Here’s how Crikey tracked the media response to Mark Latham’s retirement.

From the Crikey subscriber email 18 January:

How the media reacted to Latham

The media has not exactly covered itself in glory during Mark Latham’s brief leadership of the Labor Party and even this afternoon, the big outlets were struggling.

From the SMH website today ast 12.05pm was the headline: “He’s not quitting today: Latham office”

And check out this lit-filled Crikeyesque paragraph from The Age’swebsite this afternoon: “The focus will now move on to a who will next lead the Labor Pary with many senior figures supporting fromer leader Kim Beazley.”

Latham’s best mate and best man Joel Fitzgibbon has already been hitting the airwaves today slamming the journalists and proprietors for “an inappropriate feeding frenzy”.

It is certainly hard to think of another political figure in history who has been so publicly hung, drawn and quartered for literally doing nothing.

The Australian has led the charge on behalf of the Murdoch press and you can chalk this up as yet a victory for News Corp as another Labor leader bites the dust after a fierce campaign.

Neil Kinnock, Gough Whitlam, Joan Kirner, Bill Hayden, Michael Foot and now Mark Latham should form some sort of Labor alumni “Victims of Murdoch” club, as they all suffered big time at the hands of Rupert’s conservative outlets over the past few decades.

Then our first subscriber email for 19 January:

Media mark Latham’s fall

There are few surprises this morning in the papers’ coverage of Mark Latham’s resignation. There’s an understandable reluctance to kick a man when he’s down, and most commentators have found something nice to say about the fallen leader. One exception is Philip Adams, a long-standing Latham sceptic: “It’s the autocratic and the erratic – not the pancreatic – that’s the problem. The trouble with Mark Latham? He is to the ALP what Jonathan Shier was to the ABC. .. In their approach to high office both proved to be cures that were worse than any organisational disease.”

Michelle Grattan is only slightly less cruel: “Labor’s best prospect was that the voters wouldn’t have time to catch up with the real Latham before they passed judgement. … Latham put some fresh issues on the table that resonated with people. In fact, however, what seemed positives had a negative side that was just concealed for a while.”

Generally, however, the tone is one of regret for a man with great promise that remained unfulfilled. It’s best put perhaps by David Burchell in the Australian:

He could feel in his marrow that it was not enough to rest on Labor’s past laurels — that Labor had to understand the confidence and self-reliance that animates striving Australians today, and not be saddled with the symbolism of another era. What Labor most needs is a bout of Lathamism without Latham – the ideas and insights without the personal agonies. And at a time when too few people will be wishing Latham well, I might add: Australian politics needs Latham the visionary outsider back again.

And this tribute from Tony Stephens in the SMH: “While so many critics now see his crash as inevitable, it’s instructive to consider how he transformed politics in such a short time and how he attracted the fancy of many of those who voted for the Coalition at the election of November 2001.”

Not surprisingly, most commentators use the opportunity to give another airing to their own prejudices. A popular one, especially but not exclusively in the Murdoch tabloids, is the canard that “troops out of Iraq by Christmas” was a negative for Latham. Others put their entirely predictable views on the succession: Michael Costello in the Australian enthusiastic for Beazley, Philip Adams in the same paper just as vehemently opposed.

There’s an interesting difference, however, about how they the papers view the task that successor will be facing. Fairfax’s writers make the obvious point that a change in Liberal leadership could shake up the picture: “if John Howard retires, a Costello prime ministership might give the ALP a better prospect. A Costello-Beazley battle would be an interesting twist on the “generational” fight of 2004,” as Michelle Grattan puts it.

Similarly Tim Colebatch: “Treasurer Peter Costello, expected to be the prime minister at the 2007 election …”

But over at News Ltd, the assumption seems to be that the short man is in for the long haul. “[Beazley] is prepared to risk a third defeat by Howard” (Michael Costello). “Howard does not look like becoming a Keating-like figure any time soon” (Mike Steketee). Perhaps they know something that the rest of us don’t?

The people speak

We like the talkback caller who told Mike Carlton “I like Kevin Rudd’s intelligence. Unfortunately, so does he.” – even though we almost suspect it was Carlton putting on one his voices.

With friends like Joel Fitzgibbon – Part II

Brilliant, mate. Just brilliant. No one outside the government dirt unit had even bothered to publicly mention the talk that Iron Mark’s pancreatitis had flared up because of the turps until you opened your trap on PMlast night.

Sale ends tomorrow.

Expect more from your journalism.

Crikey is an independent Australian-owned and run outfit. It doesn’t enjoy the vast resources of the country’s main media organisations. We take seriously our responsibility to bear witness.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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