Sweetness & Light

Snooze Time at the Australian Bludging Corporation


Late afternoon on Friday, March 11, 2011, I was at my desk at the Daily Telegraph when a co-worker tapped me on the arm. He then pointed, not saying a word, to one of the many television sets positioned around the office.

They were all showing the same scenes: buildings, bridges, houses, cars and people being swept away by raging flood waters caused by a massive tsunami that had struck Japan’s east coast. We watched transfixed for a time, trying to process the fact that what we were seeing was happening live. We were watching a horror movie that wasn’t a movie.

“Somebody better tell Jeni,” the co-worker said, eventually. Jeni was Jeni O’Dowd, then the editor of the Daily Telegraph’s Saturday edition. At that moment Jeni was at a shared desk a few metres from us, making a few last-minute layout changes to the next day’s paper. The edition was essentially done. It could’ve been sent to the printers within minutes.

Tim Blair appears in every Quadrant.
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I interrupted her to point at the screens. Jeni quickly took in those images, asked if they were historical shots from 2004’s Indonesian disaster, then turned back to her computer and began killing pages.

Click, click, click. Page one: gone. Page two: gone. Page three: gone. And so on, until basically the entire news section of the paper was completely blank. Every one of those pages represented many hours of research, reporting, photography and design. All were erased within seconds, because we had breaking news.

Then Jeni assembled her staff and everybody began building the paper’s tsunami coverage. From memory, at that time we were maybe a couple of hours before the first edition’s deadline. The staff nailed it.

Things evidently move a little more slowly at the ABC.

On August 15 this year, from morning until night, news reports whipped around the world detailing the Taliban’s stunning advances across Afghanistan and towards Kabul. A few days earlier, the Taliban had captured half of Afghanistan’s thirty-four provincial capitals. These included Herat and Kandahar, the nation’s second-largest and third-largest cities.

Then, late on the 15th Australian time, Kabul was effortlessly overrun. At the Daily Telegraph, news pages were made and remade as events accelerated. Standard practice, obviously. But at the ABC’s Four Corners, which claims to be Australia’s leading current affairs program, all was presumably calm.

That’s because Four Corners already had Monday’s show ready to broadcast. As the biggest news story in recent decades continued to unfold, Four Corners went to air with a sixtieth anniversary celebration of itself. Hey, why interrupt a party just because news is happening?

Let’s give the ABC some room here. Two days isn’t much time to pull together a forty-five-minute special, especially because simply producing that trademark Four Corners spooky music would have taken that long just by itself. So they missed their first opportunity. Surely, though, Four Corners would cover Kabul in one week’s time.

But no. Instead, Four Corners went with a scheduled hit piece on Donald Trump, Fox News and Rupert Murdoch. And then, the following week, part two of that cobwebbed, raking-over-old-coals hit piece. Finally, on September 6, more than three weeks after the Taliban swarmed Kabul, Four Corners finally lashed together enough interviews and news clips to fill forty-five minutes of air time.

Intriguingly, the ABC appeared to have spent much of the previous three weeks deciding what its report should omit. The words Islam and Islamic were uttered not once during the entire show. The Taliban was simply described as “the insurgent army that calls itself the Taliban”.

Four Corners presented many Afghans who were understandably fearful of Taliban rule, but the program offered no reason at all why the Taliban behave as they do. They apparently have no motives at all and follow no particular belief system.

US President Joe Biden was also granted gentle treatment. As Four Corners presenter Louise Milligan explained to viewers, Biden’s withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan wasn’t really his fault. “The decision to withdraw by 2021 was made by former US president Donald Trump,” Milligan said. “Trump’s successor Joe Biden honoured the Taliban deal.”

That analysis may come across as a touch shallow to anyone who’s been paying the slightest bit of attention. The ABC had three whole weeks to work on this and still managed to stuff it up. The whole debacle recalled the great Media Watch news avoidance disgrace of 2012.

