In his inaugural Crikey column, PP McGuinness looks at whether the press gallery is anti-Howard and introduces readers to the Ramsey meter – an amusing means of gauging degrees of bias. And do read to the bottom as Mike Carlton has already fired off a stinging reply.

Pity the poor press gallery. With less than a week of the election campaign elapsed, they are running out of things to say. So already they are saying the same things over and over. These are, mainly, the repetition of their own Big Lie that John Howard is a liar and cannot be trusted. The hope is clearly that this simple message will penetrate into the electorate outside the chattering classes and cause of swing against the government.

Unfortunately, the electorate is not listening. Indeed, many people even in the vital mortgage belt have probably not even fully registered that there is an election campaign underway – it is really only in the last week before the election that many voters give any attention at all to the issues. Then there can be a decided movement of the kind which became palpable in 1993 when it was mainly the fear of John Hewson’s politically inept threats to Medicare, not the GST, which delivered the vote to Keating.

But by the time the last week of this campaign comes around it is quite possible that some unforeseen event will have changed the course of the campaign, and the huge waste of newsprint at presented devoted to the campaign will be forgotten – along with the tedious hours of airtime to which only hopeless addicts pay any attention.

None of the analyses by the gallery hacks is of any value, nor are the tedious elaborations of supposed policy positions. The only value in all this is in the time saved in reading the papers, etc. Like the Olympics, the label on top of a page enables one to skip on, looking for some real news.

It is perfectly clear that the gallery is anti-Howard. There is some entertainment to be gained in comparing the degrees of bias – perhaps to be measured from 1 to 10 on what might be called the Ramsey meter. A score of 1 represents just run of the mill bias against Howard and the Coalition, while 10 represents near-incoherent, foaming at the mouth abuse. Thus Peter Hartcher’s oped piece in Friday’s SMH on Howard’s Big Lie in the opening of the campaign would rate about 5 on the Ramsey scale – it is nonsense, but fairly rationally expressed.

We would need one of the better economic commentators to point out that the interest rate record of the Fraser government was largely an inheritance from the inflationary profligacy of the Whitlam government, while falling interest rates in the first few years of the Howard government were largely a legacy of the Hawke government (if the Keating government with its increasing profligacy had lasted much longer interest rates would have been rising). Howard and Costello can claim credit for the last 5 years or so of low interest rates, provided it is pointed out that the international climate was probably the main influence enabling us to keep our interest rates down (which are in any case considerably higher than in the United States). Of course all this is too difficult for gallery commentators.

There is some entertainment to be gained from using the Ramsey meter elsewhere. So as not to concentrate on the SMH alone, it is perhaps useful to look at the wider range of scores in The Australian. Here the Ramsey score would range from about 2 for the standard sermon from Paul Kelly, to about 7 or 8 for Mike Steketee’s loyal contributions to the Opposition. Casting the net wider one would have to exempt Laura Tingle in the AFR – she after all gets her horse-shit from the horse’s mouth. And Michele Grattan in The Age would regularly score about 2, in part for the sheer boredom factor. A worthy old workhorse, plodding her steady farrow.

The sheer desperation of the gallery as the campaign wears on will lead to the invention of more and more gimmicks (the cake is taken so far by the Sydney Daily Telegraph, with its “ladder of opportunity” complete with cardboard cut-out of Latham), pretending to cover the election while providing irrelevant entertainment. And of course every chance they have the “Gotcha!” game will be played. Ask the same question ten or fifteen times over, and eventually the subject out of tedium will vary some phrase in the answer, giving rise to a whole new wave of misinterpretation – Gotcha!

The main lies in politics are those of the media, which holds to its own unimpeachable virtue and the duty of accountability of politicians not to the electorate but to journalists. No matter how stupid a question or trivial an issue, the denial of full access to all files, working papers, memos, personal notes etc will be treated as a cover-up. Any difference on policy views (if anybody in the media can be said to pay any serious attention to policy) will be ascribed to evil intentions or deception. As far as the media, especially the Canberra gallery, is concerned policy analysis ought not to be shackled by any regard to evidence. This has little to do with the direction of political bias – the views of Alan Jones are as ignorant and mis-informed, as cavalier in the treatment of evidence, as those of the now hysterically anti-Howard babbler Mike Carlton.

The fundamental problem about truth in politics is that the penalties for telling the truth are far greater than those for telling lies, or dodging an issue in a fog of bromides. We know that when demands are made on the Labor Party to reveal its policies on tax or anything else the underlying intention is to get something to pick holes in, not to analyse. This is even more so with the Coalition – it is another variant of the Gotcha! game. Anything a politician says that means anything at all will be taken down and used in evidence against him or her – regardless of context.

CRIKEY: See how Crikey’s readership responded to the thought of Paddy writing for Crikey in our special Yoursay on The Pros and cons of P.P.McGuinness

However, now readers have had a chance to see what Paddy has to offer, feedback on his first column at the bottom of the column can be sent into boss

Mike Carlton fires one back

By 2UE Breakfast host and SMH columnist Mike Carlton

So you’ve signed the old fart. I was hoping you would. If Paddy McGuinness’s splenetic opening diatribe on Friday is any guide – and I am
sure it is – we are in for a rollicking good laugh in the weeks ahead.

The intriguing thing, the hilarious thing about these ex-lefties who have made their long day’s journey to the lunar right is the cargo of bile they have taken on board along the way.

Not content with the Damascene conversion, unrequited by basking in the approbation of their newly acquired High Tory friends and betters, they must prove their virtue, and prove it again and again, by swingeing ad hominem attacks on those whose ideas they once shared.

The odious Akerman is a case in point, the one-time anti-Vietnam pamphleteer and America-baiter now so rabidly the voice of his Murdoch paymasters. So is Paul Johnson, a former editor of the New Statesman turned arch-rightist pontiff. Bill Hayden is another sad example tutored, I am afraid, by McGuinness.

But none is so furious as Paddy himself. I fear he is psychotic. Fat arse anchored to his Balmain bar stool, he peers through a glass darkly. Dull, dismal and discarded, he wallows in misery and loathing.

To be charitable, I suppose it must be painful to contemplate those long gone salad days and to conclude in hindsight that you had got it all wrong.

In the lonely watches of the night, if he remains halfway sentient after the pub, Paddy must grapple with the realisation that his earlier life was a fuckup: all those years frittered away in futile socialist fervour at the Bank Narodny or spruiking Medibank Mk1 for the frightful Whitlam government. Rupert Murdoch, if he recalls it at all, can lightly dismiss his pale pink youth as an Oxbridge folly, but Paddy was a soldier for the revolution. Even worse, he never got to bed Germaine. The horror, the horror.

How much happier to be an Andrew Bolt, an ignoramus who was evidently a complete shit from birth, or a dill such as Miranda Devine, whose loopy blatherings seem to have been genetically programmed. They know not what they do nor what was done to them.

But poor McGuinness is the quondam atheist who has flung himself into Opus Dei. He is tormented by the quaking remembrance of temps perdu, a sinner reaching for redemption. Perhaps he has found absolution in the Order of Australia gong that he once despised as a bauble for shonks and shysters.

Still and all, terrific fun for the rest of us. Although you feel a twinge of guilt, as if you were enjoying a bear being baited or peering through the bars at Bedlam to see the gambolling lunatics.

But let him bring it on. It will add much to the public gaiety.

I think, though, that we should all promise not to sue, however vile the slanders and libels might become. I won’t if you won’t, Paddy, and I hope Ramsey, Kelly, Oakes, Grattan, Tingle, Steketee, Seccombe, Hartcher et al agree. Even Alan Jones. On for young and old.