Media Circus: Fairfax Signals Start Of Anti-Abbott Crusade

IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG: under the dubious cover of its charter of editorial “independence,” the Fairfax press has been quick to start its nit-picking, niggling crusade against Tony Abbott; today, it’s an interview Abbott gave the Washington Post. As night follows day, there will be much more of this.

Article IV of the Fairfax Media Charter of Editorial Independence states:

“That full editorial control of the newspapers…be vested with the editors of the papers and that the editors alone shall determine the daily editorial content of the newspapers.”

Article II of the Charter speaks to the issue of bias and balance, stipulating its papers

“must record the affairs of the city, state, nation and the world fairly, fully and regardless of any commercial, political or personal interests.”

So it must be through some extraordinary confluence of editorial thinking that The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Canberra Times, and online-only portals WA Today and the Brisbane Times are all carrying the same story, verbatim, proffering dire warnings of the damage Tony Abbott stands to inflict upon Australia’s relationship with the US.

The reason? Abbott dared to criticise the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government in an interview with the Washington Post: a hanging offence, to be sure, if only a capital punishment remained on the statute books for such treason.

For context, readers should peruse both the Fairfax article and the interview from the Washington Post.

That this is indicative of the supposed “quality” journalism Fairfax prides itself on goes to the heart of why its publications are so out of step with mainstream opinion in Australia, to say nothing of detached from reality.

It’s also a clue as to why Fairfax Media is close to broke, and unlikely to exist in its present form in a few years’ time.

I have (obviously) read the Washington Post interview at the centre of the firestorm Fairfax seeks to whip up, and see nothing wrong with the remarks Abbott made in relation to the former Labor government.

That assessment has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I am both a member of the Liberal Party and a staunch supporter of Tony Abbott personally.

Rather, it is informed by a bit of perspective: a commodity, based on today’s piece, of which the Fairfax juggernaut has none.

To be fair — no pun intended — Fairfax has apparently gone to some trouble to find support for its contention that Abbott’s observations about the ALP “could affect US links.”

It cites Norman Ornstein, an author and political scientist with the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, as having ”winced” when he read the interview in which Mr Abbott “put the boot” into the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government.

”It really does violate a basic principle of diplomacy to drag in your domestic politics when you go abroad,” Dr Ornstein is quoted as saying. ”It certainly can’t help in building a bond of any sort with President Obama to rip into a party, government and — at least implicitly — leader, with whom Obama has worked so closely.

”Perhaps you can chalk it up to a rookie mistake. But it is a pretty big one.” Well, fine, but it’s a convenient argument.

It takes us back to 1992, when US President George H. Bush was beaten by Bill Clinton, despite the Conservative government in the UK of John Major doing everything it could, publicly, to send the signal that the continuity of policy and the trans-Atlantic alliance were crucial concerns — implicitly, an endorsement of the senior Bush.

That particular favour was returned — with interest — in 1997, when then-President Clinton all but campaigned for Tony Blair’s Labour Party to beat Major’s Conservative Party (which, of course, it did).

Neither bout in the tit-for-tat exchange caused any serious long-term damage to the UK-US relationship, and it is difficult to see how Abbott’s straight answer to a couple of straight questions could similarly affect Australia’s relationship with the US in this case.

And politicians have been talking about domestic political considerations internationally for years, a reality hardly groundbreaking for its appearance in Abbott’s latest utterances.

The Fairfax piece observes that Julia Gillard forged a “warm and constructive relationship” with President Obama, noting the scintillating detail that hers “was one of just 12 world leaders whose calls Mr Obama returned personally after they had called to congratulate him on his 2012 re-election.”

It’s heartwarming to know that an unreconstructed socialist and a former Communist had the opportunity to catch up personally, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with Tony Abbott and it misses the point.

At the time, the stationing of US marines in Darwin (to which the Fairfax article even alludes) was very much a topical issue: of course Obama was going to pay special attention to Gillard, given she had (correctly) agreed to a highly controversial US military deployment that the Obama administration had requested of her.

And Fairfax quotes the former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, John Menadue  — with no indication given of when the remarks were made, or whether they even relate to the Washington Post interview — as saying that “it remains to be seen whether make the transition from a critic in opposition and an attack dog to a responsible and constructive Prime Minister.”

All of this is well and good. But Fairfax is strangely mute when it comes to criticism of Julia Gillard, who today chided Obama for sending a “really bad message” for cancelling his appearance at the recent APEC summit on account of the government shutdown in Washington.

It seems that in the eyes of “Uncle Fairfax,” the fellow travellers of the Left can say whatever they like, especially about each other.

International ramifications? Of course, there are none of those in such utterances.

But as soon as the criticism comes from the Right — especially when it comes to Tony Abbott, destroyer of Labor’s two most recent Prime Ministers and the unquestioned darling of the hard Left in Gillard — well, that’s a gaffe, an international incident, and a catastrophe.

Let’s call a spade a spade.

For the fourth time in less than six years — and twice as a result of internal ALP machinations — this country has a new Prime Minister, and Abbott has been at pains since the instant he was elected to emphasise that Australia again enjoys a stable government, is once again open for business, and is looking outwards — rather than obsessing with itself.

In that context, his remarks that the previous government was “a circus” and “an embarrassing spectacle” were entirely appropriate — and entirely accurate.

It’s true the Fairfax article assembles a series of facts, quotes and events. But interjections such as the admonishing, tut-tutting paragraph that “politicians around the world typically refrain from engaging in fierce domestic political argument when they are speaking to an overseas audience” leaves little doubt about the response it seeks from its readers.

And in any case, the assertion that Obama and Gillard were “close” neither discounts the sheer ineptitude of her government, nor affords it any insulation from valid criticism — be that in Australia or elsewhere.

We all know the Fairfax press, figuratively speaking, will not sleep until the evil, sexist, misogynist, hero-slaying ogre Tony Abbott has been driven from office, and preferably in some demeaning and humiliating defeat.

In the meantime, perhaps it would better serve its readers — even those of the slavering, sycophantic Left — by practising what it preaches and presenting balanced journalism, rather than a convenient compilation of material with an unmistakable “Let’s Get Abbott” slant to it.