On that occasion, news had broken early one Monday that Fairfax, one of Australia’s largest media companies, would be cutting nearly 2000 staffers and closing printing plants in Sydney and Melbourne. Viewers naturally expected Media Watch to be all over it during that evening’s weekly broadcast. The biggest story in the country was on Media Watch’s beat. Lucky them.

Again, no. “We won’t be covering Fairfax changes,” then-host Jonathan Holmes sniffed on Twitter. “We don’t do last minute at Media Watch.” In fact, Holmes and his numerous staff had several hours to come up with a dinky little fifteen-minute piece. But that would have meant working.

Media Watch frequently criticises journalistic errors made under the pressure of deadlines—but avoids any deadline pressure itself by simply not having any, just as the ABC avoids any commercial pressure by bludging on our taxes. File something three weeks late or not at all at the ABC and you’ll still get paid. Do the same at a proper news outlet and you’ll get sacked.

By the way, the ABC also failed with its Japanese tsunami coverage. “The Saturday morning after the quake, as the Fukushima nuclear plant began to melt down and it became clear that this was not just a big story but one of the big stories of the decade, the ABC was screening repeats of current events shows,” the Monthly’s Margaret Simons reported.

Imagine seeing those initial scenes of destruction and not immediately thinking this was a massive story. “I’m sorry we didn’t do better on that morning,” the ABC’s then managing director Mark Scott told Simons. “We had a couple of disappointing hours.”

Just a couple of hours? Try decades, mate. At a cost to actual working Australians of more than $1 billion every single year.


YOU’LL hear a lot of things when people are talking about electric cars. You’ll hear about quietness of operation, technological advancement, purchasing subsidies and (of course) our need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

One word you’ll never hear, however, is fun.

Electric cars are no fun at all. If you enjoy driving, electric cars are poison. They’re awful to drive, mostly due to their massive weight and associated plonking clumsiness.

Gordon Murray explained all of this in a recent British magazine interview. Engineering genius Murray made his name as a Formula One car designer. Later he built spectacular road cars. To him, electric cars are just wrong.

“For electric cars to be truly good you need two things,” Murray said. “You need enough clean energy to plug them into and you need the next generation of batteries.

“The energy density is so poor with the current lithium ion batteries and you’re lugging around hundreds of kilos of dead weight …

“With electric you need 9000 cells, half a ton of battery like a Tesla, and it’s only 15 per cent efficient. You’re carrying that weight around all the time.”

And, believe me, you really feel it. Think back to your first days as a licensed driver; recall the feeling of liberation as you set off down the road by yourself, headed for destinations of your own choosing. Those feelings are hugely compromised in electric cars because the whole experience is so earnestly ponderous.

That’s not to say electric cars are slow. Some of them are very rapid indeed. But speed without any associated nimbleness is just boring. “They are too heavy,” says Murray, whose background as a racecar designer makes him understandably allergic to excess mass. “Some weigh more than two tons.”

In that interview, Murray eventually touched on why internal combustion engines were and remain such a boon for humankind—and for people who thrill to the open road. It’s a simple nine-word statement of pure truth that electric car advocates can’t refute:

“The honest truth is, petrol is just too good.”

Many will be inclined to reflexively agree, but Murray backs this up with science: “Petroleum is so energy dense. A typical air to fuel mixture in an internal combustion engine is about 15 to one so you can only carry the one unit of petrol and the 15 units of air are just all around you for free.

“With electric you need 9000 cells, half a ton of battery like a Tesla, and it’s only 15 per cent efficient.”

Feel free to bring this up the next time you’re cornered by some electric car fanatic, who tend to be as interesting as their vehicles of choice. The idea that their cars are inefficient is regarded by them as utterly blasphemous.

