The Canberra Press Gallery has always been, necessarily, close to its subjects of study. Not a unique situation perhaps, if we think of, say, the worlds of Music, Sport, Art, Agriculture, Finance, but very different from those of say Science, Medicine, Law.
In recent times the linkages, the shared workplace, the chumminess, the personal partnerships, the commonality of interests, the sense of being not observed and objective observer but politicomedia gang members, seems much greater than ever before.
The proprietors of the media have moved to the Right and taken their staff with them. As a result, these days journalists have a much closer sense of common beliefs, goals, tactics, teamwork, with the conservative parties of the Coalition and the more conservative members of the government. Which in turn has led to even more team bonding and confusion of roles.
The Press Gallery now see themselves not as objective, arms length reporters of their subjects and subject matter, but, rather like those embedded with army units, as part of the regiment. Sharing objectives, helping their team defeat the enemy (the government), capture the Hill, plant the Conservative flag firmly on the House flagpole.
Conversely the politicians see their role more as a media one – packaging press releases, delivering sound bites, performing photogenic stunts. At best these things are content-free, most are partial or total lies, at worst they are vicious smears. They are not designed to withstand any kind of rational analysis, they are designed to provide a tv news image, a radio shock jock talking point, a tabloid headline.
They will receive no rational analysis. Because journalists and politicians are so close, working together, socialising together, eating meals together, perhaps on occasion sleeping together, the fodder of the press event seems completely unremarkable to journalists. They will consist of words, phrases, sneers they will have heard, may indeed have contributed to, in a hundred late night conversations in rooms, corridors, restaurants, bars, as they socialised with their friends. It would be no more appropriate to analyse, dissect, criticise, such conversations, than it would be to do that to discussions with family and friends.
Having sleep-walked into this tender trap the journalists, being professionals, would surely welcome wake-up calls from outside observers, consumers of the media? Well, if you think that your knowledge of human nature is a little lacking. Just as criticism of, say, the behaviour of a policeman has the police cars forming a protective circle, so do journalists protect their brothers and sisters from the non-professionals. Indeed, criticism of the politicians, also their brothers and sisters-arms, will be treated in the same way.
But really, how could there BE criticism? Only the journalists are privy to the late night gossip sessions, only they know where the bodies are buried, where others will be buried. Only they know the buzz, the vibe, the context. There are no other stories, hell, there are no other ways of presenting the stories. Media and politicians are in perfect agreement as to what the narrative-du-jour will be, and how it will be sold to the world outside the politicomedia one. The journalists, hearing and reading criticism from, say, the upstart social media, are probably genuinely puzzled, indeed hurt, that they could be so misjudged for simply doing their job of repeating the indisputable. And seek ever more eagerly the warm embrace of their crowd of insiders.
Fourth Estate? Three and a Half Estate.