Thank God for Laurie Oakes! What the hell will happen when that long shadow, like Skywhale, passes from the Canberra Hills? Oakes’ decision to broadcast Malcolm Turnbull’s half-hearted imitation of Donald Trump at the Midwinter Ball was absolutely the right one, for numerous reasons. The “special relationship” — read: supine grovelling — of Australia to the US will survive Turnbull’s little turn; judging by numerous Letterman etc appearances one of the few human qualities Donald Trump possesses is a willingness to mock and self-mock his outsize public persona, haha.
It’s not Trump who is exposed by the mockery, but Turnbull. Believing himself to be in the charmed circle of the politics-media caste, Turnbull let his truer self out for a run. Gone was the “patriot”, hammer of Manus Island, etc etc, and back was the boy from Bellevue Hill, the ex-journo with the Bill Hensons on the wall. The turn exposes Turnbull’s flaws rather than Trump’s; he can’t help but suck up to whichever group he happens to be around, and he was desperate to communicate to the people he shares a big building with that he wasn’t the bloke pitching for the margins of the One Nation vote on the Nine news.
That makes it newsworthy; what Oakes has exposed is the cosy, cynical relationship between pollies and the press in Australia. We have one of the worst records in the world on this, and it arise from many factors – Australia’s statist history, long periods when federal government was essentially a bureaucratic imposition of unquestioned priorities, the insular, bounded nature of Canberra, the company town. Most recently, the disaster of new Parliament House has played its part — a forbidden zone, separate from the city that houses it, a nightmare to leave and come back to, in the middle of nowhere. The Forbidden City encourages pollies and press gallery journos alike to believe they’re on the same team and makes the media-politics caste ever more closely fused. The Midwinter Ball is the cherry on the having/eating cake. Politicians and journos shouldn’t be having cosy off-the-record get-togethers in their winter hidey-hole. It’s time that an on-the-record press gallery dinner, in the manner of the White House correspondents’ dinner, was substituted, and any press gallery knees-up made a pollie-free zone. It’s significant that the one journo who exposed the role it plays in shielding politicians from scrutiny wasn’t even at it.
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“What can have possessed Mia Freedman to do what she did?” my ex- and current editor Jonathan Green tweeted after RoxaneGaygate had descended. Sophie Cunningham and Gay Alcorn joined him in his bewilderment at this lapse of reason. Ah, the left-liberals we love, with their winsome search for the rational kernel at the heart of social action! Freedman, in the process of launching Mamamia in the US, invited an African-American author in for an interview about her book detailing her complex relationship to food, appetite, her body and much more, and then released memos detailing questions about whether she could get in the lift and describing her as “super morbidly obese”.
Why would you look for anything consciously rational in these actions? They’re an obvious psychological defense. Gay is an author capable of writing stylishly, in a number of registers, from the high theoretical and political to the immediate and the personal, and who has gained her position and career by hard work against the adversity of racial oppression, poverty, and the stigma she discusses in Hunger. Freedman, the white daughter of a rich property developer, slid into a career in the glossies and used her elite connections to spin out into Mamamia. She writes and edits drivel. She has assembled a whole media empire as a vast hall of mirrors, reflecting her back from every angle — and then mused aloud why she has spent years crippled by anxiety.
Rather than examining her life to discover the roots of this existential conditions, she advocates the quick fix of drugs, including the all-purpose Lexapro (one of whose side-effects is listed as “impulsivity”. Read the small print). Her bizarre treatment of Gay makes sense when you realise that Gay’s achievements tower over Mia’s, and that part of her much-publicised anxiety may arise from the deep sense that she’s a bit of a fraud. Gay’s very existence annihilates Mia, and trashing her publicly in some pathetic year 11 mean girl schtick is an act of psychic defence. Quite possibly an expensive one. The arguably racist attack on Gay will trash Mamamia’s brand in the US, absolutely. If you’re still expecting great thing from it, I have some Channel Ten shares you might be interested in acquiring. Still, a teachable moment, for liberals. Look for the rational motive last, in these circumstances. And maybe dip into Freud’s The Psychopathology of Everyday Life from time to time.
The political and economic war crime of the Grenfell tower fire has somewhat cast a shadow over the UK election result. But there were plenty of time for bad takes before that happened. Troy “The Boy” Bramston was first out, with two in a week, both of which confirmed his talent for combining cluelessness with sycophancy. “Britons may just centre on Boris,” quoth the Boy, as the Tories floundered in the wake of “victory”. No, they wouldn’t. BoJo is now seen as a shambling and hopeless figure, cut out of the election campaign, and whose elevation would confirm that the Tory right had really lost the plot. And that was before Grenfell left the ex-mayor of London with questions to answer. The Boy followed with a bot piece comparing Albo to that other Boy, the Absolute one, Jeremy Corbyn. Since personally, politically, positionally they barely compare, the column is nothing more than a bit of pre-emptive sucking up. But why the Boris rave? Quite possibly, he recognises a fellow stooping simpering man-on-the-make upwards. Watching Boris shamble along you often wonder what he’s got up him. It’s probably Troy.
The Boy Bramston works on instinct, but Nick Cater has psuedo-science at his disposal. Cater, Essex sociology grad, did a spurious seat analysis, cherry picking a few northern seats among the seven who crossed back to the Tories (because of the UKIP collapse), and used them as grist for his favourite theory: that the right represent t.e.h massez, and Labour the elites. To emphasise the point he pointed to “upper-middle-class” seats that went to Labour, such as Kensington. His timing is exquisitely bad. Most wealthy UK urban constituencies have rich and poor due to public housing patterns. Kensington has the richest houses in the country — and also the North Kensington public housing estates, which include towers like ….Grenfell.
Labour won these seats because they finally presented a program the poor believed worth voting for. That brought out new voters, enough to swamp the Tory section of the constituency. Some of those new voters may well be dead. Cater lived in London for years. He knows the geography. His analysis is either delusional or dishonest, there’s no third way.
Spare a thought for The Guardian, which spent the last two years trashing Jeremy Corbyn, his allies and his Momentum group relentlessly, an onslaught from centrist and right-wing columnists: Jonathan Freedland, Polly Toynbee, Nick Cohen (in the Observer), with very little by way of counter-argument. Bang! Corbyn’s result has left the paper in a hideous position. Or exposed its hideous position — years of sucking up to a phantom audience, largely composed of centrist professional-class women, and shedding its solid left readership. Mostly under past editor Alan Rusbridger it has halved its print sales from 300,000 to 150,000, and this time in the UK your correspondent was one of them, just deciding it wasn’t worth it. Having lost $50 million a year and more for years past, it will now take another hit as falling demand causes it to abandon its expensive “Berliner” format — and take another $50 million hit on the imported presses that produce them (it will go tabloid and print on other facilities).
New editor Kath Viner says the paper will break even in two years. Not with missteps like its political coverage of the past two years it wont (Dump the Guardian has a catalogue of the travesty coverage). Having had the courage to drive Rusbridger out of any role in the paper’s future, she now needs to reverse the exclusion of the left. Had The Guardian kept them, it would have been riding high now. Instead, it is fighting for its life. Lesson: don’t mess with Jez, the absolute Boy. No one who has is doing well out of it.
Bad Takes? They pile up. Volume Two next week.