13 thoughts on “Snooze Time at the Australian Bludging Corporation

  • DougD says:

    “Biden’s withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan wasn’t really his fault. The decision to withdraw by 2021 was made by former US president Donald Trump,” says ABC’s Louise Milligan. She must have missed all the vision of Biden’s first day in the Oval Office – Biden signing executive order after order, cancelling Trump’s decisions, one after another. I don’t understand why Biden didn’t give Trump’s Afghan withdrawal decision the same treatment nor why no one seems to have sought any explanation.

  • BalancedObservation says:

    I look at it this way… the ABC has a left bias, arguably a pretty consistent one. The Murdoch media has its own biases which from my observations over many years haven’t been quite as consistent as the ABC’s. One major aspect of the Murdoch biases for example currently seems to be under review.

    It would be a line ball for me which was the superior news outlet. They’re both pretty good. I’d give it to the ABC.

    As for hit pieces … that’s a hard one to assess. It would for example be another line ball whether the ABC did more hit pieces on Donald Trump than say the Murdoch media did on the ABC. Too close to call that one.

    I’m not quite sure what the preamble to this article was about. Are we supposed to be motivated to recommend Jeni O’Dowd for a retrospective Journalism of the Year award. Or should the Murdoch media get one every year because they’re just so downright good?

    Or should we be motivated to complain to the Communications minister about ABC bias. Maybe we should be recommending the ABC be sold? I won’t be doing any of those things.

    Just a small point… as for calling the Taliban Islamic etc … I think most of us would know that the Taliban were Islamic and weren’t say a born again Christian outfit operating in Afghanistan. In my opinion the word Taliban defines them more precisely than simply calling them Islamic. For example since taking over the Taliban have been attacked by Islamic state.

    There’s no way I’d go into bat for the ABC’s Media Watch. But I would note from my observations the Murdoch media is far less likely to criticise itself than the ABC’s Media Watch show criticises the ABC.

  • BalancedObservation says:

    If anyone was going to have any chance at all of “fixing” the Afghanistan situation Trump was. But I think history clearly shows that it simply is not fixable, at least in a way democracy-loving people would regard as fixable.

    The best approach inevitably was to minimize the deaths of your own citizens and the overall cost to your own citizens while doing your best for those Afghans whose minds haven’t been irreversibly poisoned after years and years of conflict and exposure to violent belief systems. I think that seems to have been Trump’s approach.

    Those the West ( usually predominantly meaning the US) try to help should include those in Afghanistan who support human rights and those who truly believe in democracy and compassion towards their fellow citizens.

    I think the US gave that a pretty good shot. I think Donald Trump approached the long-standing problem successive administrations wrestled with as pragmatically and effectively as anyone has. Probably more effectively than anyone, given the long history of failure.

    In the end it cost the US dearly in the process. The US committed so much to improving the lives of people in Afghanistan.

    But from what I see when the chips were down a well equipped and trained Afghan defence force – which reportedly outnumbered the Taliban – didn’t seem to want to fight for what they had. That was their choice.

    I feel the West should not be providing large scale aid to the Taliban dictatorship. Any resources should specifically be applied to helping those Afghans I talked about above. A reasonable level of help taking into account the huge amount that has been provided so far. But direct aid to the Taliban should be avoided as much as possible.

    The Taliban government should look to get aid from those who armed them to fight and destroy the US forces. They would not have been able to overthrow the US without substantial aid and you’d also think a pretty high level of local support. The Taliban should look to those sources for help now.

  • Claude James says:

    The ABC?
    To me, the most important point that arises from observation of that tax-payer funded, anti-Westernist cesspit is this:
    The Australian Commonwealth’s law and administrative systems, and the Constitution on which they stand, do not provide for protections against the use of tax-payer funds to channel marxist-inspired, anti-factual, anti-Westernist propaganda, or even just plain tosh.
    Obviously, the same point can be made about our tax-payer funded education and research systems, and SBS, and much of what happens all through the Fed, State and Territory public services, and the
    Councils, and the Courts too.

  • Blair says:

    “I look at it this way… the ABC has a left bias, arguably a pretty consistent one. The Murdoch media has its own biases which from my observations over many years haven’t been quite as consistent as the ABC’s. ”
    The ABC is a public broadcaster. Murdoch media is a privately owned.
    Why should a public broadcaster be biased?

