The blogosphere and MSM character assassination

ABC The Drum/Unleashed editor Jonathan Green a couple of days ago:

Waiting until just after 3.30 this afternoon before fronting the media and addressing today’s asylum seeker tragedy made Opposition spokesman Scott Morrison look the model of restraint. “A day of sadness as worst fears realised,” he said.

The blogosphere was not so circumspect.

Michelle Grattan in today’s SMH/Age:

The politicians desperately tried to avoid sounding ”political” as the shocking news of the smashed boat and destroyed lives unfolded on Wednesday, with the television images of boiling sea, treacherous rocks and floating bodies and debris.

In the blogosphere, there was no such restraint. Passion and fury reigned, with claims of blood on Labor hands, calls for Julia Gillard to resign, and not a little distasteful triumphalism about prior warnings.

Why bother to have an original thought when you’re a senior MSM journalist?  Why bother about accuracy for that matter?  In fact, as Troppo readers know, I monitor almost 300 blogs every single day to compile the Missing Link Daily digest, and I haven’t come across this alleged appalling blogosphere behaviour.  Where I have struck exactly the poisonous rubbish Green and Grattan describe is in the pages of the Fairfax media of which Ms Grattan is a senior editor. This morning it published  Rob Oakeshott’s distasteful retailing (under the guise of deep public-spirited concern) of alleged rumours that the Gillard government might have been complicit in deliberately failing to intercept the doomed asylum seeker vessel. Moreover, Fairfax senior journalist David Marr raised this allegation yesterday, entirely without any evidentiary or other basis.  In turn the “rumours” to which Oakeshott refers appear themselves to have been initiated by MSM stories in which, in the immediate aftermath of first news of the tragedy, they went and sought comment from usual suspects Pamela Curr and Tony Kevin who gleefully (and predictably – that’s why the MSM interviewed them in the first place) suggested a SIEV X-style government/navy conspiracy to let the asylum seekers drown.

Then we have senior Murdoch journalists  Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair, whose “blame game” output is equally distasteful (Gillard has “blood on her hands”).  Bolt and Blair were Green and Grattan’s sole nominated examples of blogosphere perfidy, but neither are members of the blogosphere in any meaningful sense.  In fact they’re the spearhead of MSM efforts to de-fang and appropriate blogging and somehow turn a buck out of it.  No doubt Green and Grattan’s dishonest efforts at blurring the distinction between MSM and blogosphere, and then pinning the sins of the former on the latter, is part of that strategy too.  Trevor Cook had a great post on this subject the other day:

Despite Mark Scott’s earnest pleadings to the contrary, the ABC’s strategy is not to share but to dominate the emerging media space, which he sees as traditional media plus social media. That is, not a transformation but the old stuff with a bit extra on the side. Still, the ABC is being more creative than News or Fairfax – so that’s something.

In the early days (think, say, 2004), social media was seen as a way to re-invent the Internet. It would be an Internet that everyone could use to read and write just as the early visionaries hoped. And the amateurs would come to rival the professionals. Never happened. If you can’t make a living out of it, you can’t compete.

Money is money and like water it finds its course. Just like in some grief cycle, big media first ignored, then scoffed, later attacked and then took over social media. Social media is no longer a challenge to big business, it is now part of big business. Social media is cheap content. But is a blog, really a blog in the same sense as the early adopters envisioned if it is hosted at News Ltd or the ABC? Or is it just another product offering? When social media got taken over, big media hyped it. Hence the Mark Scott speeches. It is all wonderful now that it is indoors and toilet-trained.

Of course, there are still bloggers who do it for the love of it, but they are not the main game, and their overall impact on the media world is as close to zilch as you can get. I love the amateurs but I’m in a small, small niche. Most bloggers want the profile that hanging off a big media site can deliver. Most Internet users lack the confidence in their own judgement required to move away from aunty ABC and the corporate equivalents.

