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The Autralian has thrown huge resources at its Dossier team investigating the ABC. And for what?

If that was the mood at the ABC when the Dossier crew – the Oz’s elite squadron of crack sleuths and super-reporters – descended on the national broadcaster, it wouldn’t have lasted long. Dossier turned out to be more of a labrador than a pit-bull.

Take the first instalment of Dossier’s never ending ABC story, published last Saturday week. It revealed the exclusive insider information that ABC boss Jonathan Shier was (gasp!) unpopular. Imagine – an unpopular boss. In Australia!

(Of course, every editor and section head at the Oz is massively popular. Nobody there has nicknames like “Satan” or “that c…”)

The Dossier division also turned up an old pic of Shier standing next to Malcolm Fraser and Chris Puplick. “As this photograph shows,” the Oz warned, “he was close to Liberal powerbrokers.” Yes – only a few inches from them, in fact.

Some of Dossier’s debut was undone a week later when the Oz ran a letter from one Stephen Claypole, allegedly Donald McDonald’s pick as the new ABC MD. Claypole corrected Dossier on several major points (“I was not flown at short notice to Sydney for an interview … there was no impromptu dinner … I have never been [to McDonald’s home] … I am not a news director from the BBC”) but the most damaging information was that Dossier had not bothered to contact him for an interview. Bad Dossier! Bad dog!

As the week ground on, Oz readers were swamped with more ABC-related puff and gumph than any sane person could ever be expected to tolerate. Would you like to read 1,200 words about the collapsed deal to sell ABC content to Telstra’s online operation? It’s all in last Tuesday’s Oz. Take it, it’s yours. Believe me, nobody else has gone near it. And last Wednesday’s instalment (“Talent Pool Drains Away”) was so crawly it could have been written by one of the Friends of the ABC, assuming you could get one of them off their sedatives long enough to type it.

The problem with the series (apart from minor things like the ABC’s budget being reported as $696 million on Saturday and $554 million four days later – great research, Dossers) was that its approach was all wrong. It took this view: “What’s happening to this great thing we love called the ABC? Let’s look deeply at the terrific ABC, and make everyone aware of the evil about to ruin it.” A better idea would have been to go in with: “Do we need the ABC?” Who knows, it might have caused an interesting debate. And once an answer was established (and that answer, Dr Stupid declares, should be yes) all else would follow.

But, having begun with a stuffed bunch of assumptions, the Dossier coverage was always doomed. It hurts Dr Stupid to say it, but Fairfax’s Good Weekend piece (by Amruta Slee and Jane Cadzow) on ABC director of TV Gail Jarvis actually was good, and had far more ABC insider info than the Oz’s overblown effort.

The other Big Story lately is petrol. It costs too much, and the Daily Telegraph thinks something ought to be done, otherwise they’ll kick Prime Minister John Howard out of The Lodge.

Maybe the Tele would be satisfied with a five cent per litre reduction in price. No – wait a minute. The Tele is on record as saying that a five cent per litre price cut for milk wasn’t enough to justify the deregulation of the milk industry. It wanted the government to step in to keep prices up and help farmers. Now it wants the government to step in to cut prices to help motorists. The Tele has gone bipolar.

Anyway, petrol can’t be that expensive. A gloating report in the Oz on Wednesday claims the paper forced John Howard to act against a petrol-sniffing epidemic in the Northern Territory. How can the sniffers afford it? Maybe Johnny can get the Oz onside by making petrol prices even higher, and claiming it as a health initiative.

Away from the ABC and fuel, here’s what was making the news:

* Last Tuesday’s Tele gossip pages mentioned Carl Brashear, “aged 70 and with one amputated leg.” Whoever owns the severed limb would probably appreciate its swift return, Carl.

* Bob Ellis insinuated himself into the ALP’s WA and Queensland wins with a typically Ellis-centric piece in last Tuesday’s Age. The highlight: claiming Rob Borbidge’s farewell press conference represented an “historic enormity.” Ellis’s sense of proportion is increasingly out of whack. Should be fun to watch him during the Federal campaign.

* The Man, Anthony Mundine, clobbered some bloke and won a little trophy for his troubles. Nobody has yet realised that if you close your eyes when you listen to him, The Man sounds just like Warwick Capper.

* Strangest line on the Lowitja O’Donoghue controversy came from the Sydney Morning Herald’s Sally Loane, who decided the issue was now about “thousands of black and white Australians” who’ve had their lives “shattered by fathers and mothers abrogating their responsibility.” Let’s solve the stolen children problem first, eh, Sally?

