This is the world in which journalists, starved of newsworthy stories by the increasing blandness of politics, pounce on every contradiction or "gaffe" or "backflip" or the remotest inconsistency in the daily utterances of politicians and beat the hell out of them. As Crabb says, this only encourages the politicians to become even more anodyne. Hence 'Moving Forward'.
In the most telling quote of her piece, Crabb provides a more direct variation on the old hoary old definition of news as 'man bites dog'...
The rule of thumb governing newsworthiness in the contemporary political news cycle is: Is it new, and is it surprising?Well, yes, Mendoza's criticism of the Rudd government's mental health policy was indeed a newsworthy story. No arguments at all there. The problem is that 90 per cent of what the ABC judges as newsworthy out of Canberra is more of the 'dog bites man' variety:
So, for example, a mental health group criticising the Government's policy response to the challenge of mental health is not especially newsworthy, because it is not surprising. If the speaker, however - as occurred in May this year - is John Mendoza, who was engaged to assist the Rudd Government with mental health reform, then the story is much more newsworthy.
The story now becomes: 'Damaging split between Rudd Government and key adviser'.
Tax Row Exposes 'Cracks' in Government - Joe Hockey beats up to within an inch of its life, and the ABC gives it the full technicolour widescreen treatment, a misunderstanding between Swan and Windsor about the scope of the tax summit. It's a story, yes, but not because the Opposition says it's a story. The ABC here is merely recycling the hyperbole of Opposition politicians without asking itself 'well, they would say that wouldn't they?'.
Mining Industry Urged to Keep Fighting Over Tax - In this one, the West Australian Mining Minister wants the anti-mining tax campaign to keep going. Hell! Analogus to 'Japan says Whale Research Needs More Work'.
Rudd Campaigning Confuses Voters: Joyce - In which the Coalition's retail politician, Barnaby Joyce, shares with us in a dedicated interview on AM, no less, the startling opinion that he thinks Kevin Rudd's reappearance during the campaign harmed Labor. Golly.
And finally...as they say at the end of the bulletin, but this wasn't treated as a throwaway 'isn't the world full of whackos' piece:
Monckton Blasts Unconstitutional ETS - This didn't even get the benefit of quotation marks to distance the ABC from the claims being made. A visiting fake Lord and climate change denialist, widely seen as a charlatan, suddenly adds 'Australian constitutional authority' to his CV. And the ABC dutifully reports. File under 'Paris Hilton Disputes Quantum Theory'.
These are just a few examples I stumbled upon and I am sure readers have better instances of non-news on the ABC, but I'm afraid Ms Crabb's explanation won't do. She rightly defends the diligence of the press gallery and stresses how hard they work. But that's not really the issue. It's the sort of work they do. It's the lack of self-reflection about their purpose. No-one questions the quantity of news they pump out. But the problem is much of it isn't 'news' at all, by Annabel's definition - that is the surprising, the unexpected, the new.
I should emphasise at this point that I am not one of those conspiracy theorists who believes the ABC has some sort of institutional bias. It's more that the years of witch-hunts under Howard and Alston and the rest have encouraged a sort of over-compensating 'balance' that gives slack-jawed credence to every Opposition press release. But that's a story for another day.
The ABC's real problem, as with much of the media, is bad news judgement. Just because someone in Canberra said something doesn't make it news. It may well be because they have so much more airtime and web pages to fill, but the bullshit filters seem to have gone missing in action and I don't get any sense of a world weary chief of staff/news editor sitting between the reporters and the audience with an itchy 'spike' finger. If it were me, I'd be binning most of it and telling them to wake me up when the man bites the dog.
(Postcript: The ever perceptive Possum makes a very similar case in this Poll Bludger discussion here about the ABC contracting out its news judgement)