Dog bites bone stories

I promise not to make a habit of writing political pieces, but hey, this shit writes itself sometimes.

Over the weekend, Peter Slipper etc., etc. Other than the slyly homophobic – unnecessary – emphasis on the fact that it was a ‘male’ staffer, there isn’t a great deal to comment on around the coverage of this latest ALP own goal. That said, there is a broader question around the fact that this has overshadowed actual news stories.

In short, Slipper’s voluntary suspension creates a change in the votes in parliament, yes, but the government aren’t under threat of a no confidence motion, and this will have no bearing on Tony Abbott’s quest to crack the ton of suspended standing orders. So why write about it? It’s not even like people really give a shit about such a lame sex scandal these days. Put Slipper in a tutu holding a fly swat, caught in the act with three asylum seeker gents dressed as nuns, and fair enough, it passes the salaciousness test. But once he stood aside, it ceased to be a story.

Bernard Keane probably put it best today:

“It was a narrow escape, a damnably close run thing. It looked, briefly, like the press gallery was going to have to actually devote time to analysing a complex area of policy that resisted simplistic polarised reporting. Editors and producers were mortified that their journalists might concentrate on policy rather than personalities.

Luckily, the prospect of having to assess the government’s aged care package was averted by Peter Slipper, and we got to wallow in allegations of s-xual harassment and dissections of the implications of a Speaker standing aside for a minority government.”

I’ve done a fair bit of media training, and as well as the old ‘man bites dog’ test, another thing that gets hammered home is that news has to be, well, new. There’s a million ways to make that argument, but let’s settle on the most pretentious – the world journalism comes from the French du jour, or ‘of the day’.

Slipper’s story, unless he actually quits parliament permanently, is no longer a story on Monday night. And certainly not lead story on all major bulletins, including the ABC and SBS. Not to mention the 45 minutes of Insiders covering Slipper instead of any actual policy like aged care and its effect on the structural deficit we face.

Then again, the coverage of Abbott’s speech on Friday, where he spent 25 minutes telling Australia that he hated the carbon price and would scrap it, suggested that when it comes to political reporting, even ‘dog bites man’ seems to cut it. Although in this instance, Abbott complaining about any genuine act on climate change is more ‘dog bites bone’ than anything else.

Surely if the Slipper story genuinely did merit coverage, it would be about the stupidity of the ALP picking him in the first place. The rumours were flying around when they booted Jenko (whose grizzly visage, reminiscent of a funnier, more hirsute time, is sorely missed and who must be mightily pissed off today), and the ALP MUST have known this was coming, yet still they went ahead.

And naturally, when the actual ‘news’ of that event, the political media spent another three days claiming that it was a ‘coup’.

Oh, yeah, something something CabCharge

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