* Worst headline of the week: the Sunday Telegraph’s puzzling “Dear John” screamer. The full thing read: “Dear John, the Sunday Telegraph asked people in your Deputy Prime Minister’s electorate how they will vote in the election. THEY WILL DUMP HIM.” Him? Who? Which “John” are they talking to here, the PM or the Deputy PM – who is also named John, and whose picture ran below the headline? John Howard, at whom the headline was presumably aimed, didn’t rate a mention until the fourth paragraph.

* Automobile blunder number one: Jane Fraser in the Weekend Oz reckons her old VW Beetle got so overheated she could boil tea in the radiator. But Beetles are air-cooled. They don’t have a radiator. Where exactly were you putting those tea bags, Jane?

* Automobile blunders number two, three, and four: The Fin Review says Paul Stoddart is the first Australian to own a Formula One racing car team since Jack Brabham. So does the SMH and the ABC’s 7.30 Report. But according to old Jack himself, the last Australian to own a Formula One team was a fellow called Ron Tauronac (not sure of the spelling, readers) who bought Jack’s team from him in the 1970s.

* Thursday’s SMH Heckler columnist Andrew Tillett is a journalism student. Andrew thinks the Donaher story was the first instance of reality TV – but similar fly-on-the-wall docos had aired in the UK and US decades earlier. Do your homework, boy! (And where were the subs to help the kid out?)

* A reader swears on the graves of his bludging in-laws that Ita Buttrose last week referred to African political hero “Joseph Mandela” during an episode of Beauty and the Beast.

* The Age Online ran a news trivia quiz last week which asked: “Labor swept to victory in the WA election with the help of which party’s preferences?” Answer “the Greens” and your little icon gets run down by an animated cartoon cyclist. It’s One Nation all the way for the Age.

* Dr Stupid was WRONG recently to assert that Western Australia has the smallest population of any mainland state. The correct answer is South Australia. Western Australia does have, however, the smallest population of South Sydney Rabbitoh supporters, which is what Dr Stupid meant to say in the first place.

* Seen on ABC news the night of the Queensland poll: reporter Lisa Miller informing viewers that “Pauline was hoping to win between 2 and 3 seats” in the election. Those half-seats can be vital.

Until next week, be stupid to others as you would have them be stupid to you.

ends

Now, let’s check out last week’s column.

Pauline’s back and the media produce plenty of good fish wrapping material

Want to become a big-time political celebrity? It’s easy! Just wear colourful frocks and get less than 10 per cent of the vote in Australia’s least populated mainland state, and nationwide fame is yours!

The Australian went Pauline Hanson crazy on Monday, relegating new WA premier Dr Geoff Gallop to a minor role on the front page and raving about Hanson’s chances of wrecking John Howard’s federal campaign. Gallop barely rated a mention in Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald; maybe he’d have done better if he’d worn what the SMH’s Jennifer Hewitt described as a “zebra-striped, hibiscus-flowered, high-split, low-cut, much-ruffled party frock.”

It took the much-ruffled Daily Telegraph a day to catch up with the One Nation fallout in WA. Strangely, the paper which normally never misses a chance to stick it to the PM relegated Monday’s coverage to page two. By Tuesday the Tele had whipped up a phone poll and a logo (“Power of Pauline”) and joined the Hanson chase.

But what was the media chasing? Not the old, evil Pauline, but a sexy, fun, new version of Pauline. The SMH wet its pants in terror when Hanson was elected in 1996, and called for urgent remedial action: “We must move quickly to restore the integrity of our nationhood”. Now the SMH totally loves her. “The vibe in our paper is sheer excitement about what Hanson means and what will/could happen next,” oozed SMH Hansonologist Margo Kingston in her online column. “I’ve heard several female Herald reporters say they LOVED her election nightdress. Maybe they’ll buy one when it comes out under the ‘Please Explain’ label.”

Anne Summers has probably already got one on lay-by. “The zebra stripes implying wildness and unpredictability combined with the sexual allure of the tropical hibiscus epitomised Pauline’s political potency,” Anne throbbed in the SMH. “Let’s face it, she has the body to wear such an outfit.” But fellow SMH columnist Maggie Alderson wasn’t happy: “Hanson’s outfit on Sunday night made it clear she wasn’t wearing a bra … it was inappropriate.”

Inappropriate? What about how inappropriate it is for an old feminist like Alderson to get uptight about a woman not wearing a bra? Next she’ll be demanding the return of whale-bone corsets.

