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We’ve unearthed a gem here at Crikey with an excellent guest Dr Stupid media column that shows great insight into political coverage, the Ryan by-election and a range of other media matters.

Dear Crikey,

It is my melancholy duty to inform you that Dr Stupid is a dud. Any chance of getting an adult in to do this, rather than somebody’s kid brother? Smartarsery is easy, saying something of interest takes a little work. And the “bitch” comment was pathetic.

bye, Peter Brent.

So we invited Peter to do better himself and have been pleasantly surprised with the result. See how erudite and insightful Crikey readers are. Peter is even backpedalling from his original criticisms. That is two free subs for your mates Peter and everyone else out there is encouraged to follow his excellent lead.

Crikey, I’m Stupid for a week

By Peter Brent

Crikey reader

Stupid for a week. I’m a lucky guy. I think. There’s a lesson here: don’t off-handedly send unfair, intemperate emails, as you may be called upon to open yourself to ridicule .

Last week’s press was dominated by numbers from two lots of people, a bunch of urban Queenslanders (every one of whom, it seems, had their face in some paper or other), and a transnational crowd in the planet’s trading rooms. The two, as they say in psychology circles, were “over-determined”.

Ryan ended up anti-climactic. At time of filing the winner was unknown, but no-one really cares. It was no Bass or Canberra, although the picking over the results and drawing all sorts of bows will no doubt continue until they run out of things to say.

Darren Gray in this Monday’s The Age is an early contender for most pointless analysis. While conceding that “byelections can be unreliable predictors of general election results” he devoted an entire piece to listing which government members would, or would not, survive a swing the same as Ryan’s.

Picking results of elections is very hard, which is why nobody is great at it. But knowledge of the process and a little history would make a good start.

Alan Sunderland on SBS’s Insight, last Thursday evening, said that “in a crucial series of decisions, the Democrats have given their preferences to the Greens, and the Greens have given theirs to Labor. That leaves Liberal candidate Bob Tucker in a very tight spot.”

No, not how it works, Alan. Preferences are distributed according to the ballot slip.

Tony Walker in the Financial Review on March 9: “Australian voters tend to think two terms is plenty”. Not at all; Whitlam’s government is the only two-termer this side of WWII.

Alex Mitchell on the Sun-Herald’s front page when it looked like the Liberals would just hold on: Ryan will now be “a winnable Labor target at the next federal election.” Does anyone else believe this?

Dennis Shanahan, last weekend’s Australian, reckons that Democrat Leader Meg Lees is in trouble because “There is no way the Democrats will finish second in Ryan”. Correct about the result, but the Democrats have never finished second in a seat contested by both major parties. (Ed note: what about John “Redgum” Schumann in Downer’s seat of Mayo in 98?)

Last week’s readings were disappointing on one front. There are usually many examples of writers quoting pairs of two party preferred votes that don’t add up to a hundred – as, by definition, they must. But even Fia Cumming in the Sun-Herald, usually obliging, let me down. The only offender I could find was Malcolm McGregor, in Tuesday’s Australian, quoting us a poll showing “a two party preferred lead of 53 per cent to 34 per cent.”

Malcolm’s been involved with so many elections that we have to assume an errant sub.

The Australian Electoral Commission has very good educational brochures on this sort of thing, along the lines of “suppose John, Kate and Sally all wanted to be class president .. “. Tony, Alex, Alan and Dennis and, you too Malcolm, you’re on their mailing list.

Oh, those round numbers. Paul Keating had his million unemployed. John Howard had $1a litre petrol a couple of months ago. Now it’s the (drum roll) five dime dollar.

It happened on Wednesday. In Thursday’s papers most commentators started sensibly enough, noting that US50c was, after all, just a “psychological barrier” of no intrinsic importance. They then proceeded to go bananas.

Someone called Michael Workman from the Commonwealth Bank was quoted thus on the Telegraph’s front page: “You only want a couple of falls like that and basically you might as well turn off the lights and forget about it. Forget about everything.”

Yes Michael, we notice you, thank you.

Even the ANZ’s Saul Eslake, who is actually a serious person, was overcome.

On ABC’s AM, he lumped us with Indonesia and Japan as the three countries on earth whose currencies were being battered by “economic weakness” and “political uncertainty”.

Paul Kelly continued this line right over the top in Saturday’s Australian. “Australia is confronting the consequences of the drift in its political system that has been apparent during the past two years, but that nobody was supposed to mention . Welcome to the new banana republic.” The Prime Minister and opposition leader are both spineless populists. Oh, and Australia is stuffed.

John Howard’s learnt a thing or two about fair weather friends in the last couple of weeks. I don’t mean Glen Milne, who picked up his lappy and moved to the Treasurer’s office last year, but the BIG BOYS.

You know, the SERIOUS MEN who were mightily unimpressed with the decision to abolish petrol excise indexation. They’re unforgiving, and they’re cutting him loose.

Allan Wood in the Oz is mightily incensed.

And see Paul Kelly above.

See also Max Walsh (The Bulletin, March 13). Not only has the government screwed small business and dudded high income earners, but it turns out (from figures provided by the Institute of Public Affairs) that they are actually the biggest taxers and spenders in history. Cop that.

