The Newsroom, politicians, reality and Annabel Crabb

10 Nov



For reasons I won’t bore you with, I’ve spent some time lately holed up binge-watching television series, the latest being a revisiting of the 2012-2014 HBO production, The Newsroom.

Written by Aaron Sorkin, it has many of the characteristics of The West Wing: engagement with complex issues in an at times tortuous, but honourable manner, and ongoing examination of the difficulties and costs involved in taking a particular moral perspective within the context of savage politics, and savage media, both of whose end game is to grab and hold onto power.

Both series can be irritatingly self-righteous and way too heart-warming but hey, Sorkin has a dream.

In his many monologic tirades against the dumbing down of news, and in particular the feeding of baser human instincts through the elevation of celebrity gossip to the status of journalism, anchor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) grieves the loss of intellectual and moral engagement between media and consumers that the culture of celebrity has inevitably ousted, to everyone’s detriment.

As an extreme example, McAvoy is obliged by his employers to replace a segment of information of national economic significance with the story of former congressman Anthony Weiner sexting various women images of his penis, as told on camera by one of the recipients of his favours.

And this brings me to the point of this post: ABC TV’s Kitchen Cabinet, hosted by political journalist Annabel Crabb.

Crabb has copped sustained criticism lately for her pleasant little program in which she dines with various politicians. Much of that criticism and an analysis of Crabb’s response can be read here, at the Politcally Homeless blog.

Basically, the show is perceived by some critics as a dumbed-down, albeit classily-styled interaction with politicians, and as offering nothing of significance (contrary to Crabb’s claims) other than providing “humanising” propaganda for individuals on the public broadcaster.

Which, if you think about it, makes it a show of great political significance in the most negative and undesirable way.

Crabb’s justifications for her program are interesting, and for mine, disingenuous, or perhaps I can be more generous and describe them as naive, though naivety doesn’t strike me as a Crabb characteristic.  For example, she claims that:

I don’t think you can possibly separate what people are like from what they do… Observing someone in their own environment offers – in my view – some useful information about how they might behave outside it.

Well. For a start, the dinner times with politicians are absolutely contrived, and definitely not an example of how they behave in their own environment. In much the same way as we can argue that there is no such thing as reality tv because the presence of a camera crew immediately imposes a context that, unless you are completely narcissistic, creates a reality that bears no resemblance to the reality in which one actually lives, we can also argue that Crabb’s interviewees are in as much of their own environment as are monkeys in a zoo.

The participants are under surveillance and like most human beings, pitch their behaviours and their projection of what they are like to their expectations of the outcome of that surveillance. Like most human beings and unlike monkeys, what they’ll reveal of themselves under scrutiny is what they perceive as their best. This is only one aspect of what they are like, and it is a highly sanitised aspect.

Ms Crabb has long experience in media, and must be more aware than most of how people adapt to the presence of cameras. So for her to make the claim that Kitchen Cabinet is politically necessary because it shows us what politicians are like and thus helps us better understand their policies, is, quite frankly, a steaming pile of monkey poo, and insulting to our intelligence.

As for what they are like…I think I could binge-watch Kitchen Cabinet for a decade, and still be no wiser about what any of its subjects are like. Indeed, I learn far more about what they are like from the policies they espouse, than I could ever learn from the personas they present at dinner with Annabel.

To be honest, I have zero interest in what they are like. I’m far more interested in what they do and if I don’t like what they do I’ll vote against them, no matter what they might be like. 

I don’t want to be entirely negative so let me say here that I love the frocks. I’m immensely fond of frocks and Annabel’s are divine. In fact, it’s been a struggle for me, deciding to turn off the show, because I really wanted to look at those frocks.

But for mine, Kitchen Cabinet is an excellent example of what Aaron Sorkin has his characters rail against in The Newsroom. It is presented to its audience as having educative political significance, when in fact it has none.  It will, its presenter assures us, inform us as to the characters and motives of our politicians, thus adding to our understanding of the decisions they make. No it won’t. With very few exceptions we already know what they’re likely to decide: it’s on that basis that we do or do not vote for them.

This is dumbed-down politics, masquerading as important and relevant because it’s on the ABC and presented by one of that organisation’s senior political journalists. Which is, actually, shameful, it really is.

Kitchen Cabinet is as dumbed down in its way as the Daily Telegraph. It’s celebrity journalism, though Sorkin won’t have that called journalism at all. It does not enlighten, it obfuscates. It distracts us from the harm many of these men and women have inflicted upon us, our country and others. It dulls us in ways we ought not to accept being dulled.

