And now the news in a Parallel Universe…

18 / 10 / 2012

By Sarah Capper

It looks as though a nationwide, mastermind computer hacking operation tore through the cyber corridors of Canberra’s all-powerful Press Gallery last week, radically altering the reporting on a landmark speech by Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

News stories filed following the PM’s speech, in which she succinctly attributed a history of sexist comments to the Opposition leader Tony Abbott and called him on his hypocrisy, were systematically hacked into to negate any positive reporting on it.

Notorious Australian hacking expert Jules Un-Assuage argued the hacking operation must surely have taken place, “otherwise how else could you explain the overwhelming sense of ‘Groupthink’ evidenced in the overtly negative reporting by the Gallery, so out of step with the rest of the world,” he said from some random South American embassy, while dining with Lady Gaga dressed as a witch.

The notion of ‘Groupthink’ originated from the 1970s, highlighted in the work of Yale academic Irving Janis who described it as, “A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s 15 minute speech on sexism last week in Parliament became an instant hit on social media, with almost two million views on Youtube in just over a week and shared widely across Facebook and the Twitterati.

Women and men around Australia and the globe shared the video link with their colleagues and friends, with some reports of viewers in tears while others cheered and clapped their way through the footage.

Across the world, the Australian Prime Minister enjoyed praise from commentators and journalists.

– The UK’s Telegraph reported that “Julia Gillard’s superb attack on sexism was her best card”.

– Natasha Lennard of wrote, “If only the US could borrow Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to take on Congress’s misogynist caucus.”

– UK feminist, columnist and author Caitlin Moran tweeted the 15 minute footage link, retweeted by over 1200 of her 300,000 plus followers (some of whom wrote in response, “I’m five minutes in and GRIPPED! Jesus, it’s brilliant!”, and, “Send Obama over there now for a workshop in how to cause spontaneous applause, hope and joy”.

– The Guardian newspaper’s Chloe Angyal wrote of Gillard’s “masterful, righteous take-down of opposition leader Tony Abbott.”

– And in the New Yorker magazine, Amelia Lester concluded, “After his performance last week, supporters of President Obama, watching Gillard cut through the disingenuousness and feigned moral outrage of her opponent to call him out for his own personal prejudice, hypocrisy, and aversion to facts, might be wishing their man would take a lesson from Australia.”

But back in Australia’s capital Canberra, the speech was widely condemned by Press Gallery journalists.

Information Technology guru Gill Baits could not rule out Jules Un-Assuage’s theory that a computer hacking operation could have taken place.

“The uniformity of opinion, the chorus of your political reporters on song – completely, across the board – does seem rather odd,” the IT mogul said, adding, “I watched it, and boy did she whoop some ass!”.

Un-Assuage and other hackers who wish to remain nameless have suggested that stories that praised the Prime Minister’s speech as timely and justifiable must have been altered to give the impression that somehow the Prime Minister made a mistake in making the remarks.

The following day’s news coverage by press gallery journos conveyed little of the emotional spirit that was generated following Gillard’s performance.

Gillard’s “fault” was in “defending the indefensible” former Speaker Peter Slipper, whose distasteful text messages likening female genitalia with shellfish seemed to negate the Gallery’s ability to judge the speech for what it was – calling out the Opposition leader for hypocrisy with his well-documented rich-history in making offensive remarks about women:

– Peter van Onselen in the Australian newspaper: “Is it possible for a political party and a prime minister to have more egg on their collective faces than Labor and Julia Gillard do right now?”.

– The Australian’s Dennis Shanahan: “… the substance and argument fell well short of an acceptable political strategy and risked only alienating more voters.”

So widespread was the hacking operation, that it wasn’t just limited to News limited press gallery members, but included Fairfax journalists as well [GASP!].

 – Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald: “The moment Gillard rose to defend Slipper and keep him in office, she chose to defend the indefensible, to excuse the inexcusable.”

– And Press Gallery ‘God’ Michelle Grattan in the Age: “The Prime Minister threw everything into her argument, which revolved around trying to pin the ‘misogynist’ label on the Opposition Leader. It was perhaps the only weapon available to her, but it sounded more desperate than convincing.”

In viewing the responses of Australian political reporters, Sydney IT Security expert Con “Troll” Altdeletio suggested, “If Michelle Grattan wasn’t hacked, she clearly wasn’t in the offices or homes of Australians desperate to convincingly high-five their colleagues, family and friends after viewing the footage. My wife knocked me out.”

And media analyst Frieda Livery added, “It’s one thing to expect a commentator like the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt to say that Gillard’s speech “confirmed the moral emptiness of her prime ministership”, but when you struggle to find just one Canberra hack – just the one! – praising our Prime Minister’s speech, agreeing with commentators globally, then something is very wrong with the lack of diversity of opinion in political reporting.”

Canberra Press Gallery journalists are said to be so shocked by the widespread hacking operation, that most are denying it even took place, or are since justifying why reports got caught up in the context of the actions of (now former) Speaker Peter Slipper.

Lenore Taylor in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“If you forgot the context, didn’t over-scrutinise the substance and just saw a powerful woman calling out sexism and saying she had had enough, it was arresting. Any woman who has ever been put down, talked over, dismissed, demeaned, overlooked or derided – in ways a male colleague would never be – was probably transfixed … The further away from the context people were, the more transfixed by the speech they seemed to be.”

But women’s organization representatives – who could not be dragged into the question of whether or not stories were hacked into – have argued the context of Gillard’s speech could still be reported on, without the overwhelming negativity that was attached to it.

Anna Konda of Women’s Rights Oz has been quick to point out that “Peter Slipper’s text messages were indeed immature and offensive to women – which Gillard herself pointed out in her speech. She did not defend them.”

“They were predictably and opportunistically seized by the Opposition leader (and at least recent friend) Tony Abbott, who, arguably has a ‘women’ problem. If he didn’t, we would not have witnessed the spectacle a fortnight ago in which his wife Margie led a media blitz ‘standing by her man’,” Ms Konda said.

Konda also highlighted Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s provocative comments regarding the Government “dying of shame” prior to Gillard’s speech, and how they echoed Sydney shock jock Alan Jones’ recent remarks that the Prime Minister’s father “died of shame”, that so controversially dominated news coverage in the week leading up to last Tuesday.

“Yes, Abbott’s made the same comments previously, and claims he did so last Tuesday without thinking, but could anyone seriously believe the timing of using such an outlandish phrase was not deliberately chosen so as to taunt the Prime Minister in a particularly calculated and cruel way?” Konda argued, adding that “Abbott’s hypocrisy was on show for all to see – yet if you read the papers the following day you would be mistaken for thinking it was yet again, another miscalculation gone wrong by Gillard, another stuff up, another disingenuous performance. It’s incredibly frustrating for punters who want a ‘fair go’ from their main sources of media, particularly women.”

Media analyst Frieda Livery agrees that the mainstream media coverage can be “frustrating” at times, raising questions about Australian media ownership concentration levels, but also takes heart from the coverage resulting from the last week in politics.

“This issue highlights the importance of ‘shopping’ around for news. Fortunately, in an online information age, we’re now in a position to do what almost two million people world-wide have done – go straight to the source, and watch it and judge it for ourselves.”