One sentence that says it all

I’ve been generally appalled by the performance of the media in the current election. This article by David Crowe in the Nine/Fairfax papers is the perfect illustration. Asking what is wrong with the current election, Crowe concludes

The fact is that neither leader has inflicted a killer blow against the other.

The idea that an election is a gladiatorial contest between “leaders”, staged for the entertainment of the Press Gallery has never been put more simply and clearly.

The article is entirely in this spirit, referring to a “lack of intensity”, Shorten’s failure to “hammer nails in the coffin” and so on.

The idea that the parties seeking government might have different policies, and that some might be better than others doesn’t even enter Crowe’s thinking. Rather, policies are sources of “messages” which amplify perceived “strengths” or cover up weaknesses.

To be fair, this has been the approach of the parties themselves for most of the past thirty years, running presidential campaigns, while avoiding any policy commitment that might increase their size as a target. That’s what political journalists know how to talk about. But faced with actual policy differences, they are like literature critics trying to review a mathematics article.

What makes this even worse is that Fairfax/Nine is about as good as it gets. The ABC has been scared out of doing anything that might attract accusations of bias, and has stuck almost entirely to gladiatorial commentary.

The Murdoch papers are now just propaganda sheets, with no pretence of separating news and opinion – everything is written from the same rightwing or far-right slant[1]. That wouldn’t be so bad if the rest of the media did not treat them as part of the club, to be defended against the attacks of bloggers and Twitterati. The result is that the political centre of the media is far to the right of that of the Australian electorate.

I can’t see this changing any time soon. Fortunately, the impact of media on elections is declining. Labor can win without any media endorsements if necessary.

fn1. They still have a handful of commentators representing the centre-right Turnbull faction of the Liberal Party, while (irony on) the left is represented by Graham Richardson (irony off)

29 thoughts on “One sentence that says it all

  1. Prof Q, the last para of your post seems to trail off mid sentence. I presume you were going to say the impact of media on elections is declining, or WTTE.

  2. Yeah but that’s the media generally. It’s not like you can read an objective presentation of the Liberal and National party policies in the Guardian.

  3. Spot on John. The paradox is that judging from their tweets, most of the Nine and ABC journalists are pro-labor and anti-coalition, but in their journalism they fall back on the gladiatorial contest approach, which at present favours the Coalition.

  4. It is not just journos but party strategists who think and believe you need to win each day and overall that leads to a winning election.
    When asked for evidence you are given nothing to support this.
    Aligned with this is someone is a good campaigner.
    I have written about this at my place. Howard was a ‘good’ campaigner despite losing votes in a campaign more times than he gained them.

    Hence we have Morrison is a good campaigner and Shorten a bad campaigner despite the polls not having moved since the election has been called. This occurred last election.

  5. I am at a loss to explain the closeness of the polls. This government has been a rolling series of scandals and stuff ups .Robo-debt is just one example of so many , it cost almost as much to administer as they recovered and resulted in several suicides. They really only have 3 policies (reward the better off more, punish the less fortunate more ,and protect us from threats) ,after that they just hope for the best via trickle down .They say they want smaller government but Conservatives always make it bigger. They have no vision beyond that cruel and discredited formulae. Morrison is all negative and Shorten has a positive plan that aligns with Australian values .Shorten should be pointing out that the Liberals want to make us like America.

    I can only think that it is the effect of support from the Murdooch media empire and the rest of the old money and power network. It reminds me of the situation in the US . For 8 years they were unable to find any scandal on Obama, now Trump makes one per week but it doesnt seem to matter so long as he delivers for the top end of town.

  6. One of the reasons elections turn out this way is that journalists don’t know much about specifics. How could they when so many topics have to be covered? The gladiatorial contest or what I call the Carlton versus Collingwood approach to politics is largely a defence mechanism because journalists don’t want to admit their ignorance, just like the candidates. Another irritating feature of this election is that no one in the political/journalist clique now seems to care about who does what when matters belong in the public domain. Thus, we have a Treasurer who wants the Commonwealth to pay for a level crossing in his electorate. Morrison wants to clean up the River Torrens, something that could be left to the ratepayers of the City of Adelaide or South Australian taxpayers. Shorten, in effect, is setting priorities in the health system. And a lot of this expenditure is supposed to happen at some variable point in the future. Keeping track of forward commitments must be nightmare for officials.

