August 29, 2011
For the record, here's the long version of a comment left at Larvatus Prodeo, shortened there for brevity (I say "left"; LP blithely collapsed as soon as I pressed "Post"). Here, it should probably be even longer:
It amuses me that journalists insist on their special status because they supposedly tell the public about how the political system is operating and yet consistently fail to recognise their own role in that system. If Insiders, for example, was true to its name it would report as much about the spear-carriers in the commentariat as their favourite pollies; as much about the agendas driven at the behest of media magnates, corporations and other extra-parliamentary centres of power and their PR systems of "thinktanks" and astroturf, as about the soundbites coming from the politicians; and break the kayfabe about how information about politics comes to the journos in the first place. (I acknowledge it would be far too much to ask them to acknowledge the institutional features of media that makes it a factory of bien pensant* bourgeois orthodoxy.)*I believe this phrase is Tony Jones' middle name.
Of course, they - speaking of soundbites - won't even talk sensibly about the politicians' overt side of the propaganda system, never mind their own part in it: who pointed out, after Joe Hockey got all weepy in 2007 about the people he was going to have to sack, that these were ministerial staffers [an important source of leaks**], that is, political appointees there to serve the politician in a PR capacity, not the public, and yet paid with public money? Look how they complained about Rudd organising press conferences without inviting everybody rather than ask the more obvious question - why are you flying to the middle of nowhere to wear a silly hat and make an announcement you could have made by e-mail? These particular hands feed the media maw and it will not bite them. The media will complain about any form of government "waste" except that which provides copy.
Their keenness to provide political/official sources with anonymity is one example of their embeddedness. They will tell you they need to provide anonymity to keep the source friendly, thus allowing them access to the information they share with us. But the identity of the source is the most important part of the information as it allows the readers to assess the credibility of the story. Naturally the source doesn't want the audience to be able to properly assess credibility, any more than they would wish to be publicly associated with what is almost certainly a lie; but then neither does the journo: letting punters know the source is an excellent way of killing the story's news value. Thus they cheerfully set themselves up as PR conduits and avoid the tiresome and tricky chores of objective analysis. [Weirdly, this paragraph is one deleted from the LP comment, when it would be more use there than here, where I make this point on a regular basis.]
**As we saw during the Children Overboard fiasco, the ministerial staffer's function as a conduit of information to the media is matched by their role as a filter between public servants and the minister, in case the public service attempts to make the minister aware of something it would be better for him not to know.