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Words matter


Photo: Brisbane Times

Words matter. When things happens in politics, the tone of how events are reported, the words that are used, and the way situations are framed are not organised by random. The mainstream media chooses the words they use very carefully. Today the media have presented their preferred frame for the resignation of Barry O’Farrell as: he mistakenly lied to an ICAC enquiry because he forgot that he received a $3,000 bottle of wine from the CEO of Australian Water Holdings. But of course O’Farrell didn’t resign because of his problems with ‘memory’. He resigned because he could no longer deny a personal expensive-wine-recipient, hand-written-note-receiver, phone-call-taker-relationship with someone who was earning over a million dollars a year as CEO of a company in a public-private partnership with the government Barry O’Farrell was in charge of up until today. This information is completely absent from the media’s framing of this story. But just imagine for a moment if one part of this story was different. Imagine for a moment that Barry O’Farrell was a Labor Premier. Imagine if Tony Abbott, standing by O’Farrell and brawling with a journalist asking questions about corruption, was a Labor Prime Minister. The ‘chaos, scandal, dysfunction, smear’ machine works in overdrive for Labor stories, but can’t even get out of second gear when Liberals are involved.

Does everyone remember when Julia Gillard apparently had ‘questions to answer’ over her very long time ago ex-boyfriend’s alleged involvement in a union ‘slush fund’? I’m sure you remember the media circus around this apparent scandal surrounding events 20 years in the past. According to a search of newspaper articles from the last three years that mention ‘slush’, ‘Gillard’ and ‘awu’, there were 923 articles written on the subject, of which 373 were contributed by The Australian. When I did another search and took out ‘slush’ and ‘awu’, but left in ‘Gillard’ and added ‘questions to answer’, the search revealed a whopping 4,017 articles, of which over 1,000 were from The Australian. Obsessed much? And even after Gillard bravely spent an hour answering every question the press could think of, even when they ran out of questions, there were still apparently ‘questions to answer’. This Labor ‘chaos, scandal, dysfunction’ story was salivated over by the mainstream media for three years, yet Gillard was never found to have done anything wrong. You would think journalists would learn not to take story advice from deluded creatures like Larry Pickering. There is no better example than this of the huge gulf between the way the media reports apparent scandals involving Labor politicians, compared to real scandals involving Liberal politicians.

Remember the way NSW Labor MP David Campbell was treated after he was stalked by Channel 7 and filmed going into a ‘gay’ sauna (is that illegal?). What about the way Craig Thompson’s story dominated the news after he allegedly paid for prostitutes on a work credit card years before he was in parliament (2,127 news articles mention ‘credit card’ and ‘Craig Thomson’). Or the reporting of ex-Liberal and independent-yet-linked-to-Labor-as-Speaker Peter Slipper’s scandal over private text messages, alleged sexual harassment of James Ashby (which was later exposed by Justice Rares as a spurious case) and the misuse of travel claims (which were fractional compared to Abbott’s own misuse of travel claims to sell his book Battlelines for private profit).

There is absolutely no doubt that the mainstream media revel in anything that even looks like belonging to Labor with even the hint of a scandal, no matter how inconsequential, and how much reality can actually be assigned to such apparent scandal. But when it comes to blatant scandals and corruption, right in the very heart of the Liberal Party, the oh so familiar ‘nothing to see here, move along’ attitude is rolled out by the media, mixed with ‘you can’t trust any politicians’ line to make sure Labor gets smeared at the same time as Liberals.

Even when two people from opposing sides of politics are both involved in the exact same scandal, the way the media treats their ‘Labor’ version of the scandal, as compared with the ‘Liberal’ version, is quite clearly not the same. An example of this is former NSW Labor member Eddie Obeid and current Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos. I checked how many times newspaper articles mentioning the words ‘Obeid’ and ‘scandal’ also included the word ‘Labor’ and I found all three words included in 89% of cases. I did the same thing for ‘Sinodinis’ and ‘scandal’ to see how many times the word ‘Liberal’ was included with these two words. The result was 74%. Words matter. And apparently the words ‘Labor’ and ‘Liberal’ matter the most.

