Tim Palmer Channels Tammy Wynette (1942-1998)

Nancy is completely taken by Lateline executive producer Tim Palmer’s tactic of introducing stories with moving images unconnected to the topic at hand. Last Monday MWD turned on Lateline.  First up on the run-down was a clip of the late Tammy Wynette singing “Stand By Your Man”. Presenter Tony Jones led off the program with the words: “Tonight, a song for Malcolm”. It turned out that the lyrics and music provided background sound to images of Liberal Party heavies Christopher Pyne, Nick Minchin, Andrew Robb and Tony Abbott — who were supporting their leader Malcolm Turnbull.

This segment ended with footage of the Liberal Party leader over the background of the refrain: “And if you love him/Oh be proud of him/’Cause after all/He’s just a man.”

Brilliant stuff for the public broadcaster’s leading current affairs program, don’t you think? Perhaps the powers-that-be at the ABC will arrange for the next edition of Rage to be led-off with a speech by Kevin Rudd or Malcolm Turnbull — or perhaps even a (long) dissertation from Guy Rundle, sung to the tune of something or other.


Writing in The Australian on 5 June 2009, ABC 1 Lateline co-presenter Leigh Sales declared her belief that there should be more discussion on the issue of climate change. The article was an extract from her recently published essay On Doubt (MUP).  The following day, a certain Rowena Wicks from St Ives NSW wrote to The Weekend Australian in the following terms:

Leigh Sales writes: “… climate change is an area in which we should allow room for doubt … doubters have an important role to play, both in terms of the science and the policy responses”.  Fair enough. It’s just too bad that the TV program she co-hosts has all but silenced sceptical and dissenting views on climate change. Since the Howard election loss in November 2007, the ABC’s Lateline has interviewed only one sceptic — Ian Plimer, last month — and he was harassed and treated with contempt by host Tony Jones. In contrast, believers “in the science” get a free run all too often. That’s the ABC’s right (at taxpayers’ expense, mind you), but Sales would have more credibility if she got off the moral high ground and ceased her sanctimonious and hypocritical lecturing on your opinion pages.

[By the way, has Ms Sales ever provided the evidence for her claim in On Doubt that the religious true-believer Martin Luther was loaded up with self-doubt? – Ed]

So, how is Lateline going about complying with Leigh Sales call for genuine debate about climate change on Lateline? Here’s how:

▪  Monday 30 June 2009. Lateline presenter Tony Jones introduced a segment on the vote in the United States House of Representatives to limit greenhouse emissions. Then it was over to reporter Margot O’Neill.

Ms O’Neill interviewed two commentators — and, true to the current Lateline tradition, they agreed with each other that something must be done about climate change.  Right now. First up there was the Climate Institute’s Erwin Jackson. The ABC Radio National Breakfast program likes to claim that the Climate Institute is an independent organisation (See Issue 2). In fact, it is an advocacy group. Then it was over to Andrew Macintosh of the Australian National University’s Climate Law and Policy Centre. Another advocate for action on climate change. And then archival footage was shown of a comment made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Rajendra Pachauri. Yet another advocate.

Say no more. Except that Ms O’Neill’s report was illustrated with colour footage of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires along with such destructive scenes as beach erosion, violent storms and devastating drought. All this assumes that Lateline viewers have such short attention spans that is necessary to keep them awake with colour and moving images supporting the program’s line. By the way, no footage was shown of the disastrous Victorian bush fires of 1939 and 1851 — since such material would not have supported Lateline’s line.

Then it was over to a (friendly) lengthy interview between Mr Jones and environmentalist Tim Flannnery — who now boasts the brand new title of Chairman, Copenhagen Council. Could this be what Ms Sales has in mind?

▪  Wednesday 1 June 2009. Margot O’Neill did a story on the Rudd Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. This time, the only commentator interviewed was Richard Dennis from the left-wing Australia Institute – another advocacy group. He got two gigs in O’Neill’s segment. Lateline illustrated its story with footage of a cyclone and, of course, the 2009 Victoria Bushfires (but not the events of 1939 or 1851) plus beach erosion. Dr Dennis, an economist by training, bagged the Rudd Government’s CPRS for being poorly formulated and not going far enough in taking on the coal industry.

Then it was over to a (very friendly) lengthy interview between Mr Jones and Greens Senator Bob Brown, who on one occasion, was simply addressed by Tony Jones as “Bob”.

For the record, your man “Bob” was able to get away with the assertion that the Rudd Government’s CPRS scheme would, on its own, lead to the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef. This, despite the fact that Australia producers just over one per cent of total global emissions. Could this be what Ms Sales has in mind when she calls for debate on climate change?


MWD is a fan of Fox News — which carries a greater diversity of views among its regular commentators than does the ABC or SBS — along with Australia’s Sky News. However, there is evidence that the Sky News PM Agenda program seems to be following the ABC tradition of setting up discussions where everyone (or almost everyone) agrees with everyone else — in the current Lateline tradition on climate change matters.

