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Oct 11, 2012

Is the social media fury at the press gallery misplaced?

Criticism of the Canberra press gallery for its reaction to Julia Gillard's misogyny speech may be misplaced. But it's worth examining in the broader context.

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Social media is rarely kind to the Canberra press gallery but this week there’s been one of those periodic outburts of fury. Only, unlike the 2010 election campaign or the Labor leadership spill early this year, this one has a strong element of gender to it.

The gallery stands accused of entirely missing the significance of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s speech on Tuesday, which sent Twitter and Facebook into overdrive and was quickly picked up by major international websites.

Peter Hartcher, in particular, copped a savaging for his “we expected more of Gillard” piece. And Fairfax’s own Piers Akerman, Paul “Magic Water” Sheehan, copped a bucketing for his attack on the Prime Minister which included a snide reference to her childlessness, one later removed by a Fairfax editor without explanation and, until prompted by Mark Colvin, any acknowledgement.

So — clueless, don’t-get-it (male-dominated) press gallery or lefty echo-chamber Twitterati?

The first thing to note is the two are talking about different things and, to some extent, at cross-purposes. The press gallery doesn’t see its job as analysing the social significance of politics. Its focus is on political tactics — what works politically, what doesn’t, what impact political performances will have on the functionality of the government in the short term and, over the longer term, its prospects for re-election. The gallery also focused on the wider context for the speech, which was the government defending the wretched Peter Slipper. Criticising the gallery for “not getting it” misses that what they’re supposed to be getting isn’t necessarily in their job description.

Countering that is the insistence this was a key political moment, that voters, especially but not only female voters, will respond positively to the Prime Minister’s speech, that they’ll be pleased a female Prime Minister has pulled such an important issue to them out into the open.

That’s entirely possible, but gallery journalists are no better placed to make that assessment than anyone else — indeed, worse placed, if they’re based in Canberra, which offers a distorted view of the world. Nor, it must be said, are social media users well placed to make such an assessment. Twitter, even if 10% of Australians are said to use it, is unrepresentative of all voters, and most likely skewed to the politically-engaged anyway; Facebook is a more representative platform because it is much more widely-used, but in both cases selection bias is a problem, because both allow us to shape what we see. And merely because large foreign websites are carrying it doesn’t mean it will resonate with Australian voters.

Where the “don’t get it” criticism of the gallery may have more substance is that a key moment arrived in political debate without being heralded or particularly noticed. The issue of gender in politics has been simmering since Julia Gillard become Prime Minister. The misogynist abuse of her from sections of the Right outside Parliament, whipped along by shock jocks and sections of News Ltd, has drawn increasing attention. But in recent weeks the issue has erupted into a storm, particularly after Alan Jones’ “destroying the joint” comments. Tony Abbott’s decision — yet again showing he refuses to be hobbled by his own previous comments on any issue — to attack the Prime Minister was always going to create a tipping point.

Never before have gender issues been at the centre of political debate like this. Indeed, the Canberra tradition is to resolutely ignore such issues. Female politicians have, usually silently, endured double standards in how the press treats them. Both sides of politics consigned women to “soft” portfolios involving welfare and social services, with the silent assumption they were incapable of the hard stuff of government, good only for doling out money. Male politicians arrogantly assumed the right to dictate women’s reproductive choices. Attempts to lift the representation of women in Parliament were dismissed as “patronising”.

Suddenly that’s over. A female Prime Minister has directly, fiercely, attacked her opponent for misogyny, in a way, clearly, that no male politician could ever have done.

Women understood this as an important moment better than men. We come back to that significant gender gap I’ve mentioned several times, how over 60% of women voters think the Prime Minister, and all female politicians, cop criticism that male politicians do not, while only 40% of men do. That 61% shows it’s not just Labor and Greens-voting women who feel this way, but many Liberal-voting women as well, women who are prepared to back the Coalition even with Abbott leading it.

This was a political moment most of the gallery, focused on the tactical battle of day-to-day politics, missed.

