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

The Australian versus the blogs « Previous | |Next »
July 12, 2007

It's finally happened. The war between the blogs and Murdoch's Australian has opened. The issue is the interpretation of Newspoll and the blogs challenging The Australian's upbeat that Rudd's days are numbered as Howard fights back. What the polls say that the Howard government is in a desperate electoral position, and the Australian is doing its best to dig up glimmers of gold amidst the coal dust.

The Australian's opening salvo in the 'Newspoll wars' is an editorial subtitled Online prejudice no substitute for real work. The position is simple--the online commentariat are prejudiced whilst The Australian does the real political analysis. The salvo opens thus:

The measure of good journalism is objectivity and a fearless regard for truth. Bias, nonetheless, is in the eye of the beholder and some people will always see conspiracy when the facts don't suit their view of the world. This is the affliction that has gripped, to a large measure, Australia's online news commentariat that has found passing endless comment on other people's work preferable to breaking real stories and adding to society's pool of knowledge.

Now we must pinch ourselves to remind us that this is coming from The Australian, which is widely noted for its partisan commentary, bias and dumping of objectivity in the culture wars and the war on terror. Though two critics are mentioned--- Mumble's Peter Brent and Crikey--the salvo is much broader. The 'online news commentariat' are positioned as 'our woolly-headed critics' and 'as the one-eyed anti-Howard cheer squad now masquerading as serious online political commentary,'who, apart from a few notable exceptions, 'has all but exhausted its claim to be taken seriously.'

The following sentence 'Smug, self assured, delusional swagger is no substitute for getting it right' would apply to The Australian: to the low grade work of Dennis Shanahan that mocks the truth telling ethos of journalism, and as well as many of the other journalists in The Australian's stable whose work relies on the regular drip feed from the always unnamed "senior sources" in the Howard Ministry. This culture of hiding the sources for government stories corrupts journalistic culture.

Then we have this paragraph:

If there is a common theme to the criticisms levelled against The Australian's political coverage by the self appointed online commentariat it is that our critics only howl when the heat is being applied to Labor.... The self appointed experts online come ...from the extreme Left, populated as many sites are by sheltered academics and failed journalists who would not get a job on a real newspaper. We fully expect that if anything goes wrong for Mr Rudd in the campaign this year we will be blamed for Labor's misfortune.

There's a touch a persecutory complex here with the suggestion of feelings of paranoia that the critics are plotting against them, or out to harm them.

It is highly probable that the online commentators do not want a job on a real newspaper like the Australian and be obliged to spin for the Coalition to retain their jobs. They do not want to be caught up in self-deception that they are practicing real journalism. What hey have done is break the monopoly of the mainstream media and political elites, on interpreting the news to the electorate.

The Australian adopts a defensive position in its attacks on its online critics in wards that project its own practices onto its critics.

It reflects how out of touch with ordinary views so many on-line commentators are. They claim to understand the mainstream but in reality represent a clique that believes what it considers to be the evils of the Howard Government position on Iraq, climate change, and Work Choices to be self-evident truths....Such commentators clearly have a market because there are a lot of people who want to have their own prejudices endlessly confirmed. But they should not kid themselves they are engaged in proper journalism and real reporting.

Dennis Shanahan engaged in proper journalism and real reporting? How's that for self-deception. What does that 'real reporting ' mean in the context of the partisan commentary practised by The Australian's journalists? If a delusion is an unshakable belief in something untrue, then the statement that The Australian's commentators are engaged in proper journalism and real reporting is an example of an irrational belief that defies normal reasoning, as it is one that remains firm even when overwhelming proof is presented to dispute them.

The reality is that online commentators (Crikey and the political bloggers) are engaged in holding The Australian to account, and they are using the skills of journalism to make it's journalists more accountable to citizens in a liberal democracy.The Australian really doesn't like this online surveillance of its activities and commentary, judging by this shrill paragraph:

On almost every issue it is difficult not to conclude that most of the electronic offerings that feed off the work of The Australian to create their own content are a waste of time. They contribute only defamatory comments and politically coloured analysis. Not properly understanding how polls work gives our critics licence to project their own bias onto analysis of our reporting. The Australian is not beholden to any one side of politics and recent election outcomes vindicate our treatment of our polls. So let's not mince words. [W]e just don't think many of our critics have any real clue about polling and very little practical experience of politics.

