"The Australian is a world-class newspaper. But journalism is expensive and those of us who understand how important serious journalism is to a functioning democracy need to make sure we protect that role from the bloggers and aggregators who live off our work but can never break a real story." Ken Cowley, co-founder with Murdoch of The Australian, quoted in From ink to iPad: witness at The Australian's birth embraces digital delivery, The Australian, 28/5/10)
Now here's a spot of serious journalism by The Australian's foreign editor Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan. Let's see what it has to offer:
Gross hyperbole: "The Earth moved between Israel and Australia this week, with Kevin Rudd's government expelling an Israeli diplomat over the Dubai passports affair, and it may be that the Earth moved in Australian politics as well." (Expelling Israeli diplomat was a confected, self-serving exercise, The Australian, 29/5/30)
[But the Earth didn't budge in December 2004 when the Howard government expelled Israeli 'diplomat' Amir Lati.]
More gross hyperbole: "When the passport misuse was first revealed in February, the Rudd government made a great song and dance about it. Emotions ran high. The government in effect sooled the Australian media on to savage Israel. It made sure there were cameras outside the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade when the Israeli ambassador, Yuval Rotem, was summoned for a ritual dressing down. For 6 weeks the Israelis were cast into diplomatic outer darkness."
Bizarre conspiracy theorising: "The government decided to announce the expulsion on Monday, the first day of parliament's new sitting. This was the day it was likely to face its heaviest pasting over the resource super-profits tax, just as the earlier outburst of confected anger against Israel coincided with a spike in the pink batts controversy."
A misplaced concern for the offender: "The Israeli embassy was not told of the impending expulsion until 11am. This is a great contrast to the British behaviour. When the British expulsion was announced, the Israeli diplomat was already back home. If you are doing something to an old friend, more in sorrow than in anger, surely you tell the old friend first. Similarly, it is a great breach of normal practice for a friendly country to publicise the visit of an agency head, such as [ASIO's David] Irvine."
Misrepresentation: "Smith also let it be known that the Israeli to be expelled was the Mossad chief in Canberra."
[Hadn't Smith told The 7.30 Report's Kerry O'Brien on 24/5/10: "I'm not proposing to identify either by name or by function the individual concerned"?]
Breathtaking ignorance: "Smith said intelligence cooperation between Canberra and Jerusalem would now cool for an indefinite period. This will be entirely to our detriment. Despite the recent difficulties, not least its agents being filmed in Dubai, kilo for kilo, the Mossad is without question the best intelligence agency in the world."
[Hadn't The Australian's defence correspondent, Mark Dodd, written, "'The major source of Australia's intelligence is through the ABCA [America, Britain, Canada, Australia] countries and anything of critical interest to both countries [Israel and Australia] will be passed on regardless of this affair', an Australian security analyst with extensive Middle East experience says. 'Australia's reliance on Israeli intelligence sourcing is almost neglible and anything of criticality will come through other sources. I don't see this as being a big intelligence problem at all'"?]
Illiteracy: "Australia... will, according to our own Counter-Terrorism White Paper, quite likely be a target of Hezbollah terrorism. On all these subjects no country is better informed than Israel."
[The relevant document actually reads: "Australia is currently home to a small number of people who support other causes that involve active terrorist campaigns overseas. The terrorist movements they support do not necessarily see Australia or Australians as a target for their violence but some might see that Australia could be used as a suitable or convenient location for an attack on their enemies. This includes groups with a long history of engaging in terrorist acts and a current capability to committ them such as Lebanese Hizbollah's External Security Organisation."]
A dearth of research: "The government's outrage against [loose lips Deputy Opposition Leader Julie] Bishop was entirely confected. The government also suggested the Israelis had broken a specific agreement with Australia over passports. This is almost certainly untrue. The Israelis don't acknowledge their passport forgeries and to promise not to do it again can only be predicated on them having done it in the first place. No Howard government minister has any recollection of any such agreement."
[Hadn't The Australian's defence correspondent, Mark Dodd, written, "According to former foreign minister Alexander Downer, that involved a promise by Israel its Mossad operatives would not misuse Australian passports after a bungled 2003 attempt to clone Australian and New Zealand identities, an incident more worthy of the Keystone Kops than a crack spy organisation"?]
Excuses, excuses, excuses: "The Israelis have to operate in a unique environment. They have to undertake operations in the Middle East. But use of an Israeli passport in most Middle East countries is impossible. So they are forced to use other passports."
Drive-by smears: "Israel is incredibly beleaguered at the moment. It has never been under such sustained political attack. In many parts of the world, anti-Israel sentiment is morphing into traditional anti-Semitism. By making such a cynical and exuberant public relations bonanza out of this episode, the Rudd government is directly licensing the recrudescence of the worst sentiments imaginable."
Ken Cowley's right. Serious journalism like that needs all the protection it can get.