Just because a politician says something, doesn’t mean it’s true. ‘There will be no new taxes’ is a case in point. ‘There will be no cuts to the ABC or SBS’ is another.
And just because a politician – or in this case a Prime Minister – says something, doesn’t mean you have to report it. At least, you don’t have to report it without question.
How then to explain this straight news report from the ABC about Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent jaunt around the globe, under the headline ‘Tony Abbott hails world tour a success as he returns to Australia’.
“Mr Abbott declared his round-the-world trip a success, as he heads back to Australia.
“He said the trip had been significant, bolstered trade and security ties, and highlighted Australia's place on the world stage.”
Well, yes… if our place on the world stage is as an international laughing stock.
It’s one thing – and quite a proper thing – to ‘straight report’ the comments of government when what government has to say is either uncontroversial, or even up for a little debate.
But it’s another thing altogether to report government spin without question when what the government is suggesting is clearly ridiculous.
Even more conservative Australian media couldn’t bring themselves to swallow Abbott’s spin about his international sojourn ‘hook, line and sinker’.
The West Australian, not exactly known for its left leanings, led with a headline ‘Abbott says overseas trip 'constructive'’ replete with the all important single quotation marks to infer that what was being suggested was actually ‘bullshit’.
Even The Australian, well known for its Liberal sycophancy ran the ‘constructive’ story.
So, just in case there’s any confusion, let’s have a closer look at what constitutes ‘success’ in the eyes of the government. And, apparently, the ABC.
Abbott hadn’t even left home soil before his international trip was derailed. The night before he was due to jet out, the PM issued a media release linking the repeal of the carbon tax to a visit to France to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations. Strangely, the press release remains missing from the media section of the PM’s website, via a broken link.
In France, Abbott was accused of falling asleep at the service (admittedly, by the ABC Intern Twitter handle).
He then tried his hand at a bit of French. The mangling of any language is unadvisable – English included as, Abbott’s ‘font of all suppository’ remarks confirm. But mangling French somehow feels a little worse. Particularly when you have a broad Australian accent. Ten points for courage Prime Minister, but minus-two points for delivery.
Not exactly a hanging offence, and neither was this: A few days in, US-based Brit comedian John Oliver released a video chronicling some of Abbott’s most embarrassing stuff-ups. The video – which included Abbott’s comments about ‘Jesus knowing that not everyone was meant to come to Australia’; his comments about what the women of Australia need to understand while they’re doing the ironing; and his ridiculous ‘silent interview’ with Mark Riley – went viral not just in Australia, but around the world, thereby ensuring all the wrong sort of interest in the Australian PM when he finally landed on US soil.
But Abbott was just warming up. When he arrived in Canada, Abbott was asked about comments Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made about Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the process, Abbott invented a new country: “They’re very forthright remarks and I think that they’re perfectly appropriate remarks for the Canadian Prime Minister to make. Canadia… ah Canada, probably has more involvement in the affairs of Europe than Australia often does….”
It’s not a hanging offence either, although nor it is something you expect from a Prime Minister. Add to that the PM’s spinners, who only a week earlier hid the D-Day gaffe, putting up a transcript that omitted the ‘Canadia’ remarks, and you have the makings of another embarrassing scandal. granted, we should be grateful he didn't refer to the home of ice hockey as 'Candida' – a type of vaginal thrush – but there’s a bit of a theme developing here… and at the next Senate Estimates hearing, someone really needs to ask the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to comment on rumours (started, admittedly, right here and now) that they employ someone specifically to alter transcripts and remove previously published media releases on the PM’s site.
And then the gaffes started coming thick and fast. There was the cancelling of Abbott’s meetings with prominent US economists, something which Abbott’s media office – of course – denied. It was amid the background of a major speech by President Barack Obama on a US shift on climate change policy, shortly before Abbott was to arrive for a meet and greet.
The net result, of course, was the re-hashing of Abbott’s oft-reported remarks that climate change was crap.
And then just a day or so before Abbott’s arrival, news reports surfaced of comments in former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s latest book, in which she makes mention of the appalling misogyny suffered by Julia Gillard.
Cue the reminders of the long list of appallingly sexist comments by our Prime Minister.
The World Cup should have brought some respite, but Abbott stuffed that up as well. His office released a pre-recorded video of the Prime Minister wishing the Socceroos and their captain “Mike” good luck. ‘Mike’ is better known as Mile Jedinak (note the use of single quotes there… see what we did!?!).
And to round it all out nicely, while Abbott was still in the US news broke of an 11-year-old Cessnock boy’s letter to the PM about gay marriage, a letter (and subsequent news conference) which found its way into international media, including the Huffington Post, and sought to highlight our national leader’s opposition to basic human rights.
And then there was this: While in Washington, Abbott presented Barack Obama with a special US presidential surfboard. Admittedly, it’s a pretty groovy gift, and one heck of a gnarly surfboard. But the PM’s spin doctors appear not to have thought the gift through all that well, because it gave rise to this meme, which immediately sprang forth.
Nor, it seems, did they think through Abbott’s decision to allow himself to be photographed wearing an enormous hat while in Texas, thereby guaranteeing Abbott will now forever be likened to George W. Bush, something that would only be considered a compliment if you were a serial killer. Indeed that’s what American media are now calling Abbott – ‘Australia’s George W’.
