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Gaslighting. When media deny collusion.

In this discussion between journalists Malcolm Farr, Alice Workman, Caroline Overington and Fran Kelly yesterday, Farr and Workman take a swipe at those of us who have suggested that there has been collusion between the press gallery and the government to keep the Barnaby Joyce affair under wraps.

(Interesting times, Overington, a Murdoch employee, attacks her colleagues for not reporting on the Joyce affair).

In fact, there’s nothing like suggesting collusion to invoke scorn and contempt from press gallery and MSM journalists, who seem to assume that what one actually means by that term is an overt decision, taken in the middle of the night on burner phones by senior public servants, government MPs and senior media management to not publish or to delay publication of material that could in some way affect their mutual interests.

Such a scenario might well play out from time to time, I have no idea, however, what I mean when I use the term “collusion” is something far more subtle.

Every workplace, every family, every institution, every social media platform, indeed every human interaction is governed by overt rules, agreed upon by the culture and known to everyone. Far more elusive, however, are the unspoken rules, the implicit codes, the behavioural nuances deemed appropriate and inappropriate that you won’t find in policies and procedures guidelines. These are part of the culture of every institution, and all individual interactions. These tacit assumptions exercise an unspoken and unacknowledged control, constrain behaviour, and are arguably are more influential in determining behaviour than are the overt rules.

The press gallery, MSM journalists, government employees and MPs are as enslaved by these unspoken cultural requirements as is any other human being. When Guardian journalist Katharine Murphy tweeted about the “convention” in the press gallery that MPs’ private lives are a no go area, she was referring to these unspoken rules.

It is to these undocumented conventions that I refer when suggesting collusion or conspiracy between the press gallery and the government.

It probably won’t take you very long to identify the unspoken rules in your family that governed your behaviour, and the effects they’ve had on your life for better or for worse. Or in social media interactions, in the workplace, where nobody tells you about these cultural conventions, you have to pick them up, and you can be mightily ostracised if you unknowingly transgress. It isn’t difficult to image the powerful hold unverbalised conventions have over the culture that is parliament and the press gallery. Murphy names but one.

This conspiracy of silence on private lives in Australian politics cannot help but position the “ordinary” citizen as an outsider, marginalised in a democratic process to which we are, in theory if increasingly not in practice, essential. Many of us sense this exclusion and privilege, and many of us describe it, quite legitimately, as conspiracy and collusion.

Perhaps nobody actually said, “do not publish anything on the Joyce affair.” But nobody actually needed to spell it out. It would be known, via that mysterious process characterised as a nod and a wink, and in some instances not even that much would be required, what was to be said about Joyce, and when it was to be said, if it was to be said at all, and by whom. This is a process to which the punters cannot possibly have any access, and it is perfectly reasonable for us to experience that as collusion and conspiracy.

We are then gas-lighted by journalists who deny such a process ever takes place, and that we’re crazed conspiracy theorists living with our mothers, writing paranoid blogs in our grubby dressing gowns.

There are, however, instances in which the subtleties are abandoned and more direct orders issued. AFR journo Phil Coorey published this in December 2017:

Queenslander Keith Pitt, who Mr Joyce does not like, was not only overlooked but dumped from his job as parliamentary secretary for trade,” Coorey wrote.

“The two recently had a bitter argument about Mr Joyce’s infidelity and marriage breakup. Mr Joyce blamed Mr Pitt for spreading the rumours, a claim Mr Pitt denies.

Shortly afterwards these paragraphs disappeared from Coorey’s piece, after both Pitt and Joyce contacted him with denials. Fortunately, Twitter had secured a screen shot of Coorey’s original piece.


This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.



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  1. diannaart

    Loving this piece, Jennifer…

    …The subtleties of collusion… often disguised when vested interests merge and unspoken arrangements made (such as moving Ms Campion to a new, enumerated job out of Joyce’s office). And the (predictable) sturm und drang when such ‘affairs’ are dragged (cut’n pasted) into the spotlight.

    We can generally realise when someone is lying, when that someone acts as if they have never, ever been so accused, so insulted, so hurt by ludicrous accusations. Then, when the truth is beyond denial… such as pictures of pregnant girlfriends… well, it’s private and no-one else’s business. Even when the PM himself was involved in the colluding?

