Friday, November 16, 2007

Rudd vs The Media

Kevin Rudd has declined to appear on the ABC Insiders, choosing instead to appear on Rove. One of the features of this election has been the skillful manipulation of the media by Rudd. Throughout the campaign he's had the whip hand in the relationship, all but directing the media spotlight. First there's the heavy reliance on the internet to short circuit the media. This is important not because it reaches more people than the mass media, it doesn't. What it does do is force the media to simply report a prepackaged message. Instead of paying for advertising or appearing on carefully crafted ambush talk-shows Rudd has been able to control his message by creating a new supply of information he controls, forcing the media to cover it. Several times internet announcements have been used to hijack the media's very slow train of thought. This is significant in part because it shows his team 'gets' the nature of the internet as a medium but also because it recognises how our media behave. We're not ranked near the bottom of OECD press freedom for nothing. Australian media exists largely as a vehicle for the larger ambitions of the personalities within it. As such it must generate constant controversy with each personality vying to bring you the latest bun fight. This is the role they play for Howard. He only sets the wedge, the media hammer away at it.

If you look at the campaign, the media have tried to create the kind of petty squabbling they need to feed off. The strip club incident, the me-too copycat nonsense, the tax policy beat up etc. each time they've tried to turn the campaign into a bitchy scandal and Rudd into just another politician. That's not to say he isn't just another politician but his astute handling of the media has helped him sidestep the wedges Howard has tried. Take a look at the campaign launches. The media were caught flat footed by Rudd's exquisite reverse wedge on Howard. They all thought it would be two competing porkfests, instead Rudd chose the second last week of the campaign to put daylight between himself and Howard. In the context of the polls the campaign launches were meaningless and yet somehow Rudd was on the front page of practically every paper in the country simply for being different from Howard. Even now, trapped in the old media paradigm Howard's calling press conferences to attack Rudd's economic credentials, completely unaware that the battle was fought and lost two days ago, an eternity in Rudd's tactics.

So what does it all mean? When you compare Rudd's mastery of our rather brainless media elite to Howard's hostile, ham fisted approach (cultivate a set of servile, wooden-headed sycophants and give them access) does this mean they'll be less able to hold Rudd accountable for anything? Have we got a Blair on our hands? At least in terms of media management. Rudd is nowhere as cold and dead, as middle management as Blair. It bears thinking about.