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Aug 30, 2017

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Today in Media Files, InDaily has set up a donations platform to support its journalism, following a growing global trend for supporting journalism, and former US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has lost a defamation case against The New York Times.

InDaily asks for donations. South Australian news website InDaily has set up a donation platform so readers can give money to support its journalism. In an article addressed to readers, editor David Washington said that while they didn’t plan to charge for content, “we have become aware that plenty of people in the community would like to support what we do”. They’re using a company called Press Patron, a website that publishers can sign up to and readers can use to make one-off or regular donations. Washington said all funds would be put into journalism for the site. InDaily is owned by SA company Solstice Media, and Washington said it offers an independent alternative to News Corp’s The Advertiser.

InDaily‘s move is part of a growing trend for news organisations using memberships or donations to support their work. The Atlantic announced a membership program last week, and The Guardian formally announced this week a non-profit in the US to make it easier for groups and individuals to make philanthropic donations. 

Palin loses New York Times defamation case. Former US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has lost her defamation case against The New York Times. In an editorial published in June, The Times linked Palin to a 2011 mass shooting in Arizona, which it corrected the next day. Palin sued for defamation, but federal Judge Jed S Rakoff yesterday dismissed the claim:

“Nowhere is political journalism so free, so robust, or perhaps so rowdy as in the United States. In the exercise of that freedom, mistakes will be made, some of which will be hurtful to others … But if political journalism is to achieve its constitutionally endorsed role of challenging the powerful, legal redress by a public figure must be limited to those cases where the public figure has a plausible factual basis for complaining that the mistake was made maliciously.”

The Times has put the full judgement online here, and said in a statement the decision was an “important reminder of the country’s deep commitment to a free press and the important role that journalism plays in our democracy”.

‘Fucking idiots’. A Scottish academic who shared a fake photo of a shark swimming in Houston floodwaters on Twitter has told BuzzFeed he knew it was fake, and only meant to share it for a laugh with his followers. Jason McCann describes himself as a journalist in his Twitter bio, but said he didn’t see a problem with sharing something he knew to be fake:

“To be honest, the first thought that went through my head was, fucking idiots …  We are responsible for how we receive the information we’re getting. If people choose to be fooled by a shark swimming by a car, I don’t think it says a great deal about me.”

Fox News dropped from UK TVs. Hey Rupert Murdoch, you Sky Fox you. If it is the right thing to do in pulling the corrosive Fox News from Sky in the UK, why not get rid of it from Foxtel in Australia? There is a simple reason or two why the codger won’t follow the surprise decision in the UK with a similar move in Australia. There was only a thin justification for the decision:

“Fox News is focused on the US market and designed for a US audience and, accordingly, it averages only a few thousand viewers across the day in the UK. We have concluded that it is not in our commercial interest to continue providing Fox News in the UK.”

Gee, has it taken 20 years to realise that? The same could be said for Australia and anywhere outside the US where Fox News is broadcast. The overriding reason is the increasing fear the Murdochs have that their name is mud in the UK and 21st Century Fox’s agreed $18 billion offer to buy full control of the European pay-TV group Sky is looking shaky. The British government is still deciding whether to refer the deal for a full investigation. 

In Australia Foxtel is 50% owned by News Corp — the associate company of 21st Century Fox which owns Fox News Channel, and News Corp has management and programming control over what appears on Foxtel and especially Sky News which it bought last year. And unlike the UK, News and Fox are not in the midst of a delicate takeover for the rest of Sky that Fox doesn’t own — a bid that is running into rising opposition from politicians, others in the media and ordinary Britons. But there is one big deal involving News Corp and Fox in Australia and that is the injection of Fox Sports into Foxtel to allow Telstra to start exiting the Pay TV company.

Why not a bit of Murdochian symbolism and drop Fox News from the Foxtel channel line up as a precursor to the Foxtel changes? Go on, it will be just as meaningless as the UK move and the justification just as thin. — Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer’s TV Ratings. It was Nine’s night, and the ABC again bested Ten in the main channels and snuck into third spot. Nine’s True Story With Hamish and Andy has lost half a million viewers nationally markets since its debut in early June.

Seven axed Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA and ran a second episode of its own kitchen nightmare — Hell’s Kitchen at 9.30pm. HK had 839,000 viewers for the first episode and 769,000 for the second. Host Marco Pierre White looked bored. Ten’s Shark Tank — 639,000 nationally — sank. Would any of the “entrepreneurs” on the panel buy a show whose audience has fallen like ST’s has? ABC’s The House at 8pm stood out, both in content and viewers with 898,000 nationally at 8pm. Tonight, watch Mad As Hell and Utopia — both on the ABC.

In regional markets Seven News was on top again with 638,000, with Seven News/Today Tonight second with 531,000, then The Block with 513,000, Home and Away was fourth with 489,000 and the 5.30pm part of The Chase was fifth with 421,000. — Read the rest on the Crikey website

Film & TV

Jun 28, 2017

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Today in Media Files, the free-to-air TV networks have been given their promised licence rebate, and Australians won’t pay for online news, but they do still read what they can get for free of the main print brands online.

TV networks handed licence rebate. The federal government has followed through on its promise to the TV and radio sectors and rewarded them with interim relief on licence fees. The abolition of the fees had been part of the media law changes that remain stuck in the Senate, and it applies to the 2016-17 financial year, which starts on Saturday. The administrators of the Ten network will be very happy because it (slightly) improves the chances of a sale, and the decision makes Ten’s finances a little better. Free TV chairman Harold Mitchell said in a statement the rebate was “welcome relief” for the industry as it faces competition from multinational tech and media companies:

“In the internet age, it makes no sense to continue to impose the world’s highest licence fees when these foreign media tech companies pay nothing. Licence fee relief is critical for broadcasters to invest and transform their businesses. It is now up to the Senate to do its part in permanently replacing the licence fee with a spectrum charge.”

Mitchell said the full media reform package was crucial for Australian jobs and local programming. “We cannot allow local media companies to continue being strangled by out-dated media ownership laws,” he said.

But will anyone check to see if the fee abolition flows through to more jobs or programs? After all, the fees have already been cut by the Rudd and current governments from 9% of revenue to 4.5% of revenue, and the industry’s overall performance is worse than it was half a decade ago. Ten is broke and in administration, Nine and Seven, Prime and Southern Cross have all followed Ten in slashing the value of their TV licences because of falling revenues, ratings and profits. Employment is lower, and the abolition of the fees for 216-17 won’t change the outlook one bit, no matter what Harold Mitchell thinks. — Glenn Dyer

Petition to stop plagiarism. Freelance journalist Ginger Gorman is continuing her crusade against journalistic plagiarism. Gorman has created a petition with a collective of freelance journalists calling on Australian publishers to stop lifting other journalists’ work:

“Plagiarism weakens democracy and has a ripple effect of harm on the ability of the media and journalists to do their jobs properly. If it goes unchecked, this practice will contribute to the destruction of an industry that is vital to a fair and informed society. We call on those outlets and journalists who participate in this unethical practice to stop immediately.”