Only The Australian understands politics. This appeal to authority to bolster a defensive position has an grandiose complex as The Australian assumes its the only newspaper in town. It has an over-inflated sense of self-worth, as only they engage in professional political analysis.

This self-delusion:----The Australian understands itself as 'not beholden to any one side of politics' when it functions as the publicity machine for the Coalition in our political discourse--is severe. What we have is a delusion accompanied by hallucinations, which are acting to strengthen confidence in the delusion that The Australian's partisan commentators are engaged in proper journalism and real reporting.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:41 PM | | Comments (24)


I see that Tim Dunlop's post on The Australian vs the Blogosphere at Blogocracy has been pulled. It was there last night, but not now. Is the OZ sensitive to bloggers pointing out it's obvious bias in its interpretation of NewsPoll?

Apparently part of Dunlop's post said the following about the OZ editorial:

“I think the editorial is ill-conceived and way off the mark in singling out Peter Brent in the way that it does. His site largely confines itself to interpretation and in doing so, provides a great service. The idea that he can’t comment without the editor of The Australian ringing him up to say they are going to “go” him is disturbing...”

It is disturbing that the post on The Oz editorial is pulled by News Ltd, given that they say that the OZ is a newspaper that encourages debate about the public issues of the day.

The OZ is appearing to be a mouthpiece for the Coalition, and their storylines are slanted to favour the Coalition. Why bother to deny it? Everyone can see it.

Dennis Shanahan’s blog post yesterday addressing his critics Howard’s trend lifts him out of the trough was closed for discussion after 16 comments.

This is in the context of the headline “Newspoll: Howard checks Rudd’s march” for Shanahan's column. There was only one figure in Newspoll (preferred PM) that would give JWH some comfort.

The rest of the numbers (a 39-48 primary gap and 56-44 two-party preferred gap in favour of the ALP with an election at the most 4 months away. This, which is after weeks of good coverage for the Government, is not good result for the Liberals.

The Coalition has problems----the party is on the nose but its leader is reviving himself.


This bit from the OZ editorial is pricless:

"Unlike Crikey, we understand Newspoll because we own it."

Todays Nine news poll is
Should Paul Keating leave politics alone?
Yes 41,828
No 14,553
You would think that its about time someone took him off to the side and said Hey Paul someones written 17% on your forehead.

It's hard to believe that anyone with any self-respect could write such a juvenile 'editorial' unless they were pissed. The self-serving bias is so obvious it's not worth commenting on.

In fact, I could make the same observation about most of the second-rate crap published in the MSM or transmitted on the MSM TV channels. Sample item: 'tonight's main story' on Our ABC - John Howard forgot someone's name. Why do bloggers need to keep following the MSM into the schoolyard?

I believe that bloggers make a big error by focusing so much attention on the MSM. Who gives a shit what some columnist from News or Fairfax thinks?

The future of blogging isn't to become the new MSM, anymore than MySpace is replacing free-to-air TV, and bloggers shouldn't delude themselves they're the new Gerard Hendersons, any more than Opious is the new Cold Chisel. We're in uncharted waters. So let's enjoy being at the forefront of a brand new social phenomenon and stop obsessing about MSM dinosaurs still trying to cast spells with their interminable polls and pathetic childish jealousies.

I've posted Tim Dunlop's missing post on the OZ editorial at philosophy com.

It was in my RSS reader.It was also posted at Larvatus Prodeo by Darryl Rosin in the bottom of the comments section.

I agree with all you've said--they are good points. The exception is your conclusion:

We're in uncharted waters. So let's enjoy being at the forefront of a brand new social phenomenon and stop obsessing about MSM dinosaurs still trying to cast spells with their interminable polls and pathetic childish jealousies.

We should critique the conservative position and arguments on crucial public issues (eg., Indigenous, global warming) to create spaces for a critical discourse to flourish.I'm not sure that there is a critical discourse in the blogoshere on indigenous issues.

Do you? Or is it just beginning? The critical global warming discourse is more developed.

