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.
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.
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.
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.
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
A few updates on my last post
* A scathing piece from archetypal centrist Dana Milbank on default denialism, linking it to birtherism, climate conspiracy theories and moon landing hoax claims
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.
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?
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”.
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,
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.
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. 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)
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.
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.
As he has done every year for some time, Nicholas Gruen is organising a discounted group subscription to Crikey.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
As I’ve mentioned a few times, the Oz is extremely sensitive to blogospheric criticism. In response, its typical MO has been an unsigned editorial, or a piece by a ‘staff writer’, in which unnamed and unlinked (but easily identifiable) bloggers are castigated for their sins. Typically, the piece ends with a flourish of bravado, in which the brave, though anonymous, editorialist, backed only by the multi-billion dollar resources of News Corporation, pledges to carry on in defiance of the powerful, but unnamed, bloggers arrayed against it.
The script has been reversed, however, in the case of Grog’s Gamut, a pseudonymous political blog which made some useful contributions during the election campaign. Apparently acting under the misconception that public servants aren’t allowed to engage in political activity, Oz journalist James Massola took on himself to out the blogger concerned. He works in the film section of what was the Department of Environment, Heritage, Water and the Arts, which suggests that the potential for political activity to compromise his public service role is, shall we say, limited.
There are still some decent journalists working for the Oz, but the paper itself is a sad joke. On the other hand, as Steve Hind observes, the downmarket spiral of the Age and SMH (at least in their online versions) means that there is not much competition.
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 was recently forced to print a humiliating retraction of the lies it told about the spurious “Climategate” scandal, 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.
The ABC is reporting the election outcome as 73 Coalition, 72 Labor, even though one National Party member has indicated he will not sit as part of the coalition. If they had made a similar choice favoring Labor (eg by accepting at face value the statement of the Green MP that he intends to support Labor) I’m sure the cries of bias from the political right would have reached the heavens.
That’s the title of my Fin column for Thursday 11 March 2010, which naturally picked out The Australian newspaper as a prime vehicle for these attacks. The Oz replied next day, with characteristic mendacity, pointing out that, on the same day they
ran an opinion piece by climatologist James Hansen, the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies chief who also happens to be known rather snappily as the “father of global warming”.
Only problem was, they weren’t running Hansen to defend science against their attacks, but because his policy views (he opposes an ETS and supports nuclear power) could be used in their continuing wedge campaign. The piece (can’t find it to link ran under the headline “”Only carbon tax and nuclear power can save us”
Anyway, here’s my piece
The Australian’s Online Poll today is “Do you think the federal government deserves all the credit for averting a recession? ”
Obviously they judged that even the readers of the Oz weren’t going to reject the idea that the government deserves some credit for its successful management of the crisis. Even the obviously rigged version only got 62 per cent in favour at last count.