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    I literally never watch ABC television these days, and it’s many years since I listened to ABC radio. My hatred of the ABC is intense and personal, and largely results from my experience of almost losing my job because the ABC news broadcast a blatant lie without bothering to check the facts. So, I can only be guided by what I read or see second hand.
    I am constantly amazed that people continue to try to defend the ABC by comparing it with the Murdoch media. That they seem to think that any such comparison is valid is quite incredible. The Murdoch media large and diverse, but whatever their real or imagined faults, they are not dependent on taxpayers for their existence. They survive by selling their product in the open market in which they compete with all comers and, in Australia and the UK at least, with enormous, bloated, taxpayer-funded literally sheltered workshops like the BBC and ABC. That Murdoch has been able to compete so successfully with its rivals in Australia is as much a measure of the ABC’s incompetence as it is of Murdoch’s competence.
    On the issue of Media Watch, the programme is a very sick joke, particularly given that the ABC is throwing its stones from a thoroughly shattered glass house. The smug arrogance on display, produced at enormous expense by a bloated staff, is shameful. That would be the first programme to be axed if I were in charge.

  • pgang says:

    Loved the electric car piece, and I will memorise those details.
    We forget what a miracle fossil fuels are – a genuine, fair dinkum miracle. They provide us with a massive concentrated energy source that is the closest thing to being free. The small amount of work energy involved in their extraction is paid back exponentially by the available work energy they store for us. Talk about batteries – fossil fuels are THE battery. The existence of fossil fuels defies the law of entropy. They are amazing.
    Wind and solar are too diffuse to harness effectively for work (unless you happen to be a leaf). Returns on work energy input are very small. Chemical batteries are of course a net drain on the energy grid, having no inherent work capacity until they are charged.
    Hydrogen? A perpetual motion machine apparently, as a balanced chemical equation somehow produces excess energy for work.
    Nuclear fusion also pays back workable energy in spades, but it does leave behind a nasty mess. And I don’t think you can fit one of those in a car. Has anyone worked out yet how many batteries would be needed to fly an Airbus or an F-35?

  • Marcus McInness says:

    Energy Storage Perspective., The $100 million ” World’s biggest battery in South Australia” stores about the same amount of energy as that carried by a B double fuel tanker, sufficient recharge one thousand Tesla Model S cars while the $100, 000 tanker will refuel about the same number of large cars,
    Petroleum products, like gasoline are used because they are energy dense, a kilogram would take the average car about 20 km..
    A kilogram of nuclear fuel, like 235Uranium, would take a car 1.77 million km.

  • Brian Boru says:

    @ Blair. “Why should a public broadcaster be biased?”
    I can’t understand this question. As far as I can see, neither the article nor any comment has suggested that it should be.

  • lbloveday says:

    Brian Boru,
    I’ll explain my understanding by an analogy:
    A man several times gets off his bar stool and urinates on the carpet in the corner rather than visit the outside toilet
    I ask the barman “Why should he do that”? (there are of course many other forms my question could take)
    No-one has said he should do that, but the fact is that he does and should not. Similarly the fact is the ABC is biased and it should not be.

  • Brian Boru says:

    @ ibloveday. “the ABC is biased and it should not be.”
    Well of course it should not be. My point was that nobody here was saying that it should be and so Blair’s question was hard for me to understand. It still is for me despite your analogy for which I thank you.

  • tommbell says:

    It was obviously a rhetorical question….

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Omitting ‘Islam’ and ‘Islamic’ takes no time at all for the ABC, Tim. They have Standing Orders on it.
    They’re late always because they have to have lots of meetings because co-operative and consensus etc.

    As for cars, how dare you mention fun. Cars are lethal energy-draining weapons and cannot ever be fun.
    Worse than guns and cigarettes and a pub crawl.

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