2 October 2006

The UnAustralian, part 2

I have had a soft spot for ABC journalist and political commentator Barrie Cassidy ever since I overheard him in a Canberra pub telling someone his family were from Chiltern in north-eastern Victoria. I spoke to him briefly about it because my mother’s mother’s family were settlers in Chiltern Valley, just outside the small historic town. Meaningless in itself, it just reinforced my warm feelings for the man, who manages to dispense useful insights into the Australian political scene while remaining genuinely non-partisan.

My mistake, apparently. According to The Australian’s editorial writer, he is a Leftist.

The piece on the editorial page today is called ‘The Punters Speak: Left-wing spin won’t put Labor in the Lodge’.

It begins by making the point that Labor is routinely behind in opinion polls. Then this sentence, which must be read in the context of the headline at the beginning:

About the only way to put a happy face on the ALP's present predicament is to blame not the message, but the messenger. Which is exactly what Barry Cassidy did on the ABC's Insiders yesterday, suggesting that the news media has been manipulating opinion polls to make Kim Beazley look bad.

This of course implies that what Cassidy was attempting to do when he made the point that the news media have been misreporting polls was spin the message in the ALP’s favour. This is no small insinuation to make. I don’t know how long Cassidy has been a journalist, but as a political commentator, his reputation for impartiality is central to his worth. For the national paper to imply otherwise is a slur.

There’s more. Later in the piece, they ask “If Newspoll's numbers are not enough for Cassidy, perhaps he should do what Australia's Left rarely deigns to and consider the collective wisdom of the country's punters.”

Looking at the sentence carefully, it is clear that Cassidy is not being included in the group ‘Australia’s Left’, but the implication that he is a member of that group is not excluded. The reader is meant to make the connection.

The final sentence makes the rhetorical strategy clear: “Until the ALP stops blaming the media and recognises what everyone else can see - namely, that all the good ideas in the world won't work without leadership - the Opposition will remain just that.”

Who’s blaming the media? The ALP. Not Barrie Cassidy but the Party. Get it?

This is the sort of logical approach that now dominates right-wing commentary in this country: if you are not an active proselytiser of the right’s pet causes, like the war in Iraq for example, then you are a leftist. Simple as that.

This explains why a blogger like Phil Gomes on Larvatus Prodeo can see a quite reasonable question by Barrie Cassidy to the Prime Minister, phrased in inverted commas as it were, as if one is trying to trace an opposing argument and gauge one’s subject’s response, as actively hostile to the Prime Minister:

BARRIE CASSIDY: The argument is there are laws that haven’t been used so there is no need for them.

JOHN HOWARD: Hang on. No, no, no with great respect, Barrie, the implication being touted and the implication left in the minds of anybody following this debate is that we are introducing these new draconian laws for the first time. And if, in fact, they are laws, and if your question acknowledges, they are laws that in substance have been there for years, and haven’t caused a problem, what is all the fuss about? See, I have yet to see - let’s talk about the substance of the issue, as distinct from the rhetoric. Where, in the drafting of the sedition provisions, where are they in substance different, in substance, not in language, but in substance, different from what is already in the crimes act?

Howard is a tough old bird. He is not above confecting frustration in response to an interviewer’s question in order to leave the impression in the mind of viewers that the interviewer is hostile. That’s where “Hang on. No, no, no with great respect, Barrie” comes from. Obviously it worked where Phil Gomes was concerned.

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