Words matter. When things happens in politics, the tone of how events are reported, the words that are used, and the way situations are framed are not organised by random. The mainstream media chooses the words they use very carefully. Today the media have presented their preferred frame for the resignation of Barry O’Farrell as: he mistakenly lied to an ICAC enquiry because he forgot that he received a $3,000 bottle of wine from the CEO of Australian Water Holdings. But of course O’Farrell didn’t resign because of his problems with ‘memory’. He resigned because he could no longer deny a personal expensive-wine-recipient, hand-written-note-receiver, phone-call-taker-relationship with someone who was earning over a million dollars a year as CEO of a company in a public-private partnership with the government Barry O’Farrell was in charge of up until today. This information is completely absent from the media’s framing of this story. But just imagine for a moment if one part of this story was different. Imagine for a moment that Barry O’Farrell was a Labor Premier. Imagine if Tony Abbott, standing by O’Farrell and brawling with a journalist asking questions about corruption, was a Labor Prime Minister. The ‘chaos, scandal, dysfunction, smear’ machine works in overdrive for Labor stories, but can’t even get out of second gear when Liberals are involved.
Does everyone remember when Julia Gillard apparently had ‘questions to answer’ over her very long time ago ex-boyfriend’s alleged involvement in a union ‘slush fund’? I’m sure you remember the media circus around this apparent scandal surrounding events 20 years in the past. According to a search of newspaper articles from the last three years that mention ‘slush’, ‘Gillard’ and ‘awu’, there were 923 articles written on the subject, of which 373 were contributed by The Australian. When I did another search and took out ‘slush’ and ‘awu’, but left in ‘Gillard’ and added ‘questions to answer’, the search revealed a whopping 4,017 articles, of which over 1,000 were from The Australian. Obsessed much? And even after Gillard bravely spent an hour answering every question the press could think of, even when they ran out of questions, there were still apparently ‘questions to answer’. This Labor ‘chaos, scandal, dysfunction’ story was salivated over by the mainstream media for three years, yet Gillard was never found to have done anything wrong. You would think journalists would learn not to take story advice from deluded creatures like Larry Pickering. There is no better example than this of the huge gulf between the way the media reports apparent scandals involving Labor politicians, compared to real scandals involving Liberal politicians.
Remember the way NSW Labor MP David Campbell was treated after he was stalked by Channel 7 and filmed going into a ‘gay’ sauna (is that illegal?). What about the way Craig Thompson’s story dominated the news after he allegedly paid for prostitutes on a work credit card years before he was in parliament (2,127 news articles mention ‘credit card’ and ‘Craig Thomson’). Or the reporting of ex-Liberal and independent-yet-linked-to-Labor-as-Speaker Peter Slipper’s scandal over private text messages, alleged sexual harassment of James Ashby (which was later exposed by Justice Rares as a spurious case) and the misuse of travel claims (which were fractional compared to Abbott’s own misuse of travel claims to sell his book Battlelines for private profit).
There is absolutely no doubt that the mainstream media revel in anything that even looks like belonging to Labor with even the hint of a scandal, no matter how inconsequential, and how much reality can actually be assigned to such apparent scandal. But when it comes to blatant scandals and corruption, right in the very heart of the Liberal Party, the oh so familiar ‘nothing to see here, move along’ attitude is rolled out by the media, mixed with ‘you can’t trust any politicians’ line to make sure Labor gets smeared at the same time as Liberals.
Even when two people from opposing sides of politics are both involved in the exact same scandal, the way the media treats their ‘Labor’ version of the scandal, as compared with the ‘Liberal’ version, is quite clearly not the same. An example of this is former NSW Labor member Eddie Obeid and current Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos. I checked how many times newspaper articles mentioning the words ‘Obeid’ and ‘scandal’ also included the word ‘Labor’ and I found all three words included in 89% of cases. I did the same thing for ‘Sinodinis’ and ‘scandal’ to see how many times the word ‘Liberal’ was included with these two words. The result was 74%. Words matter. And apparently the words ‘Labor’ and ‘Liberal’ matter the most.