Say, that was a nice effort in The Oz today to try to spoil Fairfax’s Nielsen poll, which — as everyone expected — confirmed that last week’s Newspoll was a rogue. “Rudd too soft on boats” it shrilled, doubtless hoping to distract from Nielsen.
When the next Newspoll two-party preferred figure emerges — presumably tomorrow — hopefully it will only show a mild uptick in the Government’s fortunes, rather than a full return to the levels being tracked by other polls (including last Friday’s Morgan poll, which had Labor 61-39). Otherwise The Oz will be stuck with the ignominy of having to write those terrible “Rudd surges back to popularity” stories. And we all know how those make Dennis Shanahan cry.
Last week demonstrates how it’s not merely politicians who try to sell us narratives. The narrative pushed by The Oz was that the Prime Minister was so mortified by the Newspoll result when he saw it last Monday evening that he immediately launched a media blitz to defend his position. So, even if the next Newspoll shows a return to the normal 2PP gap, The Oz gets to flaunt its “agenda-setting” credentials.
The timing doesn’t support that, since the Prime Minister’s media blitz was launched Monday afternoon before the Newspoll figures became available. The story also assumes that it took an opinion poll for the Government to realise it hadn’t been handling the asylum seeker issue with the aplomb it normally shows. One listen to talkback radio, or their own backbench, would have told them that.
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The notion that Rudd’s team sits in splendid isolation waiting only for News Ltd representatives to convey some evidence of what’s really happening in Voterland is a quaint and, I have to admit, kind of appealing mainstream media construct.
Despite the current statistical noise, perhaps the Newspoll was some sort of canary in the coalmine for the Government. After all, it is hard to believe the Government’s popularity can just keep on keeping on. Surely it must start to slide back to political reality eventually. But the more likely victim, should the numbers return to honeymoon levels, is The Oz itself. However much the result was a rogue number which, statistically-speaking, is simply unavoidable every so often, the impression is yet again that News Ltd has it in for Labor and skews its coverage to serve that agenda.
The problem isn’t so much of bias as of predictability. After having railed at a conference last week against “digital ghettos”, I found myself cancelling my subscription to the Weekend Australian yesterday because I found, for the umpteenth time, that I could accurately predict what virtually every columnist or commentator, and even many of its journalists, have to say.
The only constant exception is Lenore Taylor, whose analysis and journalism are consistently of the highest quality, and, oddly, Greg Sheridan, who remains torn between loathing the Left and cherishing a Prime Minister as obsessed with foreign policy as Sheridan himself. Otherwise, I don’t actually need to read it to know what I’ll be told.
Given that The Australian is, along with the narrowly-focussed AFR, the only masthead to treat national affairs seriously, it’s a deeply worrying trend given the parlous state of quality journalism in Australia.
This week, the agenda will start moving back the Government’s way. 4 Corners will cause merry hell for Malcolm Turnbull tonight on the CPRS, setting up next week’s return to Parliament for the final session of the year. The spotlight will be back where the Government wants it, on its opponents, and if history is any guide, a number of them will reflexively seize the chance to demonstrate just how disunited they are. That applies particularly to climate denialists, who are starting to believe they’re being taken seriously by the public and just need to get some more profile in order to knock this greenhouse nonsense on the head.
And just for laughs, Malcolm Turnbull’s office has now been dragged into the cesspool of NSW Liberal factional wars, with junior staffer and Turnbull’s Twitter alter-ego Tom Tudehope having to quit over something as trivial as a Downfall video.
Downfall video parodies are so 2008 — remember the plague of them about NSW Labor under Iemma? — but it was fun watching mainstream media journalists having to patiently explain to their readers that the video “shows an actor playing Hitler ranting in German to his lieutenants.” At least Julie Bishop joined in the spirit of things by saying, Sgt Schultz-like, that she “knew nothing” about the video.
The Government may have had a shocker of a week last week, but they come with the territory. For Malcolm Turnbull, every week is a shocker and they don’t look like improving any time soon.