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Spinning Julia

By Ben-Peter Terpstra - posted Monday, 16 August 2010

When Abbott became the opposition leader, Helen McCabe wasn’t afraid to go negative. The Australian Women’s Weekly editor even brought up his religious faith and those “Captain Catholic” allegations. In the February issue, quotes were dug up on controversial issues too. Contraception. Abortion. Sex before marriage. “Gay marriage.” IVF for same-sex couples. Piercings (really). Alcohol. Drugs. They were all there. What’s more, blogger Mia Freedman’s unsupported views were quoted in the Weekly’s scrutiny-free zone: “I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that the Liberal Party has just elected a leader who is anti-abortion, anti-IVF, anti-stem cell research, and who wants to ban no-fault divorce.”

Fair? Balanced? Freedman, the seasonal vegetarian, no doubt, was misrepresenting some of Abbott’s views, and demonising those that didn’t agree with her secular fundamentalist stomach. But what was Helen McCabe’s excuse? To make sense of this, it’s important to see how Gillard is being flattered.

Step 1: Present the leader as uncontroversial

In June of 2010, the pro-Labor magazine printed a special “Our First Female Prime Minister,” edition, minus the controversial issues. Inside, Gillard’s views on contraception, partial-birth abortions, sex before marriage, “same sex-marriage”, IVF for lesbians, piercings, alcohol laws, and mind-destroying drugs, weren’t listed. Or dissected. Instead, readers were treated to a number of pro-Gillard quotes.


Also, under the headline, “Dream Come True,” on page 30, former Prime Minister John Howard was asked to comment on Julia’s “appointment”, but gave a “No comment” statement (noted by the magazine). Kevin Rudd, however, wasn’t asked to comment, for obvious reasons. The Australian Women’s Weekly was looking to (a) celebrate Julia and (b) paint Tony as a deeply controversial figure.

Step 2: Find leader-friendly quotes

How else does the glossy colour the news? The Women’s Weekly obviously ran to leftwing media personalities to get the quotes they wanted. In an effort to paint the prime minister as a great historical figure, readers were informed that a “ripple of excitement was felt around the globe on the day Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female PM.” But the year was not 1979. Gillard was no conservative Thatcher. And, do we accept that millions around the globe take a strong interest in Canberra?

Still the “ripple” needed feeling. As such, Tracy Grimshaw, the host of Nine Network’s A Current Affair matter-of-factly stated that, “I think the symbolism of Julia Gillard’s appointment as prime minister sends a powerful message to aspirational young women! Hallelujah!”

The host of the leftwing ABC1’s First Tuesday Book Club, went further. “Female PM. Female GG. Well done Australia. Now let’s make some gender progress at the High Court.” Or in other words, let’s pretend that Australia voted for Julia and ignore Labor’s faceless puppeteers.

Step 3: Portray the leader as a victim

To make matters more complex, Gillard’s so-called “appointment” (Grimshaw’s spin) and those so-called “aspirational young woman” (aka future backstabbers) are encouraged to see Julia as a victim and conqueror. Or as editor Helen McCabe puts it on page two: “Her bid to win the federal election later in the year also means she will face renewed personal attacks. Similarly, her clothes, hair, and personal style will again be under public scrutiny.”

A now concerned McCabe also chose to forget how Howard’s eyebrows and Abbott’s Speedos have been constantly mocked when she added that: “I know that we are guilty of judging women (and to a lesser extent men) by their hair and clothes - it is part of public life. Yet I hope that the elevation of Ms Gillard will go some way towards making substance more relevant than style.” Yet, it is Joe Hockey’s BMI that the media is obsessed with - not Julia’s.


Step 4: Ignore the leader’s political baggage

Laughably, the Weekly claims that Julia is also “funny” in the positive sense and “that is a quality she will need when she faces many policy challenges, including rising interest rates, climate change and the ongoing complexity of the asylum seeker problem”. Why, she can lower temperatures, my guess.

There’s little reason to think that the Women’s Weekly will ask conservative bloggers to critique their Julia either. Or Joolya’s atheism. Where are the Admiral Atheist references? And if Julia is so “fiercely intelligent” as McCabe claims, then why is our prime minister unaware of preindustrial climate changes like the Egyptian Cooling, or the Roman Warming - to name a few. Is she above history?

In common with other Labor-first spin doctors, McCabe is well versed in the art of hiding information. You see, the reality is that the Rudd-Gillard dream team failed debt tests and sacrificed border protection for political correctness, while overlooking a fiercely unintelligent tax-and-waste education revolution. But at least, we know how to praise our glorious leader. We know how to worship Joolya.

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First published in Quadrant Online on July 27, 2010.

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About the Author

Ben-Peter Terpstra has provided commentary for The Daily Caller (Washington D.C.), NewsReal Blog (Los Angeles), Quadrant (Sydney), and Menzies House (Adelaide).

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All articles by Ben-Peter Terpstra

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