A friend and colleague recently gave me the above amusing cartoon, the overall message of which was that a lot of annoying and stupid things happen on the internet and sometimes it is best to just let them go. I haven’t blogged for a while, and I don’t think he reads it anyway – it wasn’t a subtle hint to reduce my online presence, more a metaphor for our lives as teachers: you can’t get angry and rant about everything. I’ve stuck it up on my wall and it has improved the quality of my life immensely. But here’s the thing, sometimes you do need to respond to the foolish things that happen in the world. Tony Abbott’s recent (and mercifully now over) Prime Ministership should be all the evidence you ever need that when people don’t criticise low level stupid ideas they have the potential to spiral out of control and all of a sudden you’re an international laughing stock.
I use this example for a couple of reasons. One: it is true. Two: it brings me – thank god I hear you cry – to my point. Last nigh I enjoyed a mere hour of the ABC’s “Leadership Spill” TV tribute, plumping for the Leigh Sales interview at 7.30 and the modified version of Australian Story, mostly filmed years ago with the Turnbull clan. I enjoyed both, drank some wine, thought about what was said, ate chocolate, moved on with my life. I wake up this morning to a few news articles that are fairly critical of the 7.30 interview. The two general strands of this criticism are these. One: Leigh Sales was too polite, didn’t grill Turnbull enough/at all and in general gave a soft, lovey interview. Two: Turnbull waffled and was generally arrogant and spoke at great length about himself.
I thought about taking my colleague’s advice, and like Tim in the cartoon, moving on with my life – good move Tim. But I can’t quite. Poor Leigh Sales. She (and the ABC) are constantly criticised for their aggression towards subjects (especially members of the coalition government) but change tack and change tone for one evening and you’re crucified, so I’m not really sure what the people will have her do. And maybe it’s a naive thought, but the change in Prime Minister (whilst not actually the gift of the people as Abbott’s cronies tried to make us believe last week, though in this instance certainly is a gift TO the people), does warrant some opportunity for said new PM to outline the philosophy from which he intends to lead the Government. I mean really, can we not allow one interview where this philosophy is outlined without the need to draw blood from the man at the same time? Then Leigh Sales and everyone else has a concise, on the record go to summary of all the things they can rightly criticise in the performance of the government.
Good interviewing is not just about entrapping your subject and then destroying them. It is also about facilitating a high level of public debate. Sure, it’s nice to know you can go for the jugular and win, but it is not always what is best, or, what a deeply fractured and already hideously anti-intellectual nation needs. The culture of negativity, and of constant criticism is slowly killing our ability to reflect on anything and develop an informed opinion. Much better that we all just tweet our instant displeasure, feel smug about our excellent opinion and move on with our lives. I suppose it’s also the case, for news outlets running the Leigh “Fails” tone of article, that there is a level of institutional jealousy that 7.30 still gets these important one on one interviews that noone in their right mind would do with the SMH as a “first port of call, get the message out to all the people” type event.
But twitter, oh twitter, you sadden me too! The sheer number of tweets along the lines of “Malcolm is a verbose twat.” He may well be, and time/the people/history will judge his Prime Ministership as we do with all others but really? We’ve only just escaped the Abbott years. Perhaps we might all be allowed a honeymoon period, in which we can celebrate the existence of an intelligent, conversationally adept Prime Minister. A Prime Minister who not only appears to have understood the question, but has a thoughtful and personally considered answer. A Prime Minister who will bring some level of dignity to the leadership of our nation, and the first one who, for a long time, has a chance of unifying the socially progressive Australia we dream of with the economically responsible Australia we need. The real question is whether he can take the coaltion with him. If yes – we celebrate. If no – then the whole sorry mess goes on for another few terms of government until the next great hope comes along. He’s a Vinnick with the gravitas of a Bartlet. And if he nails it, then the ALP are out of work.