    Many people don’t like Twitter. I love it – well not as much as Trump does, but it is an instant record of lies and revealing truth. Such as the tweet Jennifer reproduced above of the alteration of Joyce’s altercation in the Fin’s article.

    Yes, history can be rewritten – it always has been. However, the proliferation of smart phones makes recording the awful truth has never been easier. Thank you, clever science, for making all information/truth/facts and lies so readily available.

    Whether we like it or not, the onus is on us, the average punter, to determine truth from B/S.

  2. Graeme Henchel

    Not only did the main stream media not report Beernabys infidelity they attempted to make him a “victim” of “vicious innuendo”. Poor old Beernaby, forced by the constitution, to face an election. Nothing about his slackness and mendacity in his dual citizenship fiasco. Poor old Beernaby, subjected to rumour. When they knew well the sordid truth.

    This is beyond mere “gaslighting” which is the deliberate creation of confusion in order to get people to question reality. It is shameful partisanship which has been the hall mark of so called “journalism” in Australia for years.

    Beernaby Joke likes a stray poke
    He lies and he steals and he cheats
    Beernaby Joke is not a smart bloke
    But he still fools those New England folk

  3. Christopher

    Thank you, Graeme, and Jennifer. He needs to resign. What a c

  4. Andrew Smith

    Good article. Reminds me of a remark about Australian media (or medium), a few years ago, ‘they view their role as insularising Australians from the outside world’ and implicitly assisting the status quo, nowadays that seems to be the LNP (e.g. dog whistling of Shorten on his potential PM’l leadership capabilities).

  5. lawrencewinder

    It’s interesting to note how the ruling rabble over-react when the “nuance” of their real agenda and their real characters are inadvertently displayed for public scrutiny….

  6. stephengb2014

    I am 70, I truely do fear for the future of my young family, it seems to me that the world is in die straits, lies abound, greed is rampant, corruption and avarice are the standards of so called democracy, liberty is a pawn.

    Perhaps it has always been this way? Each century reveals similar trends and tribulations.

    Reading Machiavelli, it has been so since the 1400s, so why do I fear,because history repeats itself over and over, the wheel of fortuna is large and rotates frequently but advances minutely.

    Yup I have the black dog again

  7. Ingrid Srubjan

    Well said Dr. Wilson. It is true that the ordinary Australian person feels marginalised, and excluded from our democracy. As the sordid tale of Barnaby Joyce spun out, I was waiting on the phone for over two hours to talk to a human at Centrelink, a connection without which my income would be suspended. I took care to give positive feedback to the young employee who ironed out the (Centrelink, not my) oversight, but on Monday I will be making a complaint to my MP about the lack of adequate staffing. It galls me to see parliamentarians abuse their privileges and then tell us all we are imagining things.

  8. Pete Petrass

    Of course there was collusion. Does anyone seriously think the same thing would have happened if the Labor deputy opposition leader had done the same thing?

  9. Joseph Carli

    Ah!…stephen…despair not, for at least you still have the capacity to be concerned…to have not “died” within like so many other “boomers” have died…for to be concerned is to be involved..
    Here..I wrote this a while back..when I too wondered where all the other “worriers” had gone…

    Down the aisle…your shopping correspondent..

    It dawned on me today…I was “parked up” in the aisle with the shopping trolley ,while the OH. consulted the labels on which cooking oil had the best content of Omega 3.. and I was comparing the weight between packets of Betty Crocker’s ‘Triple Choc Muffin’ mix and her ‘Blueberry Delite’ muffin mix..(The Triple choc felt so much heavier to this old tradie)..and nearby, two comfortable looking old blokes with their heads together were discussing another bloke who had “just the right valve”..for some pump base for some device “at the club”…

    It became obvious they were both members of some hobby club..trains..old motors….pumps?..and they were discussing with crossed armed “enthusiasm “ this news. and it dawned on me that here were the “survivors” of our generation..Here were the plump looking remnants of those boomers who threw caution to the wind and care to the air and created havoc and revolution with every step and stagger… wasn’t these particular two..or a multitude of other “hobby club” members..or Rotary, or Lions..or Probus or those other conservative service clubs…no wasn’t THEY who “burned their livers and bras”…THEY were too busy cementing in their material securities to be on the front line fighting for the New Social Order..: Less “confrontation” , more “consolidation”..less “ striking for conditions”..more “ stroking for contrition”.

