I read a lot in The Spectator Australia about the supposed pervasive left-wing bias of the Australian media, particularly in the papers published by the Fairfax group. But not being a frequent reader of the mainstream Australian press, I rarely see direct evidence of it.However there’s a telling line in a piece reprinted in today’s Dominion Post by Anne Summers, a leading Fairfax columnist and former editor of the company’s Good Weekend magazine, which is published with the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age.
In a highly sympathetic article about the latest crisis to envelop prime minister Julia Gillard, Summers suggests that previous Australian leaders have been through similar turmoil and eventually emerged with their reputations intact and even enhanced. She mentions Gough Whitlam – “now revered” – and Malcolm Fraser, once seen as a “chaotic and divisive figure” but now greatly admired by the left.Then she delivers the line that most interested me. “Maybe even John Howard will eventually become beloved”.
Hang on a minute. Howard won four elections in a row. He was the second longest-serving Australian prime minister ever, after Sir Robert Menzies. That suggests the Australian public liked him well enough, even if the Canberra press gallery didn’t.That one short sentence is massively revealing. It exposes the enormous conceit of the left-leaning political commentariat.
They so despise Howard for being popular that they can’t bring themselves to admit that he was. Election after election, they forecast his defeat. Election after election, they were wrong. But they remain in denial even now.Worse than that, columnists such as Summers display contempt for the Australian public. To them, it counts for nothing that Australian voters thought highly enough of Howard to elect his government four times. Stupid, naïve voters – what would they know? Why couldn’t they listen to their betters in the media? There’s a deeply anti-democratic streak evident here.
I’ll admit Howard’s personal appeal was lost on me, but he obviously struck a chord with the ordinary Australian. What’s more, his prime ministership coincided with a golden era of prosperity and stability – not something that could be said of the chaotic, shambolic government led by Gillard.But commentators like Summers still insist Howard was a failure. He must have been, because they say so. (The rest of her column, incidentally, was so risibly sycophantic about Gillard that I could only conclude that it doesn't matter to Summers whether anyone takes her seriously.)
On a similar note, it was intriguing to hear Kerry-Anne Walsh – another Fairfax commentator – discussing the latest Australian leadership crisis on Morning Report yesterday. She repeatedly referred to Labour politicians by their first names – “Kevin” for Kevin Rudd, “Simon” for Simon Crean.As a dinosaur who still believes journalists should exercise professional detachment, I thought this struck a jarring note. But if Walsh is going to breach journalistic convention, then she should at least be consistent. I therefore expect that the next time we hear her mention the leader of the Liberal Party opposition, she’ll refer to him as “Tony”. And pigs will soar aloft on gossamer wings.