One of the many lessons from the US election it is that increasingly people are retreating to media outlets that validate their own opinions. In the United States the right wing has Fox News, Breitbart and Infowars among others. In Australia, it is a bit more complicated.
Last month, Sky News host and former NSW premier Kristina Keneally told a conference that Fox News wouldn’t work in Australia because its audience is so niche that it would struggle to succeed, but she added that the Fox News style of show did have a place in Australia.
“It has an audience, after 7pm on Sky News,” she said.
Sky News during the day is what you’d expect from a professional 24-hour news channel. Apart from an appearance or two by former Liberal MP Ross Cameron, the commentary you can expect on Sky News during the day is some of the best the news industry has to offer. David Speers, Kieran Gilbert, Laura Jayes and co do the network proud.
In the evening, however, Sky News’ commentary takes a sharp right turn. The schedule varies, and the talent pool is often repeated. But the coverage is spearheaded every night from 7pm with The Bolt Report. And he sets the tone.
7-8pm: The Bolt Report
From Monday to Thursday (with a best-of on Friday), the format for Andrew Bolt’s show is usually him having a rant (often about section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act or crowing about Donald Trump’s victory over the “left media”), followed by a couple of interviews and then a panel to talk about the issues he had ranted about.
The interviewees tend to be government MPs or Labor Right members, and last week Bolt had Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching, Barnaby Joyce, Peter Dutton and the big scoop of the week: Tony Abbott.
Nothing represented the absurdity of Australia’s most-read columnist railing against “media elites” more than his almost hour-long interview with Abbott in his luxurious home office filled with leather-bound books.
Bolt told Abbott that the US election result was giving two fingers to the media, and claimed that the Australian media was just as nasty to Abbott as the US media was to Trump. Abbott, to his credit, was never willing to go that far.
The interview, obviously, drew wide attention in other media outlets for Abbott saying the Trump win was the “revenge of the deplorables”, but Abbott only arrived at that position after much goading from Bolt. It was the same with Dutton’s interview later in the week, during which the Immigration Minister was critical of former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser’s refugee intake — the genesis for that position came from Bolt. Bolt’s interview style tends to be setting up his own view on the world — 18C is terrible, why is Malcolm Turnbull still PM, etc — and leaving it to the interviewees to either agree or take a more nuanced position.
Abbott, to his credit, held his own against the cries from Bolt that Gillian Triggs needed to be “out! out! out!”, among other things. Dutton tried to shift blame onto the Victorian state government for its “law and order” failure, but he was much more taken in by Bolt’s views, leading to the following day’s headlines. It’s not his fault — at one point, the Immigration Minister said his mum was a big fan of Andrew Bolt.
Bolt generally has one more smaller interview with someone to rant about a specific issue, and then a panel.
The highlight from last week was former Labor leader Mark Latham on to complain about Bono being named woman of the year. Latham’s entire post-political life seems to be devoted to fighting what he believes is the great evil of society: identity politics. The human form of a Twitter egg used his segment of The Bolt Report to claim he was running for the Australian Human Rights Commission president job as “an Islamic female indigenous transgender lesbian” after he took a course in Safe Schools.
The other highlight (such as it is) was Gerard Henderson. He was on to complain about (take a guess …) the ABC (!) and its coverage of the Trump election victory. My colleague Myriam Robin’s notes from the remainder of the interview suggest it was classic Hendo style:
“Gerard spends a long time going on about someone who did something 30 years ago. I do not know the people or the references and do not follow at all.”
In the panel on Monday night, Bolt wanted to comment on one aspect of the original complainant against Bill Leak’s cartoon — who has dropped the case — but said he couldn’t (in light of his own 18C case, in case anyone had forgotten in the last 10 minutes). He held up a photo of her, said she was indigenous, and left it to the viewers to draw conclusions.
What could he mean?
On Tuesday, a member of the closest thing Australia has to a political dynasty, Georgina Downer, was railing against the elites.
“There is a problem with the media echo chamber — talking to itself and not talking to the rest of the community,” Downer said on The Bolt Report.
8-9pm: Jones and Co … and co.
This slot varies each weeknight and seems to exist mainly as a graveyard for the careers of former politicians. The shows are: Beattie and Reith, Jones and Co, Credlin and Keneally, and Speers Tonight, with regular news on Fridays.
Beattie and Reith seems like a show no one in particular asked for, and it is difficult to tell what audience it is catering for. Former Queensland premier Peter Beattie and former Howard government minister Peter Reith talk for an hour. The latter was away for last week’s episode, so we were treated to Beattie and other former Queensland premier Campbell Newman talking about innovation for an hour. It was a struggle.
On Jones and Co, the “co” last week to join 2GB talkback host Alan Jones, in lieu of the unwell Richo, was Mark Latham, again. Latham was wearing a Trump cap. Fellow Trump supporter and former Liberal MP Ross Cameron was on hand to talk about the Trump victory, and will now be hosting the show for Jones when he goes under the knife.
After getting the Trump victory right, Cameron now has many wild predictions, which can only be summed up in the following quote:
“We are gonna see Donald Trump build a wall so fast it’ll make your head spin. And as he does it, the American people are gonna fall in love with Donald Trump, with his wife, with his children, none of whom smoke, take drugs. He is gonna be the all-American Johnny Appleseed … International financial markets have fallen head over heels in Donald Trump — they can see for the first time the realistic prospect of a Western economy rebuilding, regrouping.”
When Bill Leak was on, Jones went to great lengths to emphasise it was a “light-skinned indigenous person” making a complaint. That was what Bolt said he couldn’t say earlier, in case you had not worked it out.
Speers Tonight is far too normal a news show for its time slot. Speersy is always a pro. Credlin and Keneally was in its first week last week, and it appears to be a good dynamic between the former Abbott chief of staff and the former New South Wales premier. They also scored a big win in getting Karl Rove on their first show to warn about the dangers of the US refugee deal in light of the Trump presidency.
9-10pm: PM Live
Unfortunately for this experiment, Australia’s most charismatic right winger, Paul Murray — who referred to the PM as “that man” on election night — was away for the week, and the much more moderate Janine Perrett was hosting PM Live instead.
Still, her panel was often filled with right-wing reactionaries — usually Cameron — who did the work for her. Cameron on Monday said that WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange was “the only asylum seeker [he] respected”, for his work in leaking the Podesta emails.
The highlight for the week, by far, was the gathering of what Perrett called “Trump’s Aussie mates”. Deplorables including Mark Latham, Ross Cameron, Speccie editor Rowan Dean and former speaker Bronwyn Bishop gathered to talk about why a Trump victory was so good.
Nothing could more encapsulate the absurdity of this panel than Bishop, who was wearing a giant Trump political ribbon attached to her lapel. A 30-year career politician who was forced to resign in shame from the role of speaker after it was revealed she had charged taxpayers for her to take a helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong for a Liberal Party fundraiser, and who is often spotted at the opera in a fur coat — on a panel railing against the elites.
But perhaps the past 30 years have been forgotten, because when asked who Australia’s enemy was, Bishop repeatedly blamed socialism for everything.