The same but different…

When Turnbull ‘knifed’ Abbott a week ago after publically shaming Abbott’s terrible government on national television while announcing his intent-to-knife, I wondered how the mainstream media would treat this story. I couldn’t help but worry this would be yet another example of a Liberal story being treated with a completely different narrative to the same Labor story. A sitting PM is replaced by a member of their own cabinet. A late night coup. A first term Prime Minister. Abbott lasted a shorter time than Rudd and had already been challenged 6 months earlier. By my reasoning, the white-anting, destabilising activities of Turnbull and his supporters over the last 6 months was far more bloody and underhanded than Gillard taking the opportunity to lead the Labor government when it was offered to her within hours of her colleagues’ decision that Rudd’s chaotic leadership was not going to improve, second chances or not. However you argue it, overall a fair observer would see great similarities in the two situations. But these similarities are clearly ignored by the media and it turns out my worry was well founded. Low and behold, the Turnbull/Abbott story is being treated completely differently to Gillard/Rudd. Of course everyone in the mainstream media is very busy mansplaining to little-old-us the voters why the two situations are apparently completely different. But I don’t need this situation explained for me, because I can see with my own eyes that Turnbull just did to Abbott the same, if not worse, thing Gillard did to Rudd.

If you haven’t already noticed for yourself the differing tone of the stories about new-PM-Gillard with new-PM-Turnbull, take a look at this apple-with-apples comparison.

Here is a transcript of Gillard’s ABC 730 interview with Kerry O’Brien the evening she became PM on 24 June 2010 and Turnbull’s ABC 730 PR campaign interview with Leigh Sales a week after he became PM, which aired this evening.

If you can’t be bothered reading these transcripts, take it from me that Gillard was interrogated about her ‘knifing’ of Rudd for the entire interview, and framed as the ‘villain’ who couldn’t be trusted, a tone which continued throughout her time as PM. Gillard was also hectored about what she would do about the mining tax policy, not forgetting she had become PM that day. Turnbull, on the other hand, was treated like a ‘hero’ and provided with the invaluable opportunity to outline his vision for the country on an unchallenged soap box where he was allowed to sell his government’s refreshed credentials. He wasn’t even tested when he claimed Direct Action was working to reduce emissions when there was no evidence backing this claim. Two interviews in similar political circumstances, yet chalk and cheese in their treatment and tone.

A simple word count showed Gillard spoke for 65% of her interview with O’Brien. Turnbull spoke for 77% of his interview with Sales. Sales even apologised for asking a question Turnbull might ‘find offensive’ and then again said sorry for cutting him off. Soft doesn’t even come close to describing this cringe-worthy excuse for journalism. But it gets worse. Check out the word clouds of both interviews and see if you notice the same thing I did.

Here is Gillard’s interview, where the most used words were obviously Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. So the main topic of the interview were Gillard’s villainous replacement of Rudd.

Gillard Wordle

Now here is Turnbull’s interview.

Turnbull Wordle

Can you see what is missing amongst all the positive words? Yep, that’s right. The word Abbott. You can do a Where’s Wally search for it if you like, but I’ll save you the trouble and tell you it appeared twice in the interview. Hardly there at all. Abbott’s already gone and the media aren’t dwelling on the part Turnbull played in his demise. Unlike Gillard, who had to put up with the media’s obsession with the Rudd leadership spill throughout her entire tenure as Prime Minister, even after she went straight to an election to prove her legitimacy in the role. Yet Abbott has been erased and shiny-Turnbull-with-a-sly-grin has got off scot-free. See what I mean about same story but very different treatment? How do you even begin to explain this other than to say Labor is always bashed by the media, and the Liberals always excused? Sadly this is the only explanation that makes sense.


  1. Couldn’t agree more. Luckily we have real journalism online now thanks to you and a few others. I am finding the big broadcasters act just like old-world propagandists so I’m getting my news elsewhere. Leigh Sales is a fairly typical middle-class bigot; defined by her privilege and the denial that goes with it. How could she be a good journalist? Kerry was the same but perhaps less obvious. Short of getting John Stewart to front 7:30 I think the show has had it. Sure the ABC is left-wing, but only when compared to Genghis Khan.

