Trenchant Lemmings
"Arrive in a clown car, bursting with anger."
Robert Weaver
Sydney, Australia
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The weblog description is a misquotation from Steve Aylett's Indicted to a Party: What to Do, Who to Blame.
The weblog title links to the "No Country Redirect" version, for whatever that might be worth.
July 26, 2011
Apples and Syringes

In the Herald, Gerard Henderson again demonstrates the function of hiring numbskull right-wing pundits for small-l liberal broadsheets: to publish stuff that the pwoggy readership can enjoy getting indignant at, which at the same time presents no intellectual challenge to refute:

It's understandable that Labor is aggrieved by the criticism of its carbon tax and national broadband network in such News Limited papers as The Australian and The Daily Telegraph. Before the 2007 election, the Coalition felt aggrieved by criticism over the AWB food-for-oil scandal and the "children overboard" controversy.
Undoubtedly Gerard thought that equating two ALP policies with two Coalition scandals, characterised by corruption and ministerial duplicity, made his point admirably, never mind considering how The Australian and The Daily Telegraph spruiked the Children Overboard lies immediately before the 2001 election when good journalism might have made a difference.

Of course, if you really want to annoy pwog broadsheet readers you hire right-wing columnists who aren't easily refuted cretins (yes, they exist) or - so very much worse - someone to the readership's left. Ooh, they hate that!

July 25, 2011
Library Stamps

Alan Bennett on libraries in the LRB:

Books and bookcases cropping up in stuff that I’ve written means that they have to be reproduced on stage or on film. This isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. A designer will either present you with shelves lined with gilt-tooled library sets, the sort of clubland books one can rent by the yard as decor, or he or she will send out for some junk books from the nearest second-hand bookshop and think that those will do. Another short cut is to order in a cargo of remaindered books so that you end up with a shelf so garish and lacking in character it bears about as much of a relationship to literature as a caravan site does to architecture. A bookshelf is as particular to its owner as are his or her clothes; a personality is stamped on a library just as a shoe is shaped by the foot.

That someone’s working library has a particular tone, with some shelves more heterogeneous than others, for example, or (in the case of an art historian) filled with offprints and monographs or (with an old-fashioned literary figure for instance) lined with the faded covers and jackets of distinctive Faber or Cape editions, does not seem to occur to a designer. On several occasions I’ve had to bring my own books down to the theatre to give the right worn tone to the shelves.

In The Old Country (1977) the books (Auden, Spender, MacNeice) are of central importance to the plot. I wanted their faded buffs and blues and yellows bleached into a unity of tone that suggested long sunlit Cambridge afternoons, the kind of books you might find lining Dadie Rylands’s rooms, for instance. Anthony Blunt’s bookshelves were crucial in Single Spies, the look of an art historian’s bookshelves significantly different from those of a literary critic say. All this tends to pass the designer by. One knows that designers seldom read, but they don’t have much knowledge of Inca civilisation either or the Puritan settlement of New England and yet they seem to cope perfectly well reproducing them. An agglomeration of books as illustrating the character of their owner seems to defeat them.
(Some might find Bennett's assessment of the literacy of art designers unduly harsh, although it's not his main point. I, on the other hand, was reminded of Harlan Ellison's story explaining why the entrance to the city on the edge of forever was strewn with broken masonry and truncated Greek columns: apparently the designer had decided that "runes" was an idiosyncratic spelling of "ruins".)

July 18, 2011

From Flat Earth News by Nick Davies (yes, that Nick Davies):

In his highly revealing biography, The Murdoch Archipelago, the former Sunday Times journalist Bruce Page goes back to January 1968 to provide an early and vivid example of how the man works. Murdoch then was still in the early stages of building his empire from his base in Adelaide and, in search of a political ally, he had started dealing with the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, 'Black Jack' McEwen. In January 1968, Black Jack found himself at the centre of a crisis.

The Prime Minister, Harold Holt, had drowned while swimming from a beach near Melbourne. Black Jack was suddenly elevated to the post of Acting Prime Minister. However, he knew he couldn't keep the job, because he led the Country Party, which was the minority partner in a coalition government. The bigger party, the Liberals, would choose a new leader, on 9 January. The choice was between two men: John Gorton and Billy McMahon. Black Jack wanted Gorton, a weak boozer of a man. So he had to stop Billy McMahon.

