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The Australian: The country’s highly paid journalistic political elite is in crisis

The Australian newspaper has accused Canberra journalists of collective failure in their coverage of federal politics this year.

The Weekend Australian dedicated three pages if its Inquirer section to a series of reports arguing that “the biggest political story for 35 years”, the fall of Kevin Rudd, was missed.

In the lead article, journalist and former Malcolm Turnbull staffer Chris Kenny argued: “The journalists in the nation’s capital are some of the best paid in their profession and are assigned to the parliamentary building for the express purpose of delivering the inside story. Yet on this, the biggest political story for 35 years, they collectively failed at their task at least as spectacularly as had the outgoing prime minister.”

Pointing to the leaked Wikileaks cables, Kenny argued that US diplomats read the signals better than the journalists. He said:

“This is perhaps the most dramatic manifestation of Australian journalism’s blinkered coverage in a generation.”

Most of the criticism is aimed at rival Fairfax titles. A second piece in The Australian, which is owned by News Ltd, by national chief reporter Paul Dusevic quotes editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell as saying: “The Oz seems to have called the political and policy agenda dead right, even if it has been bagged by the government and the gallery.”

He added: “Other editors and news editors need to ask themselves why their staff, many on salaries much higher than a prime minister, got it so wrong.”

The paper also features a front page story, with a further page inside, dedicated to highlighting what it said was a series of errors in Fairfax’s coverage of the Wikileaks cables.

Wikileaks chose to share the cables with a journalist working for Fairfax, rather than with News Ltd. The Oz claimed that on several occasions the paper had said that cables were sent in the wrong month after muddling the USmonth/day/year format with the Australia day/month/year format. The Australian also claimed that at one point a comment was attributed to minister Mark Arbib – revealed as a US source – that was in fact made by Greg Rudd, the former PM’s brother.

The newspaper also returned to the issue in an editorial comment headlined “The price we pay when journalists lose the plot“.

It argued: “we believe it is time to turn the searchlight on our own profession and ask whether the media is doing its job of objectively reporting politics. The answer, sadly, must be no. Indeed there is a crisis in political journalism that mirrors the crisis in the political class.”

It said the problem was potentially because of “elite” journalists’ social backgrounds. It said:

“There is a deeper malaise… born of the tendency for journalists to come increasingly from a tertiary-educated elite with a ‘disdain for the vulgarity, ignorance and prejudices of working families and their suburbs’. This mind-set dominates the ABC and Fairfax press, generating a false narrative of politics.”

However, the paper also admits: “The Weekend Australian, too, must always seek to improve its coverage. While we have led the debate in many areas, we recognise there is more we could have done.”

Meanwhile, Fairfax returned fire this morning. In an item which appeared in the Sun-Herald, but under The Sydney Morning Herald masthead, the paper said that The Oz’s accusations of it getting its facts wrong were “unfounded”.

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