Aug 20, 2012

This is what the Right is expert at: smearing

It's unclear exactly what Julia Gillard is being accused of having done when she worked for Slater and Gordon. But smears of the Prime Minister are part of a long tradition from the Right in Australia.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Remember "Utegate"? The Prime Minister had been corrupted by the provision of a car. The Treasurer had provided special treatment for the PM's mate. The media, and particularly News Limited, went into meltdown. The whole thing turned out to be the concoction of an embittered Liberal Party supporter inside Treasury. Then there's the Heiner Affair, a long-running claim that Kevin Rudd covered up child abuse in 1990. Angry right-wing bloggers continue to push this, with support from a News Ltd columnist. And there was the Mark Latham "sex video" rumour in 2004, born on talkback radio and then given a solid boost by those noted pugilists Glenn Milne of News Ltd and Crikey's own Stephen Mayne. And there was Paul Keating's corruption, supposedly over a piggery (Mayne was still running with that in 2008). Alan Ramsey gave some history about Keating and that "unrelenting and effective political grub" Tony Staley many years ago. And the incessant claims that either Keating was having an affair with a female journalist or a prominent businesswoman, or that he was gay (having been "spotted in Paris with an attractive young man" who inconveniently turned out to be his son, Patrick). Not to mention Andrew Peacock calling Bob Hawke "a little crook" in Parliament. Now, it's unclear exactly what Julia Gillard is being accused of having done when she worked for Slater and Gordon (beyond having bad taste in men, which is something she admits). The firm has stated that she wasn't sacked, and that there was no evidence that she'd benefited from Bruce Wilson's actions. But they would say that, wouldn't they, insisted a News Ltd journalist today, because Slater and Gordon "needs the continuing work that comes from a healthy caseload". What that even means isn't clear -- maybe Hedley Thomas thinks Julia Gillard will personally direct Commonwealth agencies to give the firm work. It's the sort of tenuous, join-the-dots-and-hope logic that pervades these smears. But if the actual allegation isn't clear, yesterday provided some in the media with an altogether more serious charge than benefiting from dirty money or being sacked by a law firm: that of upsetting a journalist. And not just any journalist, but a senior journalist, a doyen of the gallery, Paul Kelly. "One of the nation's most credible political commentators," thundered The Australian Financial Review. Gillard had "sealed her own fate" thought Neil Mitchell, when she "personally attacked one of the most respected and experienced political journalists". An outrage, we can all agree -- and, surely, another attack on News Ltd's freedom of speech too? Perhaps Gillard shouldn't have pointed out with annoyance that Kelly was simply recycling old stories without putting any specific allegation to her. Perhaps the appropriate response was sympathy that Kelly, once a credible journalist and keen observer of Australian political history, had been reduced to yet another cog in News Ltd's smear machine. "There’s no one asking me to ask questions," Kelly insisted. No, he was merely rehashing the same vague claims that his newspaper, of which he is "editor-at-large", whatever that is, recycled from right-wing hate blogs. What are some of the sources for this stuff? Well there's the website of '70s Australian cartoonist Larry Pickering, whose misogynist drawings portray the Prime Minister as a dildo-wearing r-pist. Pickering was, many years ago, a Liberal Party candidate, but his main public profile in recent years has been in relation to a fraud probe. And there's John Pasquarelli, best known for his role with Pauline Hanson (something The Oz has overlooked when it runs op-eds by him), but in the 1980s the Liberal candidate for Jagajaga, and who later worked for Nationals senator John Stone. My point? Well, "I'm just asking questions". This is what the Right does. The Left has its own habits of misconduct, blind spots and hypocrisies, of course. But the Right specialises in smearing its opponents, particularly from opposition, and it finds a willing amplifier in News Ltd. What's changed, though, is that whereas muckraking and smearing used to be more difficult when there was only a limited number of media outlets, now anyone can do it. The mainstream media still likes to distinguish itself from bloggers and social media. News Ltd's stout defender Mark Day once declared that blogging had the intellectual value of graffiti on a toilet door. The Oz used an editorial on the Queensland floods in early 2011 to attack social media for spreading incorrect information. Apparently, however, new media has undergone a credibility rebirth in the eyes of Holt Street. Perhaps that's why, last time we looked at how much trust Australians had in their media outlets, The Australian had fallen nine points and News Ltd newspapers were the least trusted metro titles. News Ltd ought to be careful. Eventually its trustworthiness will be down with commercial radio. Or, even worse, with the blogs that it now apparently trawls for material with which to attack the Prime Minister. And all for what? As if there aren't enough valid grounds for critical analysis of Julia Gillard's prime ministership on policy and political grounds alone.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