On Wednesday and Thursday practically every newspaper in the country ran “Hooray for One Nation!” stories, with the SMH and the Oz printing sanitised guides to One Nation policies (both papers left out the nasty anti-immigration stuff). The Oz painted Hanson as someone “good for a laugh” and as a lovable underdog fighting the “big boys”.

A random Dr Stupid phone poll on Hanson’s media treatment proved inconclusive. Most Labor voting friends thought the media was beating up the Hanson story to create controversy and boost circulation. Liberal mates thought the media was beating up the Hanson story to destabilise Howard (Miranda Devine’s column in Friday’s Tele also took this view). The One Nation voters weren’t taking calls because they were busy making tinfoil hats to protect themselves from the government’s mind-control rays.

It took until Friday for the SMH to remember Hanson was a wicked racist, and that was prompted more by reaction from the Asian press than any local considerations. On Saturday there were yet more grovelly Hanson articles, and – despite Hanson not being much of a factor in the Queensland election – more again on Sunday.

The whole situation is nuts, and Dr Stupid isn’t the only one who thinks so. In a letter to the Oz on Wednesday, Dallas Fraser of Townsville asked: “Has our national media gone stark raving mad? Pauline Hanson offers nothing … so why is our media falling over itself courting her?”

Over to you, media. Please explain.

Meanwhile, in the tiny non-Pauline sector of last week’s media universe:

* Major deception alert! On Friday the Oz front-paged a Newspoll survey which showed that the majority of Australians thought the ABC deserved more funding. Here’s the question Newspoll asked: “Do you think the ABC should receive more government funding, less government funding, or should the government funding stay at the current level?”

The problem is that most people don’t know how much funding the ABC gets. The question should have been phrased like this: “The ABC receives nearly $700 million each year. Do you think it should receive more, less, etc.” The omission of funding information renders the Newspoll worthless.

* The SMH’s love affair with Pauline is easily explained – the paper has been taken over by Nazis! Swastika patterns appeared in crossword puzzles the week before last, prompting this apology to readers: “The grid should never have been compiled – far less published – in this design. The Herald regrets that it was so published …” Perhaps they were only following orders.

* Triple J interviewed an internet “expert” on Friday night who didn’t know anything about the internet or much else. Babbling about one site, the confused webhead admitted he “didn’t know where it was from” and that the only clue was a postal address including the letters “AZ”. That’s the abbreviation for the US state of Arizona. You can look it up on the internet. Some expert.

* Darrell Giles, whose contradictory reports on the Cruise-Kidman spilt were a highlight of last week’s column, performed another about-face in the Tele on Monday. Darrell has now decided that Tom dumped Nicole. Give him another few days and he’ll be telling us they were never married.

* Andrew McKinlay, reporting on the arrival of the Aussie cricket team in India for Thursday’s Nine news, referred to India’s “fanatical fans”. As opposed to, um , non-fanatical fans?

* In Friday’s Tele, the gossip pages delivered the stunning news that Kylie Minogue had signed a deal to appear in Pepsi ads. This news would have slightly less stunning to people who’d already seen the ads, which began airing two days earlier. On Saturday, the same pages recycled an anecdote about Mike Munro which was broadcast on 60 Minutes about 10 years ago. (Editor’s note: Mike Munro was best man at Col Allan’s wedding. Or maybe it was the other way around.)

* Mike Gibson, whose column should be in braille so his elderly, infirm followers can read it, wrote 400 words in Wednesday’s Tele about the problems rugby league faced – and managed to entirely avoid naming News Ltd as a cause of those problems. Well done, Gibbo!

* Tuesday’s Oz ran a piece by New York correspondent Stephen Romei about television correspondents sucking up to the Unabomber for interviews. Crikey picked that story up from the New York Post more than a week earlier.

* Odd front page on last week’s Sunday Herald Sun, which dubbed two lesbian brothel owners “dirty rotten scoundrels” for threatening to expose their Melbourne clients. The story featured an uncaptioned pic of actors Steve Martin and Sir Michael Caine. Were they clients? No, but 13 years ago Caine and Martin appeared in a film called Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which had nothing to do with lesbians, brothels, or Melbourne. Sheer brilliance.

See you next week, when we’ll take an in-depth look at some incredibly shallow coverage of the ABC. Dr Stupid would also like to thank all Crikey readers for their media vigilance. Keep the stupidity alive

Peter Fray

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