When I worked as the editor of a city newspaper, many years ago, the newspaper's owner would walk into the office with a local MP's wordy press release in hand, plonk it down on the desk and say "Just run it."
After I'd scanned through the mind-numbing mass, or mess, of information, the conversation would usually go like this :
"I need to check the claims he's making here...some of this is way over the top."
"Just run it."
"I need to give the opposition a chance to react to these claims. They deserve the right of the reply."
"Just run it."
"People are going to laugh at this. They're going to pick up the paper next week and think we're just a local government mouthpiece."
"Just run it."
"Why do you need journalists? You could just get the secretary to type all this shit up..."
"Just run it...Actually, run it on the front page."
The editorship didn't last long.
I flashbacked to those days when I looked at The Australian today and saw this story, where John Howard summons up his most doom-laden verbiage to try one last Big Scare. It's the last minute of the final quarter, the clock is ticking, Australians need to be told they should be trembling as they hover that pencil on Saturday near boxes marked Labor or The Greens.
After weeks of desperate electoral tactical meetings and long lectures from supposed masters of political campaigning and 'damage control', John Howard is finally ready to unveil the New Horror.
The Labor-Green 'Axis'! Lookout! Booga! Beware!
Howard uncorks so much spin, froth and horror-heavy twaddle that The Australian needed two of its biggest hitters - Dennis Shanahan and Paul Kelly - to transcribe it all.
Because that's all this excretible excuse for a news story, from the newspaper that proudly boasts it "keeps the nation informed" really is, in the end. One long Howard rant, with barely a few hundred words from Kelly and Shanahan, but they're only writing what John Howard is saying, instead of just having Howard say it. They typed in a handful of their own words to break up the full stream of direct Howard quotes.
Back at my small city newspaper all those years ago, we only needed one person to transcribe the politician's press release and turn it into a front page story. The Australian needs two senior journalists to do the same thing.
Unless, of course, the editor of The Australiian thinks that having the names of Dennis Shanahan and Paul Kelly in the byline will give this gormless guff some weighty credibility. You know the kind of thing : it must be true what Howard is saying because, look, it's got Kelly and Shanahan bylines on it.
A double team effort! Whoa!
Because Paul Kelly and Dennis Shanahan are merely transcribing what Howard had to say, we're providing a handy translation. The Kelly/Shanahan 'interview' transcript is in italics.
John Howard has warned Australians they risk electing a Labor-Greens alliance that would impose a new national direction and conduct radical experiments with their values and institutions.
In a final-week interview with The Australian, the Prime Minister said the nation faced a "watershed election", where the real issues had been disguised by the me-tooism of Kevin Rudd and in which the workplace reforms of his Government would be lost forever if Labor were elected.
Most Australians clearly want the the workplace reforms to be lost. That's why they're voting Howard out.
Convinced his hopes of a Coalition win at the weekend are not yet extinguished, Mr Howard said: "Part of my mission this week is to drive home the risk. My every waking hour and every available minute will be to drive home the risk of Labor."
Howard is going to rant doom around the clock like a drunk evangelist on a street corner wearing a 'The End Is Nigh' sandwich board.
He said a Labor government would mean higher unemployment, higher inflation and a rollback of industrial reforms that would terminate forever hopes of a freer labour market.
Complete and utter speculation from Howard. This is what he thinks may happen, but he has no proof, and most economists don't back up his claims. Kelly and Shanahan don't bother to even note that Howard could well be proven totally wrong.
Mr Howard warned that a Labor victory would mean a Labor-Greens Senate majority and an era of social re-engineering, with policy changes on drugs, education, social issues and political correctness in conflict with his social conservatism.
"There will be a return of political correctness. There will be a softening in relation to things like drugs. You will get a less socially conservative country at the very least.
Shocking. Rudd may actually wind back some of Howard's welfare for the rich, follow the nation's will and offer a Sorry to Aboriginals, and stop treating 19 year old pot smokers like psychotic hardened criminals.
"I think the country's mood is that people want economic progress but they don't want experiments with our basic values and institutions. Imagine if you are depending on the Greens to get a measure through the Senate on education. Imagine what they would extract."
Imagine if the Greens, who will likely claim 12% or more of the national vote, were actually able to represent the will and desires of their voters instead of having to suffer through the Coalition getting almost 100% of their bills and ammendments passed through the Senate? The horror!
Howard believes his values are what's best for all Australians, not apparently realising the 1950s were five long decades ago.
Asked about the future under the Coalition, Mr Howard said Peter Costello "will be elected unopposed" as his successor. In a warning to leadership aspirants, Mr Howard pledged to the Treasurer, saying this would be "the right thing" for the Liberal Party and for Australia.
Howard is dreaming.
By the time Howard finally hands the Kirribilli House keys back to Australia, if he's actually re-elected as PM, Malcolm Turnbull will have carved a deep trench through the Liberal Party on his way to the top job.
If the Coalition loses government, the old order will torn to shreds in months of bitter infighting about who lost the election, and all those golden Liberal seats. Peter Costello has about as much chance of becoming the next PM, or leader of the Liberals, as Peter Garrett has of taking control of BHP. Costello's poll ratings with the Australian public are absolutely abysmal, he's about as popular as a kick in the nuts with no $500 cheque from Australia's Funniest Home Video to ease the pain.
The Liberals are bitter, yet happy enough, to let Howard spin his little fantasy about Peter Costello taking over, but only until the New Year. Then the real fight inside the Liberal Party begins.
Mr Howard defended his policy of tax breaks to empower choice. He rejected the criticism it was middle-class welfare.Of course it's middle-class welfare. Why does he think so much of the middle-class voted for him in 2004?
"It's not dependency to give a tax break to people for doing certain things," he said. "I find this blurring of the distinction between expenditure and tax incentives as ridiculous. We encourage people to make choices about their children's education through tax breaks ... We support people who have children by giving them tax breaks. That's authentic Liberal orthodoxy.What Howard's true masters want, they get. Liberal orthodoxy under Howard is welfare for the middle class and fat tax cuts for the rich. The rest get less money spent on hospitals and education and an extra milkshake and a sandwich as a reward for not trying to storm Parliament House with flaming torches in hand.
It's no mystery why Shanahan would let his name go on such a rag bag of predictions, baseless projections and scare-mongering speculation. But why would Paul Kelly let his name anywhere near such tripe?
Does he no longer care at all? Is he about to retire?
Four more days to go...