But that doesn’t resolve the issue of the extent to which the events of Tuesday resonated with most voters, who unlike either the press gallery or social media users, have little interest in politics. Time and polling will give us some clues as to the wider impact, if any.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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215 comments

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215 thoughts on “Is the social media fury at the press gallery misplaced?

  1. Charles Dodgson

    Bernard, I think you nailed it with: “The press gallery doesn’t see its job as analysing the social significance of politics. Its focus is on political tactics — what works politically, what doesn’t, what impact political performances will have on the functionality of the government in the short term and, over the longer term, its prospects for re-election.” That, it seems to me, is exactly the problem; because the press gallery has simply not adapted to the milieu of the new digital age.

    Anyone can now access the details of what is happening in Parliament from their own desk. We don’t actually need self-satisfied journalists (you Crikey journos excepted) telling us what is happening. Personally, I now only look to journalists to give me on-the-spot reports and I get increasingly frustrated that none of the mainstream media seem capable of providing this. All the journos you mentioned – but strangely left out all the ABC journos Sales, Alberici and Crabb who also completely failed to place Gillard’s speech into perspective – failed in their duty to actually report. I reckon they have all been exposed as lazy. All they did was repeat their collective prejudice against Gillard. Not only did they fail to place Abbott’s parliamentary tactic into a perspective (there has been next to no reportage of the legal and legislative implications that would have arisen if the speaker had been voted out in a no-confidence motion while still under police investigation); they also failed to recognise the significance of Gillard’s speech as a statement of gender politics. The foreign media are not so boundup with the personal battles of the parliament and, therefore, can actually see the theatre in terms of the longer term political outcomes.

  2. michael r james

    Nice try BK, but you still don’t really get it. When you and Peter Hartcher (and Emma Alberici) find themselves agreeing with the likes of Sheehan, Bob Ellis, Michelle Grattan, Nikki Savva, Jennifer Hewitt and Judith Sloan, you really need to stop, count to ten, take a walk and rethink.

    People had different reasons to react so strongly to Hartcher. My own was that the whole framing of his argument was partisan and wrong. He repeated the meme that “Gillard defended Slipper” but dozens of comments here and on his article (which BTW was cowardly stopped at 11am after being blitzed by 700 uniformly hostile ones) pointed out she did no such thing. Indeed the dumb reader’s poll associated with Harcher’s article asked a shabby push-poll question: “Do you agree with Gillard’s support of Slipper.” Given only 5 points separated the poll results it was remarkable.

    It seems it takes Tony Windsor, Adam Bandt, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter* (!) to state the obvious: the vote was entirely about avoiding Parliament setting a precedent by sacking a parliamentary dignitary without notice or proof of criminal wrongdoing. Avoiding turning Parliament into a kangaroo court. This was the main reason why such criticism has been aimed at Hartcher and particularly Alberici in whose interview with Tanya Plibersek was wholly and aggressively misfocused, and persistently so. Most of us have long stopped listening to Grattan or the usual NewsLtd bunch and embittered old men like Ellis, Sheehan and Richardson, but it is truly dismaying when the more sober political journos get it so one sided, and dead wrong.

    Sure, to also avoid losing a vote while this chaotic situation was resolved. And Hartcher and others may be right to say Gillard has acted in these matters (Thomson, Wilkie, Slipper) to secure her government but, doh! like no other leader of any persuasion would not have acted to keep their parliamentary numbers. (Criticize on the competence but criticizing for the motive is ridiculous.)

    As usual it took Laura Tingle for a proper journalistic approach to put the events in context using the evidence and background.
    *Tingle cited Katter: Katter had been party to another “kangaroo court” in Queensland during the Jo Bjelke-Petersen era and “to this day I still get shooting pains in my chest at the terrible injustices that occurred there”.

  3. fredex

    The role of journalists is to deliver eyeballs and ears to the advertisers in the mass media that employs the journalists so that all concerned can maximise profits.
    Who pays the piper calls the tune.

