The leadership obsession. Malcolm Turnbull had better watch out. The leadership obsession among political writers is growing again. So far this quite amazing concentration on who leads what political party has not spread to the federal Liberal Leader himself. For the moment it is his Deputy Julie Bishop featuring in the speculation but come the end of summer without any significant change in the readings of the opinion pollsters and the pundits will start turning from the sorcerer’s apprentice to the sorcerer himself. Leading the pack in this latest search for a leadership challenge is The Australian‘s Dennis Shanahan. Dennis clearly finds writing about who may or may not end up in a position of power far easier than telling his readers what those in power are actually doing with it. And he is not, of course, alone in that.

Back at the beginning of September I did a little survey for Crikey (Journalists certainly love elections) of what political stories actually appeared in the nation’s newspapers and found that nearly 12% of them were leadership speculation of one kind or another. The only more popular subject was stories based on opinion polls at 13% and they were really nothing more than another kind of approach to leadership.

But back to the Shanahan story which is being well followed by others in the press gallery herd who are already in the silly summer season mode. “Julie Bishop is under growing internal pressure to step aside as the Coalition’s Treasury spokeswoman,” he wrote this morning, ” amid growing dissatisfaction with her performance.” The nub of his argument is that Liberal MPs are becoming frustrated with Ms Bishop’s errors and her inability to have any impact on Treasurer Wayne Swan. He accuses the Deputy Liberal Leader as being plagued by plagiarism charges, accused of not having any ideas for the Liberals and making mistakes in parliament.

Perth academic Peter van Onselen joined in to dismiss Ms Bishop as “a lead weight in Turnbull’s saddle” and allege that an exasperated “Turnbull has privately complained to supporters in recent weeks that he is doing the job of both the leader and the deputy, as well as functioning as a de facto shadow treasurer.”

No doubt the Opposition Leader would have found more annoying the suggestion by John Howard’s biographer that Peter Costello is still lolling around on the backbenches as a leader in waiting. “The sands of time must pass for the federal Liberals to again rise as a political force,” Van Onselen wrote. “When they do, don’t be surprised if Costello is ready to lead.”  With gusto this morning the herd charged into the leadership story this morning. Michelle Grattan in The Age and Mark Metherell in The Sydney Morning Herald had their pieces fuelled by some wonderful hints by Ms Bishop at a conspiracy theory involving the editor of The Australian Chris Mitchell.

Covering Pasadena from Bangalore I am somewhat reluctant to mention Maureen Dowd’s column in The New York Times for fear it might put a further idea about my journalistic future in to the head of that cost cutting editor of mine at Crikey but here goes. Ms Dowd has just discovered this newspaper — the Pasadena Now — which prompted her to write that the newspaper business was probably holding “a one-way ticket to Bangalore.”

 
Pasadena Now, you see, is written by six people out of various parts of India who earn $US7.50 per 1000 words to tell the people what is going on in their Californian community. The proprietor used to employ six journalists actually in Pasadena who were paid $600 to $800 a week each. For a journalist this is a real horror story. While the newspaper business might be going bad as people turn to the internet, we scribes had not imagined that jobs would also be threatened by something called globalisation. We should be smug and complacent on that score no more as Pasadena Now shows. The product is as good as many comparable small town papers even if its authors have never been there.

Watch out foreign correspondents. The journalists who should be in danger of losing their jobs from the revolution in international communications are that breed of foreign correspondents that the ABC, the television networks and the major newspapers have spread around the globe at considerable expense. Most of their work, if not all of it, could these days be done from the head office in Australia. I mean, what sense does it make to have a bloke in Los Angeles talking earnestly about some catastrophe or other on the other side of the United States? All he is doing is looking at the same news feed that is coming just as quickly to Sydney or Melbourne. In days of old before satellites were in common use and newspapers received stories via a teleprinter (that should send some of you youngsters rushing to the dictionary) the foreign bureau had some point to it. Cutting and pasting the London and New York morning dailies to give them an Australian slant was the quickest and easiest way of covering the world. Today a journalist in the newspaper head office has immediate access to exactly the same information as his colleague thousands of miles away.

Getting ready for the next financial crisis. Some food for thought in the Los Angeles Times at the weekend. The paper added up the staggering cost of battling the current financial crisis and shuddered at the thought that the foundations are being laid for the next one. Consider this: “Just last week, new initiatives added $600 billion to lower mortgage rates, $200 billion to stimulate consumer loans and nearly $300 billion to steady Citigroup, the banking conglomerate. That pushed the potential long-term cost of the government’s varied economic rescue initiatives, including direct loans and loan guarantees, to an estimated total of $8.5 trillion — half of the entire economic output of the U.S. this year.Nor has the cash register stopped ringing. President-elect Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are expected to enact a stimulus package of $500 billion to $700 billion soon after he takes office in January.” That colossal figure caused Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget to comment that ‘there’s a huge risk of another economic crisis, a debt crisis, once we get on the other side of this one.”

Don’t let the facts stand in the way. It was as if Piers Akerman was just waiting for the chance. No sooner was there a report that Indian police revealed that at least two terrorists they had captured were British-born Pakistanis than he was off and blogging that “the murders of more than 150 people in Mumbai last week signals another milestone in the march of multiculturalism and the failure of Western and democratised nations to deal with Islamists.” As we now know there were not two terrorists captured by Indian police but one and he is a Pakistani not Britain. I am sure the apology in the Sydney Telegraph will soon accompany the correction.

Peter Fray

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