Being reminded : why I hate the Murdoch press

(In which Couch Media gets a little Bolt-Watchy)

While The Australian makes claims to be Australia's quality national broadsheet newspaper, (well it is the only nominally national broadsheet) I tend not to read it for it's tendency to rapidly angry up the blood.

Like the rest of the Murdoch/Newscorpse stable, it skews steadfastly to the right of the political spectrum - less obnoxiously than the Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph but far more smugly.

I had an RSS feed pop up on the computer just now from The Australian website while I was setting up my Netvibes account on a new computer at work. One headline in particular grabbed my attention - Critics' 'conspiracy' perplexes Flannery.

For those who came in late, Tim Flannery - environmentalist and this years tokenistic choice for Australian of the Year (deserving - certainly but few doubt that this award isn't a desperate grab for eco-cred by the Howard govt) has been taking a bit of flack recent by the usual suspects (the right-wing thinktank the Institute of Public Affairs primarily and assorted Murdoch journos) for his public statements and positions on environmental issues.

In a thinly veiled attempt to give all of these criticisms another airing and Flannery another bashing, The Australian has today run a 'story' with the aforementioned headline - Critics 'conspiracy' perplexes Flannery

The language used to describe Flannery is the first sign that something is amiss. Putting 'conspiracy' in the headline (and later in the body of the article) creates links to conspiracy theorys - the domain of wild haired nutters the world over - and sets the tone of the piece.

He is also variously described directly by the journalist as
having a look of naive bewilderment
playing the media game
trying to court public attention.

He also
gets agitated
his problem appears an old one: a tendency to sensationalise for maximum impact based on the research of others
(Who else do you think of when you read "agitated"? The mentally ill perhaps?)

There is no indication whatsoever that the journalist here - Brad Norington - has even actually spoken to Flannery about this matter - there are a few quotes here and there but these could well have been taken from other sources - indeed I remember reading at least one of them over the weekend in a non-Murdoch paper.

At no point does Flannery directly say that he believes there is any conspiracy - despite the fact that this is the gist of the headline. The closest they come is
He fears a "conspiracy", possibly encouraged at the highest levels of power, is working hard to tear him down.

If he had actually said something along these lines, why not quote him. Quoting one word - which for all we know was a word he had to spell in a high-school spelling bee - followed up with a "possibly" which gives the writer license to speculate at will - is a shocking example of writing.

Further quotes (much lengthier ones) are taken from the aforementioned usual suspects, including this doozy from the IPA

Alan Moran, a director with the Institute of Public Affairs, says Flannery "continually" talks outside his academic expertise and makes outlandish statements: "He's basically an alarmist and not very careful with the factual support for what he says. He's made a lot of comments about coal over time and has not been misunderstood because he's very anti-coal."

A further "expert" is drawn in - John Benson, a senior plant ecologist at Sydney's Botanic Gardens Trust - as you really need another scientist's opinion if you are going to attack someone who knows more about something than you or right-wing ideologues.

I'm just wondering how far Norington had to go through his phone book of scientists before he found someone prepared to speak to him. Most of what is written about Benson's concerns isn't even directly quoted but paraphrased - and putting spin on what someone meant is a world away from reporting what they actually said. The only direct quote from Benson is this -
He also disputes Flannery's claim in The Future Eaters that Aborigines helped the nation's ecology by deliberately setting bushfires. "That was used in the wrong hands to justify land clearing," he says.

This doesn't read like a disputation of the fact at all, more an expression of disappointment that people who weren't Tim Flannery chose to misrepresent something that he had said to pursue their own agenda. (Of course, I guess Murdoch journo's aren't familiar with this concept so this interpretation no doubt didn't occur to Norington)

The article goes on to imply that Flannery should be mistrusted for being on good terms with Malcolm Turnbull and Alexander Downer and trying to exert influence in the political sphere (because obviously issues such as global warming are best addressed by opening and closing the fridge door a few dozen times to let the cold out) and also because he receives money for giving public lectures.

It finishes with an admission that Flannery tries to live a carbon neutral lifestyle - which no doubt stuck in Norington's craw as the first thing Murdoch "journos" love to do with eco activists is point out that they use cars and thus are rank hypocrites because they want us all to live in bark huts but don't do it themselves.

(Actually, this is one of the points made time and time again - it's particularly been made in attacking Al Gore - the fact that he flies around the world decrying man-made climate change but flying adds to it - that shows the stupidity of the right.

This absolutist positioning that people trying to save the planet expect everything to be suddenly shut down rather than approached in a more rational and sustainable manner just shows how desperate the corporate minions are to FUD things up. (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt - techniques mastered by big business, particularly Big Tobacco, to maintain the status quo).

John Howard (I have no doubt) had Tim Flannery appointed Australian of the Year because his government has a serious eco credibility issue in the lead up to this years election so he can't come out and trash the people who actually want to do things about it but I'm sure he thanks Rupert every night that he has friends that will do it for him.

[Outraged rant ends :)]