Tim Blair


New Criterion



Wednesday, May 28, 2003
WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? Well, Biffer Balding does, so he’ll be paying closer attention than normal to Minister Alston’s dossier on the performance of Radio National’s AM news magazine program during the course of the liberation of Iraq.

How strong is Alston’s case?

In the first place, you only have to string together the tops and tails provided by the AM presenters to their stories to observe the overwhelmingly anti-coalition spin. In that sense the document is persuasive and should embarrass anyone speaking for the ABC who has any understanding that there is a part of the political spectrum beyond those represented by the Australian Labor Party.

The analysis provided by Alston’s researchers sometimes assists this interpretation. Sometimes it hinders through a certain obtuseness. Uncle can think of a few bloggers who could have provided the shabby AM performance with a better fisking.

A good example of Alston analysis that does no more than highlight the totally unacceptable bias in the communard view of thing is:

“Day 20 AM - Wednesday 9 April, 2003 - 08:00:23
54. The death overnight of three journalists led Linda Mottram to make a furious attack on the United States: ".....the chances of independent reporting of the events on the ground have suffered a body blow overnight, and it's raised new questions about how the Coalition has attempted to shape reporting on this war".
What was the basis?
Well apparently the following remarks by Brigadier General Vince Brookes: "What we can be certain of, though, is that this Coalition does not target journalists and so anything that has happened as a result of our fire or other fires would always be considered as an accident".
55. This led Linda Mottram to sign off with: "Brigadier General Vince Brookes with a sense of how the US Military would prefer reporters in Iraq to work And it should be noted that they key buildings that were attacked overnight, the coordinates and locations of those buildings have been given to the Pentagon some time back".
Given that the remarks in question are logical and given that they contain no indication of how the US Military would prefer reporters in Iraq to work, Linda Mottram seemed clearly determined to read something sinister into the deaths of journalists, whatever the evidence. In fact, her last comment, on its face, seeks to give the impression that targeting of journalists may have been a deliberate Pentagon strategy.”

These examples are, quite reasonably, contrasted with the programme’s uncritical reporting of Iraqi Government statements. As far as AM was concerned, comical Ali was no joke, until that was the kindest thing you could say about him.

The less helpful kind of comment?

“Day 12 AM - Tuesday 1 April, 2003 - 08:20:32
41. ELEANOR HALL: "......the Bush nevertheless trying to counter reports from inside the US that its war plan is flawed".
The evidence?
LEIGH SALES (from Washington): "a cartoon in one of America's newspapers perfectly captures the pressure facing the Bush administration over the war's progress. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld is sitting behind the wheel of a car....full of children all chanting at him 'is it Vietnam yet, is it Vietnam yet?
"The Pentagon's rebutting that type of commentary and criticism that the war hasn't gone according to plan".
This "report" hardly constitutes commentary and criticism - more like immature and irrelevant abuse.”

That may well have been AM’s intention, but the cartoon is open to another interpretation. I’d be happy to see it as a comment on the childish immaturity of the aging peaceniks who wanted Iraq to be a quagmire.

It’s not that the Alstonites are totally wrong. But in debates of this kind you don’t give your opponents the opportunity to muddy the water.

Alston knows he has Biffer’s attention, having grasped him tightly by the short finances. He is right to push this matter and he shouldn’t stop there.