So let’s recap: in the space of just two weeks, Abbott was exposed on the world stage for his deep misogyny, his trenchant opposition to gay marriage, his appalling lack of action on climate change, and his apparent indifference to using a war commemoration to play politics about… his appalling lack of action on climate change.
About half of what occurred was clearly Abbott’s fault. The other half was down to unlucky timing. But therein lies Abbott’s main problem.
His image as a bumbling, misogynistic, homophobic, environmental vandal is now so entrenched that every time something – anything – happens his lengthy list of past stuff ups, terrible policies and wrecking ball politics comes back to haunt him.
In short, everything Abbott touches now appears to turn to custard, and that’s not going to end anytime soon given the length and breadth of Abbott’s indiscretions.
The ABC, like all media, has a responsibility to report and reflect that. That doesn’t mean it has to lampoon the PM on every occasion, but it does mean that a clearly disastrous trip designed primarily for PR should not be reported as a triumph. If you have to run the press release to tick a box, don’t do it unchallenged.
The ABC has long been accused of left-wing bias. Increasingly, it’s being accused by the left of right-wing bias. Many would suggest that means it’s got it about right. I don’t think it has, because what the ABC can least afford to be accused of is gutlessness.
As the Prime Minister himself might say, the ABC needs to ‘harden up’.
Speaking of which, while New Matilda is by no means a supporter of government spin, lampooning Abbott has become a little like shooting fish in a barrel. Abbott – a former journalist – is at serious risk of winning a Walkley in December for lifetime services to the cartooning industry. So, with that in mind, we’ve prepared a media spin guide to try and help the Prime Minister avoid further public relations calamities. Additions, of course, are welcome in the comments section below… all we ask is that you play relatively nicely NM readers.
New Matilda Guide To Prime Ministerial Spin
1. Surfboards, or anything with boards in the title are to be avoided as gifts, and photo props. This rules out boogie boards, snow boards, skate boards, Ouija boards and computers (which have keyboards).
2. Computers were out in any event, because you believe Malcolm Turnbull invented the internet.
3. Board meetings with companies that produce iron are completely out of the question, and in any case BHP was already off limits after last October’s carbon tax stuff up.
4. Speaking of which, you may not tour Whyalla under any circumstances, because you predicted it would be wiped out by the carbon tax. In fact that pretty much rules out Wollongong, Newcastle, and any city with major industry (ie. Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne).
5. You are to reside in Canberra. All dinner appointments are to be pre-approved. Clive is available next week.
6. You are to restrict your travels to small, non-descript countries with easily pronounceable names (for example Mali, Chad, Cuba, Peru, Iran and Fiji).
7. Oman is a country you should definitely visit in the coming months. Bring your speedoes and your bike.
8. Djibouti, Eritrea and New Zealand are obviously out. So are all of the ‘stans’ – Pakistan (including Abbottabad), Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, etc etc).
9. Monasteries are also out, partly because of your nickname ‘Mad Monk’, but mostly because monks often swear a vow of silence, and that is likely to draw attention to your interview with Mark Riley.
10. You are to avoid being photographed with signs in the background that refer to or depict rainbows. Obviously, under no circumstances are you to tour any shopping malls in Queensland which contain a Stefan hair salon.
11. If anyone asks what your favourite TV show is, it is not ‘Malcolm in the Middle’, nor can it be ‘Offspring’ (this is liable to remind people that despite your apparent stern religious views, you had sex outside of marriage, believe you fathered an illegitimate child, and clearly don’t apply the ethos ‘virgnity is a precious gift’ to women you plan to have sex with).
12. Resist the temptation to meet with George Pell. He’s off limits. If by accident you are caught in the same room as George, do not deny it.
13. If you’re going to drape yourself in Jesus and the Holy Spirit, you must wait at least two weeks since the last public report of Scott Morrison’s latest atrocity against asylum seekers.
14. You are not to consume fish, loaves or wine in public, nor will you deliver any speeches (or sermons) from platforms of naturally elevated earth.
15. You are to avoid being filmed operating any air-conditioners, as this will obviously lead to headlines such as ‘Abbott’s greatest contribution to climate change’.
16. If you are in a room and it has become uncomfortably warm, you are to signal a staffer (with your hands, not via a wink) and they will either ask George Brandis to leave, or they will operate the air-conditioner for you.
17. Conversely, if you’re in a room and it has become uncomfortably cold, Eric Abetz will be removed.
18. You must avoid chemists at all costs as they sell suppositories. Your medications will be collected for you.
19. Do not, under any circumstances, get into any vehicle which has a ‘Shit Happens’ bumper sticker.
20. Finally, avoid women. They hate you (see past comments on ‘no doesn’t mean no’, RU486, abortion more generally, ironing boards, the capacity of women to think, virginity, and Julia’s misogyny speech). Having said that, following is a list of women with whom you are permitted to be photographed: Bronwyn Bishop; your wife; your chief of staff; and your children (especially if they agree to frolic in the pool with you in their bikinis, because as you have pointed out in the past, they’re ‘not bad looking’ and they will likely distract from anything you say, or wear… or as is often the case, do not wear).
21. And on that note, you are not Humphrey B. Bear. Wear pants. Always.