Bill Shorten Labor federal election News Corp #mymum
(Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

A footy coach once told me “you’re not much of a player if you need a smack in the mouth to fire you up”. Still, it certainly helps.

Bill Shorten got a smack in the mouth from News Corp yesterday and fired up, producing his best day of the campaign. That the attack in question exploited his late mother and was nothing more than shit-posting that annoyed even Labor’s enemies in Murdoch’s ranks was all to the better. (In politics, never let overreach by your enemy go unpunished.)

Shorten’s emotional defence of himself and his mum at Nowra was not merely a rare display of real passion from a man long accused of being robotic — I can still recall his media training-derived hand gestures from the Beaconsfield coverage — but he adeptly, and without artifice, turned it into an issue about older women in the workforce and the discrimination they face. His response dominated the evening news bulletins and would have been enough to engage even many disaffected, apolitical voters.

And even if there was no official declaration of a winner from last night’s third debate, Shorten came out ahead. Scott Morrison is now running on empty with a week to go, reminiscent of Kevin Rudd’s 2013 campaign when he visibly ran out of things to talk about and began announcing thought bubbles. Without any kind of meaningful agenda, Morrison only has attacks on Labor’s policies to offer and needs those attacks to take hold.

There are no more debates, so in the absence of the kind of bloody mauling that Keating delivered on John Hewson in 1993, Morrison now faces a tough task in the final week of running down Shorten’s lead, especially with 1.4 million people having already voted and perhaps a quarter million a day voting between now and next Friday. 

Labor has now claimed it believes News Corp is about to ramp up its attacks on Labor — a handy means of discrediting even well-founded criticisms that come from the Murdoch press over the next week. The company’s campaign against Labor probably won’t do much to undermine its credibility: its tabloid newspapers, and The Daily Telegraph in particular, have long been the least trusted major newspapers in the country, although the Daily Mail news site has now provided an even lower standard for journalism that even Murdoch’s minions have so far failed to plumb.

Instead, it undermines all mainstream media in an election campaign that has seen an elevation of abuse of journalists for failing to adhere to the partisan expectations of social media participants. By lowering a mainstream media outlet to the level of shit-posting, the Telegraph editors — the Courier-Mail also ran the story, while the Herald Sun had the good sense to know it would do the Liberals no favours in Victoria — continue to blur the distinction between an industry that insists on its own credibility and importance in the polity, and the fringe dwellers and raging idiots of social media.

If mainstream media editors and journalists want to behave like an anonymous online troll, then they’ll acquire all the credibility of one, and drag the rest of the industry down with them.

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