We published a Labor leadership speculation story last Monday. It was one of our most commented on stories that week. Trouble was, most of the comments told us to quit talking about it, concentrate on more important things and stop making up stories. Haters, all of you.

However, this latest round of leadership speculation, as The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Lenore Taylor rightly points out today, is not made up. BUT — and it is a big BUT — reporting on it requires “caution, judgment and the testing of what is said by sources who won’t be named.”

And that’s the caveat that gets missed by journalists and editors writhing around in what can only be described as close to a leadership speculation orgy. As Ben Eltham pointed out on Monday, “…last night I could count 811 articles on Google News for the search term “leadership speculation”. This morning it was 979. Most of the news articles I consulted were written almost identically…they asserted that Labor MPs are plotting against the prime minister, then carried a long series of quotes from senior Labor ministers saying there was no plotting, and that this was all a beat-up by the media.”

Our take: the story about unrest within Labor ranks is not made up. But it does not deserve a top story from us for a week straight, either. Especially if the drip feed consists of this kind of thing:

Headline: “Rudd supporters canvassed Oakeshott”

Scan to the bottom of paragraph five:

Oakeshott “said yesterday that Rudd supporters had canvassed him about change ‘in very general terms’ although not recently.”

There are rumblings, and then there are rumblings. That is not one of them. As press gallery journo Stephen Spencer tweeted this morning:

@sspencer_63:  Leadership speculation: there’s no smoke without fire, but often the fire is a candle made out to be a bonfire.

Shine on.

Peter Fray

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