Another week, another controversial column from Paddy McGuiness who lines up supposedly left-leaning hacks for a decent spray.

The main media lie of the third week of the campaign was that Mark Latham won the debate. He didn’t. He did however perform creditably enough to appear as a real runner in the campaign, and performed as well as the Prime Minister. Such is the ineradicable hatred of the press gallery for the PM, however, that they have done their best to convince everyone else that somehow Latham was ahead on any criterion other than the extremely dubious evidence of the “worm”.

This was “balanced” in the strange and devious accounting of some gallery minds by the allegation that Latham might be “losing it” when he expressed a certain testiness on Sunday on two occasions (“repeatedly” according to The Age) in responding to questions from some silly journalist. He also was irritated by Laurie Oakes in an interview, and took a swipe back at him. Good for Mark. But you cannot criticise the press gallery without becoming a target for all kinds of amateur psychologising on their part – after all, they are the one group in our society which considers itself beyond criticism.

Then there is the mixed response to Labor’s schools policy. This was a classic example, if ever there was one, of wedge politics – a form of misbehaviour often alleged against Howard. It was designed to evoke all the fears and hatreds of not just the have nots, the battlers who never expect ever to send their children to high-fee private schools and resent anyone else doing so unless they also have to finance a place (or several places, in the case of high income taxpayers) in the state school system as well as paying 100% of the costs of the private school, but also the ideological haters of private schools.

The latter have been forced to accept that at least catholic systemic schools should be partly state-financed (it makes little difference these days anyway, since many catholic schools, like the so-called Australian Catholic University, seem to have little connection with church doctrine and are dominated by teachers who reject the authority of their church), but even this is resented by the hardline ideologues of the teachers’ unions. They still believe that there should be no choice in education – every kid should be forced into the system they dominate. This group is strong in the Labor Party which would probably collapse these days if school teachers and lawyers were denied membership. Latham, by throwing them a bone, is bidding for the support of the Left.

But how many of the hacks used the term wedge politics in respect of Labor’s policy? Certainly not Crikey’s political editor Christian Kerr, who accused the Liberals of exploiting religious wedge politics in the NSW electorate of Greenway. On the contrary, it is clear that the gallery line was to approve of the move. After all, journalists these days come from the same social stratum as school teachers, and have the same ideological predispositions. So this kind of wedge politics is clearly all right when it suits the gallery. No doubt there will also soon be examples of “dog whistle” politics, when supposedly a politician like Howard somehow appeals inaudibly to racist or similar sections of the electorate. Of course, Latham would never do that, would he?

With the supposed endorsement of Senator George Brandis, who was unreliably reported to have referred to Howard as the “rodent”, it is now commonplace for reporters, commentators, and especially cartoonists to repeat the term interminably. This terminology seems to have started with Crikey, which is fair enough in larrikin journalism or even in “humorous” columnists (like the leaden Nick Leys Strewth column in The Australian, where desperate attempts are made to invent new and inept sobriquets), not to mention increasingly uninventive cartoonists like Bill Leak – but what on earth are supposedly responsible editors doing, allowing it to become a kind of licensed insult to the prime minister by everybody from aging pundits to wet behind the ears junior reporters? It is an excellent example of the ingrained prejudice of journalists. Indeed, it is typical of the general debasement of public discourse by the increasingly illiterate journalistic trade.

One should not be at all surprised by political loyalists amongst opinionated columnists – it would be surprising if Christopher Pearson wrote an anti-Liberal column, or Michael Costello wrote an anti-Labor column – and even leader writers, but it should be incumbent on reporting that a serious attempt at non-partisanship be made. On the contrary, however, partisanship is the norm – and of course it is mainly anti-Liberal. Latham strikes a chord with the half-educated hacks precisely because of this. It has to be remembered that the loyalties of the amorphous and unthinking rank and file of journalists are not with the Labor Party as such – they hate the Labor Right, especially the traditional-minded catholics, just as much as they do the Liberals (the supposed representatives of “privilege”). They are the products of our intellectually inferior university humanities departments (amongst which have to be included such non-subjects as “political economy”), and share the mindset of the progressivist Left. So they favour the worst of the Labor Left, as well as loonies like the Greens. In this sense they are hopelessly partisan.

Again, Latham appeals to journalists (not just lady journalists) not because he shares this mindset any more than did Paul Keating, but he has like Keating hit on a rhetoric which appeals to it. His “ladder of opportunity” clearly is not intended to lead to high incomes from market oriented activities, but points straight to the upper reaches of the chattering classes. Like Keating he instinctively realises that if you want intellectuals to lick your boots, you first kick them in the face and then tell they what they want to hear.

As we enter the fourth week of the campaign the positions of the pro-Latham journalists will begin to become even clearer (and no doubt many middle rankers are already eyeing up jobs with Labor ministers); so too will their desperation increase if the Coalition’s narrow lead should widen. If so, we can expect a total abandonment of any attempt at fairness next week. Then, of course, the last week of the campaign, when the swingers inclinations crystallise, will be vital.

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Peter Fray

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