[twitter-follow screen_name=’Vic_Rollison’ show_count=’yes’]

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  1. Matters Not

    he forgot that he received a $3,000 bottle of wine

    Let’s not forget, his wife forgot about it also, according to Barry. (Grounds for divorce?) Perhaps, forgetfulness runs in the family? Perhaps it’s the result of too much Grange?

    As for ‘words matter’, I suspect that a ‘word’ as such matters not. It’s the ‘meaning that’s given to same and the understanding of why individuals give particular (and peculiar) ‘meanings’ to words, over time. that matters more.

  2. john921fraser


    The Sydney Institutes Uriah Heep went ballistic and made the biggest arsehole of himself that I have ever see.

    Kate McClymont his "colleague" at Fairfax Media copped it and deported herself in style.

    ha ha ha ha I just can't stop laughing at henderson digging a deeper hole for BOF.

    ha ha ha I hope Uriah Heep defends the moron Abbott when his turn comes.

  3. mark delmege

    Apart from just being conservatives – they are also embedded and possibly also suffering the Stockholm Syndrome. If not one then a combination of the above.

  4. Matters Not

    Great article Victoria but can I explore a bit deeper? You say:

    The mainstream media chooses the words they use very carefully

    Can I beg to disagree (sort of)? It’s not the MSM who choose the words, but each and every individual journalist.

    Certainly, it’s the editors who choose to run, or not run a story, but in practical terms, it’s the ‘journalist’ who chooses the words. Again, at a practical level, if you are a journalist and your stories are filed but not published you would want to know why.

    Sometimes you are told directly as to why, and at other time it’s a case of a ‘wink and nod’. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take too long for a journalist to work out what it takes to be published, and to keep your job.

    In a sense it’s a case of self-censorship. The most powerful weapon against ‘deviance’.

  5. VoterBentleigh

    The words are carefully chosen; you are exactly right, Victoria.

    It wasn’t a memory fail as the Liberals and the flailing and failing reasoning powers of Gerard Henderson maintain, because the-no-longer-right-honourable-O’Farrell claimed that he would not have forgotten a 1959 Grange, so therefore when it was shown that he had received a 1959 bottle of Grange and also thanked the sender, specifically acknowledging that it was a 1959 bottle of Grange, he cannot have forgotten it, so he must therefore have been lying when he said that he didn’t receive it and that he didn’t remember receiving it. So why did he lie? If the gift was all so innocent, why didn’t he declare it at the time? Why did he claim that he couldn’t have received it because he was in Queensland at the time? If he was in Queensland at the time, how is it that he made a phone call to Nick Di Girolamo?

    But nevertheless we are told Mr O’Farrell is honest. Just reminds me of that old Tandberg cartoon, where some blokes were trying to fit a banner across a room and the banner says: “Vote 1: Honest John Howard”, but one of the blokes says, “It’s too long. We’ll have to leave something out.”

    Anyone who questions the LNP, any opposition, is accused of smearing, but the LNP and their loyal supporters like Gerard, never smear or insinuate. The Liberals are never dishonest. The Liberals are never corrupt. Oh, no!

  6. ShaunJ

    G’day All,

    Great article Victoria, as is usual, a small point if I may, since words matter, the bottle in question is currently listed as $4,500 to $5,000 not just $3,000, small bickies I guess to the average Loathsome Noisome Party member, but still, words matter.

  7. VoterBentleigh

    And speaking of the undue influence of lobbyists upon Government decisions and even democracy itself, perhaps an inquiry into the corruption of the truth by lobbyists within the media is required.

  8. Decaf

    Beautiful Victoria. Can’t wait for the house of cards to fall.

  9. Bill Morris

    Power breeds corruption, but some are better at it than others. Having Australia’s MSM as virtually the propaganda wing of the Liberal Party is an enormous help.

  10. hemingway13

    I’ve read dozens of commentaries by the MSM’s punditocracy on Barry O’Farrell’s resignation, and this exceptionally cogent analysis from Ms Rollison puts all the rest to shame.

    Even Bernard Keane at has written an “imaginative” elegy for O’Farrell, characterising him as an “excellent” Premier, which constitutes a gross hyperbole regarding this mediocre state leader who was ideally suited for NSW’s electorate at a time when it wished for nothing more than a long and boring break from the media melodramas of the Labor Party’s final term.

