Someone should hand out valium at the offices of The Australian. All last week the paper devoted front pages, editorials and opinion pages to feverish attacks on Robert Manne’s new book Dear Mr Rudd. The book is a collection of essays with policy suggestions for the new Government from a range of thinkers (including me).

From the way The Australian has been carrying on, you’d think Manne had reissued The Communist Manifesto. Judging by the jeering editorial on Wednesday and the hysterical opinion piece by Janet Albrechtsen on Thursday, in which she lashed out at just about everyone The Australian has grown to hate, the whole place seems to be in uproar over this modest little book.

The fury has been vented even before the book had gone on sale. Displaying its cavalier attitude to journalistic ethics, The Australian broke the publisher’s embargo, unleashing Howard sycophant Dennis Shanahan who immediately found a conspiracy in it.

The book is not a collection of ideas from a variety of thinkers, Shanahan deduced, but a clumsy attempt by “the Left” to lay out its demands before a pliant Mr Rudd. But Shanahan thinks the Left is in for a nasty shock. He knows that Kevin Rudd is as conservative as they come and won’t have a bar of the demands of “the Left”.

Just to prove that Manne and his co-conspirators have got it wrong The Australian sent its chief political correspondent Matthew Franklin to ask Kevin Rudd about the book.

His response was such big news that The Oz devoted its page one lead on Saturday to it under the banner “Rudd says no to Left agenda”. Franklin triumphantly reported that Kevin Rudd will not be embarking on a program of radical social and cultural change.

Thank God that’s been sorted out.

Even cartoonist Kudelka was drawn into tilting at ideological windmills, with an undergraduate gag showing a cup of latte smashing Rudd’s window and Manne’s book poking out of a waste-paper basket. No, I didn’t get it either.

After slavishly promoting the Howard Government for 11 years, the Labor victory has thrown The Australian into confusion as it frantically tries to work out how to be relevant again.

But unless you are beyond embarrassment — like Paul Kelly who has moved effortlessly from being the foremost defender of Keating to the standard bearer for Howard and, after a few short weeks, is now a fervid Ruddite – if you run with the hares and hunt with the hounds you are likely to end up eating yourself.

CRIKEY: A piece by Stephen Mayne in yesterday’s Crikey – The Oz dishes it out, but can it take it? – suggested that The Australian’s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell had a hand in preparing the Weekend Australian editorial published last Saturday. Mr Mitchell has contacted us to make clear that he was in Queensland while the Saturday edition of the newspaper was being prepared, and had nothing to do with its content. We apologise for the error.

Peter Fray

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