The state of political commentary

Will Fettes writes: Re. “Grattan, the professor, quits The Age for new Conversation” (yesterday). Michelle Grattan’s recent decision to leave The Age and take up a position at Canberra University and join The Conversation has prompted some sharply polarised reactions. Establishment media commentators have tended towards effusive praise and genuine-seeming respect for her body of work in the Canberra press gallery. Social media, however, has offered a much harsher verdict, bordering on open contempt. Indeed, the kindest species of this sentiment holds that her best work was long behind her.

Seldom has a single resignation offered such a powerful illustration of the deep divisions that exist between old guard of old media and consumers new media over what constitutes good journalism, good opinion and analysis, and the proper role of the press gallery.

For my money, Grattan personified horse-race meta-coverage where political optics and how well you play the game reigns supreme regardless of substance and policy merit. Now, I personally agree with the kind of trenchant critiques offered by Jay Rosen against this type of coverage, however, it must be said that for what it is Grattan did this kind of coverage pretty well during most of her tenure with great access to the players and a non-nonsense and fair minded approach to her columns. That said, you can tell she suffered a serious case of Gillard derangement syndrome in the aftermath of the Rudd coup and the failure of the announced East Timor/Malaysia processing arrangements.

In my opinion, it’s an open question how much of the negativity we have seen is part and parcel of an overall verdict on the old media, the press gallery and horse-race coverage, and how much was about the specific inability of Grattan to write anything about the current government that wasn’t dripping in snark and reproach for the past few years.

Hugh McCaig writes: Re. “‘Chaos’, or how to see the world like a political journalist” (yesterday). The hypocrisy of the political media pack is something to behold. As Bernard Keane noted, Prime Minister Gillard’s speech gave a clear view of the significant problems facing our country, and was quite realistic in not downplaying the state of affairs — the PM also advised the date of the election as September 14 2013.

The need for some serious analysis of the serious nature of PM Gillard’s comments was disregarded in favour of a political game among the media pack on an election campaign — this was apart from The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Ross Gittins who gave the Prime Minister credit, particularly at the start of an election year, for outlining the reality of the problems facing Australia.

John Hunwick writes: Thank you for a breath of fresh air — I was beginning to think that I was the only one who thought highly of the PM’s announcement of an election in September, along with some substance on real political issues. I happen to be closely interested in climate change and therefore the carbon tax, yet no-one other than Bernard Keane has taken the time to point out that its introduction  has not brought any sign of chaos.

To the contrary, it would seem that the rest of the world is surging towards employing renewables its costs look like falling below that of coal. Now all I want is a decent electric car with a range of at least 400kms (that I can afford) and my own carbon print will be minuscule — as it should be. The problem we face as a country is not the absence of decent politics to think about and discuss but the puerility of most political reporters dishing up distorted rubbish.

Syria not another Cambodia

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Like Cambodia, Syria is increasingly turning into a proxy war” (yesterday). Damien Kingsbury’s analysis of the war in Syria seems to be more fantasy than fact.

Firstly, I doubt many students of history would agree that “most wars are proxies to some extent”. Secondly, despite the involvement of China, the USA, Vietnam, and the USSR, the conflict in Cambodia was not a proxy war, but centred on the Khmer Rouge, an extremist, nationalistic, and self-destructive movement that had little connections with the outside world. Thirdly, there seems very little similarity between the conflict in Cambodia and Syria.

Fourthly, the civil war in Syria is largely a local revolt against the dynastic Assad dictatorship.  It occurs in the context of the copycat Arab Spring movement, but is not being orchestrated by foreign powers.  The fact that Israel has launched one of its many military attacks does not make it a proxy war.  The fact that Russia has a naval base there does not make it a proxy war.  Russia does not have strategic interests in the Mediterranean Sea. While the situation in Syria has wider implications, it does not even come close to being a proxy war.


Kim Lockwood writes: Re. “First Dog on the Moon” (yesterday). If Mr Dogonthemoon persists in calling the Prime Minister “Juliar”, would it not be fair for Crikey to provide at least a modicum of balance by calling the national broadsheet The Australiar?