Paddy McGuiness says the drooling coverage of the media in response to Mark Latham’s policy launch proves just how biased they are against John Howard.

The media pack responded with predictable enthusiasm to Mark Latham’s campaign launch in Brisbane yesterday. Obviously they hope that it will win him the election, thus consummating their hatred of John Howard. The central plank, the free hospital beds for anyone over 75, clearly appealed to them as a bid to win over the oldies who tend to favour the Coalition – even the well off who could well afford to pay their own way and had private health insurance.

But there is self interest involved, too. After all, while not too many gallery journalists are looking forward to their own extreme old age, many of them are baby-boomers. And the last thing they want is to contemplate their own aged parents incurring medical and hospital bills which would erode the boomers’ expected inheritance. Any more than they liked the idea raised some time back that the aged should give up some of their assets when they enter a nursing home. And of course many of the baby-boomers have not saved enough to maintain the lifestyle they want, and know that Lathamesque ageism (Howard’s too old at 65, youth is everything) will ensure that they have no further employment prospects, so they welcome the prospect of free hospital and medical care when they have dissipated their substance.

In the SMH Mike Seccombe, a regular high scorer on the Ramseymeter, wrote touchingly of how an elderly couple would be helped by the compassionate Latham. A far cry from his description of the Howard launch earlier in the week, when he had the PM with an uncontrollable “Dr Strangelove” right arm, presumably indicating that he is a closet Nazi. A typical flight of fancy from this specialist in the subject.

Tony Stephens, whose often specialises is writing adoring encomiums on former Stalinist activists, was more moderate, doing his best to sit on the fence while leaving us in no doubt on which side he would fall off. Seccombe’s was only one of the numerous human interest pieces about how the deserving old would benefit from the wonderful gifts which Latham was offerin them. (Where are the hospital beds coming from? Given the state of NSW hospitals, and their high death rates, the new system might begin to sound like an organised campaign of euthanasia. Clearly a saving.)

Then there were the more or less straight reports and commentaries, but all of them brimming with enthusiasm for the Leader and his vision – the presence of Gough Whitlam was enough to produce comparisons, although not to his humiliating failure as a prime minister. Like Gough, Mark is promising many more jobs for the middle classes in welfare and health – and no means tests.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the SMH ran an editorial which was possibly the most critical of all the comments on the launch. But not surprisingly when it is a moral certainty that the final election editorial will with gravity and “balance” recommend a vote for Labor. Not that it matters, since no-one takes any notice of SMH editorials anyway.

The male members of the press gallery (all of them at least posing as sensitive new age guys) and most of the females were impressed by the production of Latham’s wife Janine Lacy to tell people how wonderful her husband is. And some of the hacks gushingly pretended to believe that this was the Lathams’ own idea, not that of backroom spin doctors who have been keeping up with the US presidential campaign. The message to future ambitious Laborites is clear – get rid of your first wife in plenty of time so you can go to the people with a shiny new model. Not a lone feminist voice was raised to suggest that turning the missus into a political tool is not the ideal path to the future for women in politics. And what will the first gay leader of the Labor Party, a prospect not so far down the track, do?

Malcolm Farr in The Daily Telegraph let it all hang out, too, describing Latham’s Medicare package as “thoughtful and elegant, and more than merely a cash bombardment … a splendid plan … a policy worth spending money on .” He did at least let the cat peek out of the bag, reminding us that Labor is talking about $26 billion in savings, but giving no details on which programs will be cut, how many public sector jobs will go as a result.

In other words, talking only about gainers and not about losers (except rich private schools, and backpackers who will have their supeannuation contributions stolen). How can you save $26 billion without a great deal of slashing and burning? Where are Labor’s costing details? We should be told. But of course no gallery journalist is seriously asking. Labor claims that it has submitted its tax and family benefits policy just in time for costing by Treasury before the poll. But what’s the betting the details are incomplete?

The reality is that with all the acres of coverage, very little serious analysis has appeared. More and more is said about less and less, and most of it is repetitive and extremely boring. The trouble with political coverage of this election is that there are simply too many journalists with too few ideas chasing a limited supply of not very interesting information. Result: inflation and hot air.

Historical note: Not many in the press gallery would be old enough to remember, and fewer still would have read enough political history to be aware of, Doc Evatt’s desperate bid to win the 1954 federal election by bidding for the old vote – he proposed to abolish the means test on aged pensions. Of course the usual questions about where would the money come from arose. He would have lost the election anyway. And then came the Petrov defection, and he lost his marbles.

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