  2. And this is why Labor always have trouble getting their message across. They are not only fighting the LNP but also almost all the media not just Murdoch’s seventy percent. The ABC is a disgrace and it is just pathetic when you hear the right wing misfits say it always favours Labor and is left leaning. What utter bullshit. Bill Shorten is doing a great job but will never really be able to get his message across because of the uneven playing field. Luckily we do have the likes of you Victoria and social media which we all know the LNP and the MSM really hate. Keep up your great work Victoria.

  3. I couldn’t help noticing the hagiographic Turnbull Australian Story on ABC last night and wondering if they were planning a “satiric” comedy like that crass Gillard one whose name I can’t remember. I went tobed wondering how the makers of that even got permission to produce it and thinking about the depths of misogyny in the Australian man’s soul. My opinion of our media has plunged to irretrievable depths since their treatment of the last government.
    The only commentator I trust these days is Andrew Elder: how about Fairfax starting to publish him?

  4. Why didn,t L S ask Turnbull about his two outrageous “captain’s picks”…transferring water from environment to agriculture and $ 3 the regions?Both made 5 minutes after avowing proper cabinet processes,before even being sworn in.
    Discussion of this would shine more light on what sort of person he is.

  5. I’ve been following Australian politics since before Gough and this extra step that Labor has to take seems built-in to me. The mindset of the media has always been an establishment one. Labor opposing the Vietnam War (remember that, folks), got it in the neck right up to the last days of the Vietnam War, when people like Walter Cronkite in the US suddenly ‘came out’ against it. The most recent example, as you know well, has been the way Abbott, a right-wing, stupid, fossil, nutcase was given credibility denied a perfectly sensible, practical individual like Bill Shorten.

    I was out of the country for the Gillard ascendancy, not returning until October. It wasn’t until about January that it hit me that this was being treated as more than just your normal change of leaders. Gillard was being treated as a lying traitor for taking the top job when the chance arose. As has every politician in the history of the world.

  6. The media were never going to treat Turnbull in the same way as Gillard for a couple of reasons Victoria: one, Abbott as PM was never popular with the electorate, whereas Rudd was immensely so; but second, and probably more importantly, the MSM had been predicting a move against Abbott for over a year, but Gillard’s challenge took them totally by surprise.

    I’m not saying these are valid reasons (they’re not). But if you personify the MSM and look at them as a reflection of public opinion, then it makes sense. Some of the public (and most of the MSM) had been clamouring for a Liberal leadership challenge, and the MSM felt quite smug when it finally happened. They felt they ‘owned’ it much more than the original Labor leadership challenge. THAT should not have happened without a leak to the media somewhere along the line. Gillard’s takeover met with a response of ‘how dare she?’, but with Turnbull the takeover was greeted with ‘what took you so long?’

    That is not ‘right’ but that is how it is. The MSM just can’t get over themselves. Turnbull will be feted and charmed by the MSM until they realise they’ve been had – which may actually never happen (it never quite did with Rudd). I don’t know if Australia’s political situation will improve; the MSM certainly want it to under Turnbull.

    What the MSM want to happen, despite their framing of it being ‘our story,’ might not eventuate. But they’ll give it a damn good go.

    Just like they did with Gillard.

    And it’s “Lo and behold.”

  7. Firstly, your use of “mansplaininjg” in this article is nonsensical and actually pretty offensive. Just because Plibersek used it foolishly doesn’t mean you have to follow suit, as flattering as imitation is said to be.

    Secondly, your working premise is false. Comparing an O’Brien interview with a Sales interview is not – in any know universe – an apples/apples comparison. If your intention was to offer an argument that Turnbull is getting an easy ride in the media, you’ve failed miserably. It’s a pity because that contention is otherwise pretty sound. You’ve simply failed to substantiate it here.

  8. I agree with your general thesis, and very well researched it is, but it may also well be that Sales is a softer, less forensic interviewer than O’Brian. Also, T’bull is a more polished and persuasive interviewee than Gillard, who even her fans admit, was a tad gauche and clumsy in the period immediately after the coup. Overall, T’bull managed the “transition” rather better than Gillard. Before he took the plunge to oust Abbott he was very popular as preferred leader. Gillard was far less so.

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