It’s a fascinating example of how the media simply invent their own reality. This morning’s news cycle featured the “revelation” by Andrew Forrest, the famously tax-averse head of Fortescue, that he had negotiated a deal on the mining tax with Kevin Rudd in the days immediately before Rudd’s Prime Ministership was ended in June 2010. News Limited heavyweight Paul Kelly was brought in to ponderously examine the implications of this discovery, while at The Australian Financial Review Jennifer Hewett offered her take under the tantalisingly red “Revealed”.

The story then developed when two press gallery journalists at The Australian reported that Tony Abbott had declared that Forrest’s “revelation” raised further doubts about Julia Gillard’s credibility.

Putting aside the fact that no event has ever occurred, or ever could occur, that did not, for Abbott, somehow raise further doubts about the Prime Minister’s credibility, this is, literally, non-news. Andrew Forrest made exactly the same “revelation” in a speech in Perth on June 29, 2010. It subsequently received extensive coverage in Fairfax and News Ltd papers (including The Australian, begging the question of whether people at The Oz even read their own paper) and in The West Australian, which has provided some of the best coverage of the mining tax saga. Forrest — who issued a press release about the speech that still sits on his company website — was subsequently interviewed by Monica Attard, then at the ABC, about it.

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The reason Forrest was so voluble about his deal with Rudd back in 2010 was his anger over the deal his rivals BHP-Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata were then negotiating with the new Gillard government. Indeed, his press release about his deal with Rudd was titled “GOVERNMENT NEGOTIATIONS MUST COMMENCE FROM RUDD’S FINAL POSITION”.

The Power Index‘s Matthew Knott quizzed Hewett over what she’d “revealed” this morning — Hewett said that while the negotiations weren’t new, the infrastructure angle was. But as Knott writes, a baffled West Australian senior journalist told him, “Twiggy talked to us two years ago about the “infrastructure” element as part of his six part plan … but we found it so boring, and such a blatant attempt to get cash out of Canberra, we barely mentioned it.”

Essentially this morning’s coverage amounts to Twiggy respinning his original pitch — from a whinge about tax, to a grand (and lost) opportunity for nation building.

If at first you don’t succeed, spin, and spin again. If the Coalition jumps on board with a soundbite, all the better for the lead up to your seminal address at the Press Club, dutifully plugged at the bottom of the relevant AFR article. Just add bonus Rudd resurrection.

It’s another bizarre example of what Bernard Keane has called the “perpetual present” of the press gallery — long term memory loss that presents an opportunity for enterprising types like Twiggy to get their old press releases rehashed as front page revelations.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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