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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

The politics of smear « Previous | |Next »
July 7, 2004

I've refrained from commenting on the politics of dirt based on rumor and innuendo that has been filling the pages of the media this last week. Since the politics of dirt has taken on a life of its own, some comments are needed beyond all the nonsense about character in politics.

There is certainly a bit of this:
Alan Moir

As an ambitious NSW right-winger on the make, Latham has form when it comes to dealing in political dodginess. He's good at biffo. So he has been forced to confront the rumor and innuendo and prevent the mud from sticking. However, much more is going on than a political past in local council politics returning to haunt Latham.

Michelle Grattan's article is about politics being out control--- for which we read Latham. Latham is emotionally caught as he is letting the smears run whilst crying for the cameras. It's soapbox stuff sailing close to entertainment.

If politics is out of control it is not the Howard Government that It's "character campaign" is chipping away at Latham's personality creating doubts about his capacity to control his violent streak.

Cathy Wilcox
The "character" campaign, which has been flooding the media headlines for days, is trying to erode the ALP led by placing Latham's "character" into question. Families in the marginal seats will make the judgement.

Is the character campaign working? Is it clawing back the ALP preference lead in the marginals seats, now that both major parties are running neck and neck on primary votes? What other strategic alternatives to a dirt campaign does the Howard Government now have? We will see.

What is missing in Grattan's account of politics being out of control is a critical reflection on the role of the media- in all of this. Why is the media not seen to be out of control? Is this another case of journalists not reflecting on the role of media in political life?

In the Sydney Morning Herald Louise Dodson notes that "Politics turned into Hollywood-style celebrity life" but fails to analyse the media's role in this politics. Paul Kelly in The Australian attacks the media:

" The media's obsession with such issues [character] betrays not just a nasty streak but the way the cult of celebrity debases our journalism. This obsession with private histories coincides with the media's stunning lack of interest in Latham's substance and his policies (notably his refusal to define his main policies). The character issue is a cover for the trivialisation of political analysis and a decline in our public debate."

The politics of spectacle and entertainment is usually dismissed as tabloid with the quality press being above it all.

But the quality press are running with the rumors and innuendo just like the rest, and they doing it without engaging in a serious investigation of the rumours about all sides of politics: how is the campaign organized, how does it works, why does the media swallows the bait, why does the media spend all their time spinning around on rumor and not on policies. Why does the media feed on itself?

This is more than the media wars. The articles have become a simulacra; that is the substitution of the signs of the real for the real.

What does suprises me is the naivety and gullability being displayed about the media about the way that it is a player in politics. Catherine Lumby has talked about the politics of the media agenda. True, we don't hear much about the day-to-day economic issues - child-care costs, healthcare bills and higher education fees. Things have become so frenzied from rumors that some parts of the media start swallowing anything. Jokes and rumors become the real. The Sunday programme, which said it would expose all, was a beatup by the National Nine Network's pre-publicity machine for ratings. Then we have being ironic and postmodern: it is criticising the media for running the rumors whilst it is active in spreading the rumors.

Is not all of this the new politics within the politics of spectacle and entertainment?

Chris over at Backpages asks: "So where does Jack go now? The treasury's spent, the armoury's empty and the adverts are on the nose." He says that he can't see that Howard has any good moves left. The implication? All Latham has to do is hang on. There is no need to block any moves cos there ain't any. Sounds a tad optimistic to me.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:33 AM | | Comments (2)


now that both major parties are running neck and neck on primary votes?

I've answered the question you posed over at my place Gary. But also note that you seem to be relying on the most favourable government poll, which has only shifted a point, and in any event has a 3 point error margin (and recently disgraced itself completely with what was just about the biggest fortnightly poll shift in history, which it subsequently reversed on). A bit of caution called for here, methinks.

Howard does not need to be in front to win.He can still win, even if he is behind in the primary vote.

My judgement is that this is not over by a long shot. It is going to take a while to undermine Latham creditability. The dirt may be only one string to the bow but it is an effective form of erosion amongst women voters in the marginals.

Would Latham raise his fists against women? That is the emotional undertow of the dirt campaign.

A suggestion:

All you need is a woman councillor or party member to come out and say she was verballed then the fist was raised. It could even be a set up.

Good Republican tactics is it not?

Maybe they are not needed in Australia at this stage. There is slippage with Latham ALP in the electorate. Not much. But it is there.

Slippage is difficult to reverse.