Political Journalism is Stupid

It really is. And I really want to put emphasis on stupid. It is so stupid that I can’t understand why I was, and many intelligent people are, so caught up with it.

When Paul Keating was Treasurer, there was a recession and as he was in this position (and soon to be Prime Minister), it was apparently his fault. He famously (and rather successfully), sold it as “the recession we had to have.” Now political journalists would have either put a positive or negative spin on this depending on their prejudices but in reality they shouldn’t have been doing anything like this at all.

The reason why I am starting with Paul Keating is because I don’t like him and he was Prime Minister before I was old enough to follow politics and thus I’m not being influenced by what I thought at the time. I think this gives me some credibility when I say that it isn’t reasonable to blame him or any leader for recessions in most circumstances. This is because short of draconian intervention, it is the nature of economies to have highs and lows when they are relatively free and even when they are not. There are also circumstances related to international trade that are beyond control altogether.

When I first began following politics seriously, John Howard was the Prime Minister and with the exception of his involving Australia in useless foreign wars, I quite liked him. This has steadily cooled over the years, but I certainly supported him when I was younger. His time as Prime Minister was also a time of great economic growth and prosperity in Australia which had begun to wane just before he was voted out in 2007. Depending on who you asked, it was either Paul Keating’s hard decisions that Howard was benefiting from or the sensible leadership of John Howard. In reality, they either both deserve praise or they both don’t. I’d prefer to go with the latter but I have heard plenty of intelligent people uselessly bicker back and forth on the topic. I used to myself.

Towards the end of his time in office John Howard was being attacked because interest rates had begun to rise and he had insensibly boasted about keeping them stable in the years before they began to rise. I recall at the time, him being attacked quite a bit over this and many political journalists used this as part of their narrative on his weakening leadership. The seeds of change were apparently in the air like they had been in the previous election.

I remember becoming involved in this back-and-forth bickering about this policy and that and that policy and this. He had also introduced industrial relations reform which was not well received by many if you were to listen to most political journalists at the time. I hadn’t read much on the reforms and neither had most people blabbering about them. Indeed, I am quite sure that it was unpopular simply because it was made to sound unpleasant. I don’t know and I don’t much care.

I don’t care. This usually sounds insensitive and unintelligent but I really think it is neither when it comes to the daily back and forth of political journalism. For quite a while now I have been committing the intellectual sin of not being well-informed. This means knowing what political journalists are talking about in the current time of the current year and having an opinion on it.  I’m really not sure what this/these are in Australia at the moment.

Yet, not knowing this has not made much difference to my daily life and if something I consider important or just interesting does come up, I find I have little trouble getting a grasp of what is going on. But reading daily articles and having an opinion on it is a waste of time.

None of this to say that politics are unimportant, just that what is set by the media is not necessarily important. I am really interested in demographics and immigration but there is rarely anything sensible on that brought up and whenever these subjects come up, the allowable discourse is severely limited. So what’s the point of discussing it?

I recall as a child around the age of twelve when I started to regard the nightly soap operas on television as stupid. I got sick in a very short time of the constant melodrama and couldn’t understand why people watched them. I feel pretty much the same about the day to day political journalism now. It is just a slightly more sophisticated soap opera. The dialogue is still terribly written and the plots are invariably absurd.

Politicians can certainly do things that have consequences but short of starting a war, nationalising industry or massacring a large group of protestors, it isn’t something that is going to have ready and immediate and observable consequences. Yet the day to day and now, second to second political journalism acts as if each nose blow they choose to cover is worthy of the public’s attention.

Unless you’re into soap operas with a political theme, I suspect most people will be quite happy with hearing about the weather, some car crashes, a celebrity death (or perhaps massacre), and seeing an animal do something cute. It is rather useless to hear about this and that policy or scandal most of the time. And even when an issue really is relevant, it is so mixed up with competing interests that it is almost impossible for an honest man to establish the truth. I’d rather not try.

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