Julia Gillard turned on Barrie Cassidy yesterday, accusing him of behaving like a “jilted lover,” when Cassidy touched on a sensitive spot. Why, unlike every other Leader of the Opposition in an election campaign, had Kevin Rudd pulled out of appearing on Insiders, Australia’s leading political TV program?

An arrangement to appear yesterday was cancelled only a few days ago, but he was still able to appear on a light entertainment show that very evening. Cassidy, who has denied a report that he is urging the media to “declare war” on Kevin Rudd, retreated in the face of the vehemence of Ms. Gillard’s riposte.

Some in the media are now having second thoughts about the dream run most have accorded Rudd. True, journalists tend to come from the same inner city elites Kim Beazley senior so colourfully identified as having hijacked the ALP. Journalists’ political preferences should be no barrier to their observance, to the letter, of media ethics and standards. This means subjecting Labor to the same rigorous scrutiny which John Howard has always received. Howard, to his credit, never runs away from tough aggressive interviews. But with any soupçon of rigour, Rudd takes fright.

The media have much to be ashamed of concerning this election. Admittedly they have not sunk as low as their nadir, the 1999 referendum. About that, the distinguished English editor WF Deedes said he had rarely seen such “shameless bias.”

But just as one example, compare, as Cassidy did, the media frenzy over Tony Abbott being late, with the near suppression of the fact that Kevin Rudd, the Leader, was also late for his launch. Analysis, an overused term often covering no more than personal opinion, seems to be mainly restricted to formally announced policy.

Journalists are surely not automatons – but where are the investigations, for example, into crucial issues such as Labor’s likely immigration policy, or their approach to tax free superannuation which Keating says will not survive, or water policy. (Was the cancellation of the Wolfenden Dam under Rudd just an example of elite Labor’s policy total opposition to all new dams?) Where is their investigation of Rudd’s endorsement of a directly elected president, or an analysis of what he really means by ending the “blame game” with the states? Where is the analysis of the “education revolution” in the light of Kevin Rudd’s role in the dumbing down of education standards in Queensland?

Meanwhile, the editor of Sunday Telegraph has given his imprimatur to Labor, provided Rudd gives assurances that he will overrule the left wing elite union bosses in the caucus. This condition is fatuous, and the editor must know it. However much our compliant media go along with the spin that this is a presidential election, it is nothing of the sort. In our system, a prime minister is no more than primus inter pares. Rudd’s assurances, if given would be of no value whatsoever.

And in any event, on all the evidence Rudd’s claim he’s an economic conservative is as vacuous as the insertion, on American spin doctor’s advice, of the words “working families” into almost every second sentence he utters. This is sheer unadulterated capital “S” spin. On almost every issue where he could demonstrate his attachment to conservative values he voted the other way. His Queensland experience indicates he suffers from whitlamism. If there is a problem, throw money at it, ensuring that most of the money is used to establish new bureaucracies. Above all prefer centralised bureaucratic control to local direction-hence the abolition of the hospital boards. Above all, never invest in new dams.

Paul Kelly never said a truer word when he lamented that Rudd has been “remarkably free from intense media scrutiny.” Indeed.