At least two things are clear from the shenanigans of the last fortnight. One is that News Ltd is pursuing a vendetta against the Rudd Government. The other is that the Rudd Government is exploiting that vendetta to avoid scrutiny and reinforce the Prime Minister’s popularity.

Out the editorials came on the weekend,one, two, three, News Ltd mastheads justifying themselves in the wake of the faked email affair. Glenn “Tony and Tony” Milne wasn’t far behind yesterday.

The obvious prompt was ongoing criticism of News Ltd from by the Prime Minister and Julia Gillard. A more inside-the-beltway prompt might have been Laura Tingle’s revelation in her “Canberra Observed” column last Friday that the PM’s office had been briefing journalists that the email was not genuine well before News Ltd’s deadline on 19 June.

Tingle’s column was a rocket aimed directly at News Ltd’s defence of its dodgying-up of the Andrew Charlton-Godwin Grech email on 20 June: that the Prime Minister didn’t emerge to declare the email couldn’t be found until 7.30pm the evening before, so the first editions of News Ltd titles, including a graphic dressed up as an actual email exchange between Charlton and Grech, were appropriate given the evidence available. Instead, Tingle suggested it may have been payback because the Prime Minister’s Office had declined to put News Ltd journalists “on the drip” for stories.

Steve Lewis, who wrote the articles concerned, rejected the charge, without specifically addressing it, in his account on the weekend. But whether the early editions on 20 June were a conspiracy or cock-up, it’s hard to avoid the impression that News Ltd is gunning hard for the Government. Delineating this from the normal partisanship of the company’s publications can be difficult. For example, economics editor Michael Stutchbury was given the front page of the Features section of The Weekend Australian to criticise the Government, but since Stutchbury finds it impossible to give the Government any credit for its economic performance, that’s nothing new.

But Kevin Rudd — and we’ll get to him in a moment — has also been assailing News Ltd over its campaign against the education component of his stimulus package, and he is on strong ground. As we’ve pointed out previously, The Australian and other News Ltd newspapers have been flailing away on this issue to little effect for weeks, making unfounded claims and twisting the views of public figures to bolster their case. Yesterday the campaign appeared to go further, with Greg Callaghan saying that in trying to ban school league tables, the NSW Liberals were “lining up with Labor’s federal Education Minister Julia Gillard, who has declared she wants publication of the tables banned in all states”.

Gillard has declared no such thing. She doesn’t support “simplistic league tables” — in fact everyone is in furious agreement that they don’t support simplistic league tables — but she is a strong advocate of releasing comparative performance data and, for that matter, allowing the media to do whatever it wants with it.

Now, let’s be honest — all of this has little significance or interest beyond the Press Gallery. The only “take-out” most voters have from these issues is that Malcolm Turnbull tried to use a fake email, the Government is splurging a lot of money on new classrooms and halls at the local school, and Kevin wasn’t as funny as Sacha Baron Cohen on Rove. But the Prime Minister isn’t inclined to let it go through to the keeper. In fact, to persist with the cricket metaphor, he’s chasing the bowler with his bat raised. Now, every question relating faintly to probity issues prompts another shellacking of News Ltd.

Rudd is clearly confident of a couple of things — that News Ltd isn’t exactly regarded as the fountain of truth amongst voters, and that journalists aren’t rated much higher than politicians in terms of credibility.

It’s also the height of hypocrisy from Rudd. More than any previous Prime Minister, media and information management is a central part of the his political armoury. He and his advisers have a carefully-crafted strategy to maintain the PM’s image. Every statement on the public record from the Prime Minister has been carefully-prepared for maximum political effect. His attacks on News Ltd are all part of the strategy.

Gerard Henderson tackled the issue today and suggests Rudd wants to be loved and is over-sensitive. Maybe. But I suggest a more plausible explanation is that every interaction of Rudd with the media is based on an agenda of control.