Sunday, March 19, 2006

the whole grain of truth

You feel a sense of the pendulum swinging on the wheat scandal. Lately the conservative media has been scrambling to regain some credibility in their coverage of the wheat scandal. It’s like they’ve woken up and remembered that, oh yeah, the truth does matter. Now even the pro-Howard media scoffs at Howard as he squeals, “I did not have kickback relations with that dictator, Saddam Hussein!” Usually Howard-friendly, Murdoch’s Australian seems particularly peeved that it supported him on Iraq, only to be embarrassed by this scandal and have its political loyalties so awkwardly compromised:

This newspaper has always believed in the case for toppling Saddam and staying the course in Iraq - as well as backing the hard-working members of Australia's defence forces who put their lives on the line on behalf of all Australians. Which is why the detached attitude of the Prime Minister, and the frankly mealy mouthed explanations of senior government officials such as Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, are not enough. That any Australian, be they employed by the AWB, the commonwealth Government, or any other institution, might have been involved in funnelling money to Saddam that could have purchased bullets to use against coalition troops (or Iraqi civilians) is an outrage, and shows the real danger of a public service culture where plausible deniability means never having to say you're sorry.

The editorial sizzles away in irritation about the Government’s ‘woeful management’ and ‘continued mishandling’ of the AWB scandal and betrayal of the Australian people. In recent weeks the same newspaper was falling over itself to laud the Prime Minister as the best thing since sliced Liberal bread. Now it fumes, “The man ultimately responsible - the Prime Minister - fails to condemn the outrage but rather sits back and hopes the whole thing goes away.” Not so very "consummately effective conservative statesman" after all, eh?
Predictably, the Australian soon reverts to type with a wild attempt to sheet home the blame to Labor, imploring Howard to take up the only exit strategy they can think of: When all else fails, even if it’s abundantly clear to everyone that your party ‘incubated the monster’, blame the Left.
Howard has clearly been playing for time on this issue, waiting to see if he can divine something from polls and public sentiment, waiting to see how things unravel before taking up the thread, but time’s run out for him. What’s the bet we’ll see him take Murdoch’s advice and change tack, come over all faux-outraged, lament how he inherited this whole problem from Labor, and pledge to undertake long-needed reform? Still, he’s got a hard road ahead of him. Even Dennis Shanahan is predicting more doom and gloom for the Liberal Party. In a nice metaphor, Shanahan’s story is headlined "Drug Mule Defence to Hit PM" and in it he reports AWB is likely to try to reduce culpability by blaming others, namely the Government. Shanahan writes, “AWB is no long saying the Government didn’t know…Even if this is desperation from AWB, then desperation could suddenly make it much worse for DFAT and the Howard administration.*"
Reading the papers over the weekend couldn't have given the Rat any satisfaction, not when he's got his paws so painfully caught in the toaster.

[*Is it just me, or does the phrase “the Howard administration” sound unfamiliar to the Australian ear?]