Silly Advisers, Silly Media – This is Canberra, Today.

Yesterday’s “outrage” involving the PM and Tony Abbott has been one of the more diverting stories doing the rounds of our media. It appears to tell us more about the media and contemporary politics more than it does about Australia’s protesting spirit.

The story itself, of an escape from a Canberra restaurant besieged by unarmed protestors, provided some great footage for the TV print media to run around the world and back. Channel 9’s news in Sydney tonight ran the footage somewhere near 5 times in its first 5 minutes a day after the Outrage, even with a Green Filter, covered with graphics explaining how security operations work on such occasions.  The reality seems to be more prosaic, with Gillard and Abbott under little substantial threat.  Not that we will hear that from some elements of the media, used to showing footage of Abbott Saying No and Labor Party people repeating talking points. The Twitter explosion of tweets and stories over the last two days has been heavily sustained.

It now turns out that it was one of Gillard’s own media advisers leaked the information to a person connected to the Tent Embassy* that Abbott was going to be in the notorious restaurant. It does raise significant questions as to why the adviser thought that was an advisable thing to do –  to not consider that a group angry with Abbott over his comments might not want to visit the restaurant not far from said embassy. An egregious error.

It is, however, quite curious how Tory Maguire, from The Punch, has interpreted this action. She places the blame on Gillard’s Government. Let’s see how this article is structured to lead us to this conclusion.  Her text is in italics.

When is this sorry mess going to end?

So we now know who’s responsible for putting Julia Gillard into the most peril she’s been in since she became Prime Minister – her own office.

Peril. This is “peril”? However, to confirm the conclusion that it really was peril, let’s see another picture we have seen a hundred times in the last day.

Nice work Tony Hodges…

Nice work Tony Hodges…

And then blame the staffer fairly and squarely for it.

A senior member of the Prime Minister’s team has tonight resigned after it emerged he was the one who tipped off an Aboriginal Tent Embassy contact that Tony Abbott was in the Lobby restaurant yesterday – information that led to the Prime Minister being dragged to her car in undignified scenes that are now world news.

So, now it’s not “peril”, it’s “undignified”. And it’s world news because all media outlets are addicted to footage like that. Though, possibly without the Green Filter.

Tony Hodges, who was the one trawling the Press Gallery yesterday afternoon trying to sheet home blame for the ugly scenes to the Opposition Leader, is tonight no longer working for the PM. If it wasn’t so disgusting it would be funny. This came a day after a member of senior Cabinet Minister Anthony Albanese’s staff saw fit to send his boss off to the Press Club armed with a raft of fantastic quotes from a Hollywood movie.

An irrelevant segue into another favourite riff from the press this week – the non-story of Albanese using an Aaron Sorkin quote. It’s a non story because it appears that a large proportion of political staffers from all colours are Sorkin addicts who are just itching to include some idealistic rhetoric somewhere.  But “disgusting” and “trawling” leave you in no doubt of the opinion being held about the said staffer and his actions.  This will be the first in a range of salvos fired by the Press against the staffer – to tone of this paragraph suggests that the normally cosy relationship that the press enjoy with the staffers has been betrayed.

One wonders what other ways the Government’s staff can come up with to humiliate the people they work for. As if the Gillard Government wasn’t in enough trouble already.

It’s now a “humiliating” event for Julia Gillard – not just “peril” or “undignified”.  In addition, not a day goes by when we see someone from a media outlet saying that the “Gillard Government is in trouble”. A Government that has passed every bill it has proposed and attempting to work under the unusual circumstances of having a minority government is in trouble mostly due to media speculation, some smaller part due to major stuff ups, its lacking in principled backbone at various times as well as its difficulty to tell its story in the 30 second time periods given to it by Channels 7 and 9 in their news.  It is an unsurprising assertion, though the following one is.

Political staffers, the loyal ones, always end up reflecting their bosses. That’s how they work the hours they do for the mediocre salaries. They aim to please, and second guess all the time what their bosses would want them to do in any given situation.

Always. This is an assertion that seems to be based on something known by the author.  That is all it is, though, an assertion with no supporting evidence on this occasion.  That assertion is then expanded to this analysis:

What on earth made Tony Hodges think that this is what Gillard would have wanted. What made Albanese’s staffer so arrogant to think he could rip off the words of political pin-up Aaron Sorkin and no-one would notice?

The lack of respect that is dogging the Government in the electorate has now infiltrated the Government’s own troops. If their own teams don’t respect them, how are we supposed to?

Maguire seems to be suggesting that the mistakes made by Government staffers is actually the Government’s fault. Completely. That the Government has made the staffers not respect them.  Not a mistake. Lapse of judgment. A silly action. No, according to this analysis, it’s evidence of a lack of respect.

Maguire has then gone on to open this up as another reason for people to not respect the Government.  The way her logic seems to go is – A staffer makes a silly, egregious error – no, sorry, shows his lack of respect for the Government – means that the government is not worthy of respect.  It’s a leap of logic that boggles the mind. But wait, there’s more.

Gillard’s credibility has been seriously knocked about lately by her refusal to stick to even her written commitments, such as her deal with Independent Andrew Wilkie over poker machine reform.

This staffer’s error in judgment is now conflated to be compared to the recent poker machine reform deal, with which it has nothing in common. The “refusal to stick to even her written commitments” is, I believe, a bite sized misreading of the political machinations behind the poker machine reforms. It discounts any possibility that the two NSW rural independents, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, would not have passed the reforms, due to the intense political pressure that would be brought to bear by rural clubs. A better analysis has come from Tom Cummings, the blogger who has become the go-to expert on this issue, both on his blog and in The Drum.  It’s not a “refusal” to stick to her written commitments in the slightest. It’s a compromised, flawed deal. Like a lot of this Government’s actions.  To relate it to the staffer making the wrong phone call is a leap of logic so large that you would need Lawrence Legend to fire up his bike in order to jump between the points.

Lawrence Legend, Hero of Wagga

The dignity with which she dealt with yesterday’s terrible events might have given her a bit of a boost. Not now.

Finally, yesterday’s actions – which previously have been “undignified” and “humiliating” in the article, actually would have provided “dignity” for the Prime Minister. A bit of a confused message there.  Of course, according to the logic of the article, it was now her Government’s fault the whole situation occurred. Therefore, that personal “dignity” she showed is completely meaningless – even though she probably would have known nothing about it.  Unless we will get someone trying to discover that she did know about it. No doubt, that will be tomorrow’s job of our media.

Little wonder Canberra’s media and politics is such a mess. Much Ado About Nothing.

*Note – it turns out that the said adviser contacted a union figure, with the intention of passing on the message to people at the tent embassy. It still was, in hindsight, a hasty and inadvisable thing to do. It does make Tory Maguire’s conflation of the issue even worse.

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4 thoughts on “Silly Advisers, Silly Media – This is Canberra, Today.

  1. They are about as appalling as any I can ever remember. Only Jack Waterford talked sense and got howled down by every racist bogan in the land.

  2. Sean Gordon speaking to Tim Lester said that two of his friends passing in a car told him they saw Tony Abbott going into the restaurant. Barbara Shaw said that a woman she didn’t know told her that Tony Abbott was inside the restaurant telling the press he was going to pull down the embassy. Nothing in the media about this. Maybe doesn’t suit their story. Maybe because Sean Gordon and Barbara Shaw are both aboriginal, their story is discounted. Shame on the press.

  3. “A Government that has passed every bill it has proposed”

    Wrong. See: the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other
    Measures) Bill 2011. This was their legislation in response to the High Court’s decision in the Malaysia deal case.

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