He’s had a bad week by any measure, but an alert and confident looking John Howard faced Kerry O’Brien on last night’s 7.30 Report.

It was a reminder that Howard thrives on adversity; his reference to “a struggling Leader of the Opposition” was initially misunderstood, but Howard has not forgotten the late 1980s when almost every commentator had written him off.

Conversation then turned to Iraq, and O’Brien confronted him with an American opinion poll showing that 82% of Iraqis have little or no confidence in the occupying forces. In addition (although O’Brien didn’t cite these), only 39% think their lives are going well, while 51% now approve of attacks on US troops.

But Howard was ready for this: he had results from a different poll, conducted by a British firm, which showed, as he put it, that “on a two to one basis Iraqis believed they were better off now than under Saddam and also that they didn’t think it was a civil war.”

In fact, the two polls are not all that different: those who think they are better off than under Saddam amount to 49% in one and 42% in the other. And Howard quickly acknowledged – “in the interests of full disclosure” – that even the poll he was citing showed that a majority thought the country would be better off without the occupiers.

But whereas the prime minister felt it necessary to make that concession up front, The Australian’s report yesterday chose to bury it in the 21st paragraph, and the paper’s editorial today just doesn’t mention it at all.

That doesn’t mean Howard is being non-partisan, but he’s a smart enough tactician to know that the bad news has less impact if you announce it yourself rather than waiting for someone else to throw it at you.

Either the Oz hasn’t learned that lesson, or else it thinks that, with no Kerry O’Brien sitting across the desk, it can give its partisanship full rein.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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