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July 18th 2017 print

Geoffrey Luck

Chris Uhlmann Makes Himself the Story

The ABC is tickled pink about the enormous splash its Canberra editor made on social media with a fact-free, opinion-heavy diatribe against Donald Trump and his administration. It seems the national broadcaster's yardstick for excellence is the number of visitors it gets from Twitter's sewer

uhlmannFor years, Chris Uhlmann swam like an otter in the ABC’s journalistic swamp, his nose lifted delicately clear of the stench from the red/green algae bloom that had gradually infected it. For years, his reports from Canberra were the only occasional relief for viewers from the pervasive left/green slant on politics and government.So I’m curious to understand what suddenly caused his celebrated outburst masquerading as a report on the G20 meeting in Hamburg.  Was this his one and only chance to voice his opinion on international affairs, and on President Donald J Trump especially?

It’s very noticeable that while junior and very ordinary reporters are being recycled through the most prestigious overseas offices of Washington and London, Uhlmann has been confined to Canberra. Has the denial of the career coronation of “foreign correspondent” got to him?

Whatever the motivation, his piece to camera on Trump at the G20 is now celebrated by the ABC, not for its perspicacity, but for the extraordinary number of its internet hits. On Sunday’s Insiders programme, it boasted a new record of 3.15 million Facebook clicks , and 1.35 million views on the ABC’s Twitter account. Going viral apparently is now the new yardstick of journalistic excellence — so much so the national broadcaster produced a first-person backgrounder on how this great coup made it to air. (The YouTube clip is pasted below)

So let’s look again at what Uhlmann said in Hamburg, reporting into The Insiders  a week earlier:

“What we already knew, Barrie, is that the President of the United States has a particular skill set, that he’s identified as an illness in Western democracies, but he has no cure for it and seems intent on exploiting it. And we’ve also learned that he has no desire and no capacity to lead the world.

“The G20 became the G19 as it ended. On the Paris climate accords, the US was left isolated and friendless. But, given that was always going to happen, a deft president would have found an issue around which he could rally most of the leaders. And he had the perfect one — North Korea’s missile tests. So where was the G20 statement condemning North Korea which would have put pressure on China and Russia? Other leaders expected it. They were prepared to back it, but it never came.

“There’s a tendency among some hopeful souls to confuse the speeches written for Trump with the thoughts of the man himself — he did make some interesting, scripted observations in Poland about defending the values of the West. And he’s in a unique position. He’s the one man who has the power to do something about it. But it’s the unscripted Trump that’s real: a man who barks out bile in 140 characters, who wastes his precious days as president at war with the West institutions like the judiciary, independent government agencies and the free press. He was an uneasy, lonely, awkward figure at this gathering and you got the strong sense some of the leaders are trying to find the best way to work around him.

“Donald Trump’s a man that craves power because it burnishes his celebrity. To be constantly talking and talked about is all that really matters and there is no value placed on the meaning of words, so what’s said one day can be discarded the next.

“So what did we learn? We learnt that Donald Trump has pressed fast forward on the decline of the United States as a global leader. He managed to isolate his nation, to confuse and alienate his allies and to diminish America — he will cede that power to China and Russia. Two authoritarian states that will forge a very different set of rules for the 21st century.

“Some will cheer the decline of America. But I think we’ll miss it when it’s gone. And that’s the biggest threat to the values of the West which he claims to hold so dear.”

As a report, this is nothing more than a series of personal opinions. Some commentators have described it as a rant. But it’s far worse than that. Uhlmann has gone well beyond reportage, observation and analysis to presume to see into Donald Trump’s mind, condemn his conclusions and then tell him what he ought to have done.

Was Trump an uneasy, lonely, awkward figure in Hamburg? An alternative interpretation could be that he was proud, aloof, disdainful of the consensus views on policies that he had already rejected as inimical to the real interests of his own country.

Who were the sources?  Where were the facts? What about Trump’s negotiation with Putin of a cease-fire in Syria?

