Dear Mainstream Media

Feeling better now, are we?  Finished your raging about the Government?  Or does there yet remain some spleen unvented about “insulation debacles”, “bungling Ministers” and of course those four deaths that you couldn’t care less about but that provide such a handy hook for efforts to bring our highhanded, manipulative and arrogant Prime Minister down a notch or two?

We’ve now advanced well into “Having It Both Ways” territory.  The story has switched to companies and workers displaced by the decision to overhaul the program.  Having howled for the program to be shut down, the media and the Opposition can now decry the consequences of, um, shutting it down.  On Newcastle radio this morning I was asked about Bob Baldwin criticising the Government for closing the program and putting people out of work. I had to point out that if Baldwin and his Coalition mates had had their way, no company would ever have employed anyone in the first place because the program would never have existed.

Nor, for that matter, would the standards and accreditation regime now in place that has made the insulation industry far safer than it used to be.  Although I suspect it won’t be that long before the media starts running stories about how the new, heavy-handed regulations on insulation installation are forcing ordinary Aussies out of their jobs.

“It’s a bloody shemozzle,” an angry small businessman will declare.  “There’s as much paperwork for each house as there are batts.”

Give that one time — it’ll eventually emerge.

And then there’s the commentator this morning who suggested Mossad’s forging of Australian passports had been another distraction used by Kevin Rudd, suggesting either that Rudd should have ignored it, or that the Prime Minister has a remarkable capacity to influence world events for his own short-term political ends.  Hopefully he consulted with the Jewish lobby first, because the latter have been embarrassed into an uncharacteristic silence by their Government’s antics.

The latest example of having it both ways is that Kevin Rudd — notoriously the worst micro-manager in the world, and subject to a steady stream of media criticism about how his urge to control is strangling the Government — apparently didn’t micro-manage this program enough and ought to have demanded continual briefings about it and intervened to guarantee that no one in an entire industry acted illegally or with poor judgement.

Still, the media drew blood last night with Rudd admitting, in uncharacteristically plain language, to being disappointed with himself to Kerry O’Brien. O’Brien, who was embarrassingly ill-informed about the meaning of the Minter Ellison report and convinced it was some sort of smoking gun, had spent the preceding 10 minutes demanding answers of Rudd and then, when the Prime Minister had the effrontery to actually provide them, angrily demanding different answers, ones that presumably involved Rudd donning sackcloth and ashes and flogging himself through every ceiling in the country.

We also had an extensive display of that special O’Brien pause that Malcolm Turnbull pinged last year, where O’Brien asks a question, pauses long enough to invite his interlocutor to answer, before cutting them off mid-sentence to make a further inquiry that may or may not relate to the previous question.  It’s a pause that, far from refreshing, seems designed to trip up interviewees, unless you’re Turnbull and take to asking O’Brien if he’s finished talking and you can have a go now.

But sackcloth and ashes is eventually what he got.

The media’s pursuit of this issue has been more about payback for Rudd than about the facts, which have been studiously ignored in a welter of critical adjectives and blithe assertions of incompetence and guilt.  And there’s more than a little justice in this.  Rudd and his team have taken media manipulation to a higher level than ever before seen in Australian politics, and upset a very great many journalists in the process.  That they’ve spent the past fortnight trying to cope with the media manipulating them is hardly unjust. What goes around comes around, and they’ve discovered they have no goodwill to fall back on in the gallery. No one is feeling a shred of sympathy for Rudd and nor should they.

Question is, has this episode exhausted the media’s long-frustrated desire to give Rudd a shellacking, or is it the start of more permanent phase of press hostility?

Peter Fray

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