The Daily Telegraph – how could they?:

Rod Raymont writes: The reaction of The Daily Telegraph to criticism of its “How could she” headline about the abandoned baby is supremely ironic. The paper’s stock in trade is pejorative headlines, and often very personal attacks on people it believes need a public flogging. Yet when it receives some criticism, instead of taking it on the chin, it becomes incredibly defensive. Yesterday it produced two responses — in an editorial, which it is entitled to do, and what amounts to a second, opinion-laden editorial in the news pages. There was no byline for such a pejorative piece. Could it have been penned by the editor David Penberthy, who seems to be arguing that this headline didn’t mean they weren’t sensitive to the mother’s assumed plight? In short, instead of reporting the criticism straight, as the broadsheets normally do, the Tele cried (foul) like a baby. Oh, and if anyone thought the Prime Minister was going to criticise the biggest circulation newspaper in the biggest state only months before an election … to quote Mr Kerrigan in The Castle, “Tell ’em they’re dreamin!”

Kenneth Cooke writes: The public humiliation by The Telegraph of a woman who is most probably the victim of some unfortunate personal circumstances is little more than an act of bullying. Prime Minister, I hope that our schoolchildren do not take this as an example of how we should treat one another.

John Csanki writes: I disagree with John Howard on a lot of things, but as one of the average Australians you refer to (which in itself is a condescending term), I and my wife both thoroughly agree with the Prime Minister on this one. I’m sorry for the baby, who may now have to grow up never knowing her parents. As far as we are concerned, the woman who had her copped out on her responsibilities.

Katina Curtis writes: The Daily Telegraph never uses question marks in its headlines, a point which bothers my inner subeditor every time I see it. I expect this is a house-style thing, but it does mean that your comment that the Tele was “so certain in its umbrage it doesn’t even offer a question mark” (yesterday, editorial) is rather unfair regardless of the other issues about the content of their headline.

Fiona Katauskas writes: David Penberthy must be loving this drama, there’s no way he couldn’t have seen it coming. He’s one of those Murdoch proteges (and you can tell he’s just hanging out for his “GOTCHA!” moment) who think that provoking this kind of controversy is great, bare-knuckled, bloodsport journalism and as long as people are talking, it’s Tele-1, Outraged, left-wing do-gooders with no sense of what Mr and Mrs Austraya think — 0. The fact that they’re kicking people who are totally powerless and already down is completely immaterial.

Jan Forrester writes: Was the photo of a baby which was a putative ward of the state allowed/encouraged by the Melbourne hospital authorities? Why? The child’s new “parent” let it down by consenting to this media opportunity. More than political opportunism which followed, this decision made me ill. I’d like to know the Victorian law/s under which such media consent was permissable.

The feds and the Führerprinzip:

Mike Perks writes: Re. “The feds and the Führerprinzip” (yesterday, item 2). Christian, I always look forward to reading your commentary on politics –refreshing and original angles. There is one aspect that I would like you to test. I do not think that the voters have stopped listening to John Howard. Rather, I believe that the voters have stopped accepting what John Howard says. I sense that there is a vast pool of voters who thought they correctly heard what John Howard has said previously and now are upset that he has (correctly) been able to say that’s not quite what he said. There are two headline issues as examples. 1) The population thought he said that there would be no interest rate rises if re-elected last time. That was not quite what he said but they strongly believe that was the impression he meant to convey. They are bitter about being misled, the financial costs and not getting any sympathy from him. 2) Vast numbers of voters were unable to resolve the competing claims about environmental change, global warming and economic risks. They felt reassured by John Howard that we did not have to be concerned (alert but not alarmed?). Howard and Turnbull now appear to be saying that they were always dealing with the problem. My view is that many now worry that they would have to analyse John Howard’s words to get the real meaning. Guess what? Few voters will do that! In my opinion, many voters are saying that they can hear what he says but wonder what the twists and turns of language really mean. I am interested in your views. Maybe it is only a semantic difference with what you are saying.

