Last night, none other than Miranda Devine delivered some sage journalistic advice.
The tweet came as leadership spill rumours swirled through Parliament House regarding an imminent leadership challenge to be mounted by Peter Dutton. One key source of the information was none other than Alan Jones, via a series of tweets delivered just as the sun set on a febrile day in Canberra.
The tweet came after many parliamentarians had left work for the day: “Get ready. Party room meeting tonight. Goodbye Malcolm who doesn’t have the numbers.”
Jones later changed his tune.
But between those two tweets came the prospect of an imminent spill repeated by various sections of the media, building the sense of momentum that has delivered Peter Dutton prime position to seize the leadership. As one Turnbull-backing MP put it to the Fairfax papers, “tonight is full of fake news”.
But Jones — who is today the centre of a furore after dropping a racial slur on-air — has forced us to once again ask the question: is Alan Jones reporting the story, or is he the story?
War against the PM
Nine’s Chris Uhlmann on The Today Show this morning launched an eviscerating critique of this kind of behaviour by Jones and the tabloid media.
“Everyone from the prime minister on down are telling me that news corporations … tabloids around the country, 2GB led by Alan Jones, Ray Hadley and Sky News in particular with their evening line-up are waging a war against the prime minister of Australia,” he said.
“If you say that to them now, they get their knickers in a twist. If they want to be players in this game, working behind the scenes as well as in front of the scenes, if they’re making phone calls trying to push people over the line, then they’re part of this story. They’re among the biggest bullies in the land, and if they don’t like that, they can come after me.”
Kingmaker or commentator?
Chris Masters, author of Jones’ biography Jonestown tells Crikey the extent to which his tweets coerced a media jumping at shadows is telling of our polity.
“It’s another example of how the political community pay too much attention to the media,” he says. “Alan certainly believes that he’s a political player. Everything about his actions in the past indicate that he warms to the role of Kingmaker.”
He says Jones is not independent by any means, but tries to perpetuate a charade that he is.
“I haven’t seen him acting independently. He’s a conservative, and he’s advanced the conservative cause over the years. Having said that, he was a supporter of the Labor government in New South Wales in the Bob Carr era. I think that period where he supported Carr and he supported Howard probably helped advance the proposition that he really was a kingmaker because they were on different sides of politics and they both succeeded.”
Once it became clear the comments were baseless, the fallout from the media and political class was swift. Former Labor politician Craig Emerson wrote to Jones “you need to be right when you make a statement that you purport to be a fact. Otherwise it’s an opinion and you should say so.”
The ABC’s Barrie Cassidy also questioned the validity of Jones’ tweets after Sky News’ David Speers said there would be no meeting on Wednesday night.
Masters agrees with their sentiments.
“Though he is a player, he manages to influence a great many people because he uses that audience to play a very strong game behind the scenes, his influence is overstated and overrated,” he said.
“Turnbull is one of the very few political performers who’s stood up to him, so it would be a happy day for Alan if he fell.”
Today is indeed looking like a happy day for Alan.