Gorman said the petition would be delivered to the Australian Press Council, Copyright Agency, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and other MPs, the senators on the select committee on the future of public interest journalism and the ABC’s Media Watch program.

Daily Mail Australia responded to Gorman’s invoice last week by saying there was no copyright on an idea, after she accused the publication of ripping off an online trolling investigation published in Fairfax.

Aussies won’t pay for news (but will read it for free). Just 13% of Australians pay for online news, according to a new Reuters Institute report. The study, conducted over 36 countries, found that 8% of Australians have ongoing online news subscriptions, and another 5% had made a one-off purchase in the past year. But they will still read it — half of the Australians surveyed still read the free content on the traditional print brands’ websites. News Corp’s free site news.com.au was the most used, followed by the ABC and nine.com.au.

The study found that many of those surveyed didn’t understand why they were asked to donate to commercial entities:

“It is not obvious to outsiders, for example, why publishers give content away for free at a time when they are losing money, or why digital advertising should be worth so much less than print advertising.”

More than half of those surveyed said they did not pay for news because there were free alternatives. But, contrary to some of the cries we’ve heard from commercial media in Australia, the report points out previous research that found consumption of public-funded media doesn’t have any impact on a person’s willingness to pay for other news sources.

Of those who do pay for news, a quarter do it to fund journalism, and they also value good writers, exclusives and mobile apps that are customisable and easy to use.

More younger people will pay for audio and video, but the report found that the figures for paying for online news were more evenly spread:

“This is a powerful corrective to idea that young people are not prepared to pay for online media. Even when it comes to news, younger people are no less likely to be paying than older people. Rather, news publishers have not been quite as successful as other media companies in convincing younger people to part with their money.”

Regardless of age, people who already pay for audio or video online are more likely to pay for news.

Sarah Palin sues The New York TimesFormer US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is suing The New York Times over an editorial that she says defamed her, published on June 14. The Daily Caller has published the writ, which says the Times incorrectly said Palin had incited a shooting frenzy in January 2011, in which Congresswoman Gabrielle Griffiths was shot. The Times published a correction to the online version of the editorial two days after it was published, saying, “An editorial … incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established.” The editorial was published following a shooting at a congressional baseball game by a left-wing Bernie Sanders supporter. Palin could have her work cut out for her, though, as the bar for public figures and elected officials to prove defamation is very high, and The New York Times famously never settles.

Murdochs planning for another deal. Ireland is on board, now for the UK. The Murdoch family is gathering approvals for the US$18 billion mop-up bid for Sky plc, the big UK and European satellite broadcaster. Ireland’s Communications Minister Denis Naughten cleared the deal on Tuesday, following rulings clearing the transaction on public interest grounds, including plurality by authorities in all of the markets in which Sky operates outside of the UK, including Austria, Germany, Italy.

The European Commission gave its approval in early April, covering both the UK and the rest of the European Economic Area, and the Jersey Competition Authority has also given the green light. But all these approvals don’t matter, the most important is Britain itself.

The final decision is now down to the UK, where the questions of media plurality are strongest, along with the separate question of whether 21st Century Fox is fit and proper after News Corp’s inadequate performance during the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. Culture and Media Secretary Karen Bradley will make her announcement in the House of Commons on Thursday night AEST. — Glenn Dyer

Fake news upon fake news. US President Donald Trump is continuing down his fake news track, this time inventing lies about CNN’s recent viewership. He tweeted on Tuesday morning saying, “Fake News CNN is looking at big management changes now that they got caught falsely pushing their phony Russian stories. Ratings way down!”. (The Russian story refers to a story about claimed contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign that appeared on CNN’s website. Three journalists resigned because it breached CNN editorial policy, as reported in Crikey yesterday. CNN retracted the story on Friday night).

But the clueless President happened to tweet on the same day second-quarter cable news ratings were released. They showed that contrary to Trump’s belief, CNN ratings rose and the network recorded its best second quarter in its history. CNN’s ratings were up 10% in prime time. It is in 10th place among all cable networks (and second in cable news networks). CNN’s total day viewership jumped 25% — to 787,000 viewers.

Figures from deadline.com show that Fox News remains on top of the cable news battle (which is the most competitive part of the entire US media), but MSNBC is encroaching, especially with its prime time star Rachel Maddow, who is taking advantage of Fox firing its star Bill O’Reilly over sexual harassment claims. MSNBC was the best performer in terms of audience gains. — Glenn Dyer

Google News, with extra facts. Google has redesigned its news page, including a section for fact checks. The new design gets rid of the messy hyperlinks and thumbnails, and, Google says, is more readable and easy to navigate. The fact check box will feature articles that have been fact checked.

The new design hasn’t rolled out in Australia or markets other than the US yet.

Glenn Dyer’s TV ratings. Ten’s night thanks to MasterChef and the way Seven and Nine ran dead. Seven might have had more viewers overall, but Ten edged Nine in the main channels, with Seven third. And the main channels is where the money is made — especially important for Ten! SBS was boosted by the first of three episodes of its reality program Filthy Rich and Homeless, which grabbed 476,000 national viewers (354,000 in the metros and 122,000 in the regions). Part 2 is tonight. In breakfast, while Sunrise again won nationally — 513,000 to 432,000 and Today won the metros, 300,000 to Sunrise’s 272,000.

Seven again dominated regional viewing with Seven News tops with 707,000, then Seven News/Today Tonight with 544,000, with Home and Away third with 537,000, The 5.30pm part of The Chase Australia was fourth with 497,000 and the 7pm ABC News was fifth with 376,000 viewers.

Tonight: Mad As Hell at 8.30pm with Shaun Micallef and Offspring on Ten at 8.40pm — both more appealing that what went to air last night, apart from MasterChef. — Read the rest on the Crikey website

News

Jul 6, 2016

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Give us time, say bookies. The polling was roughly on the mark, but how’d the betting markets deal with the federal election? Yesterday’s Oz concluded: not very well. A piece by Jared Owens yesterday concluded that Sportsbet was on track to lose “half of the 18 predictions it exposed to the media on election day”.

Not so fast, says Sportsbet. The betting firm’s Ben Bulmer told Crikey it had run more than 200 markets for the federal election, of which the biggest by far was the one predicting the Coalition would be sworn in (that market’s still open, and still favouring the Coalition). As for lots of the markets where Sportsbet tightened the odds in the days up to the election, betting odds should be understood as reflecting the likelihood of events. For example in Batman, Owens writes the odds on the Greens challenger narrowed close to election day, but incumbent David Feeney had odds of $1.10 — suggesting the bookie expected him to win but thought it would be a close race.

