EDITORIAL: Bursting the bubble

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There are many with questions to answer after the election — but the mainstream media has the most pressing posers, writes managing editor Dave Donovan.

EVEN IF the Coalition manage a narrow majority in this election, there are still many people with a lot of hard questions to answer.

The ones with the most egg on their faces, of course, are journalists from the mainstream media. Because, despite the opinion polls their media organisations commissioned themselves being split 50-50 throughout the course of the long campaign, virtually every mainstream political commentator in the country predicted a comfortable Turnbull win.

And now the excuses are flowing fast.

For instance, in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, entitled ‘Election 2016: The uncomfortable truth is the media got it wrong. How did we do it?’, press gallery reporter Matthew Knott wrote:

Those political reporters not too hubristic to engage in self doubt [sic] are asking: did we get it wrong? Did we, as a collective, miss the story?

The consensus, speaking to colleagues in the Canberra press gallery, is a reluctant yes. Some insist they got it spot on. But many admit they expected a more decisive Coalition victory than occurred. And they concede this influenced the way the media covered the campaign.


Well, I would suggest it is more than coincidental that every mainstream metropolitan newspaper in the nation (with the exception only of the Sunday Age) came out in favour of Turnbull in their pre-election editorials.

Let's dig deeper.

In his piece, Knott reports:

"No one believed us!" a senior Labor Party strategist says, insisting he warned journalists they were writing off Bill Shorten too soon.

"We were projecting a confidence that many people thought was bravado.

"The commentariat fell into a bubble and were reflecting what each other thought.

"A narrative caught hold and everyone started reporting it."

With hindsight, there's much to support this.

So, the mainstream media did not believe Labor when they said they were going well.

So, who did they believe? The answer, of course, is the Coalition. And only the Coalition.

Knott again:

…the Coalition was talking up gains in seats such as Werriwa (easily held by Labor).

So, as Insiders host Barrie Cassidy asked, were journalists shown to be "gullible"? Or were they being lied to?

Neither, a Coalition strategist says.

"Everything I heard indicated the swings for Labor were not happening where they needed to be," the insider says.

Serious questions are now being asked in the Liberal Party about the accuracy of its polling and who had access to it.

The truth of the matter is that the Canberra Press Gallery have been cheerleaders for Malcolm Turnbull ever since he took over the leadership in September last year. Since that time, they have steadfastly refused to acknowledge his numerous fatal flaws and the chasmic splits within the Party he somewhat leads. They have all, it seems, felt his charm and personal appeal would be enough to carry him ever onwards, for as long as he wished to remain prime minister.

It was all a myth.

A fantasy, built solely within a myopic Canberra press gallery “bubble” that refuses to acknowledge any ideas outside their shallow, received wisdom. A “bubble” encompassing little other than the ludicrous rightwing commentary in the barely read broadsheet The Australian, self-referencing and reinforcing journalistic chatter on shows such as Barrie Cassidy’s Insiders, and the drivel that passes for political commentary on Sky News and the ABC these days.

When purportedly unbiased commentators become exposed as cheerleaders, then something is clearly broken in Australia’s media.

Luckily, then, there are voices outside the bubble that present views more in keeping with reality. This journal, for instance, was not deceived by the Turnbull glamour that appeared to entrance the boys and girls in the “bubble”.

As I wrote on 21 September 2015, days after Turnbull took over from Abbott:

Despite his well-chosen words about a more inclusive style, Malcolm is at heart a pompous, ego-driven autocrat, with an inflated sense of his own brilliance. His condescending style in Question Time last week, where he lectured the Opposition on the sort of questions they should be asking him, is the kind of stuff that will wear thin very fast with the Australian public. It is not smart — it's half smart. It was just this sort of arrogance that saw him lose the Australian Republic referendum in 1999….

Some people also think Turnbull's ascension means the Liberals are sure things in 2016. This is ignorant. As shown by his previous stint as Liberal leader, his overblown self-belief, impetuousness and bravado mean it is quite likely that he will, at some point, stumble and lose the goodwill of the public and/or his colleagues.

Also, some people see Turnbull as a leftie, but that is plainly incorrect. He has some progressive ideals and good on him for that, however this former investment banker has the same sort of dry neoliberal economics as Hockey and will, I suspect, continue to pursue policies that benefit the so-called "lifters" over the "leaners". Whatever style Turnbull has, these policies will continue to be widely unpopular.

As for the hard right of the Liberal Party, their fury over a "leftie" coming in and knifing their man, a first term prime minister, has left them seething. Cory Bernardi is even talking about forming a new conservative party. This is not over by a long shot. Expect Godwin Grech-style dirty tricks from the bitter right of the Liberal Party, who have now become Turnbull's fiercest opponents.

And so it has proven almost to the letter.

It wasn’t difficult to predict. And it was obvious to many outside the “bubble”, not only me. You only needed to read IA over the last nine months to see that the myth of Turnbull infallibility did not extend far outside the Beltway “bubble”.

The truth is the conservative establishment dictates the narrative, which the mainstream media uncritically accepts. It is almost entirely driven by the Liberal Party/Murdoch conglomerate that dominates the Australian establishment and prescribes the boundaries of Australia's mainstream media. The rest of the media, too lazy ‒ or maybe too scared ‒ to think different thoughts, or ask different questions, fall willingly in line with the conglomerate’s relentless propaganda.

It is not a new thing, of course.

We saw it happen with Gillard during the previous term of Parliament. The narrative of leadership speculation, chaos and instability took hold and she was finished, despite all the good she achieved — and her Government achieved a lot.

We saw it happen with Abbott, whose flaws were so apparent and manifest the hive mind eventually had to face reality and abandon him, despite working for years to drive him ever upwards into the top job. A job for which they must surely have known he was profoundly unsuited.

And, indeed, we see it constantly today in the questions that come straight from Liberal Party talking points — such as over the so-called “Mediscare” and, insultingly, about Bill Shorten’s leadership.

Last week, this editorial asked whether this election would reveal the People as continuing to confound the opinions of the experts and the elites, as they have recently done in the UK with Brexit and in America with the rise of Donald Trump. We now see they have.

This election has proven that the days of the mainstream media’s vice-grip over public consciousness is waning. As independent and social media gains strength to give a voice to people outside the “bubble”, the days of bully megaphones in elitist enclaves dominating public opinion and thought seems to be fast subsiding.

But the job is not yet done. We must help continue the rise of the People’s Voice, and the downfall of the dictatorial unelected gatekeepers, by continuing to support independent media like this one and others. We can do this both by consuming their product, and supporting them financially through subscriptions and donations.

Democracy has had a victory this time ‒ the People have had their voices heard ‒ but the experts and the elites are no doubt in their bubble right now, plotting to rise again. We must not let them.

You can follow managing editor Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz.

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