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.