As Crikey explained last month, betting odds on individual seats are arrived at by an election trader who subjectively picks odds to the best of their ability. The odds are then adjusted depending on which way the punters are biting.

National Lampoon’s Vacation. So where has Alan Jones been since arguing with James McGrath over who is the captain or king of the bedwetters? According to Mark Latham, who filled in for the broadcaster on Sky News last night, Jones is on a little trip north (and it didn’t sound like he was joking):

“And as for Alan Jones he’s off in Alaska bear hunting with Todd and Sarah Palin missing all this fun about — all this excitement about the possibility of a hung parliament as the results come in, so I’m sure Alan’s tuning in now as his cruise ship is heading to Anchorage or wherever he’s got to day.”

Alan Jones and Sarah Palin going bear hunting, gazing across at Russia? We can only imagine. Now we just hope that we get an invite to Jones’ slide night when he gets back.

Hastie to attack the boss. While conservative commentators are raking over Malcolm Turnbull’s campaign failures, few of his colleagues have been keen to take a swing, especially with the election result still hanging the balance. Not Andrew Hastie though, the member for Canning who was preselected before last year’s byelection in the seat and moved straight into the conservative fold of the Liberal Party. Hastie spoke to his local paper, the Mandurah Mail, and put in his two cents (and a bit extra) on Turnbull’s campaign failures:

“He said he threw aside the national campaign’s talking points when a father ‘asked me directly why our plan would benefit the future of his five children’.

‘I struggled to answer,’ Mr Hastie said.

‘It was at that point I realised that a lot of what we were campaigning on nationally just wasn’t resonating with everyday Australians.

‘He couldn’t understand the reason for company tax cuts, he wasn’t earning enough to benefit from the increased tax thresholds and he wasn’t an innovator – he was just an everyday Australian who was trying to pay down his mortgage and look after his children and ensure they had a brighter future.'”

Tell us what you really think.

Dirty laundry out in the open? Speaking of post-election soul searching, the Greens are also wondering what went wrong after the party failed to secure a second lower house seat and appears to be going backwards in the Senate, with a loss of one spot in South Australia and the possibility of losing a spot in Victoria and one in Western Australia. In a piece on The Guardian yesterday, former Greens staffer and ex-candidate Osman Faruqi wrote about the party’s shortcomings this election and was met with criticism on Twitter from NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham, who accused Faruqi of unfairly blaming Greens leader Richard Di Natale and not laying the blame elsewhere.

osman tweets

The piece didn’t call for sackings, but it seems to have stoked enough resentment to bring arguments about party strategy into the public sphere — something incredibly rare for the Greens, who are loath to brief journos about internal party matters, unlike their Liberal and Labor colleagues.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

United States

Jan 21, 2016

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Bonnie and Clyde remake — no, that doesn’t get it. They were, um, zombie Sonny and Cher. No, too glib. Liza Minnelli and that one dude she met in rehab and married? Gah, gaak. Noooooooo. How to describe this latest, but surely not the last, of many many extraordinary moments — former VP candidate Sarah Palin, on stage at Ames, Iowa, endorsing Donald Trump for the presidency? Three weeks out from the Iowa caucus, the first primary contest in the 2016 presidential race, they were on stage together for half an hour. Trump, looking like a mafioso c.1956, introducing her the way Republicans always introduce her — “she’s a wonderful woman, got a wonderful husband” — and then Palin wandered out in a top that appeared to be made of shredded metal, like the chandelier had fallen on her just before she came in. They looked like self-caricatures, like they had dressed up as the people they actually were for a Halloween party.

When Trump eventually spoke later, he didn’t sound anything like sinister and self-parodic. When Palin started, she sounded more so.

She sounded worse. Or better, depending on your point of view. The term “rambling” is used so often of Palin you presume they now put it in the media calls: “Former governor Palin will give a rambling press conference at 1315 hours EST …”, but I have always thought of it as bebop. The principle of bebop is to leave most of the actual song out, its shape defined by the notes around it, which are technically off-key. That’s Palin’s technique, and, well, well here’s a slice:

“When asked why I would jump into a primary — kind of stirring it up a little bit maybe — and choose one over some friends who are running and I’ve endorsed a couple others in their races before they decided to run for president, I was told left and right, ‘you are going to get so clobbered in the press. You are just going to get beat up and chewed up and spit out.’

“You know, I’m thinking, ‘and?’”

You can more or less hear Gregory Corso recite that over slow sax at the Hungry I sometime. But that’s just the warm-up. By the middle of it, she has lifted off, left bop behind for no recognisable tune at all. Palin has become the free jazz of the political right, taking off in Sun Ra’s spaceship to ask the Pharaohs whether Ben Carson’s right about the  pyramids. I mean:

“Where, in the private sector, you actually have to balance budgets in order to prioritise — to keep the main thing, the main thing — and he knows the main thing. A president is to keep us safe economically and militarily. He knows the main thing, and he knows how to lead the charge. So troops, hang in there, because help’s on the way because he, better than anyone, isn’t he known for being able to command, fire!”

The whole thing is worth watching, start to finish. I put it on, in a shoebox hotel room in Frankfurt, while starting to make a pot of coffee. Twenty minutes later, the coffee pot was still in hand, and Palin was still bubbling away. Presumably, she writes her own stuff — she’s long since fallen off the Republican roster, her TV channel has closed down, and she has returned to posting vids and feels on Facebook as an outlet — and, all crap aside, there’s a genuine talent to it. It’s a sort of incantatory love-in, and I presume someone’s done a cultural studies master’s deriving her sources. It’s more ’60s rave than old-school nativist stump speech, Huey Long meets Hanoi Jane, Still Life With Peckerwood, Tout Fisting in Amerikkka. That’s content, not just form. Dig this:

“Well, Trump, what he’s been able to do, which is really ticking people off, which I’m glad about, he’s going rogue left and right, man. That’s why he’s doing so well. He’s been able to tear the veil off this idea of the system. The way that the system really works and please hear me on this. I want you guys to understand more and more how the system, the establishment, works and has gotten us into the troubles that we are in — in America.

“The permanent political class has been doing the bidding of their campaign donor class and that’s why you see that the borders are kept open. For them, for their cheap labor that they want to come in. That’s why they’ve been bloating budgets. It’s for crony capitalists to be able to suck off of them. It’s why we see these lousy trade deals that gut our industry for special interests elsewhere.”