    This wish was never granted due to the O’Farrell government’s penchant for unsound ideologically-based decisions epitomised by the degradation of our once-proud TAFE system for the sole benefit of private providers and the forced departure of Minister Pearce for conflict of interest involving appointment to Sydney Water followed by investigations of Minister Hartcher as well as some Central Coast MP’s.

    For a government to plunge into a tailspin like this one a mere three years after chalking up a landslide election victory requires an exceptional display of leadership, but not in the bizarrely positive sense that the punditocracy of our myopic MSM has expressed.

  11. LogicalPhilosophical

    Great article, Victoria- it’s really important for pieces like this be written because it’s not really an opinion piece, it’s just facts. Many people have been writing about portrayals in the media and who’s been treated worse off, but generally they’ve just been discussing it anecdotally. You can’t argue with the statistics, though.
    I’d be curious to see the difference between how much the ‘caravan of no confidence’

  12. paul walter

    Yes must congratulate..behind it all the stench of privatisations of public assets worth billions and how the process is really carried on and what for, not for”efficiency” , but a s part of a giant scavenge of what belong to others, with the purchased assets used to screw over the public dependent on the gouging monopolies and cartels that take the place of essential services paid for over generations, for the good of all.

  13. paul walter

    They are not innocent people who make little mistakes in good faith, they are cold blooded crooks, these days.

  14. Kaye Lee

    And of course, we have Eric Abetz demanding Shorten and Gillard front the Royal Commission re the AWU slush fund.

    “Employment Minister Eric Abetz says the “dark secrets” of trade union slush funds will be exposed during the royal commission and suggests Labor leader Bill Shorten may have questions to answer about the Australian Workers Unions slush fund affair.

    Senator Abetz has also suggested former prime minister Julia Gillard may have to front the commission, which began last week, given her role in helping former boyfriend Bruce Wilson establish the AWU Workplace Reform Association fund in the mid-1990s.”

    Read more:

  15. Jen

    Words matter greatly and most Australians don’t look behind the words, or don’t understand what is going on behind the scenes. The government don’t like reporting on the ABC so guess what, we have a review of their funding.

  16. mars08

    Interesting that, no matter how dodgy a slush fund might be… it becomes absolutely criminal just by adding the word “union” to the name.

    One problem with shining a great big light into dark corners is that you can never be sure what you’ll uncover….

  17. Terry2

    The worrying thing is that conservative commentators such as Gerard Henderson ( and I’ve no doubt Bolt and Jones) are now targeting the ICAC process rather than the true failure of some politicians to tell the truth.
    Sinodinos, in my view was the extreme example of this, the man remembered nothing, had no diary records and evidently attended meetings which were never minuted. He could not possibly be reinstated as our Assistant Treasurer.

    O’Farrell was a victim of his own hubris and kept on digging himself into a hole when common sense would have dictated that he tell the commission that his memory was failing him and he would need to check his diary, check with his wife and personal assistant etc; despite Gerard Henderson blaming the ICAC and trying to direct the the focus to a bottle of wine, he fails to acknowledge that this was a personal failure of the Premier and by resigning, O’Farrell recognised this.

  18. rossleighbrisbane

    Also, as I’m fond of pointing out, notice the way the media almost invariable used the phrase, “ex-Labor” in front of Craig Thomson when reporting on his charges, but we never had “ex-Liberal” in front of Peter Slipper.
    On that other matter, rather ironic that I used a bottle of wine as an analogy in my post the other day.

  19. VoterBentleigh

    Quite right Kaye Lee and I think it was the journalist Dennis Shanahan who intimated on the ABC’s “The Drum” program recently that more would come out about Julia Gillard’s involvement with the AWU slush fund. But that’s a journalist upholding decent standards; not a word from Tony Abbott about Shanahan smearing Gillard.

    It is odd that the The Prime Minister, who is a federal politician, became so incensed over the Barry O’Farrell question, given that it is a State matter. Why he felt the need to defend Barry O’Farrell so ardently is an interesting aspect to all this episode. Perhaps it is because the Coalition attempted to tar the whole of the ALP at every level with the scandal of Obeid, so now they realize that the same implication can be applied to them.

