Political rowing is obscuring the biggest outrage of the week – what John Laws thinks he can get away with.

There’s nothing like being ahead of your time. All the Crikey
Bird Watching Team has been feeling quite smug this week, enjoying
Gloria’s Gotterdammerung – the twilight of some real elites.

Still,
with everyone peering at the Parrot we think we need to do something
different, so this week we’re donning white coats and grabbing tongue
depressors and – say “aaah” – going to examine the tonsils. The Golden
Tonsils. John Laws.

We’ve spoken about the differences
between the pair before. Both aim to dominate the airwaves, but for
very different reasons. The Parrot wants to exercise power and
authority. The Tonsils prefers to simply radiate it – and lap up the
worship that then comes.

A multi-layered political debate
has emerged during the week that covers a whole range of ethical issues
in politics and the media, the commercial interests that control the
media or seek to use it, the government instrumentalities and legal
framework that regulate those interests and the relationships that
exist between these entities – but let’s concentrate purely on
examining the Tonsils and why he did what he did.

Readers
of Crikey’s politics pages will have seen the exchange between the
Tonsils and Mark Latham that followed the Opposition Leader’s policy
making on the run on Iraq. You can still find Hillary’s wrap on it all
up on the site here:

The Tonsils terrorise Iron Bark

The Tonsils tried to pin down Latham on when the ALP had made its
“decision” about a timetable for a withdrawal from Iraq. Here’s how it
climaxed:

TONSILS: Let me say a couple of things to you. Firstly,
it’s a simple question and you’re avoiding the question. Yes or no –
did you have a Shadow Cabinet meeting? We can only conclude no, you
didn’t.

LATHAM: No, I’ve given you the answer. We had three. We had three that made the decision…

TONSILS: But not on the day that you made the decision about them coming home by Christmas time.

LATHAM:
Well, but John, John, John. Three decisions to say get them home as
soon as possible. What does that mean in practical terms in 2004, if
there is an election in September, Labor has got the chance to have
them home by Christmas. It flows logically from the three principle
decisions…

TONSILS: I’ve got to…

LATHAM: The Prime Minister was saying there were no meetings and he had egg on his face yesterday when I….

TONSILS: Mark. Mark, I’ve got exactly 30 seconds left. But let me say, you know, and I’m only a disc jockey. But let me say…

LATHAM: You’re more than that.

TONSILS:
Yeah well let me say this to you. You don’t want to get blustering
people like me, because the people who listen to it don’t like it.
Talking over the top of me all the time achieves nothing for you. I
mean I’d rather just get the answers. You might like to keep that in
mind.

LATHAM: Well I’ve tried to give the answers John,
as straight as I can. And you’ve asked the questions and I’m trying to
give the answers.

TONSILS: Okay, well we didn’t get the answer we wanted and we can only conclude what that answer might be.

Latham
got a scolding. A scolding, mind you. Not a bollocking. His interview
made sure he remained the authority figure, the one in charge –
although that “you’re more than that” ironic bit of lesse majeste must
have really irritated the Tonsils.

It was only later in the
program that the Tonsils played the silly “Mark Latham Sidestep” jingle
that is still up on his site at http://www.johnlaws.com.au/home.html.

The
Tonsils avoided a direct row. He simply delivered a rebuke – from the
mountain top. Think how the Parrot would have screeched away. But
that’s how the Tonsils are. He likes to be seen to be above it all.

Press
secretaries will tell you the pressure his producers will put them
under – but the way he treats their bosses is entirely different. Other
shock-jocks scrap – but that is below the dignity of the Tonsils.

That’s
what this week’s dispute is all about. We were particularly struck by
this exchange between Gloria and the Tonsils right at the very
beginning of the whole affair. Yes, we ran it on Wednesday, but here it
is again.

First, the Parrot’s peck:

“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.”

As we said at the time, for once both of them
were probably actually telling the truth. Why do we think that? Because
they were talking about power and status. Their own power and status.

We’re
bird watchers – but we’ve examined the Tonsils before. So here’s our
take on this week’s revelations and the whole Tonsils/Parrot row.

Stuff
David Flint and John Howard. This is simply a strike by the Tonsils to
reassert his position. The Tonsils don’t give two hoots for media
ethics – but the row over Flint’s imperious and inappropriate behaviour
provided a spectacular backdrop for the exercise.

In a few
short words the Tonsils dropped his rival, the Prime Minister of the
country and the head of the nation’s broadcasting regulator in deep
shit – while seemingly holding the moral high ground.

This was the Tonsil’s message: The Parrot and the PM engaged in skulduggery and Flint enjoyed some ill-gotten gains.

Just
in case we didn’t believe him, his agent, John Fordham, was there to
say everything the Tonsils had uttered was true. His agent, note. Not
manager. Agent. An utterly subsidiary role.

Not, of course, that agents aren’t useful. They’re useful in matters like this – and for negotiating cash for comment deals.

A quick look at the ABA’s findings in that celebrated inquiry – up at http://www.aba.gov.au/radio/investigations/projects/commerc_radio/index.htm – will tell you all you need to know about the Tonsils’ and Fordham’s notions of ethics.

Chris
Masters, the Four Corners correspondent currently writing the
unauthorised Parrot biography that hype round the traps says will pack
more punch than a Littlemore/Ackland/Marr tag team, poured a bucket of
cold water over the substance of the Tonsils’ claim on PM on Friday
night.

You can see the whole interview at http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2004/s1098936.htm – but make sure you read these extracts:

MARK
COLVIN: Now, when you heard the story that John Laws told about Alan
Jones saying that he had gone round and given instructions to the Prime
Minister, how did that gel with the picture that you’ve been building
up in more than a year of research on Alan Jones now?

CHRIS
MASTERS: Let me say that I did hear that story back in 2002. So it’s
been around, to my knowledge, for two years. So it’s not something
that’s been invented in the last couple of months. When I heard the
story quite some time ago my reaction was that it was unlikely that
Jones would’ve actually gone to see the Prime Minister, but that he was
boasting…

MARK COLVIN: To Laws?

CHRIS MASTER: …
that he was a more powerful figure in town than Laws… because this had
been a running dispute between them for quite some time.

MARK COLVIN: So you think it’s unlikely that Jones actually even saw the Prime Minister?

CHRIS
MASTERS: I’d be only guessing like everybody else. But I’m just telling
you that my reaction at the time was that it was much less likely that
that meeting actually occurred. And knowing something about what goes
on in this world, a bit more likely that Jones was boasting to Laws…

BIRD-WATCHERS:
What did we say? This is all about power. We’ve been looking at several
scandals this week. All of them stink. John Howard, David Flint, Alan
Jones have clearly behaved inappropriately and deserve the opprobrium
that has been heaped on them.

We have also seen how the
other players in the media and the ALP and the minor political parties
have been incapable of maintaining the levels of accountability the
inhabitants of a healthy democracy should expect.

The
Tonsils, however, are also infected. Indeed, as this past week has all
been about power plays, their aftermath and their implications, then
perhaps the greatest scandal of them all is that John Laws thinks he
can stand above it all and still be taken seriously.

Politics
and media are rotten under the Howard Government. Examine the Tonsils
and you’ll see the pestilence that is destroying the body politic.

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

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