Tag Archives: Annabel Crabb

The Newsroom, politicians, reality and Annabel Crabb

10 Nov

the-newsroom

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ABC TV Qanda excludes Indigenous women yet again

4 Mar

 

Adventures in Democracy

 

ABC TV panel show Qanda will mark International Women’s Day in its March 6 program with a panel consisting entirely of women, and hosted not by the urbane Tony Jones, but by Kitchen Cabinet’s Annabel Crabb.

The panel consists of Julie Bishop, American Roxanne Gay, Professor of English at Purdue University; Holly Kramer, CEO of Best and Less; Germaine Greer, “feminist icon” etc. and Yassmin Abdel-Magied, founder of Youth Without Borders, an organisation focused on enabling young people to work together for the implementation of positive change within their communities. 

Indigenous women are not represented on this panel.

As was noted in the recent Qanda panel on domestic violence, no Indigenous women were invited to participate in that either, although Antoinette Braybrook, CEO of the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria, was allegedly asked by producers if she could recommend an Indigenous man to appear on the show.

The exclusion of Indigenous women from the national broadcaster’s celebration of International Women’s Day reveals again the depth of racism and apartheid  in which this country is so thoroughly steeped it is normalised, and unremarked.

There is no possible excuse for this exclusion. It is absolutely shameful.

If you are moved to ask Qanda why Indigenous women have been excluded from their IWD panel you can do that here. You could also invite the producers to get really adventurous in democracy, and adopt the practice of  inclusion.

You could also remind the ABC that Indigenous women and men pay taxes, and it is their ABC as much as it is any other citizen’s of this country.

I also wish they would stop wheeling out Germaine Greer as our “feminist icon.” I don’t know what a feminist icon is, but I do know Greer hasn’t said anything interesting for a long time though other women have, including Indigenous women.

This woman won’t be watching.

 

 

 

 

 

Annabel Crabb and Peter Reith

19 Jun

Yesterday I read a tweet from Annabel Crabb to a tweep who’d complained that Peter Reith was on The Drum AGAIN. Anyone on my Twitter feed will know that we are constantly complaining about the regular presence of Mr Reith, both on the televised and the online version of The Drum. Regulars like David Horton of the Watermelon Blog ask several times a week that the ABC reveal Reith’s contract with the public broadcaster, to no avail.

Many tweeps repeatedly point out the role Reith played in the Howard government, particularly in regard to the so-called “Children Overboard” scandal, in which the government made unsubstantiated (and later discredited) claims that seafaring asylum seekers had thrown children overboard in a presumed ploy to secure rescue and passage to Australia.

A Senate Select committee later found that no children were thrown overboard from SIEV 4, and that several Howard government ministers including Peter Reith had deliberately misled the public by “cynically exploiting voters’ fears of a wave of illegal immigrants by demonising asylum seekers.”

It was also found that on no less than fourteen occasions, Reith and/or his office were informed that children had not been thrown overboard, and that photos Reith claimed proved the allegations were in reality images of asylum seekers and children struggling in the water after their boat had sunk.

Add to that charges of the improper use of a phone card, and Reith’s much criticised handling of the waterfront dispute when he was Industrial Relations Minister, and you have a politician with a very fraught history. His close relationship with the ABC is regularly and rightly questioned. The public broadcaster usually makes no comment, but yesterday Ms Crabb broke with tradition and tweeted:

@annabelcrabb: @preciouspress I’m always pleased when Peter Reith’s on. I think he’s a great panel member.”

While I acknowledge that the ABC’s responsibility to attempt a balance of perspectives in its opinion and analysis means there will inevitably be guests with whom somebody disagrees, I do wonder why a politician with a record such as Reith’s is their choice as a regular participant.

Now I wonder why Ms Crabb decided to so wholeheartedly endorse him, and in such a personal fashion. I thought we’d just established through the shaming of Stephen Long, that it is not the job of ABC journalists to express displeasure or favour  towards any public figure.

The ABC presumably offers Peter Reith as a credible, honest commentator on current affairs. Now endorsed by Annabel Crabb, it seems confirmed that as we have long suspected, Mr Reith’s history is irrelevant to the ABC because he’s “a great panel member.”  The ABC legitimises Mr Reith by offering him a regular platform, and now by Ms Crabb’s personal seal of approval as well.

There are many far more credible alternatives to Peter Reith, whom the ABC might invite to express a right-wing point of view. Personally, I am unable to dismiss Mr Reith’s role in the Children Overboard affair, and I am saddened that the ABC and Annabel Crabb apparently find it so easy to erase that shameful chapter of our history, and to redeem and grant legitimacy to someone who was a central participant in that disgrace.

 

 

Kitchen Cabinet’s empty.

25 Mar

I’ve only watched one and a half episodes of the ABC TV series Kitchen Cabinet, a program in which the public broadcaster’s chief online political writer Annabel Crabb, “cleverly uses food as a vehicle to humanise her interview subjects.”