    Thats a basic tenet of journalism, all other considerations are secondary.

    Why pretend otherwise – perhaps as a smokescreen to disguise the economic vested interest fact?

    That makes the entire preamble in Bernard’s piece pure self serving bollocks. Which means that which follows is based on bollocks and valueless.

    Added to the journalists’ desire to service the economic vested interests we have in this particular case the not so subtle intrusion of their patriarchal sexism.
    Patriarchy is the context in Australia in general and the mass media in particular and even if you are a woman in the field of journalism that is a social fact that has to be accomodated one way or the other.
    Which is the point that was made several times yesterday by people who understand [because they experience the patriarchal power] eg Susan Mitchell here, Penny Wong on ABC TV last night talking to a victim of sexism who could not admit it in this case.

    The consequence of all this context and the journalist’s long term compliance with such is that they never would come close to understanding what they witnessed in parliament.
    After they talked to themselves they printed the usual crap.

    Only the social media came close to understanding the significance of what had occurred, although Crikey is to be commended for having Susan Mitchell’s piece, and that of Shakira Hussein, oh and First Dog.
    For all the social media’s disadvantages and faults they at least are free [yikes -what is that word doing there!] to see without imposed blinkers and to describe without having to pass through the editorial and marketing filters.

  4. Hunt Ian

    Bernard tries to explain why the press gallery differed from the “lefty echo-chamber Twitterati” without noticing that the press gallery need not be “male dominated” nor have some sort of special professional brief in order for them to pursue a line of attack of Gillard for “supporting Slipper”.

    In reality, Gillard simply opposed Tony Abbott’s parliamentary attack motion, designed to show that a puerile, obscene remark in private from Slipper was some sort of gross misogyny, and thus a warning to Gillard and the ALP to stop attacking honourable people like Alan Jones or they would have the same blow torch turned on them. Julia Gillard did not support Slipper personally.

    The reality, no doubt depressing for parliamentary members of the ALP, is that the mainstream media backed Tony Abbott in their attack on Gillard and others like Tanya Pliberseck, who is accused of trying to “excuse the inexcusable”.

    If we ask why this occurred, Bernard seems not to have noticed that the media pack is employed by organisations that are owned by a small minority who are wealthy enough to pay their salaries. Whoever pays the piper calls the tune. Just suppose the owners of the media want the Gillard government gone to put unions back in their place and to make sure that poorer people pay for the economic crisis. Suppose also that this is clear to most of the pack and that most of the pack takes “economic rationalism” for granted and recognises the crime committed by Kevin Rudd in suggesting that “economic rationalism” had seen its day. Suppose they also recognise the crime committed by Rudd and Gillard in running up debt to protect Australia’s economy from the GFC and thus protect ordinary Australians from the savage cuts we see in Europe. Tto propose such action they even invoked the economist Keynes, whose views foresaw “the euthanasia of the rentier”.

    Why then would we not expect the pack to attack Gillard for “hypocrisy”, or whatever the current Liberal Party line might be, and be joined by the ABC journos, who want not to be apart from the fray. Why be surprised or invoke some professional “brief” to account for the fact that mainstream media journalists miss the importance of Gillard’s speech and much else, which overseas journalists do not have the same interest in missing? It seems that the “echo twitterati” can be called “lefty” but we must not call the mainstream media pack “right wing”. There are clearly some lefty journos and many of the right wingers are not as far right as Alan Jones, Piers Ackerman, Andrew Bolt, Paul Sheehan, Dennis Shanahan, et, etc, some of whom are in turn not as far right as Fox News. Social media is not missing the peculiar professional brief of journos, as Bernard claims, but noticing the political slant of their comment, which stands out in this context like a sore thumb.

  5. rachel612

    Twenty years ago the great essayist Joan Didion wrote about ‘Insider Baseball’, the practice of journalists focussing on political tactics and performance. Her point – all those years ago – was that such blathering, while important to politicians and the press, was ultimately no more important than yesterday’s column on the baseball game. It had no relevance to policy or national interest, or even to people’s lives.

