For political groupies, Barrie Cassidy’s last episode of Insiders on the ABC was reason to look both backwards and forwards.
Looking back, Insiders ran under Cassidy for 18 years. Someone born on the same day as the first programme will in a few weeks be old enough to vote. Bob Hawke’s press secretary he may have been (and his increasing craggy visage has come to rival Hawkie’s own), but Cassidy to his great credit was invariably even-handed in his treatment of political issues of the day and his interviewees, whatever their political colour.
The same could never be said about the Insiders panel who, while insightful, consistently skew left and never more so than in the Tony Abbott leadership years. The conservatives on the couch – on the occasional weeks they appear – are there as both token Tories and targets for general ridicule.
It is the ABC, after all.
But the extent of the ABC’s political groupthink was unwittingly revealed in an extended packaged paean to Cassidy in his last programme that, deconstructed, tells a great deal about what the luvvies expected the political landscape to look like in the aftermath of May’s federal election.
The inclusion of the late Bob Hawke reveals the package was in production before the election and, for most beyond Speccie editor Rowan Dean, Scott Morrison’s miraculous election win. Besides Hawke a host of former politicians sang Cassidy’s praises, including John Howard, Christopher Pyne, Jenny Macklin, Craig Emerson and the sequinned salamander herself, Julie Bishop.
But those current and former token Tories on the couch, like Andrew Bolt, Gerard Henderson and the purged Piers Akerman, were nowhere to be seen, except for a selectively edited clip portraying professional blusterer David Marr as heroically calling out Akerman’s social conservatism on gay marriage.
But it was which still serving pollies who were included that really gives the ABC’s inbuilt bias away.
Bill Shorten but not Anthony Albanese. Josh Frydenberg but not Scott Morrison.
Given the significance of Cassidy’s retirement, the Insiders package clearly was intended to have had the lustre of newly crowned Labor PM, Shorten, leading the congratulations with an equally newly minted Liberal opposition leader, Frydenberg, bipartisanly echoing his praise. Judging by his absence, Morrison was presumed to have been vanquished, out of politics and therefore an irrelevance.
Instead the production team’s “foresight” highlighted a failed former Labor leader whose folly, complacency and hubris led his party even deeper into the wilderness, and a Treasurer who crafted an election-winning Budget that almost no one expected to see implemented, and is likely to stay in that post for years to come.
The election result turned the Insiders world on its head, and its panellists and other left-leaning commentators are still struggling to come to terms with a reality they never believed possible.
Looking forward, David Speers taking over Insiders in 2020, rather than ABC long-termers like Annabel Crabb and Fran Kelly, is welcome.
Speers, like Cassidy, is even-handed and agenda setting in his own interviewing. But he will also bring with him his great skills as a panel moderator, and his vast Sky News experience that the best and liveliest political panels engage viewpoints on either side of the political centre.
Hopefully he will not go native, and use his editorial control as compere to override ABC groupthink and ensure that the right as well as the left of the journalistic crop is routinely represented, and treated with respect on the Insiders couch.
Insiders is the highest-rating political discussion programme in the country. Despite its bias it can’t be ignored. It can and does set many a week’s political agenda, and therefore has become an important political institution in its own right.
Let’s hope that with Speers as Insiders compere it sheds its biases, becoming more of a genuinely-balanced forum of ideas and not just an echo chamber of Labor-Green-Turnbullite luvvies whose world view seldom if ever strays outside the Canberra bubble.
So back to you, Speersy.
Illustration: ABC Television screencapture.
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