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

The Australian's hypocrisy « Previous | |Next »
March 17, 2008

The Australian is well known for its mixture of news and opinion, attack dog polemics in the culture wars and being the partisan media voice for the Howard government. Yet, here it is defending the very opposite with its "Detachment Matters" editorial. The editorial agrees with John Hewson's complaint in the Australian Financial Review about journalists becoming players on the political stage rather than mere observers. As the editorial says:

Journalists are outsiders, not political players....Commentary and opinion are important elements of the political discourse and enhance the democratic process. A detached and independent mindset, however, is always important, especially for those paid to scrutinise politicians. Journalists need to guard against becoming too close to those they write about. Relying on a "drip feed" of press releases or strategic "leaks", at the expense of probing and independent analysis, demeans their profession and sells the public short. It can lead to a conflict of interest tempting journalists to turn a blind eye to the mistakes of those on whom they rely as sources.

So what are we to make of an editorial defending the very opposite of what The Australian actually does:--- its hacks (well-trained house dogs) work as insiders rather than outsiders. Shanahan, Milne and Albrechtson are well known examples.

Since there is no self-criticism is the editorial another example of the schizophrenia or split personality in the conservative camp?

To answer this we need to turn to John Hewson's op-ed in the AFR that the editorial was riffing off on. That op-ed was a defence of Brendon Nelson, the Liberal leader, from intensive media criticism. In making his Hewson remarked that we now see politics as a game, and observed that:

... perhaps, more than any time in our history, the media now are, and see themselves as, significant players in that game. In the run up to the last election a significant number of journalists nailed their flags to the Rudd mast, either by urging Howard to go, or simply overtly supporting the new "messiah"...Rudd knows this He cleverly crafts his spin to feed them with each and every of his policy initiatives --in some cases mere stunts.

Hewson laments the media becoming significant players in the political game, even though he recognizes that this is now the norm for the Canberra Press Gallery print and television media.

Murdoch's Australian has been doing the player routine for some time, as has his Fox News in the US. Since they view politics as a game in which they would say or do anything to win, the real cause of the Australian's complaint must be the way that the Canberra Press Gallery has sided with Rudd Labor and knocks down the Liberal party.

If political partisanship is the Australian editorial's raison d' etre, then being partisan for the conservative movement means that the Australian will defend detachment, rational debate and fostering the national conversation. These are just useful tactics in the current situation of having to shed some of its conservative skin to regain some political credibility now that Australia has new leadership in Canberra and issues like climate change dominate the business and political agenda.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:10 AM | | Comments (10)
Comments

Comments

Pffft.

"This is one of the hardest columns I will write...Under Howard it became cool to be a conservative...telling the Prime Minister that he should make way for a new leader will be seen by some as an act of treachery...It's time to hang up the pads"
Albrechtson.

You should give your preferences to Turnbull to spite your ex-boyfriend.
Overington.

Prefered PM numbers show Howard running rings around Rudd with a 2 point gain this week.
Shanahan.

Labor's win is a clear win for conservatism because they promised to continue with Hawke and Keating's economic policies which necessarily means the right has won the culture wars. We understand Rudd because we own him.
The Australian generally.

They can shed their conservative skin all they like, they're still the same reptiles underneath.

Lyn,
maybe they shred one conservative skin to reveal a new conservative skin? A skin more appropriate to the changes in the political climate?

I could be kind and say The Oz has lost the ability to critically evaluate its own actions, but this would be less than truth.
Closer to the truth would be to observe that The Oz has no moral compass whatsoever.

Gary,
Highly unlikely.

For one thing they still have the same core group of people sticking with the same core group of arguments they've always put forward in the same polarising terms they always have.

The only thing they're having to adapt to is the loss of a direct line to government. They're stuck with being opposition insiders which is a significant handicap at the moment. Snarking at others who do have access is about all they've got.

Clarencegirl,
Your blog won't let me leave comments.

Debate would improve immensely if we could follow what you people mean by "conservative!"

This sophomoric binary world of inappropriately given labels to your conservative "Others" is sadly an all-too familiar feature of the mire into which the academic Left has descended over the past 20 years.

Mr Greenfield,

I can't speak for anyone else here, but in discussion of the Australian the meaning is the one assigned by Janet Albrechtson, which is as imprecise in the binary model identification of a homogenous academic Left when it really means Robert Manne.

Lyn
The conservatives are usually confused about how they understand conservatism.

Sometimes they mean social conservatism, other times economic liberalism, other times political conservatism, other times neo-con. They are foggy about this as they usually equate conservatism as a political tradition with conservatism as a movement with its contradictory strands pulling in different directions.

It would help to clarify things if they were clear that conservatism is not liberalism and has historically stood in opposition to it. You can see the confusion in Janet Albrechtson's latest op ed:

Judging from the reaction to David Mamet’s self-proclaimed conversion from liberal to conservative politics, apostasy is also a mortal sin in the arts world. Declaring that he is no longer a “brain-dead liberal”, the famed American playwright performed the ultimate act of treason. After turning his back on a lifetime of progressive beliefs, Mamet was flayed for staining his artistic credentials
Just one question: why does an artist - whether a playwright, a painter or a writer - have to subscribe to left-wing views to make good art?

So we have the move to conservatism from liberalism, which is defined as progressive and left wing, thereby ignoring to the anti-liberal political traditions to the left of liberalism--eg., socialism. Australian conservatives, it would appear from Albrechtson's work, can only think in terms of dualities.

However, to make matters worse for Australian conservatism we have Mamet 's own comments. Albrechtson says that Mamet changed his opinion after he did some reading for his latest Broadway play. In November, he pits a corrupt, selfish, money-grabbing, realistic president against his left-wing, lesbian, utopian-socialist speechwriter, and then quotes him:

I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson and Shelby Steele and a host of other conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than the idealistic vision I called liberalism.

He's a free market liberal who realised that the Marxist view that classes in the US were static, not mobile, was simply wrong. Clearly Mamet hasn't read Marx and has no knowledge of dialectics. He also fails to understand that his free market understanding of the world is a part of the liberal tradition---it's known as classical liberalism.

Albrechtson knows that Mamet is using liberalism in the peculiar US sense where it refers to what we would call social liberalism or rights based liberalism, but she prefers to muddy the waters since since is still lighting the cultural war.

Gary,
Is it even reasonable to expect Janet to have anything but a fuzzy notion of conservatism? She is, after all, only an opinion columnist. I understand her as belonging to pop conservatism, which doesn't have to be coherent at all. It seems to be a cluster of odds and sods that can be adopted and adapted to whatever she's banging on about at the time.

The bit - "the famed American playwright performed the ultimate act of treason. After turning his back on a lifetime of progressive beliefs, Mamet was flayed for staining his artistic credentials" is interesting. It implies that the Left, whatever that is, is into flaying. Robert Manne had a few things to say about flaying in the Monthly, a flaying which The Oz continued to administer when Dear Mr Rudd was published.

the conservatives go and on about feeling pride in the achievements of settler Australia and Gallipoli. What's pride, if not emotion. It's not abstract or calculating reasons that's for sure.