After three months of Sunday morning viewing, Crikey has come to the view that the ABC’s Sunday morning program Insiders is going well with host Barry Cassidy doing a fine job.

It has been suggested we were fairly harsh to write off the show on the strength of one edition. And now, three months later, we’re glad to report we were wrong.

This program has matured into a must-see for political animals, with a nice mix of personalities and perspectives – from the flatulent fascism of Piers Ackerman; to the chilly conservatism of Bolta Bolt; to those wishy-washy leftie female fabianists, Karen Middleton and Christine Wallace.

Everyone’s loosened up on the couch and the banter’s working well. Crikey, even Piers has mellowed. On Sunday he managed to praise Kim Beazley! Strewth, that woke us up.

That’s not to say that all the flaws in the show have been ironed out.

We criticised the first show for setting up a panel of Canberra and Sydney based journalists as “insiders”. Perpetuating the notion that the punditocracy is somehow in touch with both the inner sanctums of the political process and close to the people who make the decisions on election day – the voters.

Back in July, the show’s analysis of the previous day’s Aston byelection showed how out of touch with voters many political journalists are. The panellists variously underestimated the Democrats vote, incorrectly attributed the Liberal win to the donkey vote, all the while misunderstanding the particularly local dynamics of the by-election.

On Sunday, Piers weighed down the right end of the couch, Age gossip columnist Annabel Crabb lounged on the left, and the Tele’s Malcolm Farr sat in the middle.

Pepped up by backing Ethereal in the Caulfield Cup, Cassidy kicked off with his usual chat with Paul Kelly, who apparently refuses to travel to Melbourne for the show and insists on appearing on the big screen.

Farr landed a few hearty punches on Lance Corporal Howard for the way he marched us off into the Afghan Kush with George W. Bush. Citing Howard’s extraordinary dull and uninspiring announcement that we’re going in to fight the Taliban with 1500 troops, Farr remarked: “John Howard is saying: I’m beating the gong because I’ve got the gong.”

“Compare his announcement with George W Bush. Every time he gets up he gives the nation a pep talk. John Howard says we’re going because the president called me – he’s got my number!”

Farr was right, and Howard’s minders recognised it. Now Field Marshall Johnny plans to address to the nation to “re-emphasise” the reasons for sending in troops.

Cassidy seized on the Herald Sun’s continued strong support for Howard. Holding up last week’s extraordinary Anthrax Scare edition of the Hun, Barrie commented: “It’s all been cranked up to create a climate of fear.”

Will John Howard thank Peter Blunden for his “DON’T PANIC!” front page screamer, the way he thanked Col Allan for his “LABOR POISED TO SEIZE POWER” page one on election day 1998 – a front page that the PM credited for winning the Libs their election-winning marginals in western Sydney?

Moving along, Fairfax chief photographer Mike Bowers has been called in to do an entertaining segment on the visual side of the campaign. Last week he did an incisive analysis of silly hat photos on the campaign trail.

This week, he analysed the best cartoons and photos with Telegraph cartoonist Warren Brown. It’s been educational to be taken vicariously on John Anderson’s election travelogue. We’ve seen Johnny the soldier, Johnny the scuba diver, Johnny the big game hunter, Johnny the axe murdering serial killer – all colourfully displayed by our photographers in the nation’s papers.

As Warren Brown says of our wandering minstrel deputy PM: “If he gets voted out, at least he’s had a fantastic holiday out of this.”

The last word on the insiders goes to Piers and Annabel for a sweet exchange, after Piers had misrepresented Labor policy by claiming Beazley will not cut the GST from – of all items – bottled gas.

Barrie: “We’ve had a call from the Labor Party, and the GST will be removed from bottled gas.”

Piers: “Delighted to influence their platform at this late stage. Policy on the run, Barrie.”

Annabel: “The gas policy!”

Piers: “The hot air policy.”

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So the diagnosis for Insiders is promising. Not so for our commentariat and many in our press galleries.

This election is going to be fought on a combination of overarching Big Picture issues – of which the war and associated leadership will play a part – but, importantly, also bread and butter issues varying from hospitals, to education, to the impact on an individual pensioner of the GST on her gas bill. The impact of these individual issues will, naturally, vary from suburb to suburb, town to town, electorate to electorate.

For example, Beazley’s elimination of GST on caravan park fees might seem like a peanut to some Tories, but it means Larry Anthony can kiss his seat goodbye. He holds a margin of about 40, with several thousand caravan park dwellers now lining up to vote Labor.