    Not for them the pike nor banner…no tears of frustration nor deep sympathy for the forsaken and weak..because, you see..that is how you become a numb survivor..: you risk unless it’s others don’t shout, you whimper…you don’t challenge. You join a “hobby club” and settle down to inane mumblings of complaint…THAT’S how you survive, until the most important thing in your life becomes that “tetchy little reed-valve” that the Bobs or Barrys or Bettys of the world have in their top drawer in their hobby cupboard.

    Now, I once sought to join such a old machine / engines club..I tried to join because the old Bedford truck that we transport the nags around in was old enough to be classed “antique” and could therefore qualify for a reduced rego’ cost..and being on only a pension meant savings were a priority..

    I met the Secretary at their rooms and he showed me around..but the thing that struck me most interestingly was the fact that the members badges were kept on two separate for the women and another a little way away for the men…to avoid any scandal…and that level of pettiness about says it all.

    That’s how you become a “survivor”..that’s how you get the “last word “ on the subject, because all those “warriors” of the “new revolution “ are either too few, burned out or already dead!….Keep caring, stephen..keep the fire burning!

  10. paul walter

    Gotta chew this over, fresh from an afternoon nap.

    My BSmeter is wailing like a burglar alarm- ALL of these journalists have offered disingenuous or ideological loaded answers to the questions raised.

    It is a game of shadows when Overington attacks some of the others for holding back, considering it is the Murdoch press and its media arm, “their” ABC, that holds or withholds info at will and that it is possible that the Turnbull government seems synchronised to its work and vice versa. If any thing is being “withheld” it is the reason for the Joyce “hit” by Murdoch and how that plays into who controls the country..Joyce is being ousted to consolidate control in the hands of Murdoch and Turnbull.

    Yes, you wonder at the stupidity of Joyce, I know…

    Workman is more interested in turning the thing into exclusively a feminist is about elite control, rather than male control.

    As for Farr, this a man who coinvented the word disingenuous. For him to claim morality as driver re this as an insider is risible.

    Katharine Murphy attempted an apologia in the Grauniad today, but was told months ago at the now-disappeared comments columns that quite obviously, given Joyce;s Family Values” anti gay/immorality stance that his and wordly Campion’s egregious conduct was provocative of eyeball rolling of retina detaching intensity.

    I have a little sympathy for some of Turnbull/Fifield/ Xenophon- wedged Murphy and Grauniad and that relates to the stranglehold of Murdoch tabloidia in employing any tactic to disable those in conflict with a Murdoch agenda, financial and personal.

    But she missed the point as to public interest against mere prurience and to persevere with her line this far along the path is unhelpful.

    But that line IS right as far as reckless mudslinging ensconced as a convention is concerned.

  11. Steve Laing

    It is interesting that suddenly its fine (after Barnaby is safely re-elected) to publish the details of his extra-marital dalliances, but all it has done is turned the spotlight back on the media and how it was essentially complicit in the Joyce charade, of “family man, all round good country bloke”, when in fact the opposite was true. And now we are finding out how senior members of the Coalition have also been involved in hushing things up, moving people from one job to a higher paid one in another ministers office (I wonder if the promise of being the National’s deputy was the reward that Canavan was to be rewarded with, and why Joyce was so bitter when that didn’t come to fruition resulting in the odd cabinet shuffle with yet another “quota” minister for a party that apparently always promotes on merit, not quotas).

    Ultimately, however, this entire story is about trust. Trust for our politicians and trust in our media, and it has been revealed to be sadly lacking. This saga, without one shadow of a doubt, shows that the Press Gallery is far too embedded with the Coalition as to have much objective journalistic value. A pox on them all.