What are we to make of that, being delivered to a Republican crowd? Yes, it is the usual right-wing populist move, to take left-wing motifs. But this is beyond that, it’s straight out of the old new left of the late ’60s. Palin is two Xanaxes away from robbing an armoured car to pay for a revival of the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Trump has been running this sort of politics for months (as your correspondent pointed out last year), steering far away from the pieties of the libertarian right, which many Republican-leaning voters are now sick of. You can only be told so many times that in America everyone can be Bill Gates if it weren’t for that socialist Obama, before that stops being inspiring and starts being a cause of self-loathing. Trump offers something different: not a freedom, as arduous as it is illusory, but a release from it — a release into good jobs like we used to have, and straightforward life, and the maaaan making the decisions. Trump’s the boss, and a boss is a good thing to have. Trump as “the boss” works in a manner complementary to that of Bruce Springsteen — the man who has spent 40 years cultivating an image of himself as a fellow worker is honoured by being designated as the one guy who isn’t. He’s the one who’s not like us, but who makes it possible, by his actions, for us to be us.

Indeed, Palin made that explicit towards the end of her Coltrane-of-thought — after a moment where, thanks to the reversed US political colour system, she sounded like Rosa Luxemburg:

Tell her she’s not conservative? How about the rest of us? Right wingin’, bitter, clingin’, proud clingers of our guns, our God and our religions and our constitution. Tell us that we’re not red enough? Yeah, coming from the establishment. Right.”

Before ending much much later with:

Now, finally friends, I want you to try to picture this. It’s a nice thing to picture. Exactly one year from tomorrow: former President Barack Obama … packs up the teleprompters and the selfie-sticks and the Greek columns and all that hopey, changey stuff and he heads on back to Chicago, where I’m sure he can find some community there to organise again.

“There, he can finally look up. President Obama will be able to look up, and there, over his head, he’ll be able to see that shining, towering, Trump Tower. Yes, Barack, he built that. And that says a lot.”

There’s an MA in this speech alone.

Palin’s endorsement of Trump is not of huge importance as a positive act — though it doesn’t hurt in a rural state like Iowa, where some take to Palin’s cornpone ways more than to Trump — so much as being important for who she didn’t endorse. Were you to believe the Tea Party right believed in smaller government, a republic not an empire, etc, you’d be surprised that Palin didn’t endorse either Rand Paul (now dying away in the polls) or Ted Cruz.

Cruz has become the most uncompromising of the candidates in putting forward a right-wing American conservative view — small government within, strong borders without, forward defence, i.e. attack — and, until a week ago he was running comfortably ahead of Trump in the consonantless state. But Cruz faltered when he took a small-government stand against the “renewable fuel standard”, a venerable boondoggle that subsidises Iowa farmers to grow fuel for huge amounts of ethanol, a permanent and unchanging subsidy that the state’s Republicans have never got around to questioning. Cruz has — he wants to phase it out over five years — and the more widely known this becomes, the worse he does. Trump is now even with him in an average of all the polls.

That’s significant, because Iowa was the one place where Trump wasn’t ahead. In states like New Hampshire he has a lead double that of his rivals (in New Hampshire it’s either Marco Rubio or the socially “centrist” John Kasich). Elsewhere it’s a mere 10 points. Should he fail to storm through at least half-a-dozen primaries, the whole polling process will be shown up as so distorted as to be of no worth. That’s not impossible — a lot of this is junk polling done on the cheap — but for them all to be so utterly wrong would be to indicate that a division between fantasy and reality had developed in American politics of such durability as to suggest that millions of people now see “representation” — of values, beliefs, character — as so separate from representation politically as to have no relationship. They really want Trump, but they will never vote for him. That would be odd, but it’s the only scenario by which Trump doesn’t win, and doesn’t win many many primaries.

When that happens, if it does, the panic in the Republican Party will be marvellous to behold. That may well have been the driving force behind Palin’s endorsement: she has been so furious, first at the Republican establishment, then the right, then the Tea Party right, for successively distancing themselves from her that she is simply out for revenge now. Her enumeration of Trump’s values was contradicted by, well, Trump’s values — this socially liberal New Yawk fratboy, rich off rezonings, being celebrated as a Christian constitutionalist.

Through all that, through the whole speech, Trump mugged like, well, if Mussolini: The Biography had been filmed starring the late Rodney Dangerfield then a) I would so see that movie, and b) that’s what it would have looked like. Trump mugged his way through it because there were clearly points at which he had to stop himself from laughing. Palin not only gave an essentially fictional account of the man she was endorsing, she couldn’t even keep her own arguments consistent, simultaneously urging everyone to “kick ISIS’ butt” and also “stay out of those wars where they’re all jihading each other, and let Allah sort it out”. The difference between her and Trump is that, like much of the right, she remains wholly defined by Obama and a total opposition to him. That’s one reason she didn’t win. Trump barely mentions Obama at all. That’s one reason he might.

Comments & corrections

Jan 21, 2016

5 comments

Faction v faction

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “What’s so wrong with party disunity?” (yesterday). Who wrote that editorial? Obviously someone more Turnbullist than journalist. History is repeating with the all the predictability of a farce. Malcolm Turnbull is heading into the same turbulence that Julia Gillard did. Crikey‘s solution? “Tony Abbott sucking it up”. That seems about as likely as Abbott reading it online.

Palin freestyles

Dr Tom Osborn writes: Re. “Australians are not impressed with Trump” (yesterday). Crikey asked: “We’re not sure what on earth she is actually saying. If anyone can translate, we’d love to know”. The answer is: “Nobody knows”. Nothing has changed.

Dear diary

Glen Frost writes: Re. “Nothing to hide, nothing to fear? Brandis seeks court ruling to protect his secrets” (yesterday).  Surely in the era of “agile” government, the contents of the A-G’s diary are simply an issue of downloading a file from Google/ Microsoft Calendar and redacting the sensitive meetings? Or is agile for everyone except ministers?

Art imitating life

Simon Hemphill writes: Re. “Laughing shock: is Here Come the Habibs racist or groundbreaking? Or both?” (yesterday). Perhaps what is most puzzling about this show is the notion that $22 million would be enough to purchase a house of that magnitude in Vaucluse! The nature of the self-deprecating humour may (or may not) hit the mark but most certainly their real estate aspirations are way off.

United States

Sep 16, 2015

5 comments

Shrouded in scaffolding, the Dome of the Capitol, towering over the Mall, looks less like the vast crown of empire these days, and more like a bad art project. I’d seen it the night before, arriving in DC, through the arch by which you come out of Union Station, a nice bit of framing, letting you know you’re entering the new Rome. Or were. Surrounded by metal and light, it glittered portentously. Intriguing, but not commanding.

The next day, in the bright late summer sunlight, above 3000 or so Tea Partiers, it looked neither. Third World was the leitmotif, and the crowd only added to the picture. The halt, the lame, the old and above all the white, they were gathered to protest against the proposed Iran deal, negotiated by President Barack Obama and about to get through Congress by complex manoeuvres. The crowd had been summoned by Tea Party Patriots, the now largely online Tea Party peak body, to assemble and protest against the “worst decision a president has ever made”.

