Our man in the Press Gallery, Hugo Kelly, reports on the media pack mentality that’s affecting the election:
The pundits have made up their minds: John Howard’s got the election in the bag.

Last night, the Murdoch political drones decided amongst themselves on
their weekly Sky election panel that John Howard would be returned on
Saturday.

There is a theme developing, here.

A few days earlier, Murdoch’s Sunday Tele asked a crew of 10
professional observers and hangers-on to make their call. Just two
of them – former Labor Senator Stephen Loosley, and superannuated
Democrat Don Chipp – called it for Labor.

Six called it for the Coalition:

Glenn Milne – Coalition by 4;
John Hewson – Coalition by 6;
John Laws – Coalition by 6;
Ray Hadley – Coaliton by 4;
Bookmaker Gerard Daffy – Coalition by 6
Piers Akerman – Coalition by 5

Sky political correspondent David Speers and Ten’s Paul Bongiorno took
the resonable approach – a buck each way. Speers simply said it was too
close to call, while Bongiorno predicted a hung parliament, with Howard
governing with support from Independents .

Out in the field, the only reporter bucking the trend was the Sunday Age’sPhil Hudson, who told readers: “There is a sense about Latham and those around him that they now believe they will win on October 9.”

The overwhelming confidence from the press and pundits in a Coalition
win is puzzling, given the polls are universally calling it a tight
finish.

In an election this close, it’s problematic to make predictions a week
out. And if they are merely imperfect observations made from the
comfort of the Press Gallery, they’re harmless.

However, the predictions reflect a clear view from the media that Labor will fall short on October 9.

And it may still do.

The fact is, however, that prophecy has a habit of fulfilling itself,
and the near unanimity of the view from the press gallery has the
potential to affect the election outcome.

Just look at the media’s coverage this past week:

“The media now must turn its thoughts to what a Latham Government would
actually mean,” we wrote Last Thursday. “Stand by for plenty of
Saturday reads in the papers about the Latham agenda.”

Well, we waited, and waited. But no-one has attempted to put together a
thorough analysis of what a Latham government would look like.

Several senior journalists secured interviews with Latham. In the Courier-Mail, Dennis Atkins used his wisely: “Latham’s vision for handover of power”. Atkins fleshed out plans for a business round table advisory group on
economic policy, a formal apology to the stolen generation, and hosing
down fears of ‘Whitlam-style’ whirlwind changes.

In The Oz, Mike Steketee chose to analyse what he sees as the
change of John Howard from a conviction politician to a
whatever-it-takes pollie.

In Saturday’s SMH, Paul Sheehan wasted a page on navel gazing about the electorate’s disconnect with politics:

http://www.smh.com.au/text/articles/2004/10/01/1096527941005.html

And that was the theme. No cogent analysis of how a Latham win would change the nation – as it surely would.

It is clear that senior journalists are having trouble getting their
minds across a Latham government. They appear to have taken at face
value Paul Kelly’s notion that Latham is “a work in progress” – with
the inherent implication that his time is yet to come.

And this is part of Labor’s problem. With the media not taking the
possibility of a Latham Government seriously, this is being reflected
in their coverage and in perceptions in the electorate.

Meanwhile, over on the Sunday Tele, Glenn Milne was
push-polling for John Howard, using an interview with Latham to try an
nail down a promise on tax rises. Apart from the front page splash, the
Terror went big on the Milne
beat-up: ‘Tax evasion’, screamed Jeni Cooper’s headline on the inside
splash. “Latham refuses to rule out increases.”

The Milne lie was nailed by Laurie Oakes a few hours later. With Howard
banging on about it during his ‘Sunday’ interview, the Sphere of
Influence retorted:

LAURIE OAKES: Well, if you say that he’s dodged the question in this morning’s newspaper, if you read page one of the Sunday Telegraph
that’s the case. But if you read through to page 104, which I suppose
most people won’t, you find that what he actually said was that he was
prepared to give a commitment of no tax increases apart from those he’s
announced in the campaign. That’s not dodging it.

Milne concluded in his page 104 column that Latham is making an
“admirable” judgement by refusing to use the form of words dictated by
Milne. “But he must know that the Government will jump all over this in
the critical last week of the campaign.”

Quite.

While we’ve grown to expect the kind of shallow and cynical journalism
Glenn Milne delivers, the rest of the gallery can do better.

Latham’s team can take some of the blame for getting the media offside.
Certainly, yesterday’s farcical attempt at secret stage-managing of the
forests policy p*ssed off the travelling media.

Laurie Oakes was very tetchy in his report for Nine News last night.

He condemned the “farcical secrecy” of Latham’s trip to Hobart and
reported that Iron Mark “sneaked away to avoid loggers protests,”
before warning that Labor stands to lose up to three seats through the
policy.

A warning magnified by the Herald Sun this morning:

“MARK Latham faced a stinging backlash last night after his pledge to
save Tasmania’s old growth forests,” wrote anti-Greenie Gerard McManus
and former state politics reporter John Gerguson.

Less strident were the ABC’s Jim Middleton and Seven’s Mark Riley, who
characterised Latham’s announcement as a plan “ease the squeeze on
trees”, and showed impressive shots of vast forests to be saved from
the chainsaw.

But the prevailing mood amongst the media is clear: Howard is heading for a narrow win.

And this “group think” has a direct impact on the “feel” of the
campaign. Aside from the individual analysis of policies, where is
comprehensive analysis of what a Latham Government would look like?

Where is the big picture, the Vision Thing?

Surely it’s not too hard?