Truth to power. Part One.

29 Sep



The other evening I was musing on the mainstream media reporting and pursuit of Labor Senator Sam Dastyari over  the Senator asking a Chinese benefactor to cover his travel costs, and then making a supportive statement, contrary to both government and opposition positions, on China’s activities in the South China Sea.

I was comparing this to the relative lack of interest in pursuing Steve Irons, the WA Turnbull government MP who stole taxpayer money to pay travel expenses for himself and his new wife to their wedding in Melbourne and back to Perth. I tweeted this:

The first response was from a Fairfax journalist taking me to task for using the blanket term “MSM.” After hooting a little at the notion of a journalist complaining about the use of “blanket terms” I acknowledge that the term, like all blanket terms, is less than perfect, although most of us use it to signify traditional media as opposed to new media.

There are some very good journalists working in mainstream media, without whom we’d be even more in the dark than we already are. Fairfax, the ABC and the Guardian are home to most of them. Yes, the ABC. There are still some exceptional people there and one can only imagine how they survive.

However, I wasn’t about to list in my tweet every media outlet not pursuing Irons to the same extent it pursued Dastyari, and I stand by my initial impression that the two incidents were handled very differently.

I then received this tweet from Mark Di Stefano of Buzzfeed. I’ve never considered Buzzfeed to be mainstream media so I wasn’t referring to them, however…


It is true that Irons didn’t reward the taxpayer for footing his wedding travel bill, as Dastyari rewarded the Chinese. It’s also true that both major parties are significant beneficiaries of Chinese money, for which they are presumably expected to provide favours in return. So why single out and hunt down Dastyari when the Turnbull government Foreign Minister, for example, received an iPad, airfares and accommodation, and a bunch of government MPs scored Rolex watches? All of these people are far better placed to further their benefactor’s interests than was Dastyari (who after all said something nobody much bothered to listen to) and to do it far more covertly.

It’s also true that politicians thieving from taxpayers has become normalised, and without the added spice of potentially treasonous remarks, Irons’ theft was of comparatively little consequence.

This, for mine, is the heart of the problem. “Ordinary” thieving from taxpayers is par for the course in politics, meaning politicians are held to a much lower standard of honesty and punishment than the rest of us. I’d like to know why.

For example, if you are caught thieving items from a supermarket you are very likely to be charged by police, even if you put the items back on the shelf and say you’re sorry. Not so much when politicians rip-off taxpayers. If they are caught, they pay it back and that is the only consequence they face.  They’re still thieves, but they are protected thieves.

No answer to any questions from Buzzfeed, and I’d terminated my conversation with the Fairfax journalist who’d lost his head and started telling me I was “wrong and you can’t face facts because of your bias.”

Interesting, I thought. I’m perceived as biased because I’m questioning the difference in how two matters are handled, and he’s obviously assuming I’m a Labor fanatic because why would anybody who wasn’t politically aligned bother to ask such a question? This is what I mean about the normalisation of crime in politics. You can’t even ask about it without journalists assuming you are only doing so to create trouble for a party other than your own.

At this point several of my Twitter pals joined in to assure the traditional media representatives that I’m equally disagreeable to all politicians.

On Di Stefano’s subsequent points, 1) It’s cheering to see the MSM doing its job by breaking stories, but actually I was querying the subsequent pursuit, and 2) what???

Do you mean MSM don’t pursue unless a political party pursues first? I asked Buzzfeed.

I didn’t say that, came the reply. So what do you mean, I asked. Just trying to clarify because your tweet read as if you were saying that.


The notion that matters are not pursued by the media unless first pursued by a political party is unnerving. This is not what one expects from the fourth estate. This is not speaking truth to power, it is waiting until one power gives you the signal to speak a bit of truth to another power, and obediently refraining from pursuit when no permission in the form of guidance is forthcoming. Is this how traditional media decide what issues and personalities to pursue? Taking their lead from politicians?

