Jihad against Manne

The Australian appears determined to bury Robert Manne’s criticisms of it by sheer quantity of verbiage, but not one of the dozens of defensive and often personally abusive editorials, opinion pieces, cartoons and hand-picked letters address the key question: why the only national daily proclaims itself a “a free market of ideas” yet overwhelmingly expresses and supports views, and hires writers, from the centre-right and rightward from there. This seems to be the only question they won’t answer, and accusing the questioner of censorship is just more evasion.

Paul Kelly’s characterisation of Manne as a “censor” (“Robert Manne throws truth overboard”, 14/9) because he believes The Australian gives undue prominence to second-rate opinion is hysterical. Manne’s point is that giving equal weight to, say, the scientific views of a scientist and a non-scientist, is not balance but a false debate, akin to the neverending stupidity in the US over evolution vs “creationism”.

Public opinion is not simply the sum total of what everyone reckons, with no consideration of the quality of those views.

But I look forward to the new uncensored Australian, in which presumably astrological forecasts will get equal space with financial ones, and the Flat Earth Society will have a regular column.

Kelly’s touching defence of his bosses at The Australian is unconvincing. A couple of hand-picked differences of opinion between editor Chris Mitchell and the notoriously interventionist Rupert Murdoch do not prove overall editorial independence, and Kelly omits the main cause of News Ltd’s one-eyed world-view: its opinion-makers are hired overwhelmingly from a narrow ideological range, making editorial control largely unnecessary.

Chris Kenny’s contribution to Manne’s crucifixion (17/9) includes the observation that “in media bias arguments the control sample should not be other media or the author’s world view. It should be reality”. For all I know it may be true that Manne “has no self-awareness about his far Left perspective”; but Kenny appears himself oblivious to the fact that The Australian is at least as far to the Right as Manne is to to the Left. Manne is lone academic who is entitled to his views. The Australian, on the other hand, is the only national daily and has a responsibility to seek this “reality”. Instead, it tries to shape the political landscape, and unleashes a remorseless blitzkrieg against anyone who dares to criticise it for doing so.

Amongst the avalanche of house-line rhetoric The Australian dropped on both Manne and the nascent media enquiry over the last few days, this small gem somehow slipped through: “any corporation which owns 70 per cent of the newspapers… sets itself up to looking faintly ridiculous when it adopts a besieged attitude” (“Robert Manne’s pre-emptive strike in a global cultural war”, 17/9). It would indeed be more credible to simply answer your critics – or even learn from them – than to accuse them of destroying press freedom.

The carpet-bombing of Manne was followed up by a selective barrage of similarly belligerent letters (Talking point, 15/9, Letters 16-18/9), neatly demonstrating exactly what Manne is talking about. I am sceptical that the unanimous condemnation of Manne amongst those published is representative of public opinion, or even of the total letters received. Nonetheless, I urge those who have formed their view solely on the basis of The Australian’s jihad against Manne and his essay to seek out the original, in non-News Ltd publications of course. It’s compelling reading and shoots straight. No wonder they’re mad.

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