Quarterly Essay No 44 is just out. It may be a while before I get to read the essay itself, Andrew Charlton’s Man-Made World: Choosing between progress and planet, but I went straight to the pages up the back with correspondence about last quarter’s essay, Robert Manne’s critique of the Australian. In the past I have been glad that QE doesn’t include correspondence from the name-calling, straw-dog destroying, science-denying voices that dominate some other forums. This time it would have been odd not to have a contribution by someone from Rupert Murdoch’s empire – and indeed the discussion is kicked off by Nick Cater, editor of the Weekend Australian. He comes out fighting:
For thirty years or more, Manne has distinguished himself through his rare determination to exercise his intellect in the town square. There is no sign that he intends to relinquish his position as a public intellectual, but with this essay he has retreated further into the cloisters. He has become ever more abstract, aloof and contemptuous of his interlocutors. I mean no disrespect by suggesting that Manne needs to get out more.
Clearly he does mean disrespect. And so when the other correspondents make what might seem to be outrageous assertions and implications about the ethos of the Australian – that it is not a newspaper so much as an organ for political propaganda whose employees are in a state of denial that results in their responding like cornered beasts to any criticism, for example, or that it would be a good idea if they tried to represent accurately the arguments of people they disagreed with – there is a living, breathing example of the kind of thing they are talking about just a few pages earlier. Manne’s contribution or the correspondence is to thank the other correspondents and then attempt to extract the actual arguments from Cater’s piece, ignoring the abundant ad hominem elements, and counter them methodically. It’s a good read, though one is left with an uneasy sensation that Cater and Manne have widely divergent assumptions about what constitutes an argument.
It’s a pity that the correspondence doesn’t include anything from the left, putting the kind of position that Tad Tietze did on the Overland blog a while back. While appreciating the great service Robert Manne’s article has done us, among other things he laments Manne’s lack of analytical tools in relation o the media, gives a brief account of the Propaganda Model of the private media, and concludes:
Manne seems to believe that we’d have a better country if The Australian was somehow reined in, but this gets things the wrong way around. It is because things have gotten worse, and because elite hegemony has been unravelling, that we have been blessed with The Australian we have today. Better to stop obsessing about Murdoch’s apparent omnipotence and figure out how our side can more effectively prepare for the battles ahead.