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.