I’ve never doubted that politicians are human. No other species so vilely manipulates its fellows in the blind pursuit of power.  Watching them eat, drink, and pretend they’re revealing their real selves does nothing to “humanise” them for me, given that “humanise” means to make more humane, humane being a state characterized by “tenderness, compassion, sympathy for people and animals, especially for the suffering or distressed.” Of course no politician is entirely bereft of all of these qualities, and some have many, and even Hitler loved his dog and Eva Braun.

But the bottom line with all politicians is winning government, and it’s the rare specimen indeed that will put humanity before that goal. In this they remind me of the religious right who put God before humanity, in fact between politicians and fundamentalist religions humanity doesn’t stand much of a chance.

Aside: I refer to Hitler only as an extreme example of how even our most monstrous monsters have tender moments, not to imply there is any resemblance with any of our politicians because clearly there isn’t. I shouldn’t have to say this, but people sue for less.

The idea that a sanitised dinner party with media savvy politicians recorded for public consumption by four cameras is going to humanise anybody, suggests that the ABC thinks we’re brain-dead suckers, unable to tell reality shows from reality.

Plus, it  sounds rather too much like Auntie has ventured into offering free public relations services  for select pollies, who must have been beside themselves with delight at being offered the opportunity to put on their human masks and spin themselves silly, all for free.

That this carnival was created and facilitated by the chief online political reporter causes my stomach to lurch. I have nothing against Ms Crabb and I want her frocks, but there is something viscerally awry with this combination. I do not want to see my public broadcaster’s chief online political reporter engaged in intimate food and wine consumption with my politicians. I just don’t. I want boundaries. I do not like this blatant fraternising.

I would like to believe that the ABC is on my side, that is, an independent, unbiased as possible link between me and the politicians. When the chips are down, I want an ABC that will ask the hard questions without fear or favour, because its journalists are working in the public interest, not those of the politicians. I want the ABC to intercede for humanity. What else is a public broadcaster good for?

Instead, we have an ABC that aligns itself with the pollies, creating a dyad that excludes the public. Occasionally we are invited in to vicariously experience the lifestyles enjoyed by both, rather like a virtual tour round the palace, afternoon tea with the Queen chucked in to keep us slavering and curious in a Jerry Springer kind of way, about what we can never be part of. It is an us and them situation.

Considering that the public pay for both the broadcaster and the pollies, this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

What will humanise politicians in my eyes is when they treat asylum seekers with respect and decency. When they just get on with legalising same-sex marriage. When they turn their attention to the homeless, especially children, most of whom will never get to eat watercress soup and Persian love cake washed down with a nice red. In short, when politicians stop making everything a political power struggle and put humanity first, then I’ll think of them as humanised.

As Immanuel Kant put it ” all politics must bend its knee before human rights, and only in this fashion may politics ever aspire to reach the stage where it will illuminate humanity.”

I’m sorry to say this series has done it for me. Ms Crabb has no credibility as a chief political journalist left, as far as I’m concerned. That is not to say she didn’t succeed as the anchor for the series. I think she did it very well. However, I am left with the image of Ms Crabb in far too cosy culinary congress with the pollies, and this image will, I fear, override all others.

That the ABC should produce a series such as Kitchen Cabinet indicates that the grumblings and protestations about Auntie are firmly based in reality. Just last week a website was set up to accommodate complaints of bias that have been doing the rounds on blogs and Twitter for some time now. Kitchen Cabinet has convinced me like nothing else has thus far, that there is a great need for a coordinated public protest against the increasing alignment of some ABC journalists with politicians, an alignment that excludes the interests of the public who pay both their wages. This time, I think, the ABC has gone too far.

Gillard turns her private life into public spectacle.

14 Jun

In the Drum this morning, Annabel Crabb critiques an interview on Sixty Minutes last night in which Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her partner Tim Mathieson are questioned, apparently mortifyingly for the viewer, about their relationship. It’s degrading, Crabb concludes, and though I didn’t see the interview, I’m sure Crabb’s assessment is spot on.

The  question we need to ask is how desperate is this Prime Minister that she allows herself to go on prime time television with her partner to subject both of them to degrading interrogations about their personal lives?

Julia Gillard seriously damaged the dignity of the office of Prime Minister by  the manner in which she assumed it. Remember her breathless, hysterical claims that we had lost our way, and she had taken over to help us find it again? It sounded then as if the country was on the brink of destruction thanks to Kevin, and Gillard was here to save us.

Now she seems incapable of exercising any of the  discretion and restraint one would hope was second nature to a prime minister when it comes to her personal life and her intimate feelings.

You can’t blame the program. They’re after ratings like any other commercial television station. The responsibility for this self inflicted public humiliation lies solely with Julia Gillard. Its a timely reflection on her lack of judgement, her lack of wisdom, her lack of character, and her increasing desperation about her plummeting popularity, that she now exposes her intimate life for public spectacle as a last resort.

At the very least it’s tacky and embarrassing. At worst, it’s proof that the country is not in serious, capable hands, and that Gillard’s capacity for unwise silliness (first demonstrated in that Women’ s Weekly airbrushed photo shoot) and her lack of sophistication and political judgement are more deeply entrenched than we feared.

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