Black Jack publicly declared that his Country Party would refuse to serve under Billy McMahon but mysteriously refused to explain why. Secretly, in his role as Acting Prime Minister, he called in the head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and urged him to investigate a close associate of Billy McMahon, named Max Newton. Black Jack claimed that Newton was a subversive, secretly working to sabotage the Australian economy on behalf of the Japanese. It was a lie, but the head of ASIO agreed to open a file and see what he could find. He found nothing. Nevertheless, the mere existence of the ASIO file was enough for Black Jack.

Four days before the leadership vote, on the evening of 5 January, as Bruce Page recounts, Black Jack called Rupert Murdoch to his suite in the Kurrajong Hotel in Canberra and handed him a dossier on Max Newton's supposed treachery on behalf of the Japanese. This was a double delight for the young media proprietor. It was not only a chance to do a favour for his political ally. It was also a chance to hurt Newton, who had formerly been one of Murdoch's editors and had made the bad mistake of publicly describing him as 'a whippersnapper from Adelaide'.

Later that evening, Murdoch phoned Newton, and said simply: 'This is the whippersnapper from Adelaide. I suggest you read my paper tomorrow.' The paper was the Australian. The next day's story did everything that Black Jack McEwen had wanted, destroying the reputation of Max Newton and, with it, the chances of Billy McMahon winning the vote to become Prime Minister. The headline read: 'WHY MCEWEN VETOES MCMAHON: FOREIGN AGENT IS THE MAN BETWEEN THE LEADERS'. And it told the story of Max Newton, the supposed secret agent of Japanese subversion. It was entirely false, though it is always possible that Murdoch himself believed it. There was no reporter's byline on the story. It was the owner's own work, dictated by the politician who was his ally. Four days later, with the rest of the Australian media crawling all over Murdoch's exclusive, Billy McMahon lost the election, and, just as Black Jack wanted, John Gorton became Prime Minister.

A year later, in January 1969, Murdoch tried to make his first big move out of Australia, bidding to buy the News of the World in London. But he was trapped by Australian currency regulations, which prevented him exporting his money to the UK. Black Jack McEwen came to his rescue, summoning the servile John Gorton to his hotel suite to sign an authority which would allow Murdoch to get his cash out of the country. Gorton asked if he had any whisky. As McEwen later recalled: 'The papers were signed. Rupert and I were out in the garden. Gorton went off with his Scotch. Rupert went off to buy his newspaper.'
Given this story is extracted in its entirety from the Bruce Page book cited, which I also own, I should probably have quoted Mr Page, but it's the book by Mr Davies I'm reading at present, and thus the one available to scan. I should also use this as an opportunity to review Mr Davies' book but so far I'm only eighteen pages in. Up to now it's been a bit of a curate's egg but I expect it to improve.

July 12, 2011
Old News

Although the accusations of moral bankruptcy and peddling "tittle tattle" are accurate enough they still remain vulnerable to the old lie: this is what the readers want. But, as I point out with tedious regularity, the function of journalists in the commercial media, both "tabloid" and "quality", is to create content that will attract the kind of readers (the product) preferred by advertisers (the customer), and, usually, the customers' preferred product is one that is insular, self-centred, trivial and ill-informed. To claim your dreck, whether tabloid sleaze, corporate propaganda or bien-pensant bourgeois wankery, is what your readers want is like the corrupt pieman proclaiming "Of course I use rancid horsemeat. That's what the pies want!"

July 01, 2011
Confidential-source Status

At Inside Story Matthew Ricketson writes about the issue of anonymous sources. He looks at the Simon Overland fiasco and the Plame affair, quoting from Norman Pearlstein's memoir on the latter:

Pearlstine writes, “The more I learned about the use of confidential sources, the more I came to understand how their misuse was undermining the press’s credibility.” ...

“We need to distinguish between ‘anonymous’ sources, whose names we leave out of stories, and ‘confidential’ stories, whose names we won’t disclose in litigation,” he concludes. “We must also be more honest with our sources, and we must be vigilant to make sure our sources are honest with us. Reporters must explain that they cannot promise more than the law allows, and they shouldn’t make promises that are against the public interest. Journalists aren’t above the law, and we have to stop acting as though we are.”

How do we distinguish between day to day anonymous sources and those to whom we should promise confidentiality? “The source who seeks confidentiality should typically be risking livelihood, life, or reputation, and there should be no other way for the reporter to get the information than from the source… Confidential-source status should never be granted to government officials who are trying to spin a story, especially if they are breaking the law when they do so.”
Though a credible analysis, I'd still like to see some recognition that granting anonymity is usually about protecting the value of a story that would, without anonymous sources, not be news.

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