Sydney’s Daily Telegraph needed a friend yesterday after getting a right bollocking on the radio for the insensitivity of its page one splash about poor little baby Catherine dumped by her mother on a hospital door step on Mother’s Day.

‘HOW COULD SHE’ screamed The Tele which caused others, including former Victorian Premier and current Beyond Blue boss Jeff Kennett to reply: “How could they?”

Along to the rescue came Prime Minister John Howard with “Can I just say in defence of the Tele that that’s what most people say?” Mr Howard told the ABC’s World Today program: “That’s a normal human reaction. I mean I feel for the mother, I feel for the baby, I feel for the woman’s family. But fair go to the Tele, after all, that is the natural reaction. You go out on the street and talk to ordinary people that’s what they would say : ‘How could you abandon a little baby’?”

The words were gratefully received at the Tele which acknowledged them in this morning’s editorial as it tried to suggest that its headline was simply asking: how tragically confused and unwell must a mother be to dump her own child just minutes after its birth?

All of which matters very little in the overall scheme of political things but for what it shows about the Prime Ministerial interest in keeping on the good side of his home town paper.

Mr Howard is right to be a little apprehensive about the way that the Murdoch press will treat him if he continues to look like a loser. Continuing to let the relentless bagging of Labor by columnists Piers Akerman in the Tele and Andrew Bolt in the Melbourne Herald Sun influence the news coverage of these biggest selling tabloids in the country is important to the Coalition cause. But to continue with the anti-Labor campaign only for Labor to still win would put an end to the illusion of power which Rupert Murdoch uses to his advantage so ruthlessly.

The time for more balanced coverage – or, worse still for Howard, a pro-Labor bias – cannot be far away and the commitment of News to the cause of limiting carbon emissions would already be troubling enough to Mr Howard. Uttering a few words of support about the treatment of a motherless child is a small price to pay to delay the day of reckoning.

In two of the other Murdoch tabloids this morning there was a sign that the mood is changing. In The Adelaide Advertiser the paper’s political editor Mark Kenny speculated that “poor poll results have sent shockwaves through the Federal Government, causing some to question whether they should have changed the leadership last year when they had the chance. MPs contacted by The Advertiser yesterday said there was “no logic” in talking about a change from Prime Minister John Howard to Treasurer Peter Costello this close to an election. One MP, however, admitted some were ‘now wondering whether we shouldn’t have made the switch last year when the leadership was a live issue’.”

The Brisbane Courier Mail’s Clinton Porteous was every bit as unkind to the PM with his report that “disastrous opinion poll results for the federal Coalition are starting to trigger backbench unease over the decision to keep John Howard in the top job. Several Liberal MPs said yesterday that Labor’s big lead showed the Coalition should have swapped leaders and handed Treasurer Peter Costello the leadership last year.”

Whatever happens with the papers that ordinary Australians actually read, The Australian is unlikely to change. It long ago abandoned any attempt at fairness having made the decision that advertising revenue is maximized by being a mouthpiece for the business community. This morning The Oz was still hiding away any assessment of how bad the polls are for Mr Howard and his government.