So the Tele didn’t win it. And how Palmer outfoxed the Australian

Just over an hour after Tony Abbott had given his victory speech on Saturday night, one of his warmest admirers joined the chorus of praise. In the process Rupert Murdoch cleared up some little confusion over where the editorial line at News Corp Australia newspapers might head after the election. Who would they target now?

There were some very solid suggestions from the executive chairman:

Aust election public sick of public sector workers and phony welfare scroungers sucking life out of economy.Others nations to follow in time

11:03 PM – 7 Sep 13

This tweet passed with barely a mention–only 1049 retweets or so. When challenged about this Murdoch was prepared to cite sources:

@nikt50 where is my evidence? Listen to talk back radio in UK and US, see masses of letters to editors and you will be convinced.

And again a little later:

Small item: Apart from higher pay, public workers in Australia take many more sick days than those in hard working private sector!

In between these tweets Murdoch was asked if ‘It Was the Tele Wot Won It.’ This is where it got interesting for a Modest Media Maestro.

The seats the Tele didn't win

The seats the Tele didn’t win

“Tele wot won it”! No, Australians just sick of Gillard’-Rudd incompetence and infighting wrecking great county.


Quite right, it wasn’t the Tele that won it. How absurd. Naturally it was the Tele and the Courier Mail, and The Australian and the Sun-Herald, and all those other terrific publications. The pattern of protestations reads like Rupert Murdoch code for saying, ‘Well of course we did. But we might pick that up again a little later. Shall we?”

Except clearly the Tele and its sister titles didn’t win it. The nationwide swing against the Labor Government was weakest in New South Wales, and the swag of western Sydney seats that are the Tele’s natural heartland and which the Libs were confident of winning remained largely in Labor hands.

The other area where the Libs made limited inroads was Queensland, where the Courier Mail was the most stridently anti-Labor paper in the News Corp stable after the Tele. Perhaps the Courier’s effect was to ensure that the half a dozen seats Kevin Rudd hoped to pick up were not forthcoming? It’s hard to argue that.

The other stand-out failure was The Australian‘s campaign to tackle Clive Palmer and his Palmer United Party. Over 68 publishing days from June 15, The Australian ran 54 stories, with a total 39,000 words which were sharply critical of Palmer personally and of his business skills. This was separate from their coverage of Palmer the politician.

This included 14 page-1 stories about Palmer, which culminated in a scathing page 1 comment piece last Thursday on why voting for Palmer’s party was such a bad idea–which prompted Palmer’s diatribe about Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng.

The issue that makes this notable here is not whether or not the Oz coverage was justifiable, or the conclusions last Thursday reasonable (the line that Palmer “probably isn’t a billionaire” seems to me just plain wacky). It’s that the huge wave of words appears to have had little, perhaps even no effect on Palmer’s political prospects.

There seem to be three possible reasons for this. Perhaps it did have an effect, and without it the Palmer United Party vote would have been even higher. Or perhaps PUP supporters don’t read The Australian; they come from a different demographic. The other possibility is that the coverage made Palmer an issue; helped him to get more television and radio time; and that it played into his tactic of framing himself as different from Labor, Liberals and the MSM coverage.

Palmer is a difficult target to take down. For comparison you would have to look at National Party politicians of the Joh BJelke-Petersen era, like Russ Hinze, who could be accused of the most heinous offences, and deflect them with little more than a grin and an eyebrow.

Or like Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who has weathered more media attacks in his life than almost anyone. It’s almost impossible to take on Ailes without in the end looking prudish or churlish or just plain silly.He will always have the last laugh. He’s that good.

Palmer is a lot less graceful, but he has managed to set the rules. You can’t embarrass him. The more humiliating it seems, the more it feeds into his profile as the anti-politician. If he doesn’t like what’s happening he will hang up on you. He has staked out his territory as the Crazy Guy. But that’s OK cos he’s stinking rich. Barnaby Joyce with a 10-figure bank account.

That’s become part of his political persona. And that turns conventional media coverage on its head. Karl Stefanovic can tell him he’s lost it, he’s in totally fruit loop territory. And there’s a demographic out there that’s saying, ‘Hey, I like the guy’s style.’

Peter Beattie told the AFR Palmer could develop into a real threat to the major parties:

He’s a bit smarter than Pauline Hanson. People under-estimate him. He is a publicity magnet. They [the major parties] won’t be able to ignore him. He knows how to play the game.

He also thought it would be a heck of a ride.

Page 1 Palmer stories in The Australian since June 15

June 15 2013 Shadows lengthen for sunshine billionaire who would be PM – EXCLUSIVE
June 17 2013 Palmer warns Chinese 1000 jobs threatened if cash doesn’t come his way – EXCLUSIVE –
June 18 2013 Palmer’s pay not $500m: Chinese – EXCLUSIVE
June 19 2013 Newman to Clive: don’t fob off press
June 20 2013 It’s my money and none of the voters’ business, says the man who would be PM
June 21 2013 Palmer fails to deliver billion-dollar boom-time promise – EXCLUSIVE –
June 22 2013 Palmer defies his policy on lobbyists
June 29 2013 Clive hit with $6m carbon penalty – EXCLUSIVE –
July 9 2013 Go back to China: Palmer’s tirade – EXCLUSIVE –
July 11 2013 Palmer may forfeit port rights – EXCLUSIVE –
August 17 2013 That’ll be enough, Mr Palmer: university and tycoon in title fight
August 20 2013 Misconceived’ court battle leaves Palmer facing costs
September 4 2013 Palmer expects staff to do poll duty – EXCLUSIVE
September 5 2013 Why we need to worry about the real Mr Palmer – COMMENT –

2 thoughts on “So the Tele didn’t win it. And how Palmer outfoxed the Australian

  1. Pingback: Where to now for the Australian Left? — Antony Loewenstein

  2. Pingback: Australian election reveals anti-politics attitude » Precarious Climate

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