Dunno if anyone else is still reading the op/ed pages of The Australian post-election. There was quite a bizarre piece in there today from Tom Switzer, the op/editor himself, which Guy Rundle characterised as an application for his own job.
The article is the usual construction – brave put-upon conservatives telling the unpopular verities etc etc to fashionable opinion etc etc. The aim is to make any sacking look like a silencing.
The truth is otherwise, which is why Switzer is worried – News Ltd has run a quasi-hysterical series of campaigns over the past years, around the elites etc, and allowed blatant spinning to infect their news pages.
The result, in terms of an impact on public opinion, has been virtually nil. “Australia is a more conservative place than it was before Howard,” Switzer opines.
Rundle goes on to refute that, citing social attitudes on abortion, Family First’s miniscule vote, the fact that there’s stuff on the telly that would have “caused conniptions” in years gone by, etc, etc. He argues, and it’s an argument that has been made quite a number of times at this blog too, that Howard was the last obstacle to a recognition that change actually has come. And he makes a point that’s struck me as well – the main reason for reading (and getting angsty about) the writing of the likes of Albrechtsen or Pearson was their closeness to power – something that faded away in an instant when Howard departed.
In that environment, the Switzer-gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight are going to be useless, because they have no dialogue with the times – a la JS Mill, they are the “second rate minds who are always against the spirt of the era”. Albrechtsen used to be interesting to read because she was obviously influencing the government. Who’s going to read this mad maven now, banging on about judicial activism, and fiendish feminists?
Sydney Uni Politics Professor Rodney Tiffen has an interesting piece on a similar topic at Australian Policy Online – the dissonance between the editorial endorsements from the majority of News Ltd papers for Rudd and their content and slant. Noting the “long history” of Murdoch aligning the editorial line and the tone of reporting and commentary in his papers, Tiffen observes:
But what we have in the 2007 Australian election is a historical novelty and an intriguing conundrum. The Murdoch press was generally biased against Labor but several of his papers editorially endorsed a Rudd government (as we predicted they would a month ago on APO). The Australian, Daily Telegraph and Courier-Mail all advocated a vote for change, while the Herald Sun and the Advertiser stuck with the coalition.
Throughout the campaign the front page of the Australian looked as if it had been dictated by Liberal Party headquarters, except that the Liberals would probably have been a bit more subtle. The major Murdoch tabloids were also generally pro-Coalition. If anything, they went slightly counter to their eventual editorial stances, with the Melbourne Herald Sun giving Labor a better run than the Sydney Daily Telegraph.
His analysis of this seeming conundrum is very interesting indeed:
Murdoch’s interests are so intertwined with government policies and regulations that he cannot afford to be totally offside with any government that is going to be in power for some time. So News Corporation can now claim that it gave support to those politicians they will be dealing with, and hope that they will overlook just how belated and grudging and equivocal that support was.
Another is a combination of commercial and journalistic imperatives. These papers pride themselves on being on the popular pulse, voicing public concerns, reflecting society back to itself, and indeed have the capacity to influence public opinion. But despite their populist posturing, they are more out of touch than the anti-Howard “elites” they so frequently rail against. Despite their desperate appearance of finally jumping on the bandwagon, all their instincts had been the other way.
Two conclusions should not be lost sight of. Labor won this election without any help, and in the face of some hindrance, from News Limited, and so the government owes the company precisely zero. Second, the Murdoch press has exposed itself as being out of touch with public opinion, and with a more limited capacity to influence it than they might have imagined. Its senior ranks are so dominated by conservative ideologues that this colours all their views of politics. This long ago started to damage their professional credibility, but of more interest to their boss may be the fact that now it is also increasingly threatening their commercial performance.
In light of that, I wonder if Rundle isn’t spot on:
What you need in these times is one such contrarian columnist, not eight, with the rest talking closer to where people actually are. If Switzer and Mitchell don’t clean house, someone will.
The other reason these guys are under the hammer is, of course, because they failed. Paradoxically for a bunch of people with a lot of time for Karl Popper’s “The Open Society and Its Enemies” they forgot the signal message of that book – dictatorships fail, because they substitute propaganda for information, and thus have no way of informing themselves about the true state of reality.
News and Co surrounded Howard and Co with the delusion that the ex-PM represented Australia’s distilled essence back to himself – obscuring the degree to which he had already been shucked, like a used peanut shell, with fatal consequences.
Will King Rupert keep these bozos on? Would you?