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01 April 2014

by Bob Ellis

Murdoch's Tactic of Partial Assassination

My friend Nathan Rees resigned yesterday.

He is the sixth gifted politician brought down by 'sexual scandal' in the past five years. They were John Della Bosca, Mike Rann, David Campbell, Craig Thomson, Peter Slipper, and, up to a point, Julia Gillard (thuggish one-eyed former lover, dull-witted present one). Kevin Rudd survived a story involving him and a pole-dancer; several have been tried out on Bill Shorten. Rob Oakeshott's marriage to an indigenous woman injured his voter base, and sped, perhaps, his decision to not stand again.
No such scandal attended the broken marriages of Greiner, Collins, Kennett, Olsen, Kerin, but they were Liberals and so, of course, above scrutiny. Troy Buswell was thrice forgiven and kiboshed eventually by drunkenness, a car crash and a mental breakdown.

It is a Murdoch tactic, and it usually works. It ruined me as a politician in 1999. It has not been applied to Murdoch's three marriage breakdowns and his cuckolding by, apparently, Tony Blair. It is a good trick, called 'partial assassination', and it brought down Teddy Kennedy, Gary Hart, John Edwards, and, for a time, Bill Clinton and his wife, and thus by transmitted odour his successor Al Gore. It did not afflict John McCain, who treated his first wife abominably and married his second for her money, nor Ronald Reagan, whose adulterous courtship of Nancy was a kind of rape, nor George HW Bush who flaunted his mistress when he was US Ambassador to China where she blatantly co-hosted his banquets. It did not trouble Eisenhower, whose wartime driver, played by Deborah Kerr in the movie, was his English mistress for two years before Roosevelt told him to stop it.

No, it is those on the Left who are 'partially assassinated', Hollande, Prescott, Robin Cook, Neville Wran, Paul Keating who was supposed to be gay, Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans who were sprung in an affair, Greg Combet who feared he would be, Paul Howes who was denied preselection in part, I hear, because of one. This is a lot of talent we are losing, and losing every year, to this righteous confected wowserism, these shock-horror headlines over private behaviour that since Caesar's time ('a husband to every wife, a wife to every husband') has been a political commonplace.

And not just sex has been in the mix since Murdoch and Ailes and Brooks discovered almost anything would do. Belinda Neal was ruined for speaking sharply to a Liberal-affiliated Woy Woy waiter. Kevin Rudd was destroyed, probably, for NOT speaking to a makeup girl. Glen Campbell for being seen, once or twice, in a room with Brian Burke. Kelvin Thompson for writing a pro-forma reference for a man who, years later, turned out to be a gangster. Peter Debnam for appearing in a too-brief bathing suit. Kim Beazley for saying 'Karl Rove' instead of 'Rove MacManus', a shocking thing to do.

Most unforgiveably, Gordon Brown lost his Prime Ministership by describing, correctly, a bigoted woman as a 'bigoted woman' in a private conversation in a car that was bugged. Bigotgate! howled the Murdoch press for six of the eight days that led up to an election, an election in which Brown won three seats too few to form a stable coalition with the Lib-Dems and so let David Cameron in. Brandis would not, then, have defended his right to say 'bigoted'. But he would now.

Partial assassination is what modern politics is all about. Bronwyn Bishop now disfranchises members for laughing. Christopher Pyne tells Shorten to 'rise above his background as a unionist', though John Curtin, Ben Chifley and Bob Hawke did not, and were acclaimed for not having done so. If you say something confidently, as Pyne always does, it becomes a piercing truth. Gillard was accused of breaking a promise when she negotiated a deal with Independents who demanded that broken promise. What was she supposed to do? Yield up her job to Aboott? Really? Christopher thought so, and said so often and piercingly; and, as it proved, effectively, destructively, as an assassin should.

Partial assassination depends, a good deal, on migrant voters unsure of their English hearing confident English-speakers calling this or that a bad thing, a shocking thing, an unforgiveable thing. Didn't speak to a makeup girl? Throw him out of office.

The Prime Minister 'melting down' when he merely said 'mate' a bit severely, as if no Prime Minister had ever shown anger before; Howard did it all the time. Rudd saying 'ratfuck' in private when David Marr, alas, was listening. Gough Whitlam saying 'maintain your rage and enthusiasm until election day' and being imperfectly quoted, and out of context, as having said only 'Maintain your rage', which ended his career as well.

These are all examples of it, and it's really unfair, and it's ended a lot of fine careers.
It's called 'partial assassination', and it should be noted.
And, by exposure, if possible, ended.

Or perhaps you disagree.

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