The great thing about history – or rather, the first drafting of it, which is what journalism is supposed to be – is how wonderfully malleable the facts can be in the hands of those who do not care too much about them. That Julia Gillard would prefer her version to represent the official record is, of course, entirely understandable. As the ABC’s The Killing Season is demonstrating, with the eager assistance of her former apprentices in treachery no less, failure and chaos are faults only until the reeking corpse of a political career can be anointed with unctuous omissions and wrapped in victimhood’s sacred shroud.
Ms Gillard invocation of the uterine defence – ‘were I a man, no one would have taken exception to my lies and incompetence’ – has never been a surprise to those who saw through it, least of all to Commissioner Dyson Heydon, who found in appraising her testimony before his Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption that she brought no credibility whatsoever to the witness box.
“There is virtually no evidence of Julia Gillard’s good reputation and character beyond that which is to be inferred from her status as a former Prime Minister and from the other aspects of her career, which are notorious,” he wrote in but one of several scathing observations in regard to her character, veracity, recollections and/or convenient lack of them.
A damning quote, it is also an affirmation that Heydon chose the right career in taking to the law rather than journalism, where the former Prime Minister’s defenders seem to think it their duty to run misrepresentations up flagpoles and demand, loudly and often, that readers salute them. In today’s Sydney Morning Herald, the tribal howls of the true believers who represent the sad core of that paper’s shrunken audience need little encouragement, if we are to judge by the comments thread that spills below this exercise in excision by “political correspondent” James Massola.
It is a curious article. In presenting what is both a quote-lifted sampling of tonight’s Killing Season finale and an unlabelled editorial, Massola cites Gillard’s wonderment that the rally outside Parliament House against the carbon tax on March 23, 2011, did not end Tony Abbott’s political career. Massola writes:
On the front lawns of Parliament House, a crowd of 3000 vitriolic anti-carbon tax protesters had gathered, waving placards and signs with offensive slogans such as “ditch the witch” and “Ju-liar… Bob Browns [sic] bitch”.
And rather then (sic) giving the angry crowd a wide berth, Mr Abbott, former (sic) MP Sophie Mirabella and other members of the then-opposition front bench addressed the crowd with those signs as a backdrop.
Well, yes, they did address the crowd and those signs were their backdrop, but there was a bit more to it than the gathering of environmental molesters and sexism’s quislings which Gillard’s defenders have been so keen to present.
If Massola had consulted colleague Tony Wright’s eye-witness account, as published in his very own SMH on the morning after the rally, he could have added some valuable background. And if the SMH could still boast one or two competent editors – the sort who can spot typos, as in the quote above, and know that Mirabella was not, at that point, “a former” MP – the story might actually have achieved what news reports are supposed to do: eschew propaganda in order to shed a little light on matters of public interest.
By Wright’s account,
No sooner had he hoisted himself to the podium to the excited chant of the multitudes (”To-ny, To-ny,” they cried) than someone hoisted a garishly painted sign right behind him. ”Juliar: Bob Browns Bitch”, it read.
The fact that Abbott & Co., were unaware of that sign and others must strike the uncommitted reader as very relevant indeed. Also, a reminder that vulgar partisanship is not the sole province of Gillard’s detractors would have been helpful – something Massola might easily have achieved by sending an intra-office memo to colleague and Fairfax columnist Clementine Ford. It would have been a simple query, along the lines of ‘just for the record, how many of those F**K ABBOTT T-shirts have you sold? I’m writing about people being rude to Gillard, so fairness obliges me to mention that our very own SMH and Age websites gave your clothing venture so much free advertising and promotion.’
As to rude mobs and protests, surely it would have been worth mentioning that Team Gillard was not above whipping up its own varieties of ugliness. Whatever their faults, neither Abbott nor his staffers can be accused of celebrating Australia Day with a race riot. Typically, as with the Peter Slipper gambit and so many of her other sly schemes , it was the architect herself who was buried by that stratagem’s collapse.
Soon, like Lear on the heath but without the dawning self-awareness of its follies, the Fairfax papers will howl their way into oblivion. The Age now sells barely 100,000 daily copies and its Sydney sister not many more. The rationalisers will blame the internet, regret how advertisers vanished and those rivers of gold ran dry so much faster than anyone expected. They’ll be right, of course, albeit without making mention of the editorial sins that brought on the end so much sooner, and minus any shred of dignity, than might otherwise have been the case.
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online.