Five years ago, the Tea Party could have got triple, quadruple the crowd, and, well, double the quality. Among the crowd of mostly fat, mostly poorish, 60-somethings in sweatpants and branded T-shirts, edgy “Veterans for a Strong America”, black-garbed, some eccentric secret order of young men in neatly pressed suits over which flowing crimson robes were draped — there were few of the more prosperous middle-class people who’d been the backbone of the Tea Party in its early years.

Where’d these folks come from? “Virginia.” “Virginny, we drove in together.” “Texas,” says one woman, beside her husband in a mobility scooter. Her bye-byes flap under her arms in neon nylon sleeves like two stolen hams. “Did you fly?” She looks at me as if I were mad. “Drove. Took us three days. We’re here for Ted.” Ted is Ted Cruz, the Canadian-born Texas Senator and candidate who has aligned himself with Anglo nativism more than any other candidate. He’s speaking as we are talking, a short-haired man with a hangdog face in business suit and tie, ploughing his way through a cogent argument about the deal.

“I wanna ask every Senate Democrat, ‘How will you look in the eyes of the mother, or father, or sons, or daughters of those who are murdered by jihadists? Those Americans who were blown up? Those Americans who were shot? Those Americans who were killed? Those Israelis who were murdered?'”

Well, cogent on its own terms, which are fictional. The background to the Iran deal is that, despite sanctions, the Iranians are on track to develop nuclear arms capability in three to six months (and have as much right to it as any nation). Trying to bomb the program out of action would be impossible, as much of it is deep-buried; even carpet-bombing Iran wouldn’t do it, and would, of course, unleash hell. Invasion of Iran is out of the question. The deal has been achieved because the Iranians are desperate to unblock the sanctions. Whether or not the terms of inspection, etc, are adequate is a matter for specialists.

Cruz purports to be one of them, but those who came to hear him appear to be in minority. In the stifling DC heat, as he makes his case, inflammatory enough, but still recognisable foreign policy discourse, the crowd shifts and fans itself, applauds little. Last week, Cruz threw the event open to others, and so more than 20 speakers are lined up, including Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and the Donald himself. It’s a Woodstock of right-wing crazy, the bruised and battered dome above makes an all-too apt symbol of their aggrieved victimhood. Having heard from generals and congressmen, by minute 10 of Cruz, we’re not listening, we’re waiting. And after a couple more speakers it’s “… Donald Trump”, and on he comes.

To see why Donald Trump is now polling 32% in a 16-candidate race (Rick Perry has pulled out, citing dooty, family, etc — and has also been indicted for felony misconduct in office. Oops.), you have to see him among all the other carpetbaggers eager to grab themselves a share of right, white disaffection. Seven years ago, they were doing the thunderous “Obama is a traitor/socialist/communist” thing, he was possibly sent by Satan, America was divinely ordained. Later in the rally Glenn Beck, the pop DJ-turned-TV Mormon apocalyptician, would take 20 minutes to recite the notion of dark times, the judgement on all of us, etc, while the crowd began to slowly stream out, passion losing out to parking fees. It stopped working when Obama was re-elected and the sky didn’t fall in. But the class of 2010 have nothing else.

Trump does. “I been doing deals for along time … Never ever have I seen a deal so incompetently negotiated as this one.” Presence and energy for a start. Solid, square-shouldered, bulked out by a loose-cut suit, the hair less ridiculous at a distance than in close-up, Trump has many times the energy of anyone else on stage. His message is simple and direct — all the solutions are easy, and they’re not being done because everyone is stoopid. “When I’m president, we’re going to win big. We’re going to win all the time. We’re going to win so much you’ll get tired of winning!” Cheers. “I’m joking of course (beat) — you never get tired of winning!” Bigger cheers. For years, the right has been obsessive about Obama, defined themselves against him. What started as a rallying point became self-subjugation. Trump is not obsessive, but dismissive. Barely mentions Obama at all. “These guys are stoopid.” I’ll fix it.

This is the salesman of course, the art of the deal. The schtick relies on the magical power of language. Tell someone they’re great, they always were great, we’ll win, of course we will, and you change people’s composition. EST, Synanon, The Landmark Forum, NLP, corporate trainers — they all use these approaches, and they work like a drug. Reagan did it, but his approach was like Edmund Burke speaking in the Commons compared to Trump’s cartoonish version. What’s most interesting is what Trump doesn’t use: American exceptionalism — “this is the greatest country in the world”, manifest destiny, “ordained by God, the last best hope of man” — all the stuff that really only became dominant, indeed suffocating, after 9/11. He simply says America should be so powerful, have such a big military that no one even thinks of crossing it. Not for any celestial reason, just because “the world goes to hell when America doesn’t run it”. It’s interesting how few pundits have remarked on this, how at variance Trump is from the rest of the right-wing pack.

“A section of the Republican Party — a third, currently — will accept anything, anything to feel a sense of energy and simple truths again … “

Trump is pure anti-politics of course; for once, that vastly overused term is apt. His appeal manages to obscure the inconvenient fact that many of his economic positions are not in the new style of techno-utopian neoliberalism — “let’s find the next Steve Jobs and we’ll pull money out of our ass to buy the new thing he invents, so recovery” — or Romney’s disdainful 47%. He’s pro-public healthcare, a minimum wage and social security. Why wouldn’t he be? He’s an old-fashioned Keynesian-era capitalist making money from big deals involving property, rezoning, union deals and enough demand in the economy for there to be a market.

People wonder how Trump could appeal to so many poor and workers when he looks like the archetypal old-skool capitalist/robber baron, snarling and chewing on a cigar. But that’s part of the appeal, because such people are from the era when capital made jobs happen, and bosses and workers shared more of a common public world. Now, the tycoons the Republicans tell people to admire are the black-turtleneck brigade — young men from the information society elite, doing something no one understands, and which doesn’t appear to offer any sort of job at all. Many of them are creepy Ayn Randians, transhumanists, techno-accelerationists, excited by the transformation of a world people would like to hold onto. Trump promises full restoration, without details. You can have America as it used to be, but it’ll be better. How? Leave it to me. Yes, boss.

Thus Trump, despite his centrist policies, has won over many Tea Party followers and a goodly proportion of evangelicals. Indeed, when told that Trump supports a public health system, 44% of such say they do too — when told Obama does, that figure falls to 16%. That’s a long way from “Obamacare is satanic” position hitherto being pushed, and makes obvious how floating and imaginary these positions really are. The core of it is race, of course. Even though Obama’s not running this year, part of the appeal of Trump is a desire to defeat the current President retroactively. President Trump would be a resumption of national glory from Reagan onwards. The white folks in between can be dismissed as bumblers and degenerates, but Obama must be repudiated and his era closed, the great departure. Then, in the phrase used since the resignation of Nixon, and never fulfilled, “our long national nightmare will be over”.