    Gillard changed that yesterday. She dared to step outside club rules and say it like it is. I am disappointed that it was on the same day that she reduced benefits for many women, but that has nothing to do with the substance of her message, which every Australian woman knows to be true.

    I am a heterosexual Australian woman, and I cannot believe my good fortune to have found a man as a long term partner who treats me as an equal. But this *is* a sexist culture, and our political culture is an extreme reflection of that.. Every Australian woman knows it. Even Julie Bishop, tonight on ‘7.30’, had to admit she cannot always defend Tony Abbot’s statements, even though she respects him. And she was supporting him!

    I have other issues with this Government – principally its refugee policy and its current view on online regulation. But that doesn’t mean the Prime Minister was wrong.

    It does mean the press gallery is irrelevant, and too busy counting strikeouts to focus on the game as a whole. That’s long bern true, but being players inside the club they won’t see it until the club loses Its supporters. It may already have lost them. The New Yorker’s commentary was so much more relevant than Michelle Grattan’s.

  6. beachcomber

    Bernard, here lies the problem: “…The press gallery doesn’t see its job as analysing the social significance of politics. Its focus is on political tactics …”

    The press gallery did not “get” Julia Gillard’s speech because they are more intersted in what Peter Slipper does with his dangly bits that it is in real issues facing the Nation.

    It’s cheap and lazy journalism to write about the mindless activities of an irrelevant and perpetually useless backbencher from Queensland.

    The public may want to better understand the economic crisis in Europe, and how this impacts us. Or learn more about the decision makers in China, their motivations and policy directions in what will probably be the biggest economy in the world our lifetime. Or which species will die first, which countries will be most impacted, and which regions in Australia hardest hit by Climate Change.

    But with media ownership concentrated in just a few hands, and a petrol company like cartel ensuring minimal variety, the press gallery won’t talk about that. Sensational headlines and cheap thrills are all we get.

    I am disappointed you see to be getting sucked into that mentality. “Its focus is on political tactics…” yet ignores the biggest tactical victory a PM has had over an Opposition Leader? Give me a break.

    Gillard destroyed Abbott. He only survived becuase the mainstream media ignored it. Watching the video is fascinating. He probably wished he had run out of the room like his did with Chrissie Pyne once before, but had to sit there and cop a thorough and detailed analysis of his failings as a person.

    The mainstream media have seriously let us down over the last few years, and this speech highlights their failings. I doubt they would have missed Gough Whitlam destroying Billy McMahon, or Paul Keating destroying John Hewson and Andrew Peacock.

    You are wrong when you say “Criticising the gallery for “not getting it” misses that what they’re supposed to be getting isn’t necessarily in their job description”. Reporting politics is their job, not obsessing about Peter Slipper’s sex life.

    They did not “get” it because this PM is a woman. They have made up their mind about her, and no matter what she does, what she achieves, they write want what they want to write. It is not what we want to read, which is why crikey, Facebook and twitter are increasingly the source of our information.

  7. Venise Alstergren

    ANDREW BOLT, PIERS ACKERMAN and ALL the RIGHT WING TROLLS who inhabit the comments section of Crikey, always, in their blind panic to condemn the Prime Minister, and or the Labor Party, infer is that the Liberal Party, especially as led by Tony Rabbit, would never stoop to hang onto to government by forming an alliance with another political party. No, no, no, a thousand times no. How could anyone imagine the Liberals would descend into the gutter.

    In Victoria we have the dubious honour of being led by a Liberal Party Premier; one Ted Baillieu,who won the last state election BY ONE SEAT ONLY. And, how did he win? He won because the Victorian, and {Federal Liberal Party} can only form government in an alliance with the NCP aka the Nashos. But hey, we are not allowed to criticise this cosy arrangement by the Coalition. We are allowed only to castigate the Labor Party for relying on the support of a minor party, or independents.

