Every time I think the Howard government has gone too far, the whole creaky ship sails through the roiling ocean of political outrage into some lagoon of public indifference.
I was put in mind of the same principal when looking at ‘The Australian’ newspaper this morning.
A favourite recent habit of theirs is to place an outrageous scream headline above the masthead, visible to anyone walking past any news-stand at any train station, shop or street stall, lodging in the mind as a disembodied thought for the rest of the day, like some horrible piece of viral marketing.
Something like “Hijabs Hide Bombs” or “Paul Keating, Kiddie-fiddler”. You feverishly turn the pages looking for the sensational story, only to find that it is in fact a small opinion piece reprinted from a conservative American journal or rightwing think-tank, holding up the bottom of page 214.
Today’s example is a classic of the genre: “Mad Mal: Accuses ABC host of doing Howard’s bidding.” This is accompanied by photos of former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and ABC broadcaster Virginia Trioli.
For those not in the know, Virginia Trioli is the ABC Melbourne drive-time announcer and author poached by a station in Sydney earlier this year. She is universally reviled across the rightwing spectrum for being some sort of lefty harridan, an accusation which can only be maintained by those who don’t read her columns, listen to her programs or watch her TV spots. It seems her major offence was making a goose of Peter Reith on air by questioning his assertions that photographs proved refugees threw their children in the water a few years ago.
‘Mad Mal’ is of course the second longest serving Liberal Prime Minister, whose chief offence seems to be that he has remained a genuine Liberal while all around him in the Party have turned to the dark side. Which is why he is ‘mad’. See, simple really.
The central trope of this bit of journalistic thuggery is the sheer perversity of the headline, implying that Mal is such a lefty these days that he thinks even a hairy-legged feminazi like Virginia is too close to Howard.
Who is making the imputation? Why the newspaper is, of course!