As the Media Alliance’s recent survey about public attitudes to media and journalism found:

Oh, and people don’t trust bloggers: Finally on issues of trust, columns like these don’t rate. But maybe that’s the point. The changes in the media allow more people like me to throw my ideas out there – and more readers (and trolls) to throw their’s back. It’s not traditional news, it’s not based on trust, but it seems to be engaging and a way of enriching the news experience.

In fact, serious blogs like this one, LP, Catallaxy, most of the Crikey blogs and the econobloggers are in my view generally more trustworthy and substantial in our opinions and analyses than most MSM output.  However it  isn’t in the self-interest of MSM proprietors or their journalists to acknowledge it, quite the contrary.   Most of us don’t want “the profile that hanging off a big media site can deliver”.  However most of us believe we make a useful contribution to civic discourse.  In my view we should do all we can to expose the pernicious, self-interested nonsense of MSM shills like Green and Grattan for what it is.

PS And a deeply satisfying rejoinder to Bolt/Blair from John Birmingham.  My biggest problem with these people (Green and Grattan as well as Birmingham) is that they studiously ignore the fact that the poisonous, simplistic propaganda of Marr, Curr and Kevin is just as odious as that of Bolt and Blair, but the left-leaning commentators carefully avoid mentioning the former which merely perpetuates meaningless childish partisan squabbles.  Might we not all profit by conceding that no-one has any magical answers and that we might all benefit by listening with at least formal respect to each other’s concerns and ideas?

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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paul walter
paul walter
13 years ago

Yep, Michelle Grattan has been a big disappointment the last few years, perhaps now well past her use by date, given her lack of appetite for substance lately.
But yes, I do agree that Tony Abbott has, “blood on his hands”, after Howard, Reith, Ruddock and co. That Gillard’s lot might be complicit, could also be taken into account.

paul walter
paul walter
13 years ago

And also, it is true, “bloggers don’t trust people”.

13 years ago

I think part of KP’s point, PW, might be that so do Hawke, Keating et al. Of course Whitlam unambiguously and most shamefully of all has blood on his pinko hands.

My understanding is that of all the perverse motivations, Whitlam was worried that Vietnamese refugees might have anti-communist sentiments…heaven forbid

Don Arthur
13 years ago

… as Troppo readers know, I monitor almost 300 blogs every single day to compile the Missing Link Daily digest, and I haven’t come across this alleged appalling blogosphere behaviour.

Ken, I spent just a few minutes on Google’s blog search and here’s what I found …

From the thefrollickingmole at The Tizona Group:

Finally a word for the scum infesting Australia’s parliament.

You did this Chris Evans

You did this Julia Gillard

You did this Kevin Rudd

You did this Chris Evans

You did this Kate Lundy

Your stupid, naive, idiotic insistence, despite all factual and material evidence that you policies had restarted the illegal immigrant trade, that there was no link is a bloody handed lie.
So what are you? Ideologues for whom the lost lives are a worthwhile sacrifice as long as you can “feel” youve done the right thing? Or cold blooded psychopaths knowingly risking the lives of hundreds in order to appease the pro-refugee lobby.

And from Wendy at Cultured Views:

Gillard and the Labor Party have failed to address this problem and in fact have even encouraged the activities of the evil people smugglers. There’s no more room for them in the detention centres, they are dying in the attempt to come here and our Pacific neighbours are not interested in assisting Australia in this matter. Julia Gillard has these people’s deaths on her Party’s hands – what is she going to do now…?

Commenter Ashley responds:

I have been reading some rubbish about these asylum seekers today but learning that the men fought the women and children for those life jackets just proves even more to me that these people must be pulled out of the water, dried off and then sent straight back to where they came from. Too much is made about their courage and determination to get a better life when in fact these people, especially the men, are as ruthless as the bastards who smuggle them onto these boats. They are out for getting whatever they can for themselves and will walk over women and children to get it, as we have seen here in this case. Dont feel sorry for them I don’t except for those poor kids whose lives were not worth much according to the adults around them. Good on the Aussies for attempting such a rescue but I hope those men who caused women and children to drown through their selfishness are weeded out and given no preferential treatment at all. Make sure you send them all back.