    It turns out there is a very devious gentleman indeed, a Mr Geoff Shaw, Liberal member for Frankston, who has been abusing his position by helping himself to multiple freebies to run his own business. Is Ted Baillieu about to do the principled thing and remove Geoff Shaw? Absolutely not, “he is an excellent Parliamentarian” quoted Ted Baillieu in Spring Street, yesterday.

    In order to sound totally sincere in his speech to the State Parliament he managed to express his horror of sexist comments about women and to introduce some bills from somewhere, to help under priviledged ladies. Unfortunately I was convulsed with laughter about the whole episode and missed the fine points-if there are any.

    An ode to the right wing trolls:-

    Beware all you pollies scribes* and suchesses,
    Take heed of my warning and pray.
    Deny Right Wing bias and muchessness
    The public may you they flay.

    Delete the word of your choice.

  8. michael r james

    Impressive, drmick, that you got that past the mod.
    Still I think more polite wit is better in these circumstances (just disappointing it didn’t come from BK, and Rundle is MIA). But here is the most succinct comment I have read and I will try posting it here (especially as Carlton has posted it on his Facebook page).

    [smh.com.au/opinion/politics/oh-for-a-glimpse-of-the-mum-i-knew-20121012-27i0m.html
    October 13, 2012
    Mike Carlton
    .
    EVERY time you think Tony Abbott has scaled a new height of hypocrisy he finds another Everest and climbs effortlessly to a still higher peak. Without oxygen.
    .
    His motion to dismiss the Speaker on Tuesday was mired in cant. It had nothing to do with Peter Slipper’s lewd text messages and everything to do with Abbott’s lust for power. This is the man who famously told the independent MP Tony Windsor that he would do anything but “sell my arse” to become prime minister and, ever since, has shown every sign that he meant it.
    .
    Abbott was prepared to trash parliamentary convention and the presumption of innocence before the law in his rush to wedge the government if he could. A vote to overthrow a speaker has never happened before. (Jim Cope, Gough Whitlam’s first speaker, resigned in 1975 when he knew he had lost the confidence of the government.) But to hell with principle. So ambitious was Abbott, so ruthless, that the friend whose wedding he’d attended, whose counsel he had sought, a man chosen nine times as a Liberal candidate – was now to be collateral damage, so much cat’s meat.
    The Tories and their media claque howled blue murder when the government backed the Speaker in the vote but, repugnant though it was, it was the proper thing to do. Julia Gillard and her women ministers, especially, were clearly offended by Slipper’s adolescent grot. But their support on the floor of the house recognised that the allegations against him remain untested while allowing space for him and his family to cling to some shred of dignity in his resignation.
    .
    In this they were helped – and the Parliament and the nation were helped – by Windsor and his fellow crossbencher Rob Oakeshott who, with typical tact and decency, privately convinced Slipper it was time to quit. Then, piling yet more humbug upon hypocrisy, Abbott announced he would be only too pleased to accept the wretched man’s vote.
    .
    The Prime Minister’s speech skewering Abbott for his sexism and misogyny was a ripper, rightly applauded around the world. Nice to see the Real Julia come out fighting.]

    The two independents deserve credit for handling this appropriately but it should also be noted that Anthony Albanese also saw Slipper right after they did, and confirmed the inevitability of Slipper’s resignation. (Though Albo carries most of the responsibility for not forseeing and preparing for Abbott’s move; it is precisely his job.)

  9. David Hand

    Person – 15 minutes research-

    730 last Wednesday
    “LEIGH SALES: So, let’s be clear here: you are alleging that he is a man who hates women? PENNY WONG: I think that he is certainly guilty of sexism and I think that there are things which Tony Abbott has done – I mean, he can talk to you about his motivation, but I think to stand up in front of signs that describe the Prime Minister as a man’s bitch and a witch, and never acknowledge the fault in that, really betrays a really very poor judgment.”
    So Penny talks sexism and poor judgement but won’t call him a misogyny.