  20. Matt James

    The Treasurer, Mike Baird is currently favorite to take over as Premier. His employment history as an Investment Banker for close to two decades earned him this glowing report by The Australian March 2011:

    “IN stark contrast to most other treasurers both state and federal…Mike Baird is well qualified for this pivotal role.

    Unlike his current and recent counterparts, Baird actually understands finance, having built a significant career in banking that involved deals worth a lot of money.

    So unlike Wayne Swan (public policy lecturer), Peter Costello (barrister), or Baird’s Labor opposite number, Eric Roozendaal (party official and fundraiser), Baird had his head around the ins and outs of balance sheets, profit and loss statements and net present value long before entering politics.

    He also has vastly more corporate experience than all of his colleagues in the opposition front bench, and much more than anyone in the NSW Labor government, and indeed the Gillard government.”

    Now while having solid experience in the corporate sector is by all means not a bad thing, the banking industry wields without doubt far too much power over governments world wide, and this worship of anyone successful in banking automatically making bankers ideal for Treasury is obvious in this report.

    While experience working high up in a bank involves dealing with the pressure of handling very large sums of money, essentially you are moving all this money around for one reason, to make a profit and that singular goal is gradually proving to be a disaster for government. So while financial management is part of what banks do, this management is structured around trade and finance investment. And its not financially efficient let alone equitable. Commbank enjoying a record 7 BILLION in post tax profit is not what I would call efficient, especially considering one of their former CEOs, David Murray is an outspoken opponent of the carbon tax, the mining tax, unions and taxing ‘the rich’.

    Just looking at what the state LNP has done with this absurd ideologically driven purge of public hospitals, dropping back hand remarks at the lazy public servants while they are at it is evidence alone of radical NEO right banker driven policy. But with the exception of the odd report, the Main Stream Media has been highly complicit with the economists who are mandating this Health System Privatisation, but doesn’t Baird’s balance sheets look great… he has “tamed the public sector beast”.

    The irony of all the waste and corruption in the public health system that keeps being brought up is that all this scrutiny forces public hospitals and Medicare to work more effectively than the private sector. How often do you read a report on what a huge money guzzler for profit private health insurance is? That charge has been used against Medicare in the SMH. BUPA are left to run their grubby business in relative secrecy. This transparency that is possible with publicly owned assets is one of the reasons for the Obama Administration pushing to make health care funding more transparent, “We plan to provide the public unprecedented access to information about the number and type of health care services that individual physicians and certain other health care professionals delivered in 2012, and the amount Medicare paid them for those services.” That is a step towards sound treasury management and privatizing health is a big step away from that transparency.

    Equitable, efficient financial management is one thing, using finance to trade and make a profit is another. Governments need more of the former and far less of the Magic Money Tree ethics of the later, but the Main Stream Press have clearly reported all of this privatization of our health system so as to protect the interests of Economists like Mike Baird.

  21. Kaye Lee

    My son, who works as a cashier for a government department, was given an Easter egg yesterday by a customer. His supervisor told him not to accept it “Today it’s an Easter egg, tomorrow it’s cash”. She then made him email the boss to ask if he could accept the Easter egg. The boss emailed him back “Yes”. Do you think I should tell my son to keep a copy of the email and the wrapping off the Easter egg?

    After seeing the thankyou note that O’Farrell sent, it appears he was much closer to Nick Di Girolamo than he admitted to. The underlining of the word ‘all’ would suggest the wine may have been a red flag for further investigation nipped in the bud by waving a white flag.

  22. Terry2

    At the heart of this ICAC Enquiry is the corrupt activities of Australian Water Holdings, a company that, on a smaller scale, reminds me of Enron.

    AWH had, as its business model, an objective of influence peddling and the manipulation of the levers of supply and demand – in this case water where Enron was largely electricity supply.They don’t actually create anything or add any value to our society; they are parasites that feed on the process of privatisation of publicly owned utilities.
    In the case of AWH they, evidently employed around ten people half of which were political lobbyists.

