the corrupted press

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    Judge, jury, joke


    The Walkley Awards are meant to recognise the best of our media. It's a pity the judges have such a predictable, Leftist agenda

    01dec04

    AUSTRALIA'S journalists will tomorrow at Crown casino honour their best by showing their worst.
    It's jackpot time -- the annual awarding of the country's top media prizes, the Walkley Awards, to the finest in our craft.

    But watch this love-in on SBS and you'll understand why you're actually watching a media that suffers too often from group think.

    Watch, in particular, one of the judges, Phillip Adams.

    Of course, Adams -- a cultural lion who once led the Australian Film Commission and now runs an ABC talk show and writes columns for The Australian -- is only one of more than a score of judges who merely drew up the shortlists.

    Why pick on him, when I could write instead about another judge, Fairfax media's Margo Kingston, who got the gig despite raving this year that "the Zionist media lobby controls politics and the media in the US and Australia".

    Or I could ask why Colin James, who won his own Walkley for credulously reporting the Hindmarsh Island "secret women's business", is now a judge of best news report.

    Adams is certainly more distinguished than either, being slipped by Labor governments on the National Museum and Australia Council and once reminding me he won "not one but two Orders of Australia".

    But it's precisely his success -- especially as a columnist -- that makes Adams not just an individual but an example of perhaps our media's worst flaw.

    Adams is one of three Walkley judges who picked the three finalists in two categories in which he himself works -- opinion writing and broadcast interviewing.

    Just why Adams was seen as a man who could not only spot great opinion writing, but acknowledge it, is not clear to me. Not after years of following his work -- a flood of exaggeration, error, corrupting bias, self-flattery and, it seems to me, deceit.

    Deceit? Well, let's check his before-and-after columns on Labor's leaders at the past two federal polls.

    Before the 2001 election, Adams, an ex-communist and long-time Labor member, couldn't say enough nice things about Opposition Leader Kim Beazley.

    His Australian column on election day was typical. Beazley had "a heart the size of Phar Lap's", and might be "too big-hearted for the political profession".

    He was a man of "intelligence" and "kindness", and likely to make "a great prime minister". True, he'd "soft-pedalled on too many issues" dear to the Left, but he'd reassured Adams over lunch that on, say, mandatory sentencing: "Don't worry. When I'm prime minister I'll fix it".

    I found it odd that Adams could endorse a seeming trick -- Beazley allegedly promising Adams one thing but voters another.

    But worse was how differently Adams wrote about Beazley just seven days later, with the election lost and no voters left to con.

    NOW Adams revealed Beazley wasn't big-hearted at all. He was instead so "pusillanimous and insincere" that he tried to sneak "into power via the White Australia Policy Mark II". He'd led Labor to such a "dishonourable loss" that Adams said he "was glad to see him going" and had been "close to resigning from the party" in disgust.

    So why had Adams painted this devil as a saint just one week earlier?

    Same story at the latest election. In the weeks before the October 9 poll, Adams praised Mark Latham as "a leader who, once a rottweiler, now conducts himself more like a labrador, all licks and tail-wags".

    "Gone are the snarls and bared fangs," he cooed.

    Latham now followed advice on foreign affairs and, as a prime minister "without a doubt, he'll combine the courage of Curtin with the decency of Chifley, the wit of Whitlam, the irreverence of Keating and the gravitas of Menzies".

    Adams was only half joking, and on election day begged: "All I'm asking, praying, is that you let Latham over the line."

    But, again, just two weeks later he admitted this licking labrador with the decency of Chifley in fact had a worrying "glint in the eye", and was "suspicious", "dismissive of others", "indifferent to advice" and prey to "wobblies" and "aggressions ... not limited to attacks on taxi drivers".

    Only now did Adams confess: "I've never believed that Latham can control his (worst excesses). Or that anyone else can."

    So why did he say the opposite only days before, as his readers weighed their vote? Does he respect truth enough to be a judge of good journalism, or does truth count for little in a craft now distorted by rank activism?

    Adams is, of course, far from alone in seeing Latham as a charmer before the election and a crazy after. Many top political commentators now write about the Opposition Leader with the fury of a jilted bride But Adams takes less care to disguise his attempts to pass off dead meat as fresh.

    Why bother when, like many in our cultural castles, he asks: "What's the point of having power if you don't abuse it?" So, as the National Australia Day Council boss, he worked to give the Australian of the Year award to Leftists he boasted "would discompose calcified conservatives".

    Did he wage the same war as a judge of the Walkley Awards? I'd hope not, and, in any case, he did have two fellow judges to "balance" him -- Channel 9's Jim Waley and Fairfax veteran Elisabeth Sexton.

    Yet it's odd how so many of the six finalists on their shortlists were, like Adams, critics of Howard and US President George W. Bush.

    The three finalists in the opinion writing category include Fairfax anti-war correspondent Paul McGeough, who asks if Americans "ordinarily tolerate a president who lies and exaggerates" and whose missteps in Iraq, compared with Saddam Hussein's genocide, mean "questions about where the criminality lies become blurred".

    Another finalist is Fairfax political writer Laura Tingle, whose contempt for the Prime Minister is so marked that she wrote "the unkind might say he is the most successful liar in federal political history". Vying with her and McGeough is sportswriter Patrick Smith.

    ADAMS' panel also chose the three finalists for broadcast interviews and produced similar results.

    There's 2UE's Mike Carlton, also a Fairfax writer, who has said Howard's team was so cruel "their veins run with piss and vinegar" and they wanted to "cosh the boongs". Fellow finalist Tony Jones, of the ABC, is at least more subtle, and SBS's Mark Davis more fair.

    But you see the pattern. Here seems to be a clubby back-slap in which people of the same views, and so often the same employers, praise each other for being so wise.

    And so three of the final four contenders in the best news report category, for instance, got there with stories on Americans being mean to Iraqis, Australians being mean to Taliban recruit David Hicks, and John Howard allegedly lying over children overboard.

    It's still likely tomorrow's winners will deserve their awards, and won't have had to pass a purity test set by some Adams. But if you ever wondered why the "elite" media tend to moo in unison, as if herded into the same paddock on the Left, the Walkleys night may well give you a useful clue.

    And the bigger the smile on Adams' face, the more you are right to suspect.

    Sour grapes? Due to modesty and principle, I don't enter media awards.

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