And here’s Philip Maguire at All Australian:

Julia Gillard must resign over this issue. Before and during the election campaign she made repeated promises to address the asylum seeker issue. So far all we have seen is a plan dump a few illegal arrivals in a “regional processing centre” which she wants to build in a country, East Timor, whose Parliament has already voted against it.
The centre in Nauru built by the Howard Government could have been operating months ago and had it been it’s possible this crowded boat would not have sailed here.

Michelle Grattan reported that in the blogosphere: “Passion and fury reigned, with claims of blood on Labor hands, calls for Julia Gillard to resign, and not a little distasteful triumphalism about prior warnings.” As a generalisation about bloggers in general, it’s not accurate. But it’s certainly true about some.

Grattan didn’t compare the behaviour of bloggers to the behaviour of the mainstream media. She compared behaviour in the ‘blogosphere’ with the behaviour of politicians.

There are all kinds of people blogging. Some are semi-literate loud mouths while others are respected academics (at least one has a Nobel prize). Generalising about bloggers is like generalising about people who use telephones.

13 years ago

The question about trust is far too open-ended to be meaningful: “Who do you trust online?”. Trust always combines function and context – I trust a doctor in a hospital to treat a patient, but I have no reason to trust a plumber any more for working in a hospital. Likewise, people are highly likely, IMO, to trust MSM sites, search engines and blogs for different and possibly incomparable reasons. People are likely to trust the news from the MSM and, as Ken indicates, commentary and analysis from (non-MSM) blogs.

It’s highly likely the question would have been understood by respondents as “Who do you trust for the news?”. I am assuming the order of questions in the report reflects the order of the interviewing schedule. This would mean that prior to being asked who they trust online, respondents would have been asked “Who do you trust to tell you the news?” in which case reporters will score higher than bloggers since collecting the news is not seen to be a function of the blogosphere. Again, the question blurs the functional criteria and context against which respondents would be measuring trust.

However, IMO, the responses could be more accurately used as a proxy for online conduct, rather than a measure of trustworthiness. Questions of trustworthiness also need to be measured against use – if people have no experience of blogs and social media then it is impossible for them to trust it. So, really what you could be looking at in the trustworthy figures is a measure of what respondents are familiar with, not what they trust.

You want to talk about a sleight of hand, then the MEAA takes the cake.

It’s not traditional news, it’s not based on trust, but it seems to be engaging and a way of enriching the news experience.

But it would be naive to think that interaction through blogs is NOT about trust. It is all about trust! Trust is both the glue and the lubricant for engagement, especially between strangers. Trust would be a key determinant in why people come back to certain blogs or to the blogosphere. As I said, trust in the blogosphere corresponds to a different species of trustworthiness.

13 years ago

“Generalising about bloggers is like generalising about people who use telephones.”

And that’s the point. Replace “blogosphere” with “telephone network” in the discussion above and you see what a silly conceit the concept of a “blogosphere” is.

13 years ago


Yes, my point wasn’t addressed to you, but to the MSM who glibly refer to the “blogosphere”. The media have always loved these simplistic generalisations: “young people”, “society”, “baby boomers”, “ethnic communities” etc.

Don Arthur
13 years ago

Ken – What worries is the way this debate gets framed as a struggle between bloggers and something called the mainstream media.

You write that Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair are “the spearhead of MSM efforts to de-fang and appropriate blogging and somehow turn a buck out of it.”

It seems to me that some journalists also see what Bolt and Blair are doing as a threat. I’m not sure why you’d want to make enemies out of these journos.

As Trevor Cook writes
, good journalism costs money. And while the audience for it is affluent, it’s also very small. With revenue from newspaper classified adverts drying up, it’s hard to justify the investment.

Meanwhile, social media is huge petri dish that’s growing hundreds of new ideas for cheap content. And there’s no need to speculate about what the audience likes. Statistics on readership aren’t hard to get.