    By the way, who do you think paid for this ubiquitous bottle of wine, the CEO of AWH ? I doubt it, he would have sheeted it back to AWH as a business expense: AWH was getting its funding from Sydney Water so it was the good old taxpayers of NSW who were funding this scam on themselves.

    Thank goodness for the ICAC !

  23. Roswell

    Kaye Lee, that’s trivial, isn’t it? An Easter egg. The boss’s response was ridiculous.

  24. Julie Farthing

    I know this is true Victoria and I can’t help but wonder why the Labor Party in opposition is letting the Liberals get away with this. It is how the Liberals won the last election, by denigrating Labor, and now they are in power they are getting away with doing much much worse. I don’t like dirty politics myself but if that’s the only way to get your point across and provide a balanced view, then they should embrace it.
    Every time Bill Shorten lets an opportunity go by to put the boot into the government, I have one more reason to become an even more disillusioned Labor voter.

  25. Anomander

    I can’t count on my hands the number of times I’ve forgotten about the times people gave me gifts of $3000 bottles of wine. As a commentator (media apologist) said on the radio yesterday “Barry’s an important man and receives gifts all the time. Even last week when he accompanied the Prime Minister to China, he would have received hundreds of gifts. Keeping track of them all would be a terrible burden”.

    Oh yes, they terrible burden of being the recipient of so many high-value gifts, one must pity poor Fatty.

    I can fully understand remembering which favour went with which gift would be a struggle –

    That waterfront property from Gina was to pay for my vote on that Hunter Valley mine.

    Oh, must phone Rupert and thank him for his newspapers not casting any scrutiny on my government.

    Now, where did that bottle of Grange come from and what was I meant to approve for it?

    Interestingly, if one considers the impending RC into the supposed union corruption and payments of monies – How is it that only the unions are corrupt? Surely, in order to be receiving money someone must also be paying it?

    Clearly those poor multi-billion dollar corporate empires and their enormously wealthy director are all simply innocent pawns in a vast game being played-out by the unions and their evil low-paid members, hell bent on extracting every cent from the handsomely-paid but ultimately, completely naive corporate managers, struggling on their modest 7 and 8 figure salaries.

  26. Brian

    They will attempt to trivialise the whole sorry business but the fact remains that Bleary O’Fizzle lied about his acquaintance with Di Girolimo. He was not forgetful. He lied. He lied believing that to do so would leave his credibility safe since no hard evidence existed. Pity about the note. It exposes him as a liar and deceiver of his constituency. He had no business being Premier and in my eyes should not be in parliament. Politicians who play in the mud with smart arse advocates of the tricky deals done at the public expense deserve no mercy. They have chosen to accept corruption as a normal part of doing business and are therefore corrupted themselves. The public has a right to expect that when these spivs come knocking they are given their marching orders immediately. These so called lobbyists are nothing but influence peddlers sucking on all and sundry and politicians who dally with them cannot be said to be acting in the public interest but just the opposite. This behaviour by either side of politics must never be allowed to prosper.

  27. Egalitarian

    The Conservatives don’t get it though. The very strange man that is Gerard Henderson put in a disgraceful performance on Lateline last night on this issue.

  28. Anomander

    According to the news Bible – the Daily Terrorgraph – Baird taking over is a great move;

    Treasurer Mike Baird has a great record in private industry and is close to his federal colleagues in the Liberal party.

    Importantly, he is also a committed supporter of privatising the state’s basic electricity infrastructure, a move that would deliver the cash NSW desperately needs for overdue state-building programs…

    We would urge the incoming premier to move especially quickly on electricity privatisation as a primary means of securing the state’s future. The government should put this to the voters at the next election in March, then pursue the full sale as soon as possible.

    This is a step that Barry O’Farrell was never prepared to take. Ever-cautious, he remained reluctant to push ahead with privatisation out of concern that it would alienate voters. Despite the historic mandate he won in 2011, O’Farrell always governed as though he was on an electoral knife edge.

    So, we seem to have gone form moderate Barry to an even more extreme convert to neo-liberalist ideologies and someone who will fit perfectly into the role of selling-off our state into private hands.

