To understand why the “Big Guns of Politics” have fired on Sunrise for the last time it’s worth remembering the one sure thing about the politics of Rupert Murdoch’s News group.
The eclectic tastes of the world’s most powerful media man — which have seen him wholeheartedly support a Gough Whitlam and a Malcolm Fraser, a Bob Hawke and a John Howard, a Tony Blair and a Margaret Thatcher, a Ronald Reagan and a Hillary Clinton — have one thing in common: all of those supported were likely winners.
The might of the News Corporation media is only thrown behind those who are in front and look like staying there. When the result looks too close to call, the company’s editors follow the master’s line and adopt a policy of impartiality. Which is what makes the recent reporting in Australia of Kevin Rudd’s troubles with Anzac Day a salutary reminder that not everyone believes the opinion polls that show Labor is on its way to a comfortable victory in the federal election later this year.
Another page one in the Daily Telegraph last Saturday rubbishing the Opposition Leader’s involvement with the Seven Network’s Sunrise program and its plans for a sham dawn service from Vietnam to fit in with prime-breakfast-time viewing showed the Murdoch empire still believes John Howard is in the race with a good chance.
The concentration that the Tele, the empire’s flagship paper for influence — and, to a slightly lesser extent, The Australian — has given to this evidence of weaknesses in Rudd’s political judgement is just what the PM would have ordered. Tarnishing the image of the Labor leader is a necessary prerequisite to the Coalition winning again.
The Packer family is also capable of exerting a little influence, although it took Rudd a while to realise that his weekly appearances on Sunrise made the other television networks resentful. On Sixty Minutes this week, Channel 9, while not savage in its profile, did concentrate on the disputed version of the Rudd childhood that has raised questions about his honesty. Just asking a politician a couple of times whether he always tells the truth is enough to put the thought in the minds of viewers that maybe they cannot believe everything the man says.
It was a wise decision by Rudd, after this gentle reminder of the Packer ability to influence public opinion, to put an end to appearances on Sunrise. What was not so wise was the reaction of Prime Minister John Howard to the end of this television affair.
Viewers, it appears, quite liked the civilised way that Messrs Rudd and Joe Hockey sparred their way through the five years of their double act. Many voters, probably a substantial majority of them, believe politicians should be able to politely discuss their differing opinions, yet Mr Howard yesterday declared that the Sunrise version was not appropriate.
To compound the impression of churlishness, Mr Howard could not resist having a personal dig at his opponent. Rudd, the PM asserted, had been less than truthful about the Anzac Day fiasco and his conduct “will leave a bad taste in the mouths of many people”.
The evidence of this morning’s Newspoll is that attempts to pull back Labor’s lead by attacking the party leader are having no success. It is as if people are not making a judgement about Kevin Rudd so much as a judgement about John Howard.
There are shades of 1983 about it and, as Malcolm Fraser found that year, when it was clear that the drover’s dog could beat him, the Murdoch press quickly rediscovered fairness in its political coverage.