Lindsay Tanner’s book states what has become obvious to many. Media writes for the lowest common denominator. Often this means the dumbing down of political policies, the omission of key facts or the reporting of absolute frivolities that have no bearing on anything important. Tanner blames this fact on the descent of political debate into truth-free inanities. I’m willing to concede that media has certainly contributed to this happening.

But Tanner infuriated me with his hypocritical delivery of his argument. He first acknowledges that politicians, media and the public have all had a role to play in the descent of politics and political reporting into a sideshow, but then continues to rage against “the media”, naming specific examples of poor reporting to spice up his rant.

He gets angry about the use of words like furore, crisis, backflip and slam, then proceeds to take the word “force” to town. You see, the terrible way the media reports politicians has “forced” the poor pollies to change the way they present policies, leading to the boring, content-free zone that political reporting has become. Politicians become the media’s “dupes”.

“Politicians naturally respond to the pressures and incentives that surround them. And so, as the media portrayal of politics is changing, the behaviour of politicians is as well. As any football fan knows, when the rules change, the coaches and players adapt,” Tanner says.

Of course, what he has just said applies in equal measure to the media, which is struggling to maintain revenues in an increasingly digital world where readers can get their content from a lengthening roll of citizen bloggers. The digital shift has meant that media outlets have been able to measure their audience better and supply them with what they want to read. Just like the politicians are supplying the same audience with the cop-out policies that are aimed to please. Both the media and the politicians are pandering to the same stupid people. Tanner acknowledges this, and yet, the book is chapter upon chapter of media bashing, where, quite frankly, Tanner comes across as an elitist, idealistic, whiner.

How can Tanner sound so holier than thou when he has in essence been a cog in the wheel of politics, which has been doing exactly the things he decries in his book? And if, Mr Tanner, you couldn’t do anything about the problem from your position of power so high in the government, what exactly do you expect us to do about it?

It took until almost the end of the book before Tanner reached the stage of suggesting what might be done about the problems he raised. The section was so small I couldn’t help laughing. Obviously Tanner had no idea. He suggested subsidies to foster journalism in the public interest. I wonder, if we did this, if we would need to have a little subsection of the paper bordered off from the other pieces labelling the content as such? Likely not, even though it would essentially be paid for content, and therefore a form of advertisement.

The other issue with this is that as more and more people receive their content online, they will continue to pick and choose the pieces of content they read. Just because there are a few more pieces on politics doesn’t mean the public is going to read them.

Tanner also raised the possibility of removing Australia’s requirement on its citizens to vote. This would allow the people who cared to inform themselves of policies and remove the advantage of rushing to entertain the lowest common denominator for votes. He wasn’t keen on it, but thought it might be the only option that would function. I agree that this is a possibility, in fact I see it as almost the only real possibility.

His last ditch effort, after exhausting some other ideas, such as relying on niche publications, was to appeal to our noble side. Don’t read the crap, he pleads. Unfortunately Tanner, I don’t think enough people will read your book for that plea to make a big difference.

Given this book is basically just a long rant about how the media ruined politics, using all of the ‘world is ending’ pessimism that it rails against within its pages, I couldn’t possibly rate it highly. I’m giving it a 2/5.

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