    Doesn’t make sense, when you have the ICAC saying self-interest groups are too close to government and influencing them to act against the wishes and best interest of the people, yet another contender comes along chanting the same mantra and they are roundly applauded.

  29. mars08

    Now wait a damn minute!!!

    Whether it’s Labor or Liberal, Obeid or Sinodinos… I don’t care.

    At a time when governments, state and federal, are howling about their budgets…. at a time when the federal treasurer says we must ALL help with the heavy lifting… in a time of austerity… are we expected to accept that a $3000 bottle of wine (no strings attached, apparently) is a normal part of political life? It’s fine, as long as it’s just another documented pecuniary interest.

    Isn’t that a huge slap in the face for pensioners and those who’ve lost their jobs????? Isn’t it sickening that an influential individual can (out of their own generosity) afford to spend $3000 on a gift to a politician? What sort of relationship would warrant such a gift? How can these same politicians claim to be in touch with the needs of the people?

    Is this what passes for democracy in 2014?

  30. john921fraser



    I thoroughly enjoyed Henderson (Uriah Heep) dropping his bundle on Lateline.

    My fondest wish is that he defends the moron Abbott when his time comes.

    Memory loss is reaching epidemic proportions in the Liberal party with the moron Abbott now telling Aussies that he might have met Di Girolamo …. but he can't be sure.

    CSIRO needs more money for research ………… to see if drinking Grange is the problem.

  31. sandrasearle

    In answer to Julie Farthings statement as to why Bill Shorten doesn’t stick the boot into the LNP. He just doesn’t have to, the LNP are doing a good job of it themselves. If the ALP comes out swinging, they are attacked by the MSM, so I reckon they just might be avoiding that route. That doesn’t stop them from doing their own forensic investigating to help get information out to the right people – ICAC is a really good place for a start.
    TA & his party have never ever been squeaky clean, the ALP either. It is no wonder that Pollies rank near the bottom of the ‘who do you trust’ list.

  32. cornlegend

    The wording does indeed matter.
    I drove a mate to Court as he was appearing on a drink drive charge , and expected to lose his license , 0.06
    I listened to the Judge blast a few before him for their excessive limits ranging from 0.06 to 0.08.
    Good on him I thought, drive pissed , you deserve it.
    Now when Peta Cretins case came before the Courts, the Murdoch Media recorded it as

    “The 42-year-old was breath tested by police outside her home and blew 0.075, just above the legal limit of 0.05”
    “just above”,
    bloody way above..

  33. xiaoecho

    A whole generation of journalists were starting their careers and hitting their stride as Howard came to power and by now are thoroughly enmeshed with the Liberals both personally and professionally. Apart from a few fleeting years, Liberals in power are all they know. They have never been comfortable with Labor governments – they were only ever seen by the MSM as interlopers till the country got back to ‘normal’. When you look at the older journo’s they are far more balanced because they were either there reporting in the press gallery, or can remember Labor in power and what a force they were at the time.

  34. xiaoecho

    ps. Just had a squiz at Henderson on Lateline………Faarrk! His reaction was plain bizarre. He was SO invested in the Liberal brand he was completely irrational, lashing out at anyone and anything that holds them to account for their failings. He said “Kate said he was untruthful which is completely untrue”…….O’Farrell perjured himself at a corruption hearing. How is that not dishonest? Henderson will be a laughing stock after this. He threw his credibility away last night. I watched it twice and still can’t believe that Henderson and others of his ilk are what passes for senior journalism in this country

  35. mars08

    And now we have “The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption” up and running. Really what is the point of doing anything more than creating this RC? After all…. it seems that the eventual findings are right there in it’s name. Glad we got THAT sorted….

  36. lawrencewinder

    “In keeping with this mood of forgiveness and doubtless probably fearful for the future, Sarah Henderson fronted ABC’s 7.30 with, “The ICAC investigation into corrupt Labor Power-broker, Eddie Obeid has caught one from the other side….” How about a bit of quid-pro-quo here Sarah, “…one from the other side?” You do mean Liarbril don’t you? Or is the intimidation emanating from the Liarbril’s becoming too much for ABC staff or are you too just happy singing from the Liarbril song sheet?”

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