99 thoughts on “This is what the Right is expert at: smearing

  1. NeoTheFatCat

    What is really wrong, is that after loudly bellowing about alleged conspiracies and alleged wrong-doing which is subsequently found to be false, the media uncritically reports the next alleged conspiracy or alleged wrong-doing. Has no-one in the media heard about the story of the boy who cried wolf?

  2. Michael


    Oh but you miss the point young man.
    Gillard will be cooked slowly in her own juices not by the Liberals who simply need to eat popcorn and watch the floor show, but by Labor renegades from the ranks within.
    No one slices raw flesh like Labor and slice they will, especially when they finally realise what this hideous creature in the guise of a Prime Minister has done to their proud & ancient Party.
    The final capitulation & extinction of Labor cannot be far now.

  3. geomac62

    I thought the PM response to Kelly was appropriate and straightforward . Put up or shut of have been my less polite response to some vague , rehashed gossip that has been done and dusted . Kelly like Henderson has long since lost any cred or semblance of being a working journo .
    So lets get this in perspective . Kelly can question the PM about unspecified wrongdoing yet not state what she is alleged to have done ? The PM asks who put you up to it and thats an insult ? This isn,t some new scoop but something that even a mug punter like me is aware of and knows it has properly dealt with long ago yet a seasoned journo ” respected ” and so on brings it up .
    Where was Kelly asking questions when the rodent got his brother off the hook with taxpayers money is the question .

  4. cairns50

    who says paul kelly is a respected canberra journalist ?

    no hes not, hes nothing but another news ltd grub impersonating being a hack

    every one you mentioned in your article are not worth the price of a bottled water

  5. The Pav

    And remeber the outcry when itwas revealed the ALP was buiding up “dirt files” for the coming elecetion.

    The double standards are breat taking.

    I saw Gillard slap down Kelly and he desrved it and I wish she would do it more often.

    He bridled at the suggestion somebody was telling to ask questions & considered it a baseless cahrge yet was quite as ready to make allegations about “something” on the same lack of evidence.

    Disgusting. Perhaps he has been corrupted by the News Ltd machine

  6. klewso

    Mind over matter – don’t mind facts, they don’t matter.
    Even one of their own (up here in Q) has pointed out this pile of crap – then again after the bollocking, for pure mud-slinging politics, they got last time, what else could some of them do – trying to reclaim some sort of their credibility – but if your’re going to mix with pigs, expect flies?
    What more can you say? “Limited News” says it all.

  7. klewso

    When you say “Limited News” – you said it all.

  8. James K

    N – nothing
    E – ever
    W – worthwhile
    S – said.
    L – lets
    T – trash
    D – democracy

  9. Mark from Melbourne

    Unfortunately they are all playing the same game. AFR was calling it “the whole tawdry affair” and effectively ignoring the G&S press release. And tactics like “Gillard attended an auction….” apparently this is meant to be relevant but is really just a pretty scummy verbal.

    By all means, call a spade a spade and hold people accountable but these people need to a long hard look at the scummy tactics they use. It’s as if every one is trying to out do A Current Affair or This Day Tonight in the LCD journalism stakes..

  10. dazza

    This is an outrage. How dare the Prime Minister of Australia Not just sit there and answer questions, but then put a question to a journalist… and..and.. Make him cry.. maybe we do need that media inquiry right now!,
    Anyway, who influenced him to start digging, that’s what we really need to know??

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details