Never let the facts interfere …

Political comment By Barry Tucker                   20 August, 2013

The first leaders’ debate finally arrived and went without much of a mention — apart from the fact that it was considered a press conference and a pretty boring one at that. Popular opinion and polls mainly claimed a win for the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott.

So, if the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd lost, why rub his nose in it with an accusation that he cheated and broke the debate rules by referring to a folder of notes?

Andrew Meares photo

Mr Rudd (above) at the debate lectern, with a handful of notes. Andrew Meares is a Canberra Press Gallery photographer for Melbourne’s The Age (Fairfax Media).

ABC TV image

Most television viewers would have seen the ABC1 TV image above. It shows a white package on Mr Abbott’s lectern (right). Apparently this is the writing pad that was provided for both men. Some have claimed that Mr Abbott also had notes, a mistaken reference to the writing pad.

Channel 9 image

WIN TV image

The image above, televised by WIN TV, is from an earlier leader’s debate in the National Press Club between former PM Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Abbott. Mr Abbott has a spread of notes or references on his lectern. I have seen reports that both speakers used notes in the first debate, but it was not made an issue. The rules for both debates are the same: no speaker’s notes or props are to be used. The blue and red lines are The Worm, tracking audience reaction.

The man on the left is David Speers, a National Press Club executive and political editor for Sky News (partly owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp). Mr Speers is considered to be a Right wing journalist. He has a clear view of Mr Abbott’s lectern and his notes used in the first debate.

After the second debate a row broke out over Mr Rudd’s use of notes. Liberal MPs, and some journalists, accused him of cheating and breaking the rules. Mr Abbott said the problem was not that Mr Rudd read from notes, but that his notes were not worth reading (cf ABC below).

Referring to the second debate, Mr Speers said it was very hard to be absolutely sure from where he was standing that Mr Rudd was using notes (from The Age story, see below *). A story on the News.com website said that after the debate Mr Speers said the Prime Minister had used paperwork against the rules.

On this second occasion Mr Speers was standing just in front of the audience, between the two speakers and facing them. The lecterns were also different, with side walls.

I believe Mr Speers when he says he couldn’t see what was on the lecterns. But he overlooks the fact and neglects to mention that Mr Abbott used notes in the first debate. The Liberals’ accusation is hypocritical and Mr Speers does not take the trouble to point this out.

Possibly because the second debate didn’t produce much in the way of news, the Liberals whipped up a storm over the PM’s use of notes, accusing him of dishonesty and cheating. 

That doesn’t surprise me in the least. This Liberal Opposition is the most mendacious and hypocritical that I have experienced during and since my career in journalism. Its key members are experts in negative campaigning and the art of projection: accusing others of doing what you have been doing.

And possibly because the news media can’t help itself when it comes to attacking the federal Labor government, it picked up and ran with the Liberal attack. The furore over Mr Rudd’s reference to notes got almost as much news coverage as the debate itself.

Judith Ireland is a Breaking News Reporter for The Age, assigned to the Canberra Press Gallery. She wrote this story in The Age, with some additions from AAP.

The notes issue was covered by all mainstream news media (MSM).

The ABC story on the incident.

The News.com story.

Liberal MPs, their followers, commentators and the MSM, including individual journalists employed by the ABC, continue to deny there is an organised campaign to undermine the Labor government. That is, an organised campaign that goes beyond the Opposition’s campaign to seek a change of government through normal means. That prompted me to send the Tweet below.

  • Tweet 3
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