Standards are slipping at The Oz. Today “Cut & Paste” has an airswing at Crikey over the G20 phone call — or as 4BC’s Michael Smith tartly terms it, “Speakerphonegate”. C&P’s anonymous author clearly hasn’t read the in-house rules, which require that all references to Crikey are preceded by the term “gossip website”.

However, you’d have to reckon that the unlikely combination of Richard Farmer and David Flint have never been jointly upbraided before.

First witness for the prosecution is Richard Farmer’s reference to the protocol relating to “private dinnertable chatter”.

“Crikey’s attack falls flat,” C&P triumphantly declared, “because it wasn’t a dinner.”

Ouch. Where’s Osric to declare “a hit, a palpable hit”?

Farmer clearly should’ve referred to “private-coffeetable-with-after-dinner-mints-and-tokay chatter”. Although you’d bet the Prime Minister himself wasn’t drinking alcohol that night. He’s the sort of guy who likes to stay in control.

C&P then takes Crikey’s high popular contributor David Flint to task as well, for getting a crucial date wrong — the original report was on the 25th, not the 24th. Flinty must be slapping his forehead — albeit effetely — in dismay at that howler. In fact, as Flint has pointed out in a letter to them, the 24th was the date of online publication. Flint and The Oz have plenty of history, dating back to the republic debate at the turn of the century, when the national broadsheet openly campaigned for a Yes vote. And when it comes to reason like that, Flint never forgives or forgets.

The column points out that The Oz reported the issue three times, in addition to an opinion piece by Greg Sheridan — still evidently bidding to write the authorised Dubya biography — and, finally, Dennis Shanahan this week.

Our criticism of The Oz is that it has ducked this story, ducked it because its editor is conflicted, given he was present and almost certainly played a role in its dissemination. Flat reportage of Opposition statements doesn’t amount to investigation or analysis. Particularly not when it comes to the way The Australian normally handles anything faintly critical of the non-conservative side of politics.

Let’s compare and contrast its beat-up of an alleged difference between the RBA and Treasury over the bank deposit guarantee. This was first reported on 21 October, with the entirely incorrect statement that the Government ignored RBA warnings when it decided on its bank deposit guarantee on 12 October. This claim has been demolished by Ken Henry and Glenn Stevens but The Oz has never admitted it was wrong. With capital letters and exclamation mark.

In fact, far from admitting a howling error, it continued to claim there was a major dispute between the RBA and Treasury over the issue. John Stone was brought out of cryogenic storage — or was it via a séance — to declare, absurdly, that the independent RBA Governor should’ve been in Cabinet for the decision on the guarantee. Then there were claims of government “backflips” on the issue.

The attack was derailed slightly when Malcolm Turnbull started talking about sacking Ken Henry, Don Randall attacked Glenn Stevens and Opposition senators disgraced themselves at Estimates, but Dennis Shanahan kept up the coverage of the issue as it was pursued in Parliament.

There were articles on “crisis talks” despite there being not the slightest evidence of any crisis, beyond The Australian’s front-page stories of poor little rich investors who’d had their funds frozen. Terry McCrann weighed in a week later with an attack on Henry almost incoherent — well, okay, even more incoherent than McCrann usually is — in its fury. Mike Steketee was going on about how the Government had “bungled” the guarantee. Michael Stutchbury joined in.

In short, even on an issue where it was blatantly and demonstrably wrong, The Australian piled in journalists after journalist, commentator after commentator, to hammer the government. Bang bang bang.

We could’ve used just a fraction of that vigour on who leaked Rudd’s phone call and what Chris Mitchell had to do with it.

Peter Fray

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