The Sydney media’s ferocious assault on the new NSW Government led by Premier Nathan Rees is a case study on how to create a “new reality” in public consciousness.

Most citizens of NSW were fed up to the back teeth with Premier Morris Iemma, Treasurer Michael Costa, Health Minister Reba Meagher and Planning Minister Frank Sartor.

In five dramatic days they were all cast out of office and a new administration chosen. But Nathan appears to have committed the cardinal sin of not asking Fairfax and News Ltd if he could have their permission to become premier.

They believe, of course, that they are the gatekeepers of political power in NSW and they are angry that they didn’t see Rees coming and he didn’t notify them in advance and take them into his confidence.

The Sydney Morning Herald set the tone at the weekend with the toffy front-page headline: “It’s Premier Who? Iemma dumped for ex-garbo.”

It was followed by Monday’s editorial which argued the Rees Cabinet wasn’t an A-team (as he had claimed) or even a B-team but a C-team. The “C team” line was picked up across the Sydney media and then reaffirmed on today’s SMH front page with the blaring headline: “Here’s my A-team, says Rees … shame about our AAA rating.”

If ever a newspaper was run by a bunch of B and C-grade operators it’s today’s SMH, but let’s not dwell there. This is not the time to list its out-of-touch, out-of-date lunar columnists.

Over at The Daily Telegraph the Rees bashing was also in full swing. “Rees fails first test — Angry public turns on Premier over Cabinet deals“, roared today’s front page.

And inside, incredibly, the bovine stupidities of Piers Akerman were displayed under the headline: “Back-room boys still hold the real power — The top jobs have been given to the old lags“. (Congratulations to the sub-editor who wrote that sub-heading outing Akerman for what he is). And this was followed by another crass cartoon depicting Rees as a blue singleted garbo.

While the Sydney media class seems to find it either offensive or hilarious that the new premier once worked as a garbage collector — to help pay his way through university — the general public (if talkback radio and letters to the editor are any guide) find his CV admirable and intriguing.

His decision to accept Joe Tripodi in his first Cabinet was regrettable, but I didn’t hear the same screams of disapproval when former premier Bob Carr made him Housing Minister in February 2005 and Iemma promoted him to roads minister six months later.

The facts are that the hegemony of the NSW right over the premiership has been shattered, the right’s head honchos have gone and Tripodi has survived simply because it is better to have him inside the tent rather than outside pissing in.

The media is not just furious with the upstart Rees but with Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell for failing to fall into line with their demands for him to support power privatization. The total implosion of the ALP government one week later has richly vindicated O’Farrell’s decision.

Sydney newspaper readers can expect the next six months to be dominated by double-barreled attacks on Rees and O’Farrell as the media assumes for itself a new role as Her Majesty’s “People’s Opposition”. Put on your tin helmet for an incoming fussilade of irresponsible, destructive and exaggerated scribbling about the State’s political class.

British Tory Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin faced an assault like this in the 1931 general election from the press barons Lord Rothermere and Lord Beaverbrook. He counter-attacked saying:

What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot through the ages.

The Sydney media owners aren’t chasing power but something altogether more mundane — paper sales to arrest their declining circulations.

Peter Fray

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