Charles Richardson’s criticism of the reporting of Newspoll yesterday was spot on. Yet again, Dennis Shanahan has spun a poor Newspoll for the government in a way that made it look as though Labor was the one in trouble, and yet again the rest of the nation’s media swallowed it in the usual unquestioning lemming-like fashion.

A fortnight ago, when Newspoll showed support for the Coalition up two points, Shanahan led with this and claimed it highlighted the success of the Budget and the failure of Labor’s opposition to the tax cuts. Fast forward two weeks and the Coalition’s vote falls three points and where does it get mentioned? At the end of the story. The fact that on two party preferred the government is now doing worse than it did before the Budget and worse than it did before the election is now ignored. Instead, Shanahan focuses on the most irrelevant detail, but the only one he can find to give the government a good run – the Opposition leader’s approval rating.

So when Newspoll shows the government doing well he highlights this, yet when there is a slump in support for the government suddenly this measure is irrelevant, and the Opposition leader’s approval rating gets the front page treatment. If this were just one columnist in a little-read national daily (readership – about 1% of the population) it wouldn’t matter much. But, most journalists these days are too lazy or too stupid to read the poll themselves and so simply repeat whatever spin Shanahan chooses to put in favour of Howard and his Liberal mates.

As a result we see, for example, the overnight AAP story repeating almost word for word the Shanahan spin. This then gets read, unchanged, on every commercial radio news and morning TV bulletin and drives the questions at the morning doorstop at parliament house which in turn feeds the morning and then evening news and the ABC.

End result – whatever spin Shanahan chooses to place on Newspoll becomes a fact for the entire nation. Again, this might not matter if there were competing polls but with Morgan discredited by the 2001 election forecast and Nielsen now only run intermittently by the Age and SMH, we have only one regular effective barometer of public opinion.

Newspoll is actually a very good barometer, and no-one on the Labor side has any complaints about its accuracy. The problem is that the weatherman who interprets it, chooses to do so in a way that always forecasts fine weather for the Coalition and hurricanes for Labor. This is then repeated by the senseless stenographers in the press gallery who think journalism involves nothing more than reading the front page of The Australian and then reading it back to your listeners.