That’s why it’s misleading to accept at face value media polls showing a decisive lead to the Coalition. The election – as always – is a series of little elections in individual seats. The constant characterisation of this election as a presidential race between Beazley and Howard shows many in the media still don’t understand this.

Instead of following politicians around on campaign trail media jamborees, hoping for a scrap of policy, or a cream pie attack in the street, journalists need to disentangle themselves from the political machine.

They need to get out of the House on the Hill more than occasionally, step back and live a little in the electorates that make the decisions. The magic of 21st century communications technology makes this possible and plausible.

And on election day, they need to gather at the polling places and watch the people vote – you can tell so much by the attitude of people as they fulfil their responsibilities according to Section 46 of the Electoral Act.

Then our political journalists should go inside those polling booths and witness the alchemy of democracy at work. Scrutinise the count – count the chads! – don’t just lazily accept the spin from the party apparatchiks.

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One bloke who seems to spend a fair time out of the office is former Herald editor John Lyons. He’s been out and about chasing Cheryl Kernot down various rabbit burrows. The result of his travels was a little ripper of a story for Nine’s Sunday show.

And wasn’t the encounter priceless when he and his camera crew finally caught up with Cheryl near one of her principal places of residence (I guess it’s hard to know exactly where one lives when one maintains a vast property portfolio – so appropriate for a Labor frontbencher, don’t you think?)

(And we’re paraphrasing here)

Lyons: At last we meet. You’ve been hard to catch.

Cheryl (caught like a dazed rabbit in the headlights, as if stunned by the Gold Coast sun bouncing off Lyons’ shiny pate): errrrrr…

Lyons: Where do you live?

Cheryl: Well, my family circumstances, like many people, are fairly complicated…

Game, set, match, Lyons. Gone, baby – gone!

Fortunately, Cheryl’s peace-loving hubby, Gavin, solved everything by attacking Lyons’ camera crew in a public street while they were taking generic stock footage of the building which contains Principal Residence No 2 – a luxury apartment.

Ever since Gareth Gareth seduced her away from the Democrats with that smooth tongue of his and the promise of a ministry in the next Beazley Government, Cheryl’s been nothing but trouble for Kim.

Fortunately, there’s nothing important going on right now, like a federal election campaign, as the Kernot family capers hog the headlines, and what remains of her political career self-destructs in full public view.

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Former Media Watch exec producer and editor of the late Zeitgeist Gazette, David Salter is writing a media diary for the Age. On Saturday he took a nice solid bite of the hand that feeds him.

Try this for size: “Flip post-modernism is nibbling away at the Fairfax election coverage like an anthrax sore.”

Nice one! David is particularly leery of the SMH’s “pop-culture triviality of their daily Celebrity Voter feature’ and the paper’s “thought for the day”, which has included one-liners from The West Wing and The Godfather III. “Can wisecracks from The Simpsons be far behind?” asks David.

Well, at the Crikey election desk, we think this is exactly what the campaign needs. And we’ve picked out a few of our favourite Simpsons lines for the times.

Come to think of it, the Simpsons could have been cast with this election in mind.

In our minds, Milhous makes a perfect John Howard, Chief Clarence Wiggum plays Kim Beazley, Natasha Stott-Despoja is ideally cast as the annoying know-it-all blonde brat, Lisa Simpson.

Here are some suggested Simpsons quotes for the Herald to use during the campaign:

“Oh loneliness and cheeseburgers are a deadly combination.”

– The Comicguy (AKA faction chief & well-known comic collector Robert “Radioactive Man” Ray) Maybe Kim Beazley should take some advice on cutting through the clutter from grandpa Simpson:

Abe: *shouting* “That doll is EVIL, I tells ya. Evil! Eeeeeeviillll!!!”

Marge: “Grandpa, you said that about all the presents.”

Abe: *whines* “I just want attention.”

And some advice for Iron Bar Tuckey & Bob Hill as they put the finishing touches on the Coalition’s Environment & Resources policies:

[Homer & Cheif Wiggum have driven off a cliff and their impending death is stopped by the car landing in a huge pile of rubbish…]

Wiggum: “Ha! And to think, those idiot environmentalists were protesting this landfill!”

Homer : “Solid waste! I could kiss you! MWUA! eugh! MWUA! ooh! MWUA! aah! MWUA! ooh! I think this one’s pizza!”

Ahhh, we could go on and on and on. But we won’t.

ends

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