How does Uhlmann know that an initiative to condemn North Korea would have been backed by 17 countries to put pressure on Russia and China? There was every sign that the meeting had no will to tackle any substantial problem, and sought only harmony and bonhomie.

Trump’s stated policy is to save America the cost and blood of being the world’s leader, so how can Uhlmann be so surprised at seeing it spelt out in person? The President believes that Europe particularly has got it wrong by destroying economies with alternative energy policies and failure to control illegal immigration. He deplores complacency about Islam and is insistent that nations pay their share of their international obligations. That was the message Trump’s behaviour was conveying. He was not the isolated one. I would argue that the 19 other nations isolated themselves from intelligent policies.

Trump’s Warsaw speech articulated the very values that at least the western nations of the G20 might be expected to confirm, yet Uhlmann sneeringly dismissed it as “scripted observations”, implying both that he is incapable of such thinking, and that he’s interested only in the furthering the “decline” of the United States.

Uhlmann’s final assessment is that Russia and China will take over the world, and that we will all miss America when it’s gone. Really? He seems ignorant of the fact that President Obama’s ineptitude created the vacuum that those countries filled. It was Obama who allowed Russia to meddle in Ukraine (one consequence being the shooting down of MH17). It was Obama who allowed China to colonise the South China Sea. That pathetic level of analysis of the international scene is very likely why the ABC has never let him out of Australia.

uhlmann and spouseUhlmann at home with his wife,  federal Labor MP Gai Brodtmann

Well, why the outburst now? Seems he couldn’t contain himself any longer, and Hamburg was the expedient dateline. And proof that he didn’t really try to do a proper report on the G20 meeting came in this revealing quote he gave to the Canberra Times:

“So all I did was articulate a feeling that is widely held. Confirmation bias is the art of advertising.”

Chris Uhlmann has slipped beneath the surface of the Canberra press corps’ pond, now gulping down its toxic red/green algae.

Geoffrey Luck was an ABC journalist for 26 years, serving as Papua New Guinea news editor and London bureau chief

Comments [15]

  1. Ian Matthews says:

    It’s disappointing to see that the normally reliable Uhlmann has drunk the Insiders’ Kool-Aid.

  2. RobK says:

    If other leaders end up following Trump away from an economic Armageddon, he will by definition be a leader of leaders.

  3. en passant says:

    I watched, then read Trump’s speech in Warsaw (which was given without reference to an Obamanation teleprompter) so the fake “Uhlmann sneeringly dismissed it as “scripted observations”” is something the catholic Uhlmann will have to confess to.

    In Warsaw Trump was treated like a rock star. In Slovenia (First Lady {and what a lady} Melania’s land of birth) he was greeted and treated like a rock star.
    In Merkel’s Orwellian Hamburg where her own anarchist Orcs tried to disrupt the globalist agenda she supports, Trump was the realist adult in the room among Epsilons from Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. Who would want to be part of that cabal of traitors to their own nation’s sovereignty? Oh, our own Turncoat polliescum for one.

    Yes, Uhlmann has gone over to the Dark Side, so now the ABC will have to hire a really right wing correspondent to restore balance. After all that is in their charter, so it is a given.

  4. Bill Martin says:

    There is a surefire way of earning lots of feathers for the cap of swamp journalists by enthusiastically joining the chorus of the knockers of president Trump, whose greatest and absolutely unforgivable sin is having won office in a democratic election. How dares he? The cheek of the man! Ulman simply could not longer resist the temptation of earning such feathers for his own cap.

    To the credit of the ABC, there was a segment in a subsequent 7:30 program where Ulman’s “report” was played to some grassroots American ladies who responded by asking “who is this idiot?”

  5. White Dove says:

    I love reading all your comments. This is my first attempt. My take on Chris Ulhmann’s rant is that it was with the full blessing of Turnbull. If we remember that Trump gave the Turnbull’s a ride in the “Beast”. What better place for Trump to give Turnbull a few home truths as there could be no leaking of the conversation. Unable himself to take a shot at Trump, Turnbull has given Ulhmann the nod to say what he did. It just didn’t seem like a Chris Ulhmann piece to me. However I could be wrong. Trump is so far ahead of the rest at the G20 that I wouldn’t call it isolation. More like a “is this all you get done. Come on when are we going to do what we are here for and do some real work”. My fear is that Trump will be taken down by all the lies and we will have lost another good man. The exact same thing happened to Tony Abbott. Both good men more interested in doing good for the rest of us than themselves. All the best to all of you. Joy Heath.