  12. Mike Male

    Malcolm Farr rarely responds on Twitter to criticism however he seems to have made an exception in the case of his gaslighting of the whole Bananaby thing. The old chestnut about protesting too much comes to mind.

  13. John O'Callaghan

    The presstitutes in the MSM hate social media,because it gives ordinary punters like me and millions of other what they fear more than anything else in the world… Our “VOICES” and you can see how indignant they get when we dare to question them on their methods or their ëthics”or lack there of.
    Notice how sometimes we can question politicians but we never ever got the opportunity to question journalist…. until now,and they bloody well dont like it!

  14. Glenn Barry

    I’d like to say it will be Bye Bye Barnaby, but he’s like fresh dog shit in the grooves in the sole of your shoes – the smell still lingers even after it seem to have been thoroughly removed

    Hopefully I can post this on his facebook page in good time

  15. Roswell

    John, they probably hate us because one day we’ll make them redundant.

    Their numbers are falling. Ours are growing.

  16. jamesss

    Thank you to the contributors of AIMN, we continue to witness time and again the Evil NLP destroying itself. Oh what a wonderful feeling.

  17. Peter F

    @Christopher, I would have preferred that you had said : “He needs to resign. What a p ” Think about it.

  18. william mc namara

    What kind of fools do the press mob think we are, to try to tell us they knew what was going on, but “HAD TROUBLE CHECKING THE FACTS WERE TRUE” I notice no such standing back when they all, and I mean all, rushed to report the so called sex scandals of other Australians for honest for once and tell the public that you were frightened or told not to report this completely stupid act by the greatest fool of all public figures , MR.JOYCE…until after his election was completed, let me tell you we ae not stupid and that you have lost our trust and belief in what you report on in the future…Get a backbone, and be a true reporter. How I long for the return of the creed of past fearless reporters.

  19. Jan

    It’s getting harder to be individual. So many hunt in packs these days.Whether your a journalist, politician or show business sycophant. Where have all the mavericks gone? Culturally; I feel we have gone backwards. Group-think is the new disease.

  20. Kaye

    True Jan, the media like to hunt in packs, devoid of that human attribute called empathy. After all, in a dog eat dog world there is more profit for the corporate world. Individuals are a nuisance. For the rulers it is better to have unthinking, reactive drones, god-fearing if possible.
    Re collusion, wouldn’t the editor/upper management have the final say on when a story goes out? Journalists are merely foot-soldiers of gossip. I imagine all they want is a steady income and some fame. The real driving force in this story sits at management level but I have no expectation that group will run a story on the true nature of their own machinations. Nope, the collusion continues.

  21. Christopher

    @Peter F. If I’m thinking of same word you are, sorry for offence. Then again, some people might be offended by the p word, so there’s that.

    And still, I was at country pub several months ago, and the c word came out of a number of people’s mouths. They were strangers to me, as I was out of town. I said to the woman next to me, I never thought in all my life that the c word would become acceptable in society, and she agreed. Not a sexist word any more brother, part of the Aussie vernacular and describes him perfectly, but if I spell it out in this place, they moderate me and rewrite it for sensitive eyes. So, I hold back.

    Joyce won’t resign – he has child support and soon five children to feed and educate – didn’t think of the four he had when he stepped over the line. Lack of willpower that is, and some would extend further and say he abused his power.

  22. pamelac65

    Lets Face it- the Barnaby story that wasnt- is just disturbing proof that MSM is embedded in Canberra by a culture which controls what they reveal and what they hide. It must be hell for some journos to shut up and heaven for others who are happy to keep to the status quo while enhancing their careers with titbits from the power table.
    The affair is not the story for me, the secrecy during a by election to keep Barnaby sweet with voters is what disturbs me.
    Even more disturbing is the silence on the role of Michaelia Cash in the AFP raid.
    These are the secrets which go to the strength or failure of our democracy. If the media don’t tell- who will?

  23. Miriam

    Totally agree Pamela Though every industry seems to protect the powerful primodonnas especially the arts and the corporate world.

  24. Trevor

    Some folks believe that if its on TV or in the daily press then “it must be true”. But when you unpack that one you see that media and brainwashing go hand in hand.

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