After the mere suggestion that Paddy McGuiness might write for Crikey caused a furore, the man himself has launched another salvo, this time attacking journalists for being so thin-skinned.
Journalists are a thin-skinned lot. Vain, too. They are fond of handing it out, impugning everybody else’s integrity, and denigrating politicians. Yet they cannot stand the heat of scrutiny, nor even some of the mud they throw being flung back at them. They moan about the defamation laws and yet are all too fond of threatening defamation when anybody else suggests they are less than perfect. Nor are they averse to censorship behind the scenes.
I was appalled when some years ago the then letters editor of The Age checked with me about letters received – did I think the critical ones should be published? He was surprised when I said that was his business – it was not necessary to check with me. This was not the general practice on The Age. And many journalists elsewhere complain bitterly when letters critical of themselves are published, even if the critics are considerably more restrained in their abuse and insults than the journalist. Equally they demand the right to know everything about a politician, but deny the right of the public to even know their own addresses and backgrounds. The right of privacy for politicians is in their hands – they think of that as ethical – but politicians have no such reciprocal right, short of abusing parliamentary privilege, for which they would be massively denounced. Even justifiable criticism of a journalist in parliament is treated like near-rape.
There used to be little criticism of politicians’ travel and other perks. However, when the media started cracking down on journalists’ expenses, frustrated envy came to the fore. How dare pollies do better than us? As one public figure remarked about continuing criticism of his spending by a particular columnist, “you should have seen his expenses when he worked for me!” Journalists have always had their snouts as deep into the trough as permitted by their employers – while the days of five hour multi-bottle lunches are gone, their memory lingers on.
Only one or two have seen fit to wonder about Mike Scrafton’s dinner partner in Leichhardt when apparently he courageously accused the PM of being a liar. His memory was perfect, according to him, because most of the two bottles of very expensive wine were consumed by the woman, apparently in the ten minutes while he was on the phone, before he even got onto the main course. Did she end up under the table? A bottle of wine in ten minutes! Brian Toohey picked this point up in the AFR on Saturday. While I disagree with Brian on many issues at least he thinks (and can think) for himself, unlike most of the mediapack.
One fundamental point that needs to be made about the mediapack is that they have no democratic basis at all; they are exercising the right of free speech but with no claim to any special status. Politicians are elected and represent the people – journalists represent nobody. That is how it should be, but it should never be forgotten. They have no claim to special access to our institutions superior to that of any other citizen. Incidentally, the short or selective memories of the pack have allowed even the “old farts” to overlook that one of their current heroes, John Valder (a former finance hack turned stockbroker) used to strongly advocate the licensing of journalists by government. Of course that is what the worthless journalists’ union (the ticket collectors’, wrestlers’ and luvvies’ union) tries to do from time to time, and it is what the press gallery committee does, but it is totally repugnant to the idea of a free and open media. Parliament should not allow the gallery to control access to Parliament.
The lack of any representative status of the media does not stop the pack from believing that, collectively, they are wiser, more principled and nicer than politicians and therefore should be deferred to. How outraged they are when a politician brushes them aside. How awful it is when a pollie dares to plough on with an answer rather than submit to interruptions, attempts to put words into his mouth, or just hectoring and pestering. It now seems that the standard mode of interview on the ABC (especially amongst the hackettes) is accusatory and sceptical – like a tenth rate barrister putting it to a witness on the stand, “I put it to you that you murdered the victim in cold blood for financial gain”. It is strange that more pollies do not simply hang up on such telephone interviews. And they all know by now that it is unsafe to do other than a live TV interview with the ABC – anything else will be edited selectively to misrepresent or reverse their views and make the interviewer appear in a good light.
The weekend’s Newspoll figures which show the Coalition ahead in the key marginal electorates will lead to a redoubling of all the standard mediapack dirty tricks. They know that a stupid electorate should not be allowed to reelect a Coalition government. After all, hasn’t the mediapack gallantly kept on telling lies about them? So the pack will just have to step up the attack.
You’d think that by now at least some of the hacks might have started to twig that hardly anyone believes them, let alone respects them. Look what idiots they made of themselves in the frantic campaign to get up the Republc referendum.
But they remain as sensitive as ever. Like Mike Carlton, a talented but brainless clown, who thinks a torrent of abuse is a political argument.