Should the PM be across the big non-political stories?
As a political reporter I haven’t paid too much attention to the Hey Dad sex allegations story but it has been difficult to miss, as it’s dominated much of the news media for the past week.
Which is why I was surprised Prime Minister Rudd didn’t know about the story when asked if he had heard of it by Neil Mitchell this morning, ‘ah no, sorry I haven’t seen those reports,’ he replied.
This morning, as Kevin Rudd was in the Sunrise studio waiting to go on-air, the 7 o’clock news was broadcast; it’s lead story? The Hey Dad claims. It is possible he was mentally preparing for his upcoming interview and didn’t see or hear the story.
But the Prime Minister’s been aware of much lesser ‘tabloid’ stories before.
On the 22nd of May, 2008, photographer Bill Henson had his Sydney exhibition, featuring images of naked children, shut down.
The next morning, Kevin Rudd appeared on The Today Show and declared them ‘revolting.’ On the 10 June last year, the BBC reported on the Australian Prime Minister calling British chef Gordon Ramsay a ‘new form of low life.’ The Prime Minister’s intervention into his spat with Journalist Tracey Grimshaw was ‘unfortunate,’ Ramsay retorted back.
Kevin Rudd was (rightly) criticised back then for commenting on the tabloid issues; Prime Ministers shouldn’t be armchair news commentators, was the admonishment.
It is advice he has clearly taken. Just over a week ago, while in Brisbane, he was asked about Michael Clarke and Lara Bingle as their relationship publicly broke down. There’s been a lot of talk about it in the news this week, the reporter noted, ‘do you think it’s good for Australian cricket? Are you surprised by what’s happening?’ The Prime Minister sensibly refused the bait, ‘I’m going to leave that to them, I’ve got other priorities called the health and hospital system.’ He didn’t want to comment about it but was still aware of the story.
It is what makes this morning’s claim of not having seen or heard of one report about the Hey Dad claims such a surprise and out of character. If the PM did know about it, surely the best reply to Neil Mitchell’s question would have been ‘yes I have heard about that but it’s a legal matter that I won’t be commenting on.’
If he didn’t know, it shows he isn’t ‘in touch’ with what’s going on out there in the burbs. Of course, he could defend this perception by claiming to be a hardworking Prime Minister focused solely on his health reform plan.
However you could compare that with the Former Prime Minister John Howard, who would stay up late at night to read the first edition newspapers online. In the morning, after his walk, he would make breakfast and then read over the hardcopy second editions.
His wife, Janette, would regularly bring him stories she’d circled in the papers she thought interesting. He wanted to know what was going on in the community even if he wasn’t going to be commenting on much of it.
As Opposition Leader Tony Abbot pointed out later ‘it’s important politicians try to stay in touch, on the other hand there are lots of things which happen in our community, which politicians for all sorts of reasons don’t comment about.’
The Prime Minister’s thoughts on the Hey Dad case are not important but he was probably only asked about it because he’s been so willing to comment on things in the past, which he would have been wiser to shy away from.
It’s certainly no crime for a PM engrossed in his own work not to know about tabloid issues dominating the news media but why then did he care enough to be across them and be so willing to comment before, only to turn off completely from what’s being discussed now?
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