Russell Bancroft writes: I remember speaking to a staffer of a former federal ALP minister a few days after the 1996 election. Our feeling was, well, in 1990 the economy was overheating, interest rates were high, yet we won. In 1993 we were in a recession, yet we won. In 1996 the economy was in the best shape it had been for years, and we got a whipping. As you say, the state of the economy is irrelevant if other things are occupying the minds of voters.

Vincent Burke writes: In all the talk about Howard playing catch-up with Rudd and his “curious” appearance on the 7.30 Report on Monday, no one to my knowledge has commented on how the PM has recently acquired a cheesy grin. No doubt he is trying to ape the constant (seemingly more genuine) smile adopted by Kevin Rudd. The best example was at the end of Howard’s interview with Barrie Cassidy on last Sunday’s The Insiders. With Kerry O’Brien he resorted to inane giggling. Perhaps interviews with the PM should conclude with Ricky Gervais from Extras asking incredulously, “Is he havin’ a laugh?”

Seeking a sober editorial:

Tony Early writes: Thomas Hunter’s “correction” (yesterday, comments) should have been placed up front and centre under the salutation: “Dear Sole Subscriber”, in place of that gratuitous swipe at John Howard. Are we subscribers (pro tempore) supposed to be grateful that you “favour” us with your bile-ridden thoughts and opinions in an area which should properly be the realm of more sober editorial?

Al Jazeera:

John Craig writes: Re. “Secrets and putting public interest before public duty” (Monday, item 4). I noted your recent article which drew attention to reports that US President Bush had threatened to “bomb Al Jazeera” as part of the “war against terror”. Might I respectfully suggest for your consideration that the “war on terror” is as much an information war as anything else, and that things are not necessarily as they seem. The strategy which the US administration has pursued in respect to the “war on terror” is to try to transform the Middle East. Al Jazeera is arguably the most effective weapon in the “war against terror”. It presents an Arabic perspective on the world free of control by Islamic religious authorities. I have encountered suggestions that Al Jazeera is clandestinely being funded by Israeli interests — and this is anything but impossible. It also seemed likely from a couple of reports at the time of the US-led Iraq invasion that militarily significant disinformation was being fed to Iraq through Al Jazeera. If this is the case, circulating and denying reports about threats by the US President to “bomb Al Jazeera” could easily be a means to boost its credibility in the Middle East — and thus its effectiveness in the social, economic and political transformation of the region.

The nuclear option:

Rod Campbell-Ross writes: Re. “Does the nuclear option hold water?” (yesterday, item 14). Another advantage to siting N-plants on the coast is that they can be built as combined electricity/desalination plants so that the excess heat is used to create fresh water (ie. the desal plant would not be Reverse Osmosis-based, it would use evaporation). Considering the hysteria both subjects seem to raise in Australia, suggesting a combo N-power/desal plant could be risky!

Stephen Jackson writes: Thomas Hunter comments on nuclear power station water consumption, and finishes his article saying “With our oceans rising as our glaciers and polar regions melt, water for cooling nuclear power plants is one natural resource that’s actually growing.” A fair and balanced article; however what he fails to mention is that the water being poured back into the sea can be up to 50C warmer than it was when it was sucked in for cooling. Raising the temperature of the ocean is a major contributor to global warming, and all nuclear (and other power sources that use water to cool turbines) does is add to that warming. It may not deposit CO2 into the atmosphere, but hot water is just as bad in its terms of raising temperatures and damaging delicate biospheres.

The Qantas debacle:

Linda Kenton writes: “It is understood that Margaret Jackson, the chairman of Qantas, will continue to resist any pressure to stand down from her position.” —AFR, 17 May 2007, p.14. Hardly a surprise, really! Ms Jackson’s intransigence could be put down to strength of character, or even just a thick skin. More likely, it’s just a lack of grasp of reality in the business world emerging again. Having leapt onto the pro private-equity bandwagon and shared those very public and oh, so self-congratulatory handshakes with Geoff Dixon, Ms Jackson doesn’t understand that having adopted a position so diametrically opposed to those who value Qantas as an Australian business icon, and as a critical air carrier rather than a monetary asset — and who have made this clear through their rejection of the APA bid — she now has a moral responsibility to move on. Going back to the grand strategic plan isn’t impressing anybody — if it’s that good why was the sell-off of the airline at a relatively modest price even considered? Margaret Jackson now represents a very ugly side of business in Australia where self-interest and a survival instinct overpower any true sense of commitment to representative corporate governance.