That’s certainly the mood on the lawn. “Damn right!” “Yeah!” people yell, at every snappy line. On the other side of the street, Code Pink have organised a counter-demo of about 30, with an anti-war slogan painted letter by letter on a line of parasols — ergggh — right beside a counter-demo of anti-Zionist Hasidic rabbis in full black get out. A few Code Pinkers wander over to the very edge of the rally, among those leaving early for dialysis. They’re in a mood to argue, and one Pinker in particular — a woman, young, black, tall and poised — gets all the attention. I mean all the attention. Old white guys in schlubby shirts are lining up three deep to denounce. “Miss, you’re naive, you’re hopelessly naive.” “You support terrorists!” “I’m talking to the lady — you’re naive, you know nothing, you understand.” Half a dozen old Code Pinkers around, same vintage as these guys, yell out. But it’s the young black woman who drives them crazy, just crazy.

Sarah Palin begins her free-form rant — here’s a selection of the full transcript:

“Thank you! Man, I never thought I’d say it, but I think you all are a lot tougher than Alaskans being able to be out here. I’m roasting, I’m melting. I’ve always said though, sweat is my sanity, so as I sweat let’s bring some sanity to this discussion about this insane treaty that’s in front of Congress … We’re negotiating with the braggadocious, number one state sponsor of terrorism? No … It’s up to us to tell the enemy, ‘We win, you lose’. Just like Ronald Reagan would have told them. Because you gotta think about again, the premise of this. Why did we ever get to that point of supping with Sharia? It’s because Iran was dirty dealing. They were bad actors already, accused of hiding their secret nuclear weapons work in their secret facility. Well we just codified it … No, only in an Orwellian Obama world full of sprinkle fairy dust blown from atop his unicorn as he’s peeking through a really pretty pink kaleidoscope would he ever see victory or safety for America or Israel in this treaty. This treaty will not bring peace. You don’t reward terrorism! You kill it!”

As this performance piece floated across the air and a heckler was detained and hustled out (he was a mentally ill man, floridly psychotic, the only possible competition to Palin), the berating of the Code Pink gal reached its height. “Sirs I can only argue with you one at a time,” she said, half-amused. The heckler was being handcuffed — i.e. treated — a few metres away. A tour bus pulled up. People poured out and began taking photos. The chaos seemed to swell and grow outward.

Later that evening, pundits would wonder why Cruz had invited Trump and Palin. The next day they would get their answer, when a fresh round of outrage about Trump hit. He’d already been pinged for off-the-cuff remarks about Carly Fiorina, recorded in a Rolling Stone piece — “look at that face; who’d vote for a face like that?” — and now he was going on the attack against Ben Carson, who had chided Trump for a lack of humility. “Look, he’s a doctor, I guess he’s an alright doctor” — Carson performed the first separation of head-conjoined twins — “but he doesn’t know me. He talks about God, quotes the Bible, sounds like he just learnt that verse before he went on”. The attack provoked fresh confusion among the right, given to an unctuous piety, and you couldn’t help but give one cheer for the Donald for bursting it. Since the remarks came out at the same time as polls had him at 32%, the pundits were more or less at a loss. They had not yet dealt with the coup de grace, the last part of the Rolling Stone piece in which Trump talked about his daughter, Ivanka, and mused “if I weren’t her father, I might be dating her”.

The right-wing press have simply passed over that piece of incestuous musing in silence. It’s Trump the enormous id stalking the landscape, saying what many think and few say, channelling the full Lolita-ism of much American culture, the Mileys and Taylors. It”s the patriarch musing to an amanuensis that maybe none of the rules apply to him — or that people will act that way if they are sufficiently desperate for him to represent them. But a section of the Republican Party — a third, currently — will accept anything, anything to feel a sense of energy and simple truths again, imagining that the country’s myriad problems can be taken apart as simply as the scaffolding that currently imprisons the towering focus of its power.

Media

Mar 20, 2014

5 comments

The last remaining advantage of print media. Rolf Harris is back in court in the UK for pre-trial hearings, and the British judge overseeing the case has slapped a blanket suppression order on reporting what was said at the hearing. Strictly speaking, that means that no one is allowed to report on it. But Australia’s newspapers have gone ahead anyway, with most of them putting the story on their front pages today. Don’t bother looking it up online, though. They’ve not put the story up online in any form.

Crikey spoke to one of the lawyers advising Fairfax, and he told us that while one could argue what Australian newspapers did wasn’t in the jurisdiction of the British court, he advised Fairfax to tread carefully anyway (on legal advice, Crikey has decided to do the same). Interestingly, Fairfax’s papers carried a disclaimer telling readers not to tweet or talk about the story online if they don’t want to risk being in contempt of court. We think this is the first time a newspaper has done so in Australia. So far, it seems the Twitterverse is heeding the advice.

If you want to know what was said, print’s your only option this morning. We suggest you buy the paper … — Myriam Robin

Press Council slaps down ‘Green Lunacy’ spread. In August last year, The Daily Telegraph ran two stories under the banner headline “Green Lunacy”. One was about Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore supposedly opposing cars in at James Packer’s Barangaroo casino development. The other was about the council’s membership of Sustainable Business Australia, headlined “Electric car club a shocking waste”.

Stephen Pate filed a complaint with the Press Council about both stories, saying that the first article was unfair because it depicted Moore as opposed to all cars in the precinct (she merely didn’t want an increase in parking spaces due to congestion concerns) and the second was inaccurate because it got the name of Sustainable Business Australia wrong, and implied that the body sold electric cars (it doesn’t). The Daily Tele responded that the full article on Moore made her position clear further down in the body of the text, and that it had published a correction about the errors in the second article once alerted to them.

In its adjudication, the Press Council wrote that it considers the word “ban” in the headline and the words “stop cars from parking in the same sentence” conveyed an inaccurate message the Moore was opposed to all parking in Barangaroo:

“It considers that nothing else in the article and accompanying material was sufficiently clear and prominent to correct or compensate for this inaccuracy. Accordingly, the complaint about the first article is upheld. In relation to the second article, the Press Council considers that the publication did not take reasonable steps to avoid the errors identified by the complainant in the headline and the article. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint is upheld.”

There’s a summary of the adjudication on Page 8 of the paper today. — Myriam Robin

Video of the Day: Sarah “First Lady of the Outdoors” Palin is back with a new TV series — and she wants you to get red, white and blue. Here’s the promo. Will you be tuning in?

Caro's Flotsam & Jetsam

Jan 22, 2014

5 comments

Border patrol. So George Brandis has put his hands over his eyes and promised faithfully (promise, Your Honour) that he will not read the documents obtained by the raid on the lawyer representing the East Timorese government in its stoush with us over oil and gas in the Timor Sea. But if he’s not going to read them, why did Australian authorities feel the need to raid the lawyer’s offices in the first place? What were they looking for? And what were the “security issues” they were concerned about? Could it be that the case Australia intends to put in the International Court of Justice is — ahem — not very strong? (What’s Ian Callinan suddenly doing on the ICJ panel, by the way? I suspect this story has much further to go.)

