It might be thought a tad ironic that Tony Abbott, having benefited so much from the cheerleading of the News Corp tabloids in his rise to the prime ministership, should now appear to blame the “febrile” media for his downfall.
It wasn’t the knighthood for Prince Philip that did it, or the failure to gauge the depth of public anger around Bronwyn Bishop’s regal helicopter ride to a Liberal Party event in Geelong, or the broken promises on ABC cutbacks, or any of the other gaffes, large and small, which have dogged Abbott since his time in office (and indeed before). Oh no, it was those damned meejah, in cahoots with the traitors in his own ranks. As he put it in his final speech:
The nature of politics has changed in the past decade. We have more polls and more commentary than ever before. Mostly sour, bitter, character assassination. Poll-driven politics has produced a revolving door prime ministership which can’t be good for our country. And a febrile media culture has developed that rewards treachery.
Most observers of the political media would accept some of these criticisms, even as they might raise an eyebrow at the audacity of their author who, after all, played a bigger role than most in perpetuating the thuggish and fickle politics-media culture which has now brought him down.
Yes, there is more commentary than ever before in the political media, including a vast new online commentariat of bloggers and social networkers to ensure that everything a politician does or says is shared, gossiped about, mocked and memed before the nation and the world.
Yes, there are too many polls. Although one can hardly blame pollsters, flawed and often plain wrong as they have been shown repeatedly to be, for the lack of principle and guts with which party managers in Australia have danced to their tune.
There have always been polls. But Australia’s “revolving door prime ministership” of recent times is a product of politicians on both sides who appear to have no conviction in their policies and take fright at the first sign of a wobble in public opinion.
And yes, there is lots of “sour, character assassination” in the political media. Julia Gillard experienced it, at the same time as her haters in the media were cheerleading for Tony. I don’t recall any complaints from the Liberals about character assassination back then. Abbott famously echoed in a parliamentary speech Alan Jones’ offensive remarks about Gillard’s father “dying of shame”.
Abbott’s use of simplistic if undoubtedly catchy slogans such as “stop the boats” and “ISIL death cult” (if not “ditch the witch”, which he merely allowed himself to be associated with when joining protests against Gillard) repeated robotically over and over again at press conferences as if we hadn’t understood him the first time; his party’s exceptionally close links with the Murdoch media empire before and since the election; linked to that relationship, he and his colleagues’ obsession with portraying the ABC as an un-Australian fifth column ripe for shrinking down to a more Murdoch-friendly “market failure” broadcaster … Abbott was a politician tempered and hardened in the white heat of our 24-hour news culture.
A former journalist himself, he more than most prime ministers understood the media and how to play them. His key adviser Peta Credlin treated the media as a stealth weapon, and sometimes a blunt instrument to be used not only against the opposition in parliament but dissenters in the Coalition.
So let’s not blame the media, Tony. A more honest way to explain this turn of events would be to suggest that your communicative incompetence and flawed management style generated internal party opposition so great that even one of the most aggressively pro-Coalition media in the history of Australia could not prevent your summary ejection from office.