Following the collapse of its delusionist position on climate change, and the manifest failure of the war in Iraq it pushed hard, and with contempt for anyone who warned of the likely results, The Australian had a lot of ground to make up if it was to regain its status as a credible participant in Australian public debate. A straightforward admission of error, unlikely as it ever was, would probably have been the most effective way of achieving this goal. The more traditional route, safe enough in the days before Internet archives would be to change tack and simply forget about past mistakes. It seemed, a week or so ago, that the Oz would go that way.
Instead we’ve had a series of increasingly bizarre editorials, in which the national daily reads as if it is on the losing side in a blogospheric flamewar. The editorial on Saturday (the headline Editorial: Reality bites the psychotic Left gives the drift) made no sense until Clive Hamilton gave the backstory in New Matilda, showing how the Oz did its best to squelch Clive’s justified criticism in Scorcher. The Oz has come back with even sillier responses, such as today’s odd little snark (end of the page)
Although the Oz has been happy to personalise this dispute, demonising Clive and dragging in the usual suspects like Robert Manne for good measure, I’d rather not do so. Quite a few people I’ve generally respected at the Oz have gone way over the top in relation to both global warming and Iraq. My attempts to warn some of them that the paper was in danger of discrediting itself fell on deaf ears.
The problem appears to be institutional rather than individual. On these and other issues, the whole culture of The Australian has become insulate itself from reality in the same way as the US right. Now that reality is rudely obtruding itself, the reaction has been thoroughly counterproductive.
Given the inevitable parochialism of the Sydney and Melbourne Fairfax papers, the narrow focus of the Fin and the poor quality of papers elsewhere, Australia needs a high-quality national daily. The Australian went a fair way towards meeting this need in the past, admittedly with a clearly rightwing orientation. But the last few years have been disastrous, and it’s hard to see how the paper can recover now without a radical shakeup.
More from Tim Dunlop inside the news.com.au tent at blogocracy.