The East Timorese, not to put too fine a point on it, are deeply pissed off, and they’re not the only ones. Our brand-new “adults in charge” government has also annoyed another of our neighbours — Indonesia — to the extent that a little light sabre-rattling has begun.

As a rather pointed letter from James McCardle to The Sydney Morning Herald points out, Kevin Rudd was ridiculed when (while still PM) he warned of just such a possible outcome in response to the bellicose “turn back the boats” policy of the Coalition. Winning votes in marginal seats at home, it seems, does not necessarily win friends in other places. Incursions by our navy (which apparently cannot navigate properly — also a worry) into Indonesian territorial waters have led to Indonesia deciding to send a warship (A WARSHIP!) to patrol its naval boundaries.

Holy shit! Bullying small-fry East Timor is one thing, but Indonesia has a population of 250 million. Guys (and apart from Julie Bishop, you are all guys), word to the wise: if you want to throw your weight around internationally, could you pick on people your own size or smaller? And, while you’re at it, could you be a tad more professional about the intelligence work (spying is best done secretly, I believe)? That East Timor thingy is simply mortifying.

Speaking of “turning back the boats” (and, unless you’re the minister in charge, what else do we talk about these days?) I liked an article in The Mercury, which finally threw Godwin’s Law to the winds. And also this cartoon by Judy Horacek, courtesy of Kerryn Goldsworthy:

borders

It’s getting hot in here. Inside our beloved borders this week, however, all was not well. We saw Adelaide dubbed the hottest city on earth and Australia the hottest country but, hey, thanks to good old private enterprise and the morality of the market, only a few people lost their cool, so to speak.

We also saw the tragedy and devastation of bushfires due to the extreme heat across Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, with homes destroyed and one life lost. Climate scientists warned that such events are likely to get more intense and more frequent, leading to shock-horror headlines like this:

leafy

I couldn’t help wondering if what we gain on the repeal of the carbon tax we will lose many times over on the cost of home insurance.

Just when you think we’ve come so far … Anyway, I don’t know about you, but sometimes, when the present simply becomes too much to bear (and the future too awful to contemplate) I like to turn back to the comforting certainties of the past, so thanks are due to Slate magazine for this inspirational document:

Sarah Palin steps in. It is particularly appropriate given that this week brought Martin Luther King Day. Yet, just as I was restoring my faith in human nature by luxuriating in the maturity, decency and achievements of the past, I was returned with a bang to the nastiness of the present:

But at least Palin’s remarks provided satirical fuel for a few finalists for tweet of the week:

rex hupke

 And this story gave Bette Midler an idea:

But the winning tweet (Ta-da) is apropos of nothing in particular, except that it chimed so perfectly with my own response to so much of the news this week:

Onward, Christian soldiers. I also absolutely loved this discussion about whether Christians are discriminated against between Cristina Odone and Robin Ince across two editions of the New Statesman. Ince’s brilliantly reasoned response reminded me that in some ways the world really is becoming a better and more interesting place.

Another black mark against Christie. And this just in about troubled New Jersey Governor and erstwhile Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie, a reminder of why education must remain public. Bon voyage for now …

Tips and rumours

Oct 24, 2013

5 comments

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Melbourne arts lovers in the freezer. It’s Melbourne Festival time, which means of course that on cue the temperature plummets and Antarctic winds sweep in rain, hail and hints of sleet. Festival chairman and Myer family scion Carrillo Gantner might be saying “I told you so” to Spring Street and the Arts Victoria mandarins who scuttled his plans to have the annual arts shindig moved to a temperate February more suited to al fresco arts performances and a party atmosphere leavened by the occasional waft of smoke from regional bushfires.

The festival has been issuing press releases this week about various shows that are on track to meet the box office targets it has set itself. This must offer some solace from this week’s wintry conditions and might also lift the spirits of festival organisers. This is the first year of the festival’s new management structure of creative director Josephine Ridge and executive director Katie McLeish. We hear a chill wind has been blowing through their offices at times …

They know your business. Earlier this week we raised concerns from a reader about accountants leveraging clients’ data to make money. Another reader added this:

“Accounting software provider Xero’s CEO Rod Drury said last year that with their single database he knows more about the state of the NZ economy than their Bureau of Statistics. Recent growth in Australia would add to that I’m sure. Perhaps the value of the data is more interesting to some than the value of the accounting software itself.”

Coalition debt strategy. One individual strangely silent on Joe Hockey lifting the debt limit by a whopping 66% is the Coalition’s one-time finance spokesman Barnaby Joyce, who during his brief but amusing stint in that portfolio declared that both the US and Australia were in danger of defaulting (the Right likes to claim Barnaby has since been vindicated by the Tea Party’s lunacy). “We’re going into hock to our eyeballs to people overseas,” Joyce said in 2010. (The bit about overseas debt is wrong, but never mind). “And you’ve got to ask the question how far in debt do you want to go? We are getting to a point where we can’t repay it.”

That was when debt was at $125 billion. Now Joe Hockey says debt will be heading over $400 billion and wants the credit card limit extended to $500 billion. It seems debt is OK by Barnaby when the Coalition racks it up, but evil when Labor does so.

Hockey sneakily justified increasing the debt limit on the basis that “the outlook for the previous government’s last budget has deteriorated further”. Er, it’s not the previous government’s budget any more, Joe — it’s yours. You could have a mini-budget at any time to slash spending. If you decide to do that, make sure you hit up Barnaby for some budget ideas. Shouldn’t take long; the only thing Barnaby ever supports is more spending and tax cuts.

Important election. So you found the recent federal election dispiriting, didn’t like the candidates and didn’t really want any of them to win? Here’s an alternative election where the candidates are much smarter and have better personalities. It’s “Australia’s Favourite Bird“, and you have 52 candidates to choose from. The comp has led to some heated debate among twitchers about the relative merits of those birds shortlisted. Bird guru Sean Dooley is disappointed his personal pick is not polling well (and isn’t it appropriate that he’s “tweeting” about it) …

… but Ms Tips is pleased to report her choice, the Hooded Plover, is well-placed in third spot (perhaps because funnyman John Clarke is managing the plover’s election campaign). And no — we’re not talking about the Masked Lapwing, which some ignoramuses call the plover. Tips has raised concerns with the comp that the Orange-Bellied Parrot is not a candidate; the response was “this year’s vote is for birds people could actually see”. Huh. Go to Melaleuca in south-west Tasmania. And we can’t believe anyone would vote for the Noisy Miner or the Silver Gull (that’s a plain old seagull to you). As for the Spangled Drongo — we can think of a few federal pollies who fit that description.

We’ll keep you posted on the winner. You can cast your ballot here.

In other news for twitchers, there’s a great pic out today of nesting Peregrine Falcons in a remote Tasmanian location, courtesy of well-known wildlife biologist and go-to media man Nick Mooney.

