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Worth losing the base?

The Turnbull government has attempted to trade principles for popularity. And failed.

20 May 2017

9:00 AM

20 May 2017

9:00 AM

Donald Trump has identified a phenomenon in the Western media which many suspect and which believers in a free press hate to admit, ‘fake news’. This is often associated with Gramsci’s notorious March of the Left through the institutions.

That this would include the media was only to be expected – after all the Left has already marched through the universities, schools, the courts and most recently, that ultimate citadel, Menzies child, the Liberal Party.

It was always obvious that with Malcolm Turnbull’s coup he would push a left wing agenda. Constrained on that by his undertakings to the conservatives, it is not so surprising that he would offer what has been erroneously described as a Labor-lite budget. Fairfax’s Ross Gittins was spot on when he rejoiced that this was a ‘big spending, big taxing, big borrowing budget’, one which even Labor would not dare introduce. If the protestant Henri IV thought Paris worth the mass, for Turnbull a good Newspoll is worth losing the base. On that gamble, he failed.

As for the media, it is fair to say that most journalists are on the left. This did not much matter once. Those in any respectable newspaper accepted the ethics of good journalism. This is best summed up in the adage that ‘comment is free but facts are sacred’. This was enforced by editors with the authority that flowed from their appointment by a media mogul. In the meantime, public broadcasters followed strict Reithian principles requiring not only the observance of media ethics but also that there be no editorial line. Today, especially outside of News Limited − at least while Rupert Murdoch is still in control− the editor usually emerges from the journalist collective as a mere first among equals. Proprietorial power is exercised by a board of professional directors who think the media no different from running shoe factories. They leave the news to the journalists, while they look after, or sometimes mismanage, the finances.

The result is that more and more news is produced consistent with some political agenda. This impacts severely on the selection of news and the prominence with which it is given. Some outlets, for example, seem to have quotas for soft indigenous, diversity and global warming news even if the report is barely newsworthy. In addition, selected news will be presented with little or no balance, with opinion and alleged fact so intermixed they are difficult to distinguish. Sometimes news will be completely untrue, such as the recent and still uncorrected report that Tony Abbott had admitted ‘lying in face-to-face discussions with China’s leadership’ to ratify the proposed extradition treaty.


The mainstream media in some Western countries seem to be abandoning, more and more, the ethical rule that facts are sacred. This is particularly so when they come up against a politician whom they detest and wish to bring down. Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and John Howard spring to mind. Although they were outstanding leaders of their countries, every technique was used to belittle them, including abuse, ridicule and other fake news.

The same technique was used to a high degree against Tony Abbott. Whether it was eating a raw onion, or winking to a left-wing radio host, this would be relayed with undue prominence in reports dripping with hostility and ridicule. The well-deserved knighthood of Prince Philip, not at all unusual in comparative countries, was the coup de grâce. By hiding information, reporting untruths and presenting it as an outrage to all things decent, even some conservative commentators rushed to jump on the media bandwagon. Some commentators still continue this campaign, although their favoured candidate has clearly disappointed them.

It is in the United States that the mainstream media has really gone overboard in its campaign against the man they never thought would ever be elected, President Trump.

The completely justified dismissal of the FBI director James Comey is being used for this purpose. Up to the dismissal, large numbers of Democrats and their supporters in the media had not withdrawn their numerous calls for his removal. This changed only when the President acted. There is no question whatsoever as to his power to do this, as Comey himself has recognised. The respected Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, had recommended this with the support of the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. There was no conflict of interest in the President acting; he was not the subject of an investigation. What was clear was that Comey had acted improperly in relation to the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s serious and unbelievable misconduct concerning state secrets. It was not for Comey to decide whether the matter should proceed; that is not the function of the FBI director.

Now unlike most politicians, President Trump is surprisingly straightforward. He declared that (probably reported in some places as the more culpable he ‘admits’) Comey was so unsatisfactory he would have dismissed him regardless of the recommendation. Contrary to reports, Comey had not asked for more funding to continue the investigation of alleged collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign, and the FBI has since confirmed that the investigation was not affected by the dismissal.

There have been suggestions that the dismissal would be Donald Trump’s Watergate, without any attempt to indicate just which law he has breached, an essential first step. The fact is the President has acted in the way that previous presidents should have acted against Hoover, but were afraid to. And when it comes to Watergate, there is greater similarity with the Benghazi disaster, where four Americans died, or the transfer of $1.7 billion in cash to the Iranian mullahs.

The influential conservative commentator Mark Levin warns that the Left will not rest until they remove Trump. If they cannot impeach him, they hope to use the 25th Amendment to have him replaced on the ground that he is mentally unable to fulfill his duties by making him appear to be ‘an absolute insane buffoon and dangerous’.

And their weapon will be the one we last saw massively used against Tony Abbott, as it still is in some quarters: fake news.

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