    Lateline last Wednesday
    “TONY JONES: But the key allegation was that he is a misogynist, a woman-hater. Do you accept that? Do you believe that about him seriously? WAYNE SWAN: Well he’s certainly got a record, and the Prime Minister ran through it, of making some extraordinary statements which can only be seen as being very anti-women.”
    So Swan talks about “statements that can only be seen as anti-women” but does not actually call him a misogynist. And in case you think this is semantics, I am absolutely sure that should Swan be interviewed and asked “so when you called Tony a misogynist” he would deny it.

    Insiders Sunday
    “BARRIE CASSIDY: It is a bit hard to get back onto public policy, though, when that allegation is out there that Tony Abbott is a misogynist. Do you believe that he is? GREG COMBET: He is a very aggressive, arrogant sort of fellow and likes to lead a lynch mob. And that’s one of the reasons we opposed a motion he brought. “
    Nope, no agreement with the misogyny label there either.

    Person, I’ve just looked at three. Maybe Plibersek agreed somewhere? I’d be interested to see it.

  10. David Hand

    Person – 15 minutes research-

    730 last Wednesday
    “LEIGH SALES: So, let’s be clear here: you are alleging that he is a man who ha tes women? PENNY WONG: I think that he is certainly gui lty of s_xism and I think that there are things which Tony Abbott has done – I mean, he can talk to you about his motivation, but I think to stand up in front of signs that describe the Prime Minister as a man’s b*tch and a w*tch, and never acknowledge the fault in that, really betrays really very poor judgment.”
    So Penny talks s_xism and poor judgement but won’t call him a misogyny.

    Latel ine last Wednesday
    “TONY JONES: But the key allegation was that he is a misogynist, a woman-ha ter. Do you accept that? Do you bel ieve that about him seriousl y? WAYNE SWAN: Well he’s certainl y got a record, and the Prime Minister ran through it, of making some extraordinary statements which can only be seen as being very ant i-women.”
    So Swan talks about “statements that can only be seen as ant i-women” but does not actuall y call him a misogynist. And in case you think this is semantics, I am absolutel y sure that should Swan be interviewed and asked “so when you called Tony a misogynist” he would deny it.

    Insiders Sunday
    “BARRIE CASSIDY: It is a bit hard to get back onto publ ic policy, though, when that allegation is out there that Tony Abbott is a misogynist. Do you believe that he is? GREG COMBET: He is a very aggressive, arrogant sort of fellow and likes to lead a l ynch mob. And that’s one of the reasons we opposed a motion he brought. “
    Nope, no agreement with the misogyny label there either.

    Person, I’ve just looked at three. Maybe Pl ibersek agreed somewhere? I’d be interested to see it.

  11. Mithra Fernando

    Although, in a way related to the same matter I would like to mention a comment made by the Australian’s Paul Kelly(PK) in defence of Alan Jones(AJ). PK wrote that AJ had a special status,(http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/hypocrisy-rules-but-both-sides-of-politics-are-courting-danger/story-e6frg74x-1226486865933). This status is something that AJ does not deserve but created by people in the media like PK. If you look at the real percentage of the people listening to AJ it is negligible. This does not seem to matter, what matters to many of his admirers such as PK is the amount of venomous bile AJ can spray.

    What surprised me most was the lack of condemnation of AJ’s poor excuse that was publishedin the news papers. AJ wrote that he heard those horrible words at a birthday party for one of his godson’s that he had attended a couple of hours before the Liberal Youth Club function this was a pathetic excuse that Paul Kelly (PK) and many others in the media have failed to mention. One thing for sure AJ with his lame excuse has admitted that he does not have his own brain to make a judgement on things.. this we know, we also know the same thing about PK … they have strings attached to their pens and brains.
    Hats off for Malcolm Turnbull to refute AJ’s atatement about him being a victim of cyber bullying.
    The revolt was against “vicious and destructive public discourse”, he said.
    “It is difficult not to believe that he is getting a dose of his own medicine. (http://www.news.com.au/national/alan-jones-gets-dose-of-own-medicine-says-malcolm-turnbull/story-fndo4eg9-1226491707732)

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