That was quick. It only took a week for media consensus on the retail campaign by Gerry Harvey and others, in contrast to the consensus on the campaign by mining companies.
Both represent campaigns by established and vested interests to serve their own interests whilst claiming it is in their own interest. Yet whilst the first was either quoted uncritically or eagerly adopted by portions of the media (and then lauded as skillful), the latter is now ridiculed as PR failure. The consensus is on whether it was good PR or not, and only then, occasionally, on the merits of the policy. The horse race instinct is deep in these people, and the entire business model is built on the unverifiable assumption that marketing is worth what people spend on it.
This is interesting from a public policy perspective, particularly since of the mining rent receivers and the domestic retailers, I think it’s the retailers who have the better case. Yeah, it’s still disingenuous, ignores all sorts of other reasons for online shopping and is impractical to implement, but the principal of non-discrimination had some kernel of truth that the rent receivers never had.
It’s possible that they are just accurately channeling public opinion, but I find it hard to say this with a straight face. Even if there was a thing such as “public opinion”, in the absence of decent polling, they’d only have anecdotes, and anecdotes heard by people the most divorced from normal society (and who thinks latte sippers are a distinct demographic for instance). [fn1]
So were does this consensus come from.
1) Inertia. It’s so much easier to sell an interested sophistry, an argument for a policy in favour of vested interests, when it is the existing policy. For better and for worse, the present self vindicates, or at least has a huge benefit of the doubt. It’s hard to shift from this even when the case is strong (which the retailer’s wasn’t).
2) The implications aren’t as abstract. Paying GST is a straightforward story, and an inescapable one. Even the most credulous journalist won’t be convinced otherwise, since it’s so obvious. Stories about investment suspension and jobs and macroeconomics are easier to weave.
But I think by far the most important is 3).
The retailers didn’t go partisan. Had they be aligned with a political party, or even had merely attacked the government, the default reporting processes of the media would have been triggered. Partisan conflict. A story that was being reported as ” Retailer calls for tax on internet purchases” would become “Labor under pressure from retailers”. Subsequently, the doctrine of false balance established in contemporary journalism would have required uncritical quoting of media releases and interviews with PR spivs and Gerry Harvey. Beyond that, they’d likely be enthusiastically quoted by partisan parts of the media.
Then, in an attempt to gauge “public opinion” they’ll turn to social media and, more importantly, comments on their own websites (or letters pages). Unfortunately, these commenters, especially on the majors news sites, are a tiny sliver of the public. The news media have settled on an audience of political barrackers and partisan spectators. It’s a minority of the public that visits news websites, and a much smaller minority who post on comments threads or write letters. These are the most ferocious barrackers. Whilst the rent tax gave them partisan cues to support and oppose, the retailers’ campaign didn’t, so they focused on their own (and the public interest instead). But it is from this pool that the newsosphere gained it’s impression of public opinion.
So there’s a lesson here for interested sophists. If you launch a partisan campaign, the rituals of he-said, she-said will be enacted, enveloping you in an mist invulnerable to questioning. When the mist clears you will be praised for your PR cunning.
And the public interest becomes ever more detached from media debate.
[fn1] Here’s an article from the first edition of the Daily Telegraph after the election (i.e before results had rolled in).
ALP feels backlash over Neal scandals
VOTERS in the marginal Central Coast seat of Robertson lined up to punish the Labor Party because of “the Belinda Neal effect”.
The seat sat on a knife edge of 0.1 per cent coming into the election, and voters told The Sunday Telegraph yesterday Ms Neal’s controversial term as MP had prompted them to turn away from Labor.
I love that in the absence of results they published the one thing they thought they could be sure about (and found a supporting anecdote or two), and were wrong as Robertson swung the other way to the rest of the state. It’s why I’m pessimistic about the ability of the media (or honestly anyone) to determine the unimaginably complex “public opinion”. When you focus all your effort on race calling, and who is winning, at least be capable.