Bill Shorten has taken a leaf out of Donald Trump’s playbook, trying to delegitimise his critics by screaming media bias. The differences are that Shorten’s News Corp paranoia is a hardy perennial of Labor’s political performance art and his situation is the polar opposite of Trump’s.
The Conservative Party encourages free thought and free expression in the media which is exactly what Shorten is criticising.
An opinion piece in The Australian says the US President attacks the majority groupthink and fake news that remains almost maniacally antipathetic towards him; Shorten enjoys soft, forgiving and supportive coverage from most media and lashes out at one of the only places that subjects him to anything approaching adequate scrutiny.
Labor blames Rupert Murdoch’s media entities when it loses, but laps up support when it can. It slams what it sees as a monolithic media entity even when various newspapers, television programs and News Corp commentators run different stories, argue various positions and even editorialise in favour of divergent outcomes. Obviously, therefore, it is a critique that lacks intellectual integrity but in the right circumstances it can be politically smart. When media demand politicians explain themselves, the politicians can find it easier to attack the messenger.
Take this campaign. There are four prime areas of Labor vulnerability that are being studiously ignored by the publicly funded broadcasters, Nine media newspapers and much of the Canberra press gallery. They are: how a raft of new taxes can help a debt-heavy nation in a precarious state of recovery; what economic costs will be imposed by almost doubling the nation’s climate effort; why Labor seeks to re-regulate a workplace relations system it designed; and how it can be trusted on borders when it promised to keep them secure last time.
It is scandalous that so many in the media abrogate their responsibility to voters by giving Labor a free pass on these issues. News Corp newspapers and Sky News, along with some Nine radio stations, are the only places these crucial issues are examined.
Rather than answer, provide estimates or explain, Shorten chooses victimhood. Labor portrays scrutiny as partisan attacks and, extraordinarily, journalists on the public payroll and in commercial operations go along.
These are the same journalists and organisations, by and large, who told you that Kevin Rudd would be a great prime minister, Tony Abbott would never get the job, the boats could not be stopped, Trump would not win, Malcolm Turnbull was safe, and this election was an inevitable Labor landslide. You would be wise to take their Murdoch conspiracy claims with a grain of salt.
The prime piece of evidence for the prosecution is a story that detailed and praised the career achievements of Shorten’s late mother. The Daily Telegraph’s Anna Caldwell rightly reasoned that if the Labor Leader was using his mum’s apparent lack of career fulfilment — settling for teaching over the law — as a campaign explanation of his political motivation, then it warranted a check.
Caldwell found an inspirational story of teaching, higher qualifications, a law degree, doctorate and years of practice at the Bar. The revelations in such a format were bound to embarrass Shorten and, while people might argue endlessly over front-page treatment and headlines, the facts deserved an airing.
In many ways this story goes to the philosophical differences at the heart of the election; where one might see an uplifting narrative of hard work, opportunity and advancement, another can see disadvantage, unfairness and frustration. Shorten was understandably emotional when he provided more context in response but lashing out at News Corp was clearly a broader political tactic echoed by other Labor frontbenchers.
At the ABC, Barrie Cassidy and Laura Tingle both described this story as an “own goal” (funny how ABC commentators always independently come to identical conclusions). But own goal for whom? Voters certainly weren’t poorly served by the additional information. On 7.30 Tingle called the story an “attack on Bill Shorten’s mother” which was a bizarre and erroneous way to describe it.
Tellingly, the story was downplayed by most News Corp papers, ignored in Shorten’s home state by the Herald Sun, and decried by Andrew Bolt (News Corp’s most prominent commentator) — which all tends to put the lie to claims of conspiracy.
To read Chris Kenny's full article, click here.
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