Two things come to mind. Firstly am drawn to recall the antics at a press club luncheon a couple of months ago, when a certain dwarf-like Goebbelsian hob-goblin figure, drink in hand as usual, DEMANDED that Opposition media spokesperson Conroy explain what a future ALP government would do to clamp down on the blogs and deal with his former victim Mayne and Crikey.
One senses poisonous Saluszinsky; another almost unbeleivable fairy tale nursery-rhyme figure, behind some of this nonsense, somewhere.
So following on, can they try, or would they have the cheek, to intiate the same sort of stunt Gunns pulled concerning the Greens after election 2004, instituting a scurrilous legal vaudeville to bog down dissident viewpoints.
PS, noticed none in the media were willing to follow up on Grattan's scoop concerning Brough's rorting of Aboriginal funds.
If the government and its urgers have the media this tied down, why are they so worried about a few blogsites, though?
This is pitiful!

Well, this morning, the Australian has really ramped up the pro-Liberal bias.

Wall to wall!!!!

I see that Tim Dunlop has not posted on Blogocracy Something is up.

Gary - agree completely. I didn't express my thoughts terribly clearly - too condensed. One of my concerns is that bloggers are too easily distracted from the analysis of issues by endless tedious micro-critiques of various MSM hacks.

I'm in no position to make an informed contribution about indigenous issues but I have been impressed by the posts and comments I've read in places like LP and Club Troppo. I thought they were a good example of the way bloggers can offer a diverse range of facts and opinions, free of the compulsion to couch everything in terms of support or opposition to a government position (although that might only have been because it was impossible to know what the government position actually was).

agree again. It's my turn for not being clear. Or maybe I'm just working it out through disscussion

Yes the good left of centre blogs have done good posts on indigenous issues --but this critical space that has been established is disconnected from the critical indigenous voices.

None of the strong women's voices at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, or those of the audience, made any mention of the bloggosphere, let alone the critical space they'd opened up.

It is pretty clear from the OZ editorial that their strategy is one of gatekeeping and being political players rather than with defending journalistic objectivity or the analysing and informing political events.

It is the blogs that are increasingly doing the latter. They have pulled aside the veil which once separated media consumers from the corporate news production process.The Australian is reacting angrily to the challenge of accountability: they have been hurt and are responding as schoolyard bullies in the media/Canberra/pollie yard trying to ensure submission and compliance to the exercise of their power.

The issue is about power: media and poltiical power. It is Crikey that is effectively challenging them in the insider stakes. The bloggers are still very marginal.

Out of interest I took a look at what Tim Blair has said on the Tim Dunlop censorship by News Ltd:

"This morning a Dunlop piece, again critical of the Australian, was pulled.

No big deal. It was always going to happen. If you’re going to consistently attack a particular enterprise, it’s probably best not to be employed by that same enterprise. Lefties struggle with this simple concept."

I would have thought that News Corp came up with the idea of a critical voice---it creates controversy and that mean more clicks. Good for business. Its all about business.

Tim Blair appears to have difficulties in understanding this simple concept.

Tim Dunlop is back online. He comments:

Yep, the editor here pulled a post yesterday, which I ain’t happy about, though of course, in the greater scheme of things editors pulling copy is hardly unusual. Nonetheless, it is something we are discussing.

Seems as if we have reached the limits of independent analysis is within the mainstream media of News Corp.

There are more comments by Tim at Road to Surfdom, where he says:

thankyou all for the support. A post was pulled over at Blogocracy and we are still working all that out. I’ll post about it properly when I know more. Talk about Friday meltdown.

The limits I referred to above remind me of the hidden limits (pressures and biases) encountered by Margo Kingston's Webdiary, which pioneered journo-pundit-blogger interaction a the Sydney Morning Herald. She was vilified and personally attacked by other journos, by some of her own colleagues in the Canberra Press gallery, and she was very badly treated by Fairfax.

Gary, firstly a very good article by you.

I am not an academic and never aspired to be a journalist, but I am a "constitutionalist" and welcome "The Australian" to prove me wrong in facts on whatever I have stated on my blog and my website

It deals with numerous constitutional and political matters and if they cannot prove me wrong then I view their own credibility is shot to pieces.

While blogs might at times have political motivations, when the person controlling the blog dictates what can or cannot be posted by others, in general I view that blogging is more trustworthy in that it is beyond control of the Government.

