Sideshows and carnival barkers

In a week where we couldn’t escape a fairytale wedding, where Obama referred to media as “carnival barkers” , where on the night that Osama bin Laden death was announced Channel 9’s A Current Affair led with the Logie’s fashion; in a week where – in short – it feels like the everwhere I have turned I’ve been looking at the treatment of news and politics in the media, I’ve found some fitting reading when I’m not avidly watching the news.

I’ve been reading Lindsay Tanner’s Sideshow, on the games that both journalists and politicians play in the media – selective quoting, creative editing, dissembling, decoying, and scheduling stories to suit the audience’s interests (or to hopefully slide below radar completely). Lindsay Tanner isn’t a dispassionate observer, he’s the former federal minister for finance and ALP member for Melbourne, who resigned in 2010. He argues that the creation of appearances is now far more important for leading politicians than is the generation of outcomes. Sideshow is not the back-stabbing memoir  some had hoped for but an analysis of how politics and the media interact in Australia. Tanner’s book is a thought-provoking look at how the relentless courting of controversy and PR can lead to the dumbing-down on the reportage we receive.

It’s particularly relevant to me in a week where I have been glued to the TV screen, or had it constantly playing in the back-ground, for one reason or another. My media binge started, harmlessly enough, with the Royal Wedding, which I ended up watching it on a hotel telly, surrounded by a large and fascinated crowd. This might not have been so notable if it hadn’t been for the fact that the crowd were meant to be at another wedding themselves; they were all guests of a wedding being held there and had sloped off to watch the Royal Nuptials, presumably leaving their own fairytale bride and groom to reflect ruefully on their choice of date.

Less frothy but still entertaining was President Obama’s speech at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Faced with a chance to speak seriously to the assembled glitterati of the USA’s political media, he spent most of the time making jokes about being forced to pull out his birth certificate and them enthusiastically took the opportunity to mock Fox and Donald Trump (who had tried a bit of media manipulation himself earlier in the week and whose stoney embarrassment at being called out is, frankly, a joy to watch).

Not frothy at all was the next announcement from President Obama; that Osama bin Laden was dead (and not, Fox 40, the other way round) which is still unfolding and looks likely to dominate the media for some time yet. Three very different stories, and total TV, internet and Twitter saturation for all of them.  Did the Royal Wedding really need three days? Did Channel 9 really think that the Logie’s frocks were our first concern? Probably not. Does Tanner offer a solution? Unfortunately not. I suspect he doesn’t have the answers. But hearing some of the questions – and the studies and the past experiences – phrased neatly and wryly in his book is at least a good place to start thinking about it.