It’s not the first time someone’s made this observation and it’s worth making on a regular basis: if you want to win hearts and minds, you have to control the narrative.
It’s a worthwhile exercise to view it, not as an informed political tragic, but rather as someone unconcerned by the politics of the situation and focused only on the human interest. If you want to begin to understand how President Trump got where he is and why Senator Pauline Hanson wins votes, forget the political analysis for a while and, instead, focus on the stories they tell their supporters. They are usually simple stories, simply told and designed to draw a velvet curtain over details that contain the devil.
In the Joyce story constructed for us by Channel Seven, there’s Barnaby’s lover, Vikki Campion, carefully de-glamourised in a navy maxi dress printed with flowers, her hair loose and long, modestly made up and looking like a sister wife from the compound in Big Love — the compelling HBO series about Mormon communities under pressure. Campion presents at times as understandably overwhelmed by her situation, likeable and guiltily smitten, subjected to unconscionable bullying by powerful political men who wanted her to get rid of her baby — or else. She frequently looks to Joyce for reassurance and guidance.
Then there’s former Deputy Prime Minister Joyce, looking like an ordinary country bloke cleaned up for the evening, abjectly beating his breast about his failure to maintain his marriage (“the worst failure of my life”), openly affectionate towards his lover, devoted, fatherly and reassuring — a retail politician, crazy in love with his woman.
"You can’t help who you fall in love with", Ms Campion reminds us. And who among us hasn’t loved unwisely to some degree?
Then there’s baby Seb — an exquisitely, heart-meltingly beautiful newborn whose parents are deeply in love with him and with each other.
Readers, it’s a fairy tale. There have been epic obstacles, unimaginable hurdles, villainous men looming over the infant’s cradle, spiteful, wronged women and this plucky little family have dealt with them all because ... love.
When Joyce confessed that he “didn’t give a shit about the political consequences” of his actions, there were undoubtedly plenty in the audience willing to give him credit for putting politics in its place and focusing on what’s most important outside of the Canberra bubble: true love and a sweet baby boy. Yes, the irony was thick as treacle. The political consequences saw Joyce re-elected in New England, saving the Coalition Government with a majority of just one seat — but Joyce gives not a shit.
Seven and Joyce want you to forget the alleged travel rorts. And the job creation at taxpayers’ expense as Campion was shunted from office to office in an effort to conceal the relationship. Forget the fact, confirmed by Joyce in the interview, that he knew when he stood in the New England by-election that his mistress was pregnant and he would not return to Parliament as the Deputy Prime Minister. Joyce didn’t consider New England voters deserved to be made aware of his situation and neither did anybody else involved. Forget that almost certainly Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the National Party knew of Joyce’s circumstances and forget, as well, that most of the Press Gallery were in on it — although they went to great lengths to justify their silence at the time, when accused by the public and independent media of orchestrating a cover-up.
This is how you control the narrative. You only permit aspects of the story that serve your purpose to be told. In this instance, you construct a tale of love against the odds — illicit love, admittedly, but hey, nobody chooses who they fall in love with. You omit from your story the massive political and media manipulation that kept a government with a one-seat majority in power. You omit anything and everything that does not fit your purpose and present yourselves as two determinedly ordinary people with a brand new baby, to whom just about anyone can relate on some level.
The telling of this particular story would not be possible without a co-operative media and it is difficult to imagine any outlet being more co-operative than Channel Seven — although they are far from the first member of the Fourth Estate to ease Barnaby’s way through this saga. Nothing rehabilitates quite as successfully as watching hitherto questionable characters fall in love with their captivating baby. If the story includes how that baby almost didn’t come to be, owing to dark forces his mother struggled to resist, then all the better.
I’m not so cynical or mean as to suggest that Joyce and Campion don't love one another and their baby. It is beyond abhorrent that men attempted to frighten Campion into an abortion. There’s no doubt much of her experience of life with Barnaby so far has been lonely and isolating for her. She doesn’t seem like an unpleasant person.
Yet Campion, Joyce and Channel Seven have conspired to create a narrative that omits the most significant aspects of the story — aspects that are not personal but political, or, as we’ve become used to quipping, it’s not the rooting, it’s the rorting. The rorting is entirely absent from the Seven account of events. I expected nothing else.
However, the narrative wasn’t written for me, or for people who read IA. The narrative was written for people who aren’t very interested in politics, who likely know very little of the circumstances surrounding the New England by-election, Joyce’s travel expenses and Campion’s fake jobs. And they vote.
If you didn’t watch the interview, you should have. It is an outstanding example of how narratives are created by media and politicians to serve their shared agenda. It’s an unnerving example of media manipulation designed to preserve and promote a political and social ideology. It’s anti-abortion. It places a love affair above any other ethical and moral consideration, and above the interests and wellbeing of anyone, other than the man and woman involved — including, many would suggest, their newborn baby. Indeed, it’s hard to escape the impression that Channel Seven and Sebastian’s parents are milking this tiny infant’s existence for everything they can get.
In short, Channel Seven, Campion and Joyce produced a near-perfect piece of propaganda. Increasingly, this is what our mainstream media at home and abroad serves up and it behoves us to watch, learn and name it for what it is if we’re to have any hope of sustaining an alternative, independent platform for a narrative that speaks to truth, not political expediency and ruthless ambition.
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