Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 12:30 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 12:30 | SYDNEY

In defence of pundits!


Sam Roggeveen


16 July 2009 20:18

I'd rank Crikey's Bernard Keane alongside Annabel Crabb as my favourite Canberra press gallery pundit. But Keane is so incredibly prolific that he has to slip up occasionally, and I reckon he's come a cropper in today's Crikey newsletter.

First of all, Keane is absolutely right to defend Environment Minister Peter Garrett from detractors who say he's sold out his environmentalist principles:

Criticism that Garrett failed to give vent to his professed anti-nuclear views in the exercise of his ministerial powers is staggering. Presumably his critics would prefer that he ignored evidence and his advice and simply decided whatever he felt like.

This strikes me not only as fair but as appropriately generous to Garrett. Pundits owe politicians at least the initial presumption that the politicians are acting in good faith and in the national interest.

It's a little puzzling, then, that in a separate column on the Stern Hu affair today (not yet online), Keane finds it impossible to extend a similar presumption to his fellow pundits. Keane simply asserts that people like Paul Kelly, former Prime Minister Keating and the Lowy Institute's Rory Medcalf are ideological robots who have fitted Hu's circumstances around their favourite theories:

Moreover, these are serious issues. Important issues. "Deep international politics -- or at least the perception of deep politics, and that is enough -- is involved here," declared Rory Medcalf on his Lowy Institute "weblog" (whatever that is). What’s required therefore is Deep Thought from foreign policy analysts and old China hands. Paul Keating has emerged to repeat his long-term theme that we need to mollycoddle Beijing more or risk alienating the coming superpower. But there are plenty of sinophobes as well as sinophiles, or, more correctly, those who despise the Chinese Government. I should know because I’m one, and I readily joined in on that score earlier this week.

Then there’s the realpolitik school, commentators who like to show how tough they are by affecting a cynical air and trying for a Kissingerian basso profundo tone. "The signs are that Australia is about to be taught another lesson in realpolitik," intoned Paul Kelly, in words carefully weighed for their substance, gravitas and unutterable ponderousness.

It's mean and cheap, makes zero attempt to actually address the arguments it makes light of, and the attempts at wit fall completely flat. I'm not being precious about this. I realise that use of the rather formal term 'weblog' in our tagline can leave us open mockery, but to make the joke work, you have to actually...make a joke. Just throwing the word 'weblog' out there on the assumption it's self-evidently ridiculous is really schoolyard insult stuff.