Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Michelle Grattan: Cheap and phony 'objectivity'

by Brian Arnell

Michelle Grattan of The Age, attempts a
cheap and phony 'objectivity'.

Her headline is “Howard in dilemma as polls fail to deliver” the lead, “Kevin Rudd is in an enviable position going into the soon-to-be called election”.

Grattan continues the initial to and fro between the subjects of Howard and Rudd throughout the article. This attempt at 'objectivity' results in several contradictory statements. Most telling within the first three paragraphs, Grattan contradicts her own lead, “Kevin Rudd is in an enviable position going into the soon-to-be called election” with “anyway, the six-month average is historical, not a prediction.”

If the six-month polling average is not a prediction, how is it that Rudd is in an enviable position?

According to Peter Brent, a member of ANU’s Democratic Audit of Australia and a widely published writer on opinion polling, “the polls are not useless…it is best if you take them in totality – look at the trend…Polls do become better as the election approaches”. Grattan’s self-contradiction is cheap and phony 'objectivity'.

Michelle ‘Scoop’ Grattan next moves onto Howard, but not before dropping the bombshell that “The Australian Election Study, published by the Australian National University this week, reports (from the 2004 poll) that fewer voters are ‘rusted on’ to a particular party”. Stop the presses!

She asserts that this revelation is “disturbing for Howard, because it suggests people are willing to desert even a solidly performing government more readily than in the past.” Grattan forgets her ‘objectivity’ for a moment. If Howard leads a “solidly performing government”, how does she explain “Labor’s 57.1 per cent two-party average vote for April to September” she quotes later in the article?

Grattan moves back to Rudd. Because fewer voters are ‘rusted on’, "it is also a worry for Rudd, because it means a lot can change during a campaign,” she writes. You remember the elections before 2004: how voters were ‘rusted on’ and how nothing much changed during the campaigns? Neither do I.

Grattan implies that Rudd says the right things, but for the wrong reasons. Having referred to Labor’s substantial lead in the polls, Grattan writes, "No wonder Rudd was pressing again yesterday for the election to be called.” Later she says, “This coming week sees the anniversary of polling day in 2004. Howard has no excuse to wait.”

In the same vein Grattan says, “Rudd was obviously self-interested when he argued yesterday for fixed four-year terms. But he has a point – the system, used in several states at least injects predictability.”

Grattan clearly engages in cheap cynicism at odds with known facts and fails to provide appropriate context. The following quote is from Grattan’s own newspaper stable, “Labor has always insisted on having fixed four-year terms while the Liberals want to retain the flexibility for the prime minister to set the election date.” - Sunday Age April 17, 2005.

Grattan’s article ends with gratuitous advice to John Howard including that he is the problem. There is no discussion of policy throughout. In addition to the banal commentary, logical inconsistencies and cheap shots previously mentioned, Grattan assails us with an avalanche of two-party preferred averages from time immemorial and her own literary pretensions.

Grattan uses the metaphor of a birthday cake to describe Rudd waiting for election day and describes Howard as Mr Micawber. Perhaps Miss Havisham (another Dickens’ character) and her wedding cake would provide a more appropriate metaphor, at least for Grattan herself.

An analysis of Grattan's article reveals a cheap, phony 'objectivity' that accords neither with logic nor known facts. A true attempt at objectivity consists of more than gratuitous cynicism and throwaway lines doled out in equal measure to two political antagonists.

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