To me, it would not make one of iota difference what I have stated on my blog as to which political party or parties are in Government, as the same would apply.

With The Australian having attacked bloggers then I welcome them to prove me wrong on what I stated! And, for that anyone else if they can think they can do better where the Federal Government lawyers lost on all constitutional grounds against me after a 5-year legal battle.

Thanks again for the excellent article and bringing it to our attention.

G. H. Schorel-Hlav,
The power plays that we are seeing involve the corporate media as well as the government.The Australian has positioning itself as the expression of the conservative movement in Australia, just as Fox News has done for the Republicans in the US.

It has become a conservative noise machine, which takes beyond the standard practice of those Murdoch journalists who convey what the government asserts and then, rather than leave it at that, rather than subject those claims to critical scrutiny.

As Glen Greenwood observes the day-to-day critical pressure on individual journalists and political figures is the most effective weapon possessed by those blogs devoted to forcing into our public discourse various perspectives and narratives which are otherwise excluded.

The energized, engaged and active blog readers can act to ensure that journalists, editors, pundits and political figures now hear the criticisms launched at them, and usually hear them quite loudly.

Calling The Australian 'The Government Gazette' must sting. It strips away all the pretence of objectivity, neutrality and concern for truth that the newspaper wraps around itself.

That link to Glenn Greenwood at is important. In that post he says:

"The point here is that changing our public discourse is a slow, grinding, difficult process. Any changes that occur, any progress that is made, will be made only incrementally, one day after the next. Each individual change is usually so slight as to be imperceptible, but aggregated, those changes can be substantial. The real success of blogs comes not from single, easily identifiable spectacular achievements ("we defeated this bill/candidate" or "we uncovered this fact"), but rather, by the gradual re-shaping of the dominant political narratives, by changing how political and cultural issues are discussed, by influencing (either through pressure or competition) how the media conducts itself in covering our political process."

It's a good insight:--re-shaping of the dominant political narratives by changing how political and cultural issues are discussed...

Up to this week it has been unclear to me whether the mainstream corporate journalists, who have been the target of bloggers even heard the criticisms being voiced, let alone listened to them. I suspected that some of the political bloggers were being read---certainly by Margo Kingston when she ran Webdiary at the Sydney Morning Herald--but they were being studiously ignored. The pretense was the bloggers did not exist, or if they did, they were irrelevant.

With the Australian's recent editorial--ie., History a better guide than bias--- attacking the online commentariat and bloggers ,there is no doubt that the journalists are hearing the criticisms. The current defensive response is to try to arrogantly ignore the criticism; or to try to demean the criticism and insist that it does not matter.

It's not working. The criticisms of Dennis Shanahan's interpretation of the polls have been persuasively defended and grounded in good reasoning. What the event shows is that such criticism eventually builds and grows and strengthens and has an effect.

Chris Mitchell's pulling Tim Dunlop's post at Blogocracy on Michell's editorial attack on Peter Brent at Mumble illustrates that the blogger's criticism has had an effect. The Government Gazette is now seen to lack credibility--not a good look for the national broadsheet.

I have just published a article on my blog relating to judges appointment which unlikely any journalist would dare to publish because of the risk to their employment.
As a matter of fact some journalist gave me the understanding they are not permitted to publish certain matters at all.
Bloggers like myself who have no such fear therefore can publish articles that otherwise would be kept from the general public. It is then up to the reader to accept or reject partly or all of an article published, but at least they have access to it.
Members of Parliament who are supposingly representing us then tell us that it is so secret we are not allowed to know what it is, but the Government knows it all and even goes to war for it. This is what happens when “secrecy” is being used as then it is being abused and a Government can fabricate there is confidential information from the secret service regardless there is none, as the secret service or intelligence services are prohibited to expose lies.
While the Government is so much on the bandwagon of people to dob in law breakers, when it comes to them then dobbers (wissleblowers) are pursued at all length. In my view journalist should have full protection of their sources, as if this is denied then many will not disclose details and then we all as a society might be worse off.
In my view, a newspaper that is bias, is not a newspaper at all but merely like a lawyer a “mouthpiece” for who they serve. With the million of bloggers it would be impossible to have any Government controlling their articles and this might be an underlining issue with The Australian. I for one did forward an email to the Australian to challenge anything on my blog as being incorrect, etc! Time will tell if they respond.

