The Oz as a (dysfunctional) group blog

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.

Looking at the Oz now, it’s easy to imagine it as a rightwing group blog that started up in the Triassic era of blogging (say 2002). Lines weren’t drawn so sharply then, so the contributors included some a bit more leftish or just less ideological than the group as a whole. Over time, some have been pushed out, and the others have been forced to demonstrate group solidarity on appropriate occasions, such as attack from the left.

By now however, a tribalist mode of groupthink has taken over the blog. Its members spend a lot of time reassuring each other that, in spite of all contrary evidence, they are right about everything. Even when they are demonstrably wrong on some particular point, they are still right in a way their opponents can never be. Conversely, no matter how bogus the argument, if it’s on the right side it has to be backed all the way.

And, thanks to the marvels of Google, Twitter, RSS and so on, the group is instantly aware of any attack on them, even from a lone blogger in the furthest reaches of cyberspace. Each such attack is treated as an existential threat, as if a few harsh words are one step away from the imposition of sharia law (whatever that means!). But since any notion of logical reasoning has long since been lost, the response consists of snarky gotchas, dark mutterings, absurd hyperbole and total lies.

As I mentioned a while back, with an individual blogger, this process typically ends with the sudden closure of the site. But group blogs with this kind of pathology seem to carry on for a long while. So, until Murdoch runs out of money to back it, I imagine the Oz will continue to amuse us.

108 thoughts on “The Oz as a (dysfunctional) group blog

  1. @Tim Macknay

    A natural merchant or an mundane entrepreneur may use enlightened self-interest, but not so a capitalist.

    Capitalists must use commercial self interest or else they get out-competed by those that do.

    There is nothing enlightened about the politics capitalists project in society to pursue their own interests.

    In fact – in society, capitalist “self interest” contradicts “enlightenment”and we have to construct a welfare state mechanism to produce social fairness.

  2. Big mettwurst chunk of a thread. Once again thanks to good quality posters turning something dull into something interesting.
    Poor old Uhlmann, he tries to look ventriloquist but just stays wooden, mouth moves like Gerry G!!
    For years and years and I wondered if I read the Albright thing quote right, it’s such a foul thing.

  3. Chris Warren, I heard a Sinologist sum up the Chinese view of commerce once. He reckoned that the various dynasties saw commerce as useful for producing money and nice things for the court, and trading with the neighbours etc, but they were kept well away from power. The history of the West seems, to me at least, the struggle of the money power to grasp political power from monarchies and feudal forces, then keep it out of the hands of the rabble, which is the situation today. Political power throughout the capitalist world, the Anglosphere in particular, is in the hands of the rich owners of society, mediated through political contributions. How else do you explain obscenities like the US Congress voting near universally in favour of Israeli destruction of undefended Gaza, and going into ecstasies of adulation as that thug Netanyahu lectures them, Obama and the world, or the spectacle of the same bovver-boy patting Obama on the head and congratulating him for being a good boy, after the despicable hypocrisy of Obama’s veto on Palestinian statehood. The money power, naked and shameless, but, if you dare mention it’s existence, look out!

  4. @TerjeP

    public opinion in general has gone “backwards” on climate change. Lots of the predictions made in the 1990s have been complete failures. The temperature trend has been unexciting.

    So you agree that telling lies such as “there has been no warming since 1995” have been successful in misleading some of the public. When it comes to something as technically complex as human-caused global warming, the public are very easily confused if a small number of people lie about the science. The subject is complex enough even if the public were only given the truth. Just a few liars makes a big difference.

  5. @Mulga Mumblebrain

    In general I agree.

    On political power being in the hands of the rich eg US Congress, try this:

    Congress Member Net worth

    Michael McCaul (R.-Texas) $294.21 million

    Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.) $220 million

    Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.) $193.07 million

    Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D.-W.Va.) $81.63 million

    Sen. Mark Warner (D.-Va.) $76.30 million

    Rep. Jared Polis (D.-Colo.) $65.91 million

    Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D.-N.J.) $55.07 million

    Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D.-Conn.) $52.93 million

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.) $45.39 million

    Rep. Vern Buchanan (R.-Fla.) $44.21 million

    Rep. Jim Renacci (R.-Ohio) $35.87 million

    Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) $35.20 million

    Rep. Rick Berg (R.-N.D.) $21.60 million

    Sen. Bob Corker (R.-Tenn.) $21.18 million

    Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R.-N.J.) $20.35 million

    These are the policy makers who get so upset if the millions on food stamps ask for too much !!!

  6. @Mulga Mumblebrain

    Well Tim, it was not I who mentioned Hobbes and Kant.

    No, it was Chris Warren. The second part of my comment was a response to him. I probably didn’t make that clear enough. Sorry about that.

    I’m sorry but I don’t care what way ‘left/right..are usually deployed’. I’m only interested in what I mean, and ‘Left/Right’ for me refers to a dichotomy between good and evil.

    I suspected as much, as I said above. That’s up to you of course, but you can hardly be surprised if others find it confusing. When people make up their own meanings for words, communication becomes more difficult.

  7. Yes, Tim, it can be confusing. At times it confuses me. I’ve met many decent people who swear blind that they are ‘Rightwing’ and even voted for Howard. I almost invariably find that they believe in what I would call Leftist sentiments, but have been brought up and indoctrinated to see them as ‘Rightwing’. Of course many of them were brought up in an age when the Right was more humane and rational, before the Thatcherite/Friedmanite neo-liberal reaction set in. I know that I was thoroughly brainwashed by my parents and grandparents into thinking the way that I do, but I’ve tested that indoctrination over and over against reality ever since, and I’m more certain than ever that they were correct. There are good and bad people in the world, people who behave badly out of necessity or false consciousness and people who were good or bad but changed, and in some circumstances change back. If I was asked to surmise what was the root of human evil, and simplify it radically, I’d put the blame on greed, and the attitude towards other people. I find that most Rightists I meet, or whose thoughts I read, basically fear and hate other people, to varying degrees, of course. These fears and hatreds can be universal, or selective, as we see with the concomitant explosion of racism and xenophobia that has accompanied the rise to absolute dominance of the Right. I’d nominate ‘The Fundament’ (aka The Australian’) as a text-book for this generalised hatred of the other, as pathopsychology and political weapon in the Right’s interminable ‘kultur-kampf’. Day after day, the relentless drone of abuse, contempt, vilification, targeting (amongst others) Moslems, refugees, welfare workers and recipients, environmentalists, non-assimilationist Aborigines, unionists, teachers, the Palestinians, the Chinese Government, ‘do-gooders’, ‘latte-sippers’, ‘chardonnay quaffers’, ‘basket weavers’, ‘post-Modernists’, ‘climate alarmists’, ‘the nanny-state’ etc, etc. One could go on forever. Everybody and everything ‘other’ to the worldview of Rupert Murdoch mediated through the likes of Greg Sheridan (whose putrid rant today, that the troubles of Palestine are all due to ‘anti-semitism’ approaches a low, even for him).

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