Another day on which to join the dots to get the picture on how Canberra works, and once again to ask the question: can the Gallery actually get a story without having to rely on noxious drip feeds?

How healthy is a culture in which a major story with political implications comes to us via a network including one of the most notorious knuckle-dragging tabloid shockers in the industry (Col Allen), a journalist notorious for his own drunken indiscretion (Glenn Milne), and, it has been claimed, the almost perpetually hot under the collar staff of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer.

Leave aside for the moment whether Kevin Rudd’s trip to a strip club is a legitimate story or not, and whether it will or should affect him in the polls.

Look, rather, at how this became a story. Clearly it has been gossiped about, and even mentioned in interjections in Parliament by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. But nobody published it. Therefore it wasn’t a story – up until last Sunday.

What, then, is the definition of a story? Apparently the answer is that a story is anything that gets treated as a story. Therefore all it takes is one journalist – Glenn Milne – to write about it, and suddenly a brief drunken trip to a nightclub four years ago is a serious political yarn, with Michelle Grattan opining on Radio National breakfast, and every other journalist from here to Christmas banging on about it as well.

Not only do they get to bang on, but they can also opine about how the publication and discussion of this sort of stuff brings politics into disrepute. And the story becomes a discussion about whether it is, was, or should be a story. All with links provided to the pole dancers at the night club in question. Lordy lordy.

Why Milne? Apart from the irony of Milne having been very publicly embarrassed by his own drunken indiscretions there is no denying he is good at picking up and publishing Canberra gossip that others either don’t hear, or else think better of publishing. There was the Brogden imbroglio and the Costello-Howard Kirribilli style notes-in-the-wallet affair. The latter, to be fair, was a good yarn involving a modicum of legwork.

Does this make Milne an exception to the pack mentality? Someone prepared to go out on a limb? Certainly. Whether this is always a good thing, given that his reporting strays into unsubstantiated and salacious rumour, is another.

Even in the latest Rudd effort, a straight and possibly legitimate story was converted into scuttlebutt by the unsourced and scurrilous suggestion that Rudd had been asked to leave after touching up the dancers – so far denied by all who were there. Who made these allegations, given that all who were present have denied them? We will never know, but clearly the are no more than gossip.

And, for goodness sake, Col Allen, who is variously described in today’s papers as “knockabout”, “larrikin”, “famously brash” and “pugnacious”. They are all euphemisms. There is a nice profile here in which Allen is described as a bully by Stuart Littlemore, and Allen himself admits to occasionally pissing in his office sink during news conferences.

One wonders by what standard Allen judged Rudd’s behaviour in order to pronounce it gentlemanly.

Lets hope we can all soon move on.

Peter Fray

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