G. H. Schorel-Hlavka,
The war in Iraq and the American media's coverage of government claims about that war is the issue that best defines what is wrong with the mainstream media.This is especially so for the Australian, which claims to be our national paper.

The journalistic failures of the Australian in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq is one of the darkest marks in that paper's history -- perhaps its worst.The lead-up to the invasion of Iraq was a time when journalistic skepticism was needed most in our liberal democracy. Australians were debating whether to invade another country which had not attacked us.

The Australian allowed itself to be completely manipulated by the government and/or eagerly participated in its propaganda campaign, obediently reciting the government's false WMD claims on its front pages and selling this war to its readers.

The Australian engaged in a campaign of mass deception, and so stood opposed to the watchdog ethos of the fourth estate in a liberal democracy, and it trashed its responsibility to provide a truthful accounts of these events so that Australian citizens could make informed judgements about the whether to invade Iraq or not.

Unlike the New York Times in the US, the Australian has not acknowledged these failures, nor has it stated that it has learned, and taken to heart, the important lessons about the need for skepticism when it comes to government claims about war.

The Australian continues to stand by its assumption that its job is to engage in mass deception of Australian citizens.

if the Australian simply prints government claims, media releases and leaks without skepticism, then it is value to citizens in a liberal democracy is that of the Government Gazette.

It's value is nothing more than a spin machine amplifier.

Gary, good on ya for aplauding Margo Kingston's blog.
It has been a mighty thing over the years and one truly is in awe of the woman and her helpers, given some of the heavy-duty stuff dished out to her in particular, by many people including some of the highest in the land.
Dunlop's posts at Web Diary back in the very early days were effervescent and he is one of several people who have taken wing and started up their own blogsites for serious discussion of current affairs, including fierce but well mentally organised Jewish-Australian Israel critic Antony Loewenstein, himself a victim of genuinely heavy sleging tactics in recent times.
The likes of Mark and Brian Bahnisch, Damian Lataan and Andrew Bartlett have all payed tribute to Web Diary and shrewd Adelaide based blogger Richard Tonkin still contributes there as an editor and writer. Glad you had the generosty of spirit to acknowledge Margo and her friends and that astonishing accomplishment

As to your response Gary Sauer-Thompson | July 15, 2007 01:33 PM I cannot but agree with this.

One of the problems we are facing is that with WorkChoices many a journalist (possibly facing huge mortgage burden) cannot afford to risk their jobs to speak out for the truth. Not that I approve of this but can UNDERSTAND their failure to speak up and/or expose the truth.
The framers of the Constitution very much relied upon journalistic reporting that they made it an issue that proceedings at the Convention should be allowed to be covered by journalist as to make it transparent and the people would be aware that, so to say, no funny business went on.

Soon, it will be 19 October 2007 the 6th anniversary of the sinking of the SIEV-X with 353 people drowning, including 146 children, and yet despite the involvement of the Australian Federal Police to fund (albeit unconstitutionally) “aliens” in Indonesia to prevent refugees to come to Australia I view no appropriate inquiry has been held and journalist generally seem to ignore the plight of those and others.
My letterheads and my books continue to refer to this terrible historical event but politicians generally seem not to care less.
We need the kind of Watergate journalist who really go out of their way to expose matters. After all, what the refugees were doing was not unlawful as we had a Refugee Treaty in place, and as such the conduct of the Australian Federal Police to pay “aliens” in another country to prevent refugees to come to the Commonwealth of Australia in my view was illegal at the very least. Unconstitutional as the Commonwealth of Australia had no authority to fund something like this.
At least two journalist (albeit off the record) made known to me that if they published certain matters they could face terms of imprisonment, now to me that indicated we do not have FREEDOM OF THE PRESS.

I do not know if there is any kind of a accreditation system in place where a newspaper can be suspended if its is deemed to be publishing too one sided articles and/or gross inaccurate reports but this, I view, would be a good thing to have. After all, if radio and television licences can be suspended then perhaps suspending a newspapers publication might just hit the purse of the newspaper owners and they might then just allow journalistic freedom to ensure balanced coverage.