Is it the role of journalists to play kingmaker?

An unsurprising take on the Labor leadership brawl from a Canberra insider, has this to say about the Rudd camp’s cultivation of Press Gallery journalists:

Once deposed, Rudd’s toxic ambition appears to have been either to return to the leadership, or to destroy both the government that had dumped him and the woman who had replaced him. In this pursuit he was abetted by political journalists who became pawns in his comeback play, channelling the Chinese whispers of his spruikers and giving credibility and substance to exaggerated claims about the pretender’s level of support within the parliamentary party for a comeback

But most of us are left wondering, is that the role of political journalists? Should they either
a) allow themselves to be seduced, or
b) encourage political players to court them, or
c) follow the dictats of politically-motivated senior editors
and fall in to what Kerry-Anne Walsh appropriately calls “lock-step” with the ambitions of one or more political players?
Anyone who has paid even passing attention to Australian politics over the past three years would be familiar with the deep and personal divisions within the Labor Party; but maybe they have not been so familiar with the similar divisions inside the Canberra Press Gallery.
There can be no doubt that the Gillard-Rudd blood feud created the conditions under which Gallery journalists chose sides, or were forced to take sides.
No doubt Rudd and his co-conspirators had their Gallery favourites–those who would be called with the latest news, or who could be loved-up with an inside story.
And no doubt too, there were those who were frozen out of Rudd’s plans and were therefore more likely to seek comment or be groomed by Gillard and her backers.
This seems to be to be the perfect conditions for a toxic environment to develop and for grudges to be formed. But it is not an appropriate climate for sensible editorial decision-making.
Almost every day, and certainly at least once a week, since March 2010, there has been at least one senior Press Gallery journalist willing to put the Rudd lines into play. This of course creates a knock-on effect. The Gallery operates as a pack and it works on the basis of groupthink (not just the News Limited drones either).
If one news organisation has a ‘story’ — no matter that it could be unfounded speculation, or worse, a yarn planted for dubious factional purposes — then everyone has to chase it. This is stenographic journalism at its worst.
Rudd, or one of his lieutenants, says something, the reporter(s) write it down and it becomes a ‘fact’ very quickly. That’s how his destabilisation campaign was able to maintain momentum for three years.
It was a great tactic. Gillard was unable to get ‘clean air’ to talk about the significant achievements of her government. The story was Rudd’s continuing fight because he and the stenographer pack said it was the story.
As Kerry-Anne Walsh sums it up, the inability of the Gallery to go beyond the blood and guts is a major failure of political reporting.

in the political shorthand of media reporting, the extraordinary circumstances that forced such an outcome were boiled down to winner and loser, victor and vanquished. The deeper reasons became too hard for many journalists to explore.

Political journalism is about winners and losers, policy debate takes second place.
Even then policy is poorly reported and only ever within a very narrow band of acceptable terminology and limited alternatives.
It is good that Walsh is prepared to at least name some names in her piece.
Of course, no one should be surprised that Rudd was talking to senior people at News Limited. The relentless and poisonously personal campaign that The Australian and other Murdoch papers have waged against Julia Gillard for the past three years is well documented. No one at News Limited has a nice word for Julia Gillard or the government she led and Rudd was a very useful idiot for Chris Mitchell and others.
However, it is unlikely that the favours will be returned now that Rudd is back in charge. Murdoch’s ambition is to elect an Abbott government, it best suits his arch-conservative neo-liberal agenda. Even this weekend The Australian has been bagging out Rudd and no doubt this will continue till election day (whenver that is).
Walsh also names veteran Gallery journalist Laurie Oakes as a Rudd stooge. She cites his now legendary Press Club question to Gillard during the 2011 election campaign, which seems to indicate that he had been very well briefed; perhaps by Rudd himself.

Channelling Rudd, Oakes asked whether, in a private meeting with Rudd that fateful night, Gillard had agreed to Rudd’s plea to be given until October to improve the government’s standing, and if he couldn’t he would stand aside voluntarily. Furthermore, he asked if Gillard then left the room, consulted colleagues, returned and told Rudd he didn’t have the numbers so she was backtracking on the deal, and would challenge anyway.

No one is covered in glory in the wash-up of this tale of palace intrigue, courtiers playing favourites with Gallery journos and messengers who were willing to take the pieces of silver on offer.
Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap?
Yep, just ask anyone in the Press Gallery who’s got ambitions to make a name for him or herself.
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One Response to Is it the role of journalists to play kingmaker?

  1. jane says:

    At last, someone prepared to tell the truth about the last 3 years & The Termite’s white hot rage at being ousted & his fanatical determination to punish Gillard even if it meant installing that loon Abbott.

    He’s very lucky that the Gillard camp has not started returning the favour, because they put the welfare of the country above childish revenge.

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