Much worse, as a percentage of GDP, than Whitlam. Now that really hurts.

Furthermore, business has been inflicted with the “red tape in the form of a Business Activity Statement designed by a tax department with its own political agenda”

Anything else Max? Yes, “if the voters in the Brisbane electorate of Ryan behave rationally, they will vote Labor next weekend.”

Oh what a difference a few weeks makes.

It’s just a thought, but weren’t these IMPORTANT MEN IN THE MEDIA across BAS and all the other detail when they campaigned so heavily for ANTS a couple of years ago? Haven’t they had part-ownership of the economic agenda over the past five years? Now that things look a bit iffy, do they have any ideas?

(Telegraph columnist Michael Duffy grabbed hold of those spending and taxing figures but wasn’t sure what to do with them (he will never desert the PM). The morning the Bulletin hit the streets Duffy was quoting them (attribution to IPA) on Sally Loane’s 702 ABC radio show in Sydney. He would not draw any conclusions, just called them “interesting”. By Friday night on ABC TV’s Lateline the footnote was Max Walsh; the numbers were again “interesting”.)

I hope Roy Morgan Research is getting per usage payment for a particular opinion poll conducted in August 1998. It pops up here, there and everywhere.

It’s been referred to by Hillary (Crikey), Alan Ramsey (SMH), Amanda Vanstone (Lib), Chris Pyne (Lib), Ian Henderson (Australian), Malcolm Farr (Telegraph) and Tony Walker (AFR). And that’s just the ones I’ve noticed.

It’s been dusted off to give context to recent bad polling for the government. It shows that two months before their 1998 victory, the coalition recorded just 30.5 percent primary support in the Morgan poll, about the same level as the shocker in February this year.

Checking out the primary source (the poll), the claims are correct, up to a point. The August 1998 number for the Coalition’s primary support is 30.5 percent; pretty well the same as last month’s 30%.

But the primary figures for Labor are 44.5 per cent and 48.5 per cent respectively. And after preferences (which is, afterall, how you win an electorate, if not necessarily government) they are 42 per cent (Coalition) to 58 per cent (Labor) in 1998 and 37 to 63 percent respectively in early 2001. That’s a difference in the gap between the parties of 10 percent, not quite so comforting.

Pointless article #2

Last Tuesday’s Australian had a piece by Stephen Romei lamenting the lack of US interest in Bradman’s death. “A search [of archives] covering the 24-hour period after Bradman’s death found three stories”. the same time period for after Joe DiMaggio’s death in 1999 “resulted in 681 stories.”

Next week: study finds most Russians have never heard of Gundagai.

“Don’t blow huge grants” was the headline to a story on the First Home Buyers Scheme in last weekend’s Australian property section. Ho ho. Obviously a reference to the punch-line of a joke Brendan Nelson told to a Liberal function several years ago when he was Liberal candidate-elect for Bradfield. With this joke, which involved Ros Kelly, Hugh Grant and Divine Brown, Brendan made a real goose of himself.

Now this brings us back to Paul Kelly, who Ros was once married to

Paul has a new book! It’s about Australia and it’s really important! Oz readers, as they have come to expect with his books, were treated to daily excerpts last week.

He was also Maxine McKew’s Bulletin lunch companion this week, during which he said that, when a young man, he’d wanted to be an actor.

Ros’s current hubby, David Morgan, who (still, I think) runs Westpac, actually was a child actor – he starred in a television show called “The Magic Boomerang”, which as a child viewer I used to like.

This is of absolutely no importance or consequence for anything whatsoever. But it is, as Mr Duffy might say, interesting.

A constantly annoying media person

Name: John Highfield

Position: anchor (recently co-anchor) ABC radio’s “The World Today”

Reasons: absurd self-importance and doing silly things with his voice, including extremely pretentious, and totally incorrect, pronunciation of foreign names. Example: he gives Wahid (Indonesian president) a kind of Spanish “J” for his “W”.

And finally

Readers may be aware of a kerfufle involving Robert Manne and Andrew Bolt. A couple of weeks ago month Manne wrote in Fairfax papers the SMH and the Age that in 1998 Bolt had, in his Herald-Sun column, called for national “Sorry Day” to be changed to “Gratitude Day”, so that Aborigines could thank whites for all they’ve given them.

Bolt says he wrote no such thing; rather, he was suggesting a “Gratitude Day” for all Australians, and made no reference to abolition of “Sorry Day”.

Michael Duffy recognises a fellow traveller when he sees one, and rushed to Bolt’s corner, in paper and on the airwaves. Manne has refused to concede.

Now, like most non-Melburnians, I had never heard of Andrew Bolt before the Lowitja O’Donaghue business that started this off. I’ve since perused a few of his columns and have to report that in his sappy red-neckism he reads like a poor man’s Mike Gibson – and that’s pretty poor.

But on this matter, unless the Herald-Sun have been fiddling the contents of their online archive, Bolt is correct.

That’s it for me. Thanks to Crikey and Dr Stupid for having me. Next week it’s back to the original and the best. (I can’t believe I said those things about him I blame the keyboard.)

Ends

Peter

Peter Fray

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