Judging by the frantic self-justification yesterday and today, the penny has dropped at The Australian that they have overplayed their hand in declaring their desire to destroy the Greens.
This is a significant addition to our understanding of News Ltd’s agenda. I predicted the day after the election that this secretive, unaccountable American and Saudi-owned media company would go after the Greens, but I never thought it would be baldly stated as an editorial goal of the paper.
It’s one thing to be biased in your coverage. The paper’s consistent partisanship and open hostility to Labor is taken as read by all except its most blinkered adherents — even, perhaps, by its own journalists, some of whom are prone to reassuring people outside the News Ltd bubble that they don’t really agree with many of the things they write and shouldn’t be judged on them. And to an extent it’s understandable, given the paper’s declining readership that skews much older and wealthier than even other newspapers.
But its declaration of war on the Greens is a whole step beyond that.
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Doubtless at some point after that editorial, the penny dropped in the minds of News executives and Chris Mitchell that, having declared that the goal of the paper was the destruction of the Greens, nothing The Australian reported about the Greens could henceforth be taken at face value. Anything it reports about the Greens, or policy issues of concern to the Greens, is now automatically suspect. How can anyone trust it to report accurately on the Greens or environmental issues?
The ABC, which is used to taking its late night and morning news agenda cues pretty much directly from The Australian, will now have to vet and fact-check even the most anodyne report if it touches on a party that outlet has vowed to destroy.
Such a declaration can now not be withdrawn without inviting even more ridicule than has already been heaped on the paper. Thus the rather frantic tone of self-justification over recent days. In the single funniest editorial of perhaps the past decade, The Australian yesterday declared itself the victim of a conspiracy by the ABC and Fairfax to undermine its quality journalism. Perhaps annoyed that its clear intent to delegitimise the new Labor minority Government was identified so early, it declared that The Oz was the real victim of delegitimisation — delegitimisation of its coverage. Its media writers — who are front and centre on many a campaign of import to News Ltd’s commercial interests — have also joined in. Chief Kool-Aid guzzler Caroline Overington devoted most of her Monday media column to hectoring Laura Tingle and David Marr. And today Geoff Elliot ran a series of truncated quotes from “senior media professionals” to back the newspaper.
None of that will help: The Australian is condemned out of its own mouth — its political reporting is automatically biased, not just by the usual partisanship, but by an open declaration that it wishes to destroy the Greens.
An example of how they will try happened earlier this week. On Monday, The Australian put together a story about Greg Combet and his attitude toward coal, given its prominence in his electorate. A journalist from the paper called the Greens to invite them to respond to Combet’s comments. Sensing a trap, the Greens refused to cooperate, offering an anodyne comment about “building a working relationship” with Labor. Yesterday, according to the Greens, another journalist from The Australian called again to try to extract a more useable, aggressive quote about Combet and coal, and when the Greens refused again to play along, threatened to run a “Greens going soft on coal” story and ring around environment groups to elicit hostile comments about them. The Greens have mentioned the incident to environment groups and suggested they be on the alert for journalists from The Australian trying to manufacture splits in the environmental movement.
Impressive stuff from an outlet that claims it is being bullied by Bob Brown.
The Australian complains about “delegitimisation” of its coverage. The delegitimisation is entirely self-created, and started when it switched from being a conservative paper — for which there is a strong case in the Australian media landscape — to a partisan paper. But an open declaration that it intends to destroy, rather than accurately report on, an important aspect of Australian politics takes The Australian’s degradation of its own reputation to a new level.