  7. The mass media has gone through a revolution in the last two decades. It really isn’t what it used to be and I doubt it has the impact on opinion that it believes it does (or that politicians do). It’s a generational thing – anyone under 30 probably doesn’t have much memory of the days when newspapers mattered – or even took themselves seriously as journalism. It’s not all bad – but something has been lost along the way. There is a strong case to expand the ABC to fill the gap and end the political interference.

  8. Perhaps the fact is that as yet this time around no team msm player has inflicted a killer blow against either captain. The msm pile-on so far has seen to 7(?) minor possibles and probables only being sent off. Is there sufficient time remaining for one of the dogged and desperate team msm to inspire their incredible team with a new chant to be taken up by one and all, and to please their selectors?

  9. “I am at a loss to explain the closeness of the polls”


    It’s not hard to explain. Not everybody thinks like you do. It’s a big and varied country. There are people with different values, interests, prejudices and experiences. At federal elections these more or less cancel out and the result is nearly always close in terms of aggregate vote. (This doesn’t apply to state elections where in any given state there is less of this kind of variation and so less cancelling out).

    Depending on which piece of random noise you want to focus on the polls have settled at 52:48 or 51:49. .

    Whitlam in 72, Hawke ‘83 and Rudd in ‘07 all won 53:47 so Labor is doing a bit worse this time. But In each of those elections there was a big time It’s Time factor. This time the LNP been in power for less than 6 years. In all of Australian history it has never lost an election after such a short time in office, so this time is different. Plus Whitlam, Hawke and Rudd all had charisma which Shorten lacks and that probably shaves the Labor vote.

  10. I’ve been generally appalled by the performance of the media in the current election.

    Why have you been paying attention to it? (I hope you don’t mind my asking.)

  11. As a public intellectual and social commentator on matters economic and political, part of J.Q.’s research for this self-selected and publicly acknowledged job (among the other work he does) is to pay at least some attention to the media. This is valid and understandable. Indeed, he could not do this job as well without doing at least a bit of that research. I, by comparison, can opinionate with far less attention to the MSM, thank goodness. It must be painful to wade through even a small proportion of that rubbish.

  12. Journalists could, you know, ask the various candidates questions like: “Why is the Disability Support Pension ridiculously hard for someone to qualify, and why are so-called independent medical examiners used—at significant public expense, instead of the qualified opinion of the claimant’s own GP and specialists?”

    Then it would be up to the candidate to give a good answer, one that might get to the heart of true policy differences among the major/minor parties. Journalists let the candidates off the hook, all the time now, and that leaves nothing but the chest thumping contest to report on.

  13. One quick marker for rubbish is to look for the words ‘body language’. If a piece masquerading as political analysis contains those words, it’s drivel.

  14. I’m pretty unimpressed with the coverage but I can do my own questioning of the candidates in my electorate now that they all have Facebook pages. I’ve been messaging candidates about their party’s plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and their personal beliefs about how serious the threat of climate change is. No response = no vote.

  15. weel, “tha mmedia” seems to work on a “look-at-me-so-the-ads-just slide-on-through-to-the-subliminal”
    shockshockshockshock ad nauseum.

    those youthsters squarking about the sanctity of living entities look like a put up job of distraction.
    it’s been sort of effective.
    but i’m waiting for somebody to ask them what they would do about a tapeworm or guineaworm infestation.

    they are cyber-weaponised innocents.

    i hope they manage to come through the attention glare OK.
    and get their B12 shots.

  16. may,

    Or tell them there are probably hundreds of tardigrades on their organic home grown salad.