Palin’s keeping up the fight. If you’re ever feeling bored, Tips suggests you check in with Sarah Palin’s Facebook and Twitter accounts (she has just short of 1 million followers). Here’s her latest FB rant; she can’t sleep apparently, tossing and turning due to recent evidence of government corruption. So the Tea Party forcing the Republicans to freeze the government and push the US economy to the brink hasn’t bothered you then, Sarah?

Story idea. Here at the Crikey bunker we receive many interesting story pitches, as you can imagine. Here’s one from yesterday:

“I was wondering if Crikey were interested in publishing a story about Exergaming, which is a combination of video gaming and exercise. It is incredibly popular in both the States and the U.K. In Australia, however, in Australia there’s only one exergaming gym in Hobart. The stories angle is from the perspective of exergaming contributing to decreasing obesity. Let me know if you are interested.”

No.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

United States

Dec 6, 2011

5 comments

Well it has been a helluva ride for the Republican Party, as its right-wing base searches for anyone but the passionless and, by American standards, centrist mainstream candidate Mitt Romney. Since the heartbreaking news that Sarah Palin would not be running, the Republican Right has, by a process of default, stumbled upon genuine diversity, with first Michele Bachmann and then Herman Cain breaking up the line of ageing white men who usually fill the candidature ranks.

The more surprising of these was Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, who has now withdrawn from the race, after being hit not merely with multiple accusations of sexual harassment, culminating in revelations that he had had a 13-year affair with a woman, the perfectly named Ginger White, whose bills he had paid for some time. Early revelations of the affair had caused Cain to “suspend” his campaign, a polite term for “panic behind closed doors”.

Revelations of the affair — and the Cain campaign’s defence that his accusers were talking of “a consensual relationship” which pretty much confirmed it — put paid to any residual support Cain could muster. He had long since lost the mainstream Right of the party, as represented by groups such as the National Review, but he retained strong support in the hinterland of Republican activists and their nutty blogosphere.

S-xual harassment accusations, even by three women, can be passed off as vindictive, and the Right doesn’t like the laws that make such accusations possible anyway. But a decade-plus affair is something else — not only does it indicate a corrosive attitude to the image of marriage that the Right holds dear, but it also indicates a capacity for magical thinking that sits ill with a winning candidate (no one cares what sort of President they would make).

But more than anything, it turns people away because they feel taken for fools. Herman Cain became, in an instant, the John Edwards of the Republicans — in each case the standard bearer of true belief turned out to be the very man whose entire life was a lie. Edwards has dropped down the memory hole of American life; it is extraordinary the degree to which he has just disappeared.

Cain’s fate is not to be forgotten. It may be worse. Right-of-centre Americans who wanted an intelligent candidate were still reeling from the impact of Palin. Cain made the Wasilla thriller look like Frederick the Great — from his contemptuous remarks about not knowing who the President of “Uzbeki beki beki beki stan” was, to his pizza-hotline style “9-9-9” tax plan, to a surreal performance on the question of Libya, which began with him checking with the interviewer as to which country they were talking about (“Gaddafi, right?”).

Cain brought exactly the wrong sort of insouciance at the wrong time — just as the John McCain/Sarah Palin double had foundered in 2008 when the collapse of the global economy convinced the US public that they should vote on ability, not identity, on what people could do, not what sort of idea of themselves the candidate reflected back to them.

With China rising, the US falling, the Arab Spring and the collapse of Europe, the Republican Right knew that the presence of Cain as a candidate, and, God help them, as a winner, would have promised not merely a loss to Obama, but a caving-in of the Republican brand, a simple absence of discourse, replaced by the noise “beki beki beki”.

So it will be very surprising if we do not eventually find the hand, not merely of the Romney campaign, but of the Republican Party centre, behind the Cain debacle — even if only to give a nudge to what was going to happen anyway. There is plenty of commentary around pointing to Cain’s vanity, poor organisation and selective relationship with reality — but the important point is surely that it exactly matched the predilections of the small but active Right push that sent him to the top of the polls.

Indeed, it was the only way that a black man could have risen to the top of the Republican Right’s wish list. They had tried everyone else on offer — everyone new and exciting that is, ignoring only one old dude named Gingrich. Cain was the last cab off the rank. His perfect match with Tea Party fantasy made him not white, but essentially transparent; they saw past the colour that would have otherwise limited their identification with him.

I don’t mean by that that Tea Parties are necessarily racist, though some are. It is simply that their celebration of America, though it claims to be about the abstract values of America, are in fact grounded in its white ethnos — hence all the malarkey with tricorn hats in Walmart carparks. The strength of this myth is that the concrete and the abstract in here — for the Tea Party, it’s our myth of nationhood, but it is also a story for all mankind. But nevertheless it only happened in one place once. Yet it is the only “correct” vision of how human beings should be.

That powerful and paradoxical American exceptionalism has become supercharged among the Right of late — a hysterical reaction to its disappearance. And so, with Cain gone, the Right has finally alighted on Newt Gingrich, a man whose polls were flatlining so badly some months ago that his staff quit en masse.

The last choice, on the face of it, should have been the first one. Gingrich is undoubtedly intelligent, across the issues, capable of talking clearly about policy. He is also an obsessive exceptionalist, and happy to be the type of conservative who sees an absolute distinction between the rights that should be extended to Americans, and those that should be extended to others, which is precisely none.

Thus he has spoken hitherto of the reality of global warming, but also of the Islamicisation of America as represented by the Ground Zero (non-) mosque. He has spoken with something approaching rationality about immigration, yet he continues to blather on about traditional values while divorcing one wife while she had cancer, and having a long affair behind the back of another, while pursuing Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

That mix of fantasy and reality is what has kept Newt at arm’s length from the core of the Right — not the whacko stuff, but the fact that he once authored a book called Contract with the Earth, and that in his career as an academic — he has never worked in the private sector — he founded one of the world’s first environmental studies programs, in 1974.

But with Michelle Bachman a distant memory, Rick Perry now a joke, Herman Cain a trivial pursuit question, Ron Paul a permanent 8%-er (though check out his fantastic ad, made all the better by the fact that this libertarian is using early Soviet constructivism as an aesthetic), Rick Santorum now permanently associated with ass-juice, it’s now all Newt.

He has a good chance in Iowa and Nevada, is coming up fast in New Hampshire — where until now, Romney was leading 45% to 15% against the nearest contender — will take South Carolina, and only needs the last of these to be competitive in Florida and Colorado. Two weeks ago, the Republicans thought they might have a black man as their candidate — they will instead get Newt, the ultimate black swan, the unexpected unexpected to lead “Ameri meri meri merica stan”.

*After captivating Crikey readers — and winning The Age non-fiction book of the year prize — for his 2008 US election road show, Guy Rundle is back stateside in the New Year to do it all again. His on-the-ground reports from the Republican primaries begin on January 9.