The show could have worked as entertainment, if it hadn’t been found necessary to infuse it with faux usefulness and faux meaning. It might have also worked better if Crabb wasn’t seen snuggling up to politicians, and letting them get away with not answering important questions.

Maybe not a journalist at all. Maybe a chef. That guy who says SBS won’t have him because he’s too white. He’d be good.

We’re funding our own demise as an engaged and critical polity. Kitchen Cabinet is bread and circuses. Do yourself a favour. Revisit The Newsroom, re-imagine the ideals and potential of  journalism, then tell me I’m wrong.







26 Responses to “The Newsroom, politicians, reality and Annabel Crabb”

  1. Fiona November 10, 2015 at 5:32 pm #

    Disingenuous? Try complicit.

    Excellent analysis as usual.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fiona November 10, 2015 at 5:40 pm #

    Jennifer, Ms Crabb long ago abandoned whatever integrity she might have had in favour of a big pay packet, rubbing shoulders with the famous (and in Turnbull’s and Rudd’s cases, rich), and being a player on what she thinks is the winning side.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fiona November 10, 2015 at 5:40 pm #

    I have no sympathy for her at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tref November 10, 2015 at 6:19 pm #

    My only issue is with this analysis is the comment “Kitchen Cabinet is as dumbed down in its way as the Daily Telegraph.” No way! NOTHING is as dumbed down and the DT.

    KC is serious intellectual journalism by comparison. It’s politics made accessible to those that watch deep and meaningful dramas like the X-Factor, the Block and My Kitchen Rules (who are unfortunately allowed to vote).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. hudsongodfrey November 10, 2015 at 6:21 pm #

    A couple of quick edits would be McAvoy and Jeff Daniels. Jeff Bridges was The Dude, once you think of him that way it’s hard to forget the difference.

    I don’t know that Crabb isn’t giving them enough rope, or at least as much as she thinks she can afford to in the editing process while still maintaining the access that she needs to keep making that program. In the episode with Albanese and Pyne I thought a couple of points were made that Ablo left so brilliantly deftly to go through to the keeper with as little as a raised eyebrow and a keen sense of what needed no further emphasis.

    So let me start by predicting Annabel’s not going to do a Mary Delahunty or Maxine McKew any time in the near future, but also that the Newsroom is typical of Sorkin, great but completely idealised (I’ve also seen the series, and thus even under Bob Ellis’ rule can comment). Sorkin does the version of America that he wishes his society lived up to, and it’s totally endearing. I just don’t think Mac would’ve held down a job in a real newsroom much beyond the first week. His speech in the very first (pilot) episode earnt Sorkin my compete forgiveness however!

    I’m sure Crabb’s seen this. I wonder what if she thought of it perhaps not too dismissively.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. LSWCHP November 10, 2015 at 10:29 pm #

    You like frocks? Zut Alors! Filtered through the internet as you are, I would never have picked you for a frocky sort of woman. 🙂

    Be that as it may…I’m reading ” Superfreakanomics” by Levitt and Dubner at the moment, and chapter 3 contains a very interesting discussion of recent research on altruism. The theme is that scientific work on altruism has been largely bogus for many years because people behave more altruistically when they’re being watched, as they are in a lab experiment on altruism, than they do in real life. Who would have thought, eh? This aligns pretty well with your observation about KC that the participants adjust their behaviour to look as good as possible when they’re on camera. What you see on that show ain’t who they really are.

    I would rather stab myself in the heart with a fork than watch Christopher Pyne cooking food and pretending to be a normal human being, which he most self evidently is not.

    Liked by 2 people

    • hudsongodfrey November 11, 2015 at 12:45 am #

      Are you Marieke Hardy using an alias?

      Liked by 1 person

      • LSWCHP November 11, 2015 at 6:01 pm #

        Nope. As one might expect, I’m just some guy on the internet. I’ll take that as a compliment though. 🙂

        Just to elaborate, I really do dislike Mr Pyne. I dislike him very, very, very much…perhaps even more than Ms Hardy dislikes him. I don’t like ScoMo, or Bernardi or any of those other loony far right fundamentalist christian arseclowns either.

        But if Chris, Scott and Cory read this, they shouldn’t feel special, because I have loathing of equal intensity for Bill Shorten, Joe Ludwig and various other bottom feeding oxygen thieves on the other side of politics.

        The old aphorism is clearly incorrect. We are *not* getting the politicians we deserve.


        • hudsongodfrey November 11, 2015 at 6:15 pm #

          In case you missed it…..somebody here has kindly reposted the article she got sued over.

          As for politicians. I quite like several Nick Xenophon, Penny Wong, Warren Entsch, Sarah Hanson Young to name but a few. The rest can admittedly be as useless as pack of clowns running across a minefield. Yet astonishingly it’s still a more liveable country than most.