Before Tim Blair blogged for the Telegraph he was part of an effort to revive old fashioned tabloid journalism online at As Tabloid’s website puts it:

Long ago, American cities had tough metro daily papers full of moral outrage and clean, sharp reporting. Such newspapers are rare today — replaced by bland academic reporting which does nothing but bore readers into indifference. flopped but Blair’s personal blog was remarkably popular. What he does at the Telegraph today isn’t a lot different to what he did as an unpaid blogger. There’s snark, links, plenty of pithy opinion. Most important of all, there none of that “bland academic reporting” that takes so much time and costs so much money.

If it’s possible to build up a large audience around issues like the war in Iraq without having to visit Iraq, interview decision makers or take the time to know anything much about what you’re talking about, then why bother? Moral outrage and ridicule are far more cost effective (and no, this isn’t just a right wing thing).

I’m guessing that some journalists are worried that their employers will increasingly draw talent and ideas from social media and rely less and less on reporting and informed analysis.

For these journos, Bolt and Blair are part of the problem. And if this is right, what’s the point of lumping everyone in the MSM together and attacking them?

13 years ago

Don is actually onto something that I’ve been thinking about. I think we about to enter a golden age of journalism where this time around the journos will actually be measured by the hits they receive. Some of them will thrive and demand oodles of money from their employers, as they will carry very large audiences that will pay for their output. Others will have to find another line of work. Transmission/communication costs are next to zero now.

Like him or hate him Bolt in particular is actually indefatigable at his job, blogging away a huge amount, doing TV time and writing his twice weekly piece.
Umm no, I don’t always read him until I see a link that may be interesting. But I really see the value-added he provides.

That’s what opinion journalism will look in the future I think. Writing a bland opinion piece with little readership is going to be junked.

For analysis you couldn’t go far wrong with the in depth reporting that JF Burns did in the Iraqi war for the NYTimes. He was truly masterful and again people will would pay for that. That’s what analysis will look like.

Where’s the talent going to come from? Not from J schools mostly likely. It will be an almost back to the future thing with writers coming from all walks of life.

13 years ago

oops ..

As much as I hate to admit it Krugman is also a natural talent in writing opinion pieces and doing it in a modern context.

He writes two opinion pieces a week, teaches, goes on America’s ABC, This Week, on Sundays as a “regular guest” and blogs up a storm.

And what do they do? They get talked about and become regular reads for people thereby adding serious value to their mastheads.

These dudes just love their work.

They are the face of where modern journalism is heading I think. It will be good.

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
13 years ago


Well done for highlighting the hypocrisy of Grattan and her Fairfax colleagues. Over the weekend, Fairfax were still running their completely hypocritical and in denial line. But perhaps they are more stupid than hypocritical. Cue Mike Carlton:

Spare us this disgusting hypocrisy
December 18, 2010
THERE were corpses still floating below the cliffs of Christmas Island on Wednesday when the blame game began. Fangs bared, the blogging rat pack of the loony right went for the jugular. With political points to be scored, decency was trampled in the rush. The tragedy was all the government’s fault.

”Blood on their hands,” cried Melbourne’s village idiot, Andrew Bolt of the Murdoch Herald Sun. ”Resign, Julia.”

Bolt’s Sydney counterpart, the equally uncouth Tim Blair of the Daily Telegraph, was on the same hymn sheet. ”Weakness kills,” was the headline on his diatribe. ”Labor’s softened policy on asylum seekers was supposed to be more humane. How, exactly?”

The selective cynicism is despicable, the hypocrisy disgusting. It doesn’t get much nastier than to employ the death of innocents as a political weapon.

Note that these tabloid dog-whistlers and their radio shock jock mates never remind us of the systemic cruelty of the Howard years, when hundreds of children were left to rot behind the razor wire, and legitimate Australian residents were banged away on the whim of minor immigration officials.

Nor do they ever accuse John Howard of bloody hands from the loss of some 353 people in the Siev X catastrophe of 2001.