Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Comrade Sweetheart, Get Me Re-Write

HERE is a curiosity – or three of them, truth be told.

At the foot of page three in today’s edition of The Age there is an upbeat story asserting that Australians are warming to the mining tax in increasing numbers. “Mining tax gathers more support,” says the main headline, with the subordinate line proclaiming, “People miffed at huge profits: survey”. The source is an organization, Per Capita, whose research incurious reporter Jessica Irvine, last week’s blonde on Q&A, quotes accurately enough. As a journalist let it not be said that she does not make a good typist.

Now here is the first peculiarity.

In the ink-and-paper edition of the Age, a free copy of which was kicking around the golf club bar, Per Capita is described quite simply and without explanation as a “think tank”, which does not tell you very much about it.

The online version of the same story and sentence, available via the Silly website, is different. It adds an extra word, “progressive”, as in “the progressive think tank Per Capita.” Actually, Per Capita is rather more than that, but its tireless campaigns to elevate both taxes and class resentment can wait until a little later in this post. For those who have watched Melbourne’s once-decent broadsheet decline to a mockery of its stated ideals, the matter of that key word’s deletion is far more fascinating.

Did an editor in Melbourne strike out the offending word to hide Per Capita’s affiliations and make the pro-tax case a little more persuasive? There is a lot of unprinted space in the last line of the paragraph, so it could not be that the word was excised to make story fit space. One is left to conclude that a dubious internet survey – neither Age nor Silly bothers to mention that it was an online poll, by the way – conducted by a hard left PR outfit is seen as a reputable and unbiased source.

And at the Age, perhaps it is, as Per Capita preaches very much the same twee pinkism the newspaper supports in its editorials and, without telling readers, on its news pages. Placing the report on page three speaks of a definite editorial enthusiasm for the survey’s findings. Neglecting to think twice about that placement screams of tampering with the truth, since Per Capita’s connections need to be noted. Here are some of its crusades: Taxes are good for you, markets need regulating, and if you disagree with either of those assertions your “choice architecture” will just have to be re-modelled by psychologists for the common good.

Per Capita’s Melbourne office is located in a row of Victorian buildings, listed by the National Trust as Mary’s Terrace, on Cardigan Street, just around the corner from the Trades Hall. The location supports the adage that you are known by the company you keep, as the renovated complex is owned by RMIT and is home to the Australian Education Union. The Environmental Institute of Australia and New Zealand also hangs its shingle at the address.

And what of the survey itself? Simply put, it is meaningless, as Per Capita has never before included a question about mining taxes in its annual survey of public eagerness to be shaken down by the ATO. The questions and findings of 2010’s poll are here, with nary a mention of mining to be found. This year’s results are here.

So what of that growing “support” The Age claims in its headline – the second of those oddities mentioned above? Without a benchmark, how did Ms Irvine, who is blonde, and her editors, who are bent and lazy, arrive at that conclusion? They compared Per Capita’s findings with the results of an Age/Nielsen telephone poll conducted last June.

Different polling company. Different method. Different question, most likely (you have to contact Per Capita to obtain a list of this year’s questions). Journalism, meet propaganda.

While that slipshod comparison was good enough for the Silly, at The Age someone must have figured the message still needed a little extra ginger. The evidence of that, the third riddle, is in the two versions of the story’s initial paragraphs. Contrast, compare and observe how, when the text reached Melbourne, someone took a few liberties. First, the Silly version:
THE majority of Australians support the idea of a mining tax, with supporters outnumbering opponents almost two to one, according to a survey to be released today. 
Now read how it was re-written for the ink-and-paper Age (no link):
The majority of Australians continue to want a mining tax, with supporters outnumbering opponents almost two-to-one, according to a survey to be released today. 
Pardon! Six paragraphs on, the same story cites that Age/Nielsen survey as saying that, in June last year, the majority of respondents – 49% -- opposed the mining tax. So where did that “continue to want” come from?

The mind of a quality journalist, obviously – the same sort of person former Age editor Michael Gawenda (and others) believes deserving of public financing.

They won’t get the facts straight. They lie, twist and distort. And now they reckon it is time to see their mortgages paid from the public purse. No wonder they are so keen on more and higher taxes.


  1. "Did an editor in Melbourne strike out the offending word to hide Per Capita’s affiliations and make the pro-tax case a little more persuasive?"

    Given the leanings of their rapidly dwindling readership, why would they bother?

    the aged - fairfax can't even give the stupid rag away.

    Professor, I tend to use the following descriptor for collectives like per capita - "groupthink tank."

  2. This is exactly the sort of intellectual dishonesty in the media that I expected Pure Poison to be all over.

    I guess you must have just pipped them at the post.

  3. Ms Irvine was on Sky News Agenda recently where she said something along the lines of, "The message I'm getting is that people aren't interested in politics - they just want the government to get on with it". Which kinda deflated the purpose of the show she was at that time appearing on...

  4. Prof, if "thinktank" is a collective noun loved by collectivists everywhere, your bucket is bigger than their tank.

    Actually Prof, who will be the first academic to earn their Phd, in the use of the expression "experts say"? Could the ABC cover a Global Warming piece without it?

    When I hear it corporeally mouthed I normally reach for the umbrella, lest the smell of vomit causes me to empty the contents of my own stomach in sympathy.

  5. They used to take the surveys outside Trades Hall but some passers by didn't follow the party line! Now the surveys are taken inside to get the desired result.Borisgodunov

  6. I'm not sure it's a matter of having their rent paid from the public purse so much as wishing for a favourable (to them) distortion of the market through the government-sanctioned laming of their most successful competitor.

    Even if Rupert's Empire is broken up, though, all they could hope for is to be the biggest fish in the pond for a while - but it would still come down to ownership versus readership, and their further hope (let it be a vain one) that the smaller fish would be easier for their government benefactor to cow or suppress.

  7. This sounds like the sort of "opinion making its way into news" that Conroy's (at the behest of the greens) media witch hunt was set up to tackle... pitty Fairfax is exempt!

  8. What makes you so sure the SMH version is the original? Did you check with the paper? Isn't it juat as likely that both versions are evidence of an Ur-text, being whatever she actually wrote?

    Do you take this same sloppy approach when comparing versions of the classics?

  9. Whatever the "Ur-version" (in itself a very curious way to look at drafts of propaganda), the piece is pure weapons-grade agitprop. The "Ur-version" isn't going to miraculously prove to be some triumph of insightful reportage.