Features Australia

Hit and run journalism

28 September 2019

9:00 AM

28 September 2019

9:00 AM

Having failed to reverse the 2016 election through impeachment or declaration of mental impairment, the American mainstream media are determined that the election of someone from outside the Washington swamp will never be repeated and that the Supreme Court will be free to change the meaning of the Constitution, consistent with an increasingly radical agenda. The father of talk-back, Rush Limbaugh, calls them the ‘drive-by’ media. Drive-by shootings being rare in Australia, the closest equivalent would be the hit-and-run motorist. A hit-and-run media occasionally emerges in Australia, but with nothing like the intensity of that in the US.

One of their latest salvos has been the New York Times’ report of an alleged sexual assault by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. This has been exposed as nothing more than a blatantly extreme form of fake news, but not before it was used to justify calls by prominent Democrat politicians for the judge’s impeachment. Not only does the alleged victim have no recollection at all of the assault, but the New York Times was well aware of this. Caught out, their limp excuse was that this was nothing more than a ‘defect’ in the editorial process. Meanwhile, the reporters claim that when they tried to interview the judge, he refused unless his anonymity was protected. If this is true, revealing it is an egregious breach of media ethics.

Conservative commentators are saying with justification that this attack on Kavanaugh is not only to persuade him to conform, in future decisions, to the Left’s agenda, but to act as a warning to other nominees about what will happen if they accept. Ironically, such mischief was made easier by Donald Trump’s openness in the 2016 presidential election campaign in releasing a list of illustrious jurists, vetted by the prestigious Federalist Society, from which he would choose nominees to fill Supreme Court vacancies. As broadcaster Mark Levin has recently demonstrated in The Unfreedom of the Press, the New York Times has a long and sorry history of such irresponsible behaviour. This includes its attempts to pour cold water over reports of Stalin’s deliberate use of famine to subjugate the Ukrainian people, and ignoring or playing down the Holocaust, while it was happening.

Following the Kavanaugh case, Trump has been attacked because he spoke to an unnamed foreign leader and someone from the ‘intelligence community’ decided, for some reason, to report this to the Justice Department’s Inspector-General. Curiously, no one did this when Barack Obama was caught telling Russian President Medvedev to be patient about his agreeing to disarm the US. ‘After my (re-)election, I will have more flexibility,’ Obama whispered, not realising that a nearby microphone was live. ‘I understand,’ Medvedev replied, ‘I will transmit this information to Vladimir (Putin).’ Yet, nobody accused Obama of colluding with the Russians, although his then secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, gave every sign of doing so over her role in the sale of Uranium One to the Russian corporation Rosatom and the payments totalling $145 million, which were made to the Clinton Foundation and Bill Clinton, as well as in funding the infamous Steele dossier, which was used to support the untrue claim that Trump had colluded with the Russians.

Then it was revealed that Trump’s conversation was with the Ukrainian President, suggesting he legitimately investigate Joe Biden’s admission in July that he had, as Obama’s vice president, successfully threatened to block $1 billion in aid until a prosecutor investigating, among others, Biden’s son Hunter for corruption, was dismissed. The mainstream media had shown little interest in this obstruction of justice. All this is not to suggest that the media should not enjoy the right to comment and to adopt an editorial line, public broadcasters like the ABC obviously excluded. But there remains an ethical obligation on the responsible media to distinguish clearly between comment and reporting in accordance with the ancient adage: ‘comment is free, but facts are sacred.’ Once journalists stray from this and use news reporting to further an agenda, they begin to take on the first aspect of a hit-and-run media. The much-criticised commercial ‘talk-back’ radio, where robust comment is typically interspersed with short news bulletins, better observes the distinction between factual reporting and comment than most other media. The role of the typical hit-and-run media is complete when they are shown to be wrong and, neither apologising nor explaining, they just move on to the next fake news story.

The Australian referendum in 1999 is a local example; almost all of the mainstream media were so determined to remove the Crown from our crowned republic, that they campaigned for and played down criticism of a dangerous form of republic which real republicans denounced as unsafe as did an assembly of leading constitutional experts brought together by the University of New South Wales. As a distinguished visiting British editor Lord Deedes observed: ‘I have rarely attended elections in any country, certainly not a democratic one, in which the newspapers have displayed more shameless bias. One and all, they determined that Australians should have a republic and they used every device towards that end.’ But once the people, in a landslide vote, rejected this, the hit-and-run media slunk away without apology or explanation.

Why did the media do this?  Paul Kelly, the Australian’s then editor-in-chief, declared at the outset that the media would support constitutional change because ‘the media has a vested interest in change … change equates to news, and news is the lifeblood of the media.’

Other examples of hit-and-run reporting to achieve change for the sake of change, whatever the consequences, include the campaign to undermine and replace one of our best prime ministers, John Howard with the disastrous Rudd government, to support the coup against Tony Abbott, the attribution of infallibility to polling in the recent election and especially, support for  the discredited theory that man is responsible for significant global warming. Why do the media so destroy confidence in their reporting?

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