Cocaine and the law:

Andrew Collins writes: Re. “Cocaine and the law: not just one-way traffic” (yesterday, item 3). The drug problem could be cut down to nearly nothing with some bold new laws passed. It would require the states to introduce mandatory sentencing for drug possession and use, with no exceptions for minor quantities. Of course, the judiciary would not like this idea, but then again, the article yesterday shows that they are not the best people to solve the problem. The scale of the sentence would rise as the amount increased. The guilty party would be able to get a once only chance to escape conviction; if they nominate the person who sold the drugs to them (they would have to give evidence and the police able to charge the seller). Drug sellers would be in fear of being caught, right up to the major players and if the sellers dry up, so do the users. If users also face automatic sentencing, then they may think twice as at present, both sellers and users are aware that users are not targeted by police. Simple supply and demand.

University funding:

Peter Wotton writes: Re. “Howard’s universities advantage the ‘thick and rich'” (Tuesday, item 2). Federal funding of universities has declined over the term of the Howard Government from 61% of total university income to the current 41%. Do the Budget items for university funding restore the situation as it was 10 years ago? I think not. This action is not generous but may be a partial recognition that the Liberals’ approach to higher education has been badly flawed.

Advertising and editorial:

Russell Edwards writes: Re. “Holding the line between advertising and editorial” (yesterday, item 19). Interesting comment from Margaret Simons –particularly since Crikey’s current owner (the “boss” himself) was instrumental in the starting-off process she describes. The role of the editor in magazine publishing has indeed become debased in last few decades. Eric Beecher founded Text Media in the early ’90s, a company which went on to become — for a while — the market leader in custom publishing, the process whereby magazines are produced for clients (eg airlines, cars, health insurance). These titles are often indistinguishable from any other so-called “lifestyle” titles — and custom remains a highly lucrative but little known branch of magazine publishing today. The custom division of Text Media suffered poor management in its latter days (Eric sold it to Fairfax, but it has changed hands again since) and the company is no longer a major player. While I was there the practice was to appoint very junior people as editors — usually young women in their ’20s, whose role amounted to little more than saying “yes” to everything the client asked, and them forwarding on unprocessed PR to production. Design too was devalued to point where it became non-existent — the “creative” head was the production manager. So what’s next? In lifestyle publishing at least — some publishers have now dispensed with the role of editor altogether. No “irritation” there! Or big fat salary, tension with advertising or inflated ego either. And surprisingly perhaps — when looking at the end product — no one notices the absence.

Oz Story:

Michael Fisk writes: Re. “Australian Story returns to form” (Tuesday, item 25). A cowardly sleight of hand that is unworthy of you, Mr Dyer. In his unfounded rant about Australian Story last Tuesday (item 24), Glenn Dyer claimed the program’s story on Peter Foster was a “hagiography” and a free kick. That was factually wrong, given the content of the story, and it is regrettably that Dyer hasn’t corrected the record. Instead, Dyer shifts his ground, now claiming the story “diminished the standing of the program because (Foster) should not have been given the air time”. Interesting Glenn, anyone else on your black list of people whom Australian Story should not report on? Does this rule apply to Crikey? What other outlets have, or should have a banned list, Mr Dyer? The media world awaits your pronouncement. Who would have thought an outlet with Crikey’s ethos harboured such illiberal views? Seems viewers, to judge by the ratings figures, do not share Dyer’s ill-considered opinions.


Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 10: “But what about the last party?” In another context that might make sense, but he actually means “last part”. And the rogue apostrophe returns! Item 14: “coverage of its nuke-based Newspoll’s …”

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