Crikey’s Bird-watching team is beside themselves at the latest Sydney media biffo and have managed to contain the exuberance for a moment to produce this little update.

Dear old Sydney Town. Don’t ya love it. Crikey is a Melbourne publication – there is no other plausible excuse for why the Mayne Man puts the Sealed Section out so late everyday.

Yet the biggest story in media – Jones, Laws and Flint – since, er, Jones, Laws and Flint dominated the headlines back in 1999 is solidly Sydney. As are the Bird Watching Team (regular readers of Parrot Droppings will recall that we live underneath the railway viaduct at Woolloomooloo).

No-one seems to have commented on this fact so far, but the entire cast: the Parrot, the Tonsil, his Lordship, the PM, the Tonsils’ manager, John Fordham – even David Marr and the Media Watch crew – are all Sydney-based.

It seems to go without even saying. Sydney is our defacto national capital. It is Australia’s business capital, Australia’s cultural capital and so is our media capital, too.

Melbourne simply doesn’t matter. Nowadays it’s Sydney or the bush, so when a scandal comes along – like the latest lot of allegations – it’s simply sloshing with Sydney sleaze.

Naturally, that means the NSW Premier has got to buy into affairs – and his comments from yesterday morning still remain some of the best. Here’s what Bob Carr had to say to the ABC about Flint:

“I think he’s too partisan, I think he’s involved in arguments about national affairs from a partisan viewpoint. I don’t think anyone would seriously argue anymore that he would carry public confidence.

“If John Howard is a conservative, has respect for our institutions, and that by definition is what conservatives believe in – a respect for our institutions – he should say to Professor Flint, you’ve been too partisan, you’ve embarrassed the Government as it happens, but I’ve got to have an ABA that can command respect.” Onya, Bob!

This is the story of the moment and finding an original angle is not easy – but let’s try for a few.

First, where has the material that went to Media Watch and landed David Flint in so much trouble come from? Well, if the correspondence with the Parrot was on ABA letterhead, what’s the betting that it was written on an ABA PC and filed away in the regulator? Yup. A great vote in the Chair from his staff, in other words.

Second, let’s look at the comments the two great battler’s friends have made about one another.

Here’s the Parrot’s peck at the Tonsils:

“I think the outburst today most probably relates to the fact that perhaps 2UE are not doing well at the ratings, and perhaps Mr Laws is struggling in that time slot, and is no longer the received broadcaster that he once was, and this is giving him, obviously, a lot of publicity.

“I think it’s also an attempt to suggest to the public that the way in which he’s been treated by the ABA and Professor Flint is unfair when in fact, as I said, the full board makes these determinations, not Professor Flint.”

And here’s the Tonsils feeling sore:

“There seems to be a certain fear of Alan. Maybe because, you know, he’s such a vicious old tart. I don’t know, but there seems to be an element of fear that exists. Why, I don’t know, because he does have a big rating, but he only talks to Sydney. I talk to 63 stations around Australia, and I think that probably aggravates Alan a bit. I don’t think he likes that much.”

Do you know, for once both of them are probably actually telling the truth. Scary, isn’t it.

Then there’s the politics of the matter. If it wasn’t for this story, the issue of the day would have been the latest on Lieutenant Colonel Lance Collins and the report by senior naval officer and military lawyer Captain Martin Toohey damning the peak military intelligence body, the Defence Intelligence Organisation, and claiming it only says what the Government wants it to say.

Manipulation, fudging and lies from the Government would have been the order of the day – but this throws a much harsher light on John Howard’s administration than intelligence rows ever could. After all, spooks by their very nature prefer to work in dark and gloom.

Lindsay Tanner has fallen off the radar in the past 12 months and seemed slow to grasp the David Flint issue after Media Watch on Monday, but Iron Mark was running had yesterday afternoon. He knows he has to, as Labor has a chance to finally string all the Howard pedantic-semantic defences together – Iraq, Manildra, kids overboard, intelligence and now this.

It might end up that the Parrot was just big-noting himself to Laws after one glass of Grange too many – or that Laws got out of bed on the wrong side yesterday.

Still, this is one issue where Labor can really sweat the Prime Minister, where for once they can try to pull all the strands together and mount a concerted and consistent attack that shows what a shifty little so and so he is. Shock-jocks have their fans. They have their audiences – but deep down even the hard core listeners know that they’re entertainers.

A redneck will die in a ditch to keep raghead reffos out of the country. A sugar grower will insist with their last breath that we owe them a living – particularly now that the bloody government won’t let them capture Kanakas to work in the fields. But who would lie down their life for the Parrot or the Tonsils? Stephanie? Maybe – but no-one else, surely.

This could be Iron Mark’s making – if – if – the Labor tacticians can finally get it right.

Finally, Droppings being Droppings, we can’t sign off without leaving a few stains behind.

First, what did Laws mean when he said by the end of this, more than the truth will be outed?

And wasn’t it funny in the Parrot’s interview with Chris Smith on 2GB yesterday afternoon when he talked about Laws and his manager Fordham as seemingly remembering the dinner-party conversation from three years ago with “bell-ringing” clarity. Bell-ringing. They must have carried him along to the do in his cage.

The Crikey Bird Watching Team can be contacted at droppings @crikey.com.au

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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