Election 2013 media panel

‘Mr Rude’: the make-up, then the wipeout

Today’s Daily Telegraph front page.

Having walked straight into a News Corp net on Wednesday, the assault on Kevin Rudd continues in the tabloids. First, the Courier Mail applauds Tony Abbott’s question of the night, and today, an “exclusive”, reporting an electoral wipeout for Rudd in Western Sydney.

As observed yesterday, when a media conglomerate dominates political communication in this country, an electoral target can quickly find themselves surrounded.

The Daily Telegraph has fired up this time linking Rudd’s alleged behaviour toward a make-up artist to a forecast wipeout in Western Sydney. The make-up artist, Lily Fontana told her story on Facebook of how:

One of them was absolutely lovely, engaged in genuine conversation with me, acknowledge that I had a job to do and was very appreciative. The other did the exact opposite! Oh boy, I have ever had anyone treat me so badly.

Fontana didn’t actually say who was lovely and who was rude. But the News tabloids have voted it was was Rudd. Fontana’s story has also been catapulted into the real story of the night because it carries the force of truth that goes with being “behind the scenes”. Even Fontana’s gesture to put it on Facebook was also behind the scenes. We finally get the “people’s voice” dragged out from back of stage, where a meaningful decision can be made.

One leader was a genuine communicator and the other, as the Daily Telegraph article added on its front page, had an “infamous temper”. So much so that the Murdoch-owned Sky News also offered counselling to Fontana after she had become upset by reactions to her Facebook post. Sky and the Daily Telegraph have “Mr Rude” in a pincer movement, paving the way for a cartoonised sketch that Labor and Rudd have no heart.

Rudd’s heart and the western Sydney heartland are lost.

Here, News Corp’s own campaign becomes self-referential in other ways. Its earlier tabloid assaults are vindicated by the polls, which are themselves published by News Corp, and themselves become the news as the basis for making further judgements.

This is a paradigm case of how concentration of media ownership profoundly distorts the political public sphere. While many of the government’s problems are of its own making, it is not just that such powerfully syndicated media set the agenda for what to think about, but that they have the power to partly create the reality that they are supposedly just reporting.