Friday, July 30, 2010

In which recycling occurs

Back in 1994 I was writing a TV column for Eureka Street. Here's what I said about Laurie Oakes, whose weekly political interviews were the cornerstones of Channel Nine's now-defunct Sunday.

The 'political' interview often becomes a news event in itself, a focal and sometimes pivotal point in the affairs of government. While it purports to deal with the events of recent days, bits of it frequently end up in everybody's news bulletins on the following Monday night; constructed thus as 'news', it sometimes produces further consequences.

Keeping track of these unfolding causalities is disquieting. Among other things, they indicate just how much power Oakes has to help make things happen; his recent interviews have had a hand in the ebb of Ros Kelly's fortunes [remember Ros Kelly? -- Ed] and the flow of Bronwyn Bishop's. Remarks edited out of context, and then repeatedly re-broadcast both by Nine and by other stations, can have major consequences; and sometimes those remarks have been lured, coaxed or goaded out of reluctant ministerial mouths in the first place by strategies comparable in subtlety and sympathy to a well-aimed jackboot to the groin.

Cheryl Kernot, interviewed a week or two before Ros Kelly's resignation and taking a tough stand on accountability, is one of the few politicians I have ever seen remain unflustered by Oakes throughout an entire interview. Kernot, like Gareth Evans [ooh, prescience! -- Ed] but unencumbered by what Jane Austen would have called his uncertain temper, is both spectacularly well-informed and possessed of high-level debating skills; at one point she left Oakes speechless, sweetly but mercilessly showing him up through a hole in his own research.

One of the most noticeable features of this interview was the difference in its participants' rhetoric: Kernot's images and metaphors were those of consensus and integration, Oakes's those of strife and fracture. His language, illuminated by the difference, revealed his view of political affairs as essentially antagonistic, competitive and hierarchical; 'win' and 'lose' are two of his favourite words. This world view, like the medium through which it is expressed, is coercive; in shaping his questions according to it, Oakes builds whole suburbs of verbal dark alleys down which it becomes very difficult for his subjects not to go. Most politicians' terror of silence is such that a simple 'I don't accept the terms of your question' would never occur to them, even when that is clearly the case.

When Julia Gillard patiently said 'I don't accept your premise, Kerry' to Red Kezza on the evening of the day she became Prime Minister, in response to just such a begged question about the 'stabbing in the back' of Kevin Rudd, I whooped and hollered and applauded and frightened the cats. I'd been waiting (at least) sixteen years to hear a politician say that to a journalist.

Much of the rest of it also reads as though those sixteen years had never existed. Perhaps these are the glory days for which Oakes yearns, and that's why he's behaving the way he is now.

What's prompted me to dig this out of the filing cabinet is the news that Cheryl Kernot may be standing as an Independent for a Senate seat. Go Cheryl.


Su said...

She has my vote. I've been thinking how much I miss the Democrats and Kernot was one of the best.

Mindy said...

Laurie Oakes seems determined to make it the Laurie Oakes show doesn't he.

WV: paterogy

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Oh, Mindy, that WV is classic!

Anonymous said...

I had no time at all for the Democrats, and always thought Kernot was utterly wasted on them.
Despite her silly hissy-fit when she missed out on that seat she was after as a new ALP candidate, I always admired her spark and intellect. Hope she does better this time around.
I can't stand pumped up pompous old Oates and all he stands for. I think he is the embodiment of the wort form of gender inequality in Australian TV journalism. Why shouldn't he have to be cute'n'skinny too?


Anonymous said...

I meanst WORST ... but wort looks pretty okay in there ...

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

'Why shouldn't he have to be cute'n'skinny too?'

Well indeed. Imagine exactly how seriously a female TV journalist of his age and girth would be taken, always supposing such a thing could ever exist, which of course it couldn't.

'wort looks pretty okay in there ...'

Yes, I was thinking something much the same.

Fine said...

I remember having a drink with a friend the night Kernot 'defected' to Labor. This friend has a long and intense family involvement with Labor. She thought Kernot was crazy to join them as she would be eaten alive by the culture of the Party. Sadly, she was right. I also disliked the Democrats, but it's good to see Kernot back.

Ann ODyne said...

I am happy for your "I don't accept your question" happy, and I thrilled to the nuances of that 2-reds interview which was truly an aural tango.
Yes Olivia - Oakes should have to be cute and skinny too.

C.Kernot was brought undone by her personal life and a red boa, and IMO Gareth was a dill. I thought of the red boa when I saw the new Womens Weekly and those dreadful 'come hither' poses that Our PM let the stylist team lure her into.
Not a good look for a person In Power and her advisors fell down there. Should have controlled the shoot better.
I do hope that both Kernot and Gillard prevail on 21st.

persiflage said...

IMHO journalists have become increasingly mischievous, and present the political agenda as trivial, matters of personalities, gaffes, personal appearance and habits -anything rather than engage in serious reporting of policies and legislation. Laurie Oakes used to be someone I could respect - not any more - he is twisting the agenda and manipulating stories and agendas. It does not matter who you are or to what party you belong, the press will gush all over you, and then turn on you and twist the knife.
As for Kernot, if she manages to knock off Lee Rhiannon, I will cheer, but I fear she won't manage that. Resurrections are rare events, even in politics.

Tatyana Larina said...

Burrow's comment caught my attention: 'relevance deprivation syndrome'.

Helen said...

Today the news media are spinning the "Gillard doesn't understand MOTHERS!" angle as hard as they can. As i they would investigate a male candidate's attitude to Motherhood(TM).

w/v - NORIPS

Casey said...

Thanks Pav. Beautiful piece.

Then and now.

Zoe said...

I heard Monica Attard interview Kernot today.

The line of questioning was as irritating as you'd image. I am all for Cheryl, sad I can't vote for her.