          • LSWCHP November 15, 2015 at 6:58 pm #

            Thank you HG. I hadn’t read it. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson November 11, 2015 at 6:10 am #

      L, frocks are my secret vice. I don’t often get to wear them because I don’t live a very frocky kind of life, but when I do they are 1950’s style, or simple shifts.
      However, I usually wear them with ageing Blundstone boots, for the irony.


      • LSWCHP November 11, 2015 at 6:04 pm #

        Frocks and Blunnies!? Grin. Where’s the thumbs-up icon when you need it? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. doug quixote November 10, 2015 at 10:41 pm #

    Well said, Jennifer. Seeing a politician playing to a faux journalist like Crabb in front of cameras is propaganda.

    Politicians are performers akin to conmen; if they weren’t presentable and appealing on some level they wouldn’t have achieved what they have, ie preselection and election.

    I tried to ignore this program completely, but it is hard to avoid. I watched the one where Morrison performed his humanising gig. The mask slipped only a little, when the bastard skated around his religious nuttery.

    This is a man who may well seek the leadership and the Prime Ministership within the next five years, and propaganda like Crabb’s program is priceless.

    She and the ABC deserve all the criticism they get.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Black Rhino November 10, 2015 at 11:05 pm #

    ‘Frocks’!!!!! omg that is so Dickensian….and is about the only critique of this piece.

    Annabel did have a crack at 7:30 report, after the demise of Sarah Ferguson who I thought scared the crap out of Politicians. I cant keep wondering that,somehow, her Kitchen thingy is not really taken that seriously. And giving politicians more air time in an effort to discover how ‘nice’ they are is just monkeying around.

    3 out of 10 for this show for content and presenter. She can do so much better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson November 11, 2015 at 6:15 am #

      I enjoyed Ferguson in that role, I wish she’d do it permanently.
      I love that word, frocks. So much more evocative than dresses. And frocking up has quite a different meaning from dressing up. Anyway, I mostly love to look, don’t often wear.

      Liked by 1 person

      • doug quixote November 13, 2015 at 7:13 am #

        Unfortunately she asked too many hard questions and upset too many of our conservative “leaders”. They much prefer Bolt or Alan Jones; but if they must go on ABC, prefer to be flogged with the wet lettuce by Sales or Uhlmann.

        Liked by 1 person

        • hudsongodfrey November 13, 2015 at 3:36 pm #

          I believe she was in the chair at 7:30 while sales took maternity leave. Just to water down any conspiracy theories.

          Liked by 1 person

          • doug quixote November 13, 2015 at 5:30 pm #

            That is true, Sarah Ferguson was always scheduled to leave when she did. Perhaps we should hope for Sales to get pregnant again.


            • hudsongodfrey November 13, 2015 at 9:23 pm #

              Two words…. Emma Alberici


  9. Dan Gordon (@tubagooba) January 2, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

    Not sure I agree. Yes, obviously politicians are going to approach KC cynically, just as they approach all media appearances cynically. I certainly think the latest season shows all the same fingerprints of focus-groupocracy that the same individuals will betray on 7.30 or Q&A. But at least in the earlier seasons, and for all the lame attempts at brand management, I think there were occasional glimpses into the kinds of truths that you’d be unlikely to see in a more adversarial format. You don’t have to buy into the central conceit of the program — that it reveals politicians as they ‘really are’ — to accept that it reveals some things we might not otherwise see. Julie Bishop volunteering information about internal disharmony in the coalition, for example — I think in a more buttoned-up format, she almost certainly would have stonewalled. Even Joe Hockey’s Bart Simpson bedspread, hastily arranged on his single bed, gave rise to the kind of pathos which I suspect was not what his media advisers would have had in mind. I think viewers are reasonably good at seeing propaganda for what it is, and reasonably sharp at identifying the things that political staffers would prefer them not to see – perhaps I regard the audience more charitably than some of the other commenters here. Even if it’s true that politicians see KC as another opportunity to pull the wool over our eyes, it doesn’t follow that they’ll always be successful. I’m happy enough for Annabel to keep playing Good Cop, even if she’s not always the one who elicits the confession.

    Liked by 1 person


  1. Don’t mention the war causation (the thoughts of Annabel Crabb) | Club Troppo - November 23, 2015

    […] The Twittersphere was abuzz with pointless debate a couple of weeks ago when Annabel Crabb had a televisual meal with Coalition hardman Scott Morrison on her perniciously vacuous program Kitchen Cabinet.  My own views about that controversy are well encapsulated by Jennifer “No Place for Sheep” Wilson. […]


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