    • I think you are correct. Both Paul Kelly and Chris Uhlman gave similar takes after being briefed by Turnbull’s office. Turnbull used the back grounding to slander Trump leaving the ‘courageous’ Malcolm to stick it to the Chinese over North Korea. Trump is fully aware that Malcolm is a snake and I am not surprised that US immigration officials have left Manus abruptly. I think ‘Hollywood’ Bishop’s snarky response on Insiders might have something to do with the refugee matter.

      • ianl says:

        Warmed the cockles of my heart, you have.

        The Waffles’ trait that is most irritating is his perpetual, smug assumption that we are just too dumb to ken his sneakiness. Well, a standard rule of thumb: whenever he’s waffling, some malodorous, snaky decision has already been made that will be greatly disliked – when it eventually emerges from the spinmeisters.

    • Bill Martin says:

      Welcome to our community Joy!

      Tony Abbott, with all his good intentions, simply didn’t have the Trump-like panache vital to successfully resisting the vicious attacks of the swamp creatures. You could also say that he was/is “too nice” a person to match the nastiness of his detractors.

  6. Doubting Thomas says:

    I had a lot of respect for Uhlmann until this brainfart. He and Jane Hutcheon were, for me, the only ANC journalists with any class. He’s lost me. Either he has shown himself to be just another common or garden leftist of little brain, or he has become a tool of the Turnbullistas. Either option destroys his credibility entirely. Very sad.

  7. Doubting Thomas says:

    Bah, humbug. I hate autocorrect. ABC.

    • Warty says:

      No, you were right the first time: it is indeed the ANC. And the African National Congress is filled to overflowing with cretinous, corrupt, self satisfied party officials, and their media liaison officers would be little better.

  8. Warty says:

    There is something else one detects in Uhlmann’s little rant: there is an ill-disguised longing for the America of an Obama, that he perhaps thought might have been perpetuated through Hillary. Trump is a man Uhlmann sees as ceding America’s preeminence to a Russia and to a China, but perhaps (somehow) in an even more abject way than Obama did when he allowed China to build a succession of artificial islands in the South China Sea; or the way Obama capitulated to Iran in achieving a deal that would allow Iran to use the bribery loot to acquire state of the art armaments and further destabilise the region; and an Obama that deliberately distanced himself from Israel, the only true democracy in the entire Middle East.
    What we now see is an America picking up the reins once again, and a Trump attempting to deal with a North Korea that a succession of American Presidents allowed to become the nightmare it is today. The fact that none of the European leaders seemed prepared to stand beside him on North Korea was not a reason for Uhlmann to sneer, but a very good reason for America to revisit the idea of discontinuing any further funding of a limp-wristed NATO.

  9. en passant says:

    Warty,
    “a very good reason for America to revisit the idea of discontinuing any further funding of a limp-wristed NATO.” Didn’t NATO save the Italian and French oil & gas investments in Libya by destroying the lunatic who was shielding the West from mass migration? I am enjoying watching Italy and France reap the ‘benefits’ of their perfidy as they were the ones that called for NATO to bomb the winning Qaddafi army.

    • Warty says:

      I wasn’t aware that was a NATO operation, en passant. I thought it was a joint operation between Obama’s America, David Cameron’s Britain, and Nicolas Sarkozy’s France; but I see Wikipedia (they can’t even spell their own name) agrees with you.
      But yes, this was another of those unmitigated disasters following idiotic intervention designed to show that we are tough on Arab leaders who dare to become a little more moderate.
      What ever was Gaddafi thinking?

  10. Dallas Beaufort says:

    Uhlmann has dropped his Green left wing guts, hidden all these years at Aunty’s sheltered workshop otherwise know as the Repatriation.