Last Tuesday, for example, compere David Speers interviewed The Age’s Michelle Grattan and the Sydney Morning Herald’s David Marr on, inter alia, border protection. David agreed with Michelle who agreed with David who agreed with David [Are you sure it was in this order? – Ed] that unauthorised entry to Australia only becomes a big issue in Australia when a government is beating up the issue – such as in the days of the Howard Government — and that the Rudd Labor Government would not do this.

Marr maintained that only governments can run “panics” on unlawful immigration and expressed the view that the Rudd Government would not run the kind of “panic” that the Howard Government did in 2001. Grattan said that “the issue will come and go” and she declared that the Coalition Opposition would be “foolish” to elevate the matter. Then Michelle declared: “We have moved on, as David has said”.

Everyone was so busy agreeing with everyone else that neither Speers nor Grattan said a word when Marr made the following point:

It’s the people that come by boat that are the refugees. The people who come by air, and then apply for refugee status, they are overwhelmingly — by vast majority — they are fakes. The real ones come by boat.

This statement happens to be quite inaccurate. In fact, quite a lot of asylum seekers — who arrived by air — have been found to be genuine refugees.


There was an almost similar atmosphere when David Speers interviewed The Age’s Misha Schubert and The Australian’s Jennifer Hewitt the following day. This time the focus was on Afghanistan — in particular Malcolm Turnbull’s recently concluded visit to that nation. Let’s go to the audio tape.

David Speers: Malcolm Turnbull, as we found out today, has been in Afghanistan, Misha, the last few days. I actually understand he’s been trying to get there since November, not long after he became leader. But, em…

Misha Schubert: One hesitates to make the quip that this could be the safest place for him right now…

In fact, Ms Schubert did not hesitate to make this quip at all.  Then she laughed loudly at her own joke — and Mr Speers joined in. Then the PM Agenda presenter went into philosophical mode — when he reflected:

DS:  It probably gave him [Malcolm Turnbull] a bit of perspective, I’m sure, when he’s getting hammered about opinion polls, to go and see a country where, you know, well – the media doesn’t get quite as flustered about opinion polls there as they do here…

Good point. Perhaps he is learning comparative history from, say, Guy Rundle.

Then Speers put it to Hewitt that Malcolm Turnbull’s trip to Afghanistan was pretty much a waste of time:

But Jennifer he [Malcolm Turnbull] only spent one night there, two days.  Those visits are often fleeting like that when they involve politicians.  They don’t spend a lot of time on the ground.  They don’t go outside the wire, as it’s called.  They stay well and truly within the confines of the military base and meet some of the troops there. And he did that and went to the trade training school they like to show off to the visiting politicians, and media as well, there. A worthwhile trip, do you think?

Speers seemed quite shocked when Hewitt responded that, well, the trip might be worthwhile after all.  You got the impression that this wasn’t in the script.  Shame, Hewitt, shame.


Meanwhile, on ABC Radio News at midday on 1 July, the Opposition Leader’s visit to Australian Defence Force members in the Afghanistan theatre was introduced as: “Malcolm Turnbull ducks for cover in Afghanistan”. How fair and balanced can you get?

Not to be outdone, the following morning on ABC 2 News Breakfast Canberra based journalist Kirrin McKechnie said that Turnbull’s decision to go to Afghanistan was a “good tactic”. It had to be pointed out to her that the Opposition leader’s trip had been planned as long ago as November 2008.

All up, Ms McKechnie did not have much of a week. On Monday she told viewers of News Breakfast: “Congress in the US has voted to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the US and that will really influence debate here.” In fact, the US House of Representatives passed this legislation by a narrow margin. The matter is yet to go to the US Senate — the other half of Congress.


Bob Ellis made a welcome return to ABC’s Unleashed website yesterday. Good move — since MWD needs copy.

MWD was particularly taken by The False Prophet’s assertion that David Hicks “has caused less harm in his life thus far than the average Kings Cross bouncer”. There must be a few well travelled bouncers at Sydney’s Cross.

For we know from David Hicks’ correspondence with his family — which was released to the media by his family — that he (i) joined the Taliban, (ii) praised Islamist beheadings for those who disagree with Mohammed, (iii) attempted to kill individuals on the Indian side of the Kashmir line-of-control when firing on targets from the Pakistan side of the line-of-control and (iv) advocated the overthrow of what he termed “Western Jewish domination”. There is also evidence that, while in Guantanamo, David Hicks involved himself in the practice of catching mice and stringing them up in his cell — disturbing behaviour to those who are familiar with literature on cruelty to animals inflicted by boys or young men.

All would make your average Kings Cross bouncer appear somewhat wimpish. More of The False Prophet, and other matters, next time.


Good News. MWD readers have contributed an extra two body bags for The Chaser Boys’ return trip from Mecca. However, some additional financial support for the one-way air fares would be appreciated. Judging by the boring nature of The Chaser’s War on Everything (except Islam) last week and the program’s declining ratings, the funds may be needed sooner than anticipated.

Until next time.