Who now dares say that The Australian does not break new ground in journalism? Today’s front page “Exclusive” by Greg Sheridan (“Abbott faces his future, with a little help from friends”) sets a benchmark no other media outlet can hope to match.

Sheridan’s 1200-word piece (spill to page 6), contains not a single new fact, and not a single quote — sourced or unsourced. It is sheer word-processor doodling — journalistic junk dressed up to look like inside knowledge and analysis.

The purported sense of Sheridan’s wall of words is that opinion is divided among the friends and political associates of our recently departed PM as to whether Abbott should stay on in Parliament. Gosh, what a scoop! Various positions are ascribed to: “some party elders”, “others committed to a more broadly conservative view”, “those advising Abbott”, “those suggesting to Abbott”, “those arguing to Abbott”, “the voices urging Abbott” and, when all else fails, “some might argue”.

Yet not once could Sheridan put a name or quote to the propositions that followed. Nevertheless, for the editors of The Australian, this constitutes an “exclusive”.

The unpleasant truth is that the whole piece is a thinly disguised spruik by Sheridan urging his old university friend Abbott to remain in politics. The dumped Liberal leader is described as: “a giant of conservative politics”, “the most important figure in conservative Australia”, “instinctively attracted to good works … things which somehow have never got the public recognition they deserve”, with a “naturally ebullient, engaging and quintessentially Australian personality” who will “in time have a place in the pantheon of Liberal heroes”.

Had enough? No, Greg’s not finished with larding on the praise. His uninterrupted bursts of sunshine even fall upon Abbott’s wife, Margie, described as “the very embodiment of poise and decency in public life”.

But despite all this shameless ballyhoo, Sheridan is too bashful to say directly what he clearly thinks himself. Instead, he puts his opinions in the mouths of (nameless) others. Thus, “those arguing to Abbott that he would be best advised to stay also have his best interests at heart” and “they also think Abbott’s continued presence in parliament would in the long run be a mighty benefit to the Liberal Party itself”.

And just in case you might doubt the soundness of those views, Greg assures us they come from “every sensible person on the centre-right, including those who are urging Abbott to stay in politics”, and that “the voices urging Abbott to stay around are important voices, close to him, with much merit in their arguments.” I wonder who he had in mind?

Peter Fray

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