Well, as you’d expect the conversation by now involved more people than just me and Mark Di Stefano. Many references were made to the “MSM” and I don’t think any of them were particularly favourable, demonstrating the frustration and disillusionment felt by some consumers. Di Stefano maintained his silence until this:


As you can imagine, there is a great deal to unpack in Di Stefano’s communication. And so I’m dedicating an entire post to its deconstruction, which I hope to publish tomorrow.

11 Responses to “Truth to power. Part One.”

  1. Cranky Pants Noely (@YaThinkN) September 29, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

    I’m assuming “MSM truthers” is some sort of insult? Then again, I’m just a dumb punter so what would I know 😉

    Bit of a shame though, as I don’t consider Buzzfeed MSM, then again, I don’t consider MSM to be a pejorative, just traditional forms of media.

    “aged-out tribal boomers” I assume was an insult and a horrid generalisation, which I would not expect from a Journalist who thinks he is one of the ‘hip cool kids’, yet aspires to be MSM (from what I can gather)?

    Oh well, I’m sure I will be informed and find out whether I should be insulted or not 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson September 29, 2016 at 8:01 pm #

      I didn’t know Buzzfeed has a seat in the press gallery till this arvo, so maybe that makes them msm?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. freya September 29, 2016 at 6:15 pm #

    Wow, Talk about overreaction from Di Stefano. Defensive much? Further proof that “the media” are so embedded that they consider themselves players. Cos Australian politics would be so unstinky without ratbag critics and commentators who aren’t even real journalists right? Looking forward to your reply!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. doug quixote September 29, 2016 at 7:14 pm #

    May we suspect that political staffers actually write “journalists'” copy for them?

    The cut and paste breed of journalism.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Macam September 29, 2016 at 8:56 pm #

    Sounds like Buzzfeed has developed a bit of that mainstream arrogance, pigeon holing the proletariat. I guess this is what happens when hipster cliklbait goes mainstream….

    Liked by 2 people

  5. sam jandwich September 29, 2016 at 9:10 pm #

    How interesting! Well as contribution to the stock of examples of this sort of phenomenon, I just got home from a very interesting and thoughtful lecture from my local member Rob Stokes on the development of the Greater Sydney Authority, and flipped open my computer to look at the headlines on what is for some reason my default “favourite” Fairfax outlet… only to find myself thinking that if there was a journalist in the audience then there would be no mention of the process and rationale behind the development of this very promising exercise – only headlines around a peripheral response to an off topic question about congestion charging that “the government is considering…!!!”

    Jeez that was a long sentence.

    But in summary, isn’t there some well-known quote from some well-known thinker about how anyone who is ever in a place where a newsworthy event happens will be completely flummoxed as to how the journalist reporting it could bring themselves to take the angle that they did? I think I know precisely what “MSM” signifies: events-based entertainment… and yet I can’t help myself!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. davechaffeyhippie September 30, 2016 at 10:32 am #

    We’re offered a sacrificial lamb every now and then, then some dig further and realise how widespread the problem is. But the MSM don’t go hard. Why? Would they get banished from Canberra for whistle-blowing? Do their slave masters tell them to just wait for the next leadership spill as they are much more profitable? Does the public not have the stomach to clean house of all the politicians who have been as naughty as Bronwyn and Sam? Is it just easier and more lucrative to quote the latest Bernardi sermon? I’m reminded of the good old days of hospitals where the doctors and nurses could take almost whatever drugs they wanted. Their bosses knew. Those who got caught were spoken to then usually got right back to it. A culture of stealing that took lots of new systems and rules and time to improve it because the public kind of frowns on nurses and doctors addicted to pethidine. They’ve got to be really secretive and careful now and not as many are capable when they’re strung out. So back to the politicians, if the public don’t push for it, why would the politicians impose more stringent rules on themselves? So we get back to the occasional sacrificial lamb to give the illusion that they are fixing the problem.


  7. townsvilleblog September 30, 2016 at 11:43 am #

    Reblogged this on Townsville Blog..


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