  17. yerse.

    and have you ever watched a herbivore eat?

    they never spit out the grasshoppers.

    alright JQ.
    i’ll stop now.

    yay Icono.

  18. I think that dwelling on claimed or apparent conflicts is a way of practicing inexpensive journalism. I think the finance officers are in control. Both sides of politics and both branches of the media in Australia. One could ask whether the cost pressures arise from social media impacts but the reality is that we get a cheapy news service dominated by opinion rather than news. .

  19. If Labor wins, I think its essential we have a Royal Commission into media ownership. Murdoch is abusing his social licence, and has corrupted the public square. The inevitable outcomes are a right-wing minority that do not consent to be governed by the majority, because they believe ‘alternative facts’, or a poor Government that is never properly held to account. Both outcomes are disastrous.

  20. “I think that dwelling on claimed or apparent conflicts is a way of practicing inexpensive journalism. I think the finance officers are in control.”

    Oh come on Harry the war terminology is all from ‘the right’. They love war and have counseled their candidates to escalate always escalate.

    But inexpensive journalism is a real thing that came about when newspaper owners and not their finance officers were allowed to make a profit at all costs rather than fulfilling their social obligation that comes with being the fourth estate. Cost cutting on good journalism in areas such as science and economics and hard to understand things was the result and catering to the lowest common denominator rather than taking our population along with the progress that is being made.

    It had definitely been Murdoch and the culled media we were forced to have who dumbed down our population and made them more warlike selfish greedy and uninformed rather than the opposite.

  21. Irregular, I also have been questioning candidates on their facebook pages.

    It can be a very interesting experience.

    The Labor candidate in the Groom electorate Troy Kay had attracted a large number of comments from right wing people telling him to f off in various ways. Such good arguments they had..not. Mine were much better but very few of these commenters replied to my arguments about why they were wrong to post such rude comments and that this was an election not a war.

  22. I am sometime very dense as I’ve told numerous times but I don’t get the relevance of your comment about the direction of Prof Quiggin’s remarks? (Calling him John is sometimes confusing for some of us because there are other John’s who come here.)

    Is it wrong to talk about the big picture?

  23. Harry I may be dense but I don’t get the relevance of your comment.

    Is it wrong to talk about the big picture? Is that too off topic?

  24. Julie Thomas – the extent of abuse of candidate’s Facebook pages is pretty revealing, isn’t it? The lack of response from various candidates about their plans on reducing GHG emissions is also revealing… I’ve pitched several easy questions to candidates that don’t focus on what they or their party has done or said in the past – these questions should be an obvious chance to talk positively about their plans for the future – and I’ve received zero responses from the Liberals/LNP, One Nation or UAP.

  25. Irregular,

    I am betting that you are not a deca-millionaire or better who donates to said parties. If you were, you would have received a quick and detailed response. See, this sums it up. If a person is not wealthy and a donor, then the major parties do not care one fig for that person. This will pertain until mass human action (the only counter to mass money) changes matters. Now, radically changing their voting pattern is a mass action possible to the people in a democracy. There is no need for street action in our current democracy. LNP and Labor could be destroyed at the ballot box in this upcoming election. All it would take would be enough votes for Greens and Socialists.

    But the people have not yet realized the seriousness of the climate and mass extinction emergency. When they do their voting patterns will change radically.

  26. “There is no need for street action in our current democracy.”

    On the contrary, there is every need for street action in our current ‘democracy’. Grass roots activism is where progressive change begins. it doesn’t begin within the establishment. Our current ‘democracy’ system players always resist until they are forced to reluctantly adopt such change by the increasing numbers taking up the cause of the activists outside the system. Activist tendencies of players inside the system, should there be any, are denied oxygen or crushed, eg., Kelvin Thomson and Lee Rhiannon.

    https ://

  27. Julie Thomas, John Quiggin’s post is mainly directed at Nine/Fairfax. This is not a right wing newspaper – The Age is quite left wing. It is this press he is referring to. Its not a big picture issue at all – just a contradiction to your claim that only the right engage in “war” language.

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