another Paul Howes post

November 15th, 2010 11 comments

My last post responding to Paul Howes led me to this piece by him in the Daily Telegraph, denouncing anonymous Internet commenters for their unfair attacks on politicians, with specific reference to Joe Tripodi. I don’t want to spend too much time on Tripodi, but my non-anonymous view is that he is a prime representative of the type of cronyism that has ruined the NSW government, and also of the culture of impunity which has led so many members of that government to sail close to (or over) the edge on matters of personal and financial propriety. Moreover, his political views aren’t noticeably different from those of, say, Peter Costello. Howes’ observation that

Tripodi is a nice and fiercely intelligent man, in real life. He loves his family and he loves public policy. He’s been described by another paper as ‘the smartest man’ in NSW politics

doesn’t (for the relevant values of “nice”) contradict this assessment in any way. Tripodi’s resignation is welcome and would have been more so a year ago, when it might at least have saved Labor from a landslide.

Coming to the notion that anonymous comments on blogs and Twitter are making life impossible for politicians, I have a couple of thoughts

First, what’s mostly happening is that things that would have once been said at the pub, and heard only by those present are now out in cyberspace, easily detectable by Google. Some of that stuff is nastier than most people are used to hearing, or seeing in print, about themselves. That’s part of life for bloggers as well as politicians. On the other hand, politicians have long used, and on occasion abused, the privilege of saying what they like about anyone in Parliament.

Second, as regards anonymity, I’d be more impressed by these complaints if journalists and politicians hadn’t long since developed their own self-serving culture of anonymity. I don’t know anything specific about Joe Tripodi’s media contacts, but he’d be an unusual politician if he’d never gone on background to bag out his political opponents or (very likely) his Labor colleagues. This kind of cowardly dirt-dishing, which forms the basis of much political journalism is the opposite of the principled, and personally risky, whistleblowing that journalists like to invoke when they defend their own use of anonymous sources.

See also: Andrew Elder on Howes and a similar whine from Leigh Sales.

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Irony missing from the News Limited dictionary

October 11th, 2010 14 comments

News of the Grog’s Gamut debacle has reached my former home of Townsville, where the appalling Townsville Bulletin (aka Bully) publishes a splendid piece of invective against cowardly bloggers “who hide under the veil of anonymity, taking cheap shots to satisfy their trendy social agenda”. The author of this marvellous diatribe deserves some recognition, but sadly …

(H/T The Political Sword

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Media Tags: