The IPA’s New ‘Report’ On ABC ‘Bias’ Is The Mona Lisa Of Bullshit
We have gotten used to bullshit. There’s so much of it floating around — on the Internet, in the media, in Parliament — that a lot of the time you forget it’s there. It’s like oxygen, or Rove McManus circa 2006 — it’s so pervasive, you would notice its absence more than its presence.
Unlike oxygen, though, we don’t like bullshit, so we go to pains to call it out when we see it, or at least recognise and avoid it. As a result, bullshit is constantly evolving, growing ever more elaborate and sophisticated to stay ahead of our ability to detect and reject it.
Thousands of years ago, in her cavern grotto high in the mountains, a wizened old crone foretold a time when this process would result in bullshit so refined, of such a high standard, that it would cease to be mere “bullshit”. It would become something that transcended space and time, something that soared far, far above the stunted limits of human endeavour and blossomed into a bright-burning candle of the heart that would sear us to our bones. Something more than speech, more than art, more than love or hate or truth or despair or life itself. Something Godlike.
A piece of perfect bullshit.
Terrified of the old crone’s prophecy, the humble villagers living in the valley below stormed her cave, dragged her to the town square and burnt her as a witch. But as her ashes drifted skyward, they knew in their hearts that the time she had foretold would one day come, and they wept. For their children as yet unborn, they wept.
That day has come. That time is now. That bullshit is here. I present it to you, boiled down into its purest form:
The Crust: Saying Mining Is Bad For The Environment Is Not ‘Bias’, It’s Journalism
In case you’re unaware, this media release — and the “independent report” it talks about — came out earlier today via the Institute of Public Affairs, a right-wing think-tank dedicated to “preserving and strengthening the foundations of economic and political freedom”, and a truly masterful purveyor of bullshit.
To properly understand, let alone convey, the amount of bullshit contained in that one picture would require powers of insight and fortitude that I simply do not possess, but I’ll do my best. The first thing to realise is that there are entire strata of bullshit here, layer upon caked layer — not so much a bullshit statement as a bullshit ecosystem — and that to properly do them justice, like archaeologists unearthing the remnants of some lost civilisation, we will need to dig.
Let’s start with the study itself; primarily, its conclusion that “the ABC has a persistent and systemic left wing bias in its coverage of contemporary Australian political issues”. To reach this conclusion, the study examined six month’s worth of the ABC’s coverage of three different types of energy production — coal mining, coal-seam gas drilling, and renewable energy — and found that “the dominant message broadcast by the ABC about CSG and coal mining was that the industries have a negative impact on the environment”.
This is the first, most obvious instance of bullshit; like topsoil, it is easily excavated. Claiming a news organisation is biased for saying coal mining and fracking are bad for the environment doesn’t even need to be pointed out as bullshit; it’s like those really slow-moving beavers at the start of Donkey Kong that you almost felt bad for jumping on.
Not much deeper is the study’s recommendation that “if it is not possible to have an unbiased public broadcaster – that is, a broadcaster which lives up to its democratic mandate – then the project of public broadcasting should be reassessed and, ultimately, abandoned”. Here, at least, the IPA has attempted to cunningly disguise their own agenda as the objective findings of a scientific study, but their efforts are sadly undone by the next sentence, in which the reader is reminded that “the Institute of Public Affairs has long called for the privatisation of the ABC. Breaking up and tendering out the ABC was one of the IPA’s 75 radical ideas for Tony Abbott”.
Presumably you’re meant to think the report reached the exact same opinion as the people who commissioned it because life is full of wonderful coincidences sometimes, and not because ten of the 32 sources the study cites are articles or older “reports” written by people who work for the IPA.
The Mantle: A Study That Is Not A Study, And Gronks That Are Not Gronks
Okay, so those are the crust layers of bullshit. Now we dig deeper, into the mantle, where richer, more veiny deposits of bullshit await, the most obvious of which is the “study’s” existence at all.
Clearly, this is not a study; this is an internet libertarian’s late-night alone-time session with a dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged and an old sock. Yet great pains have been taken to trick the casual observer into thinking this thing is legit; the report describes itself as “the first time that a comprehensive, independent and scientific assessment of ABC bias has been undertaken”, and it’s sombrely packaged in the same way a university thesis or a UN report might be. It even has graphs, because Science.
The answer can be found back in that similarly professional-looking press release “announcing” the “findings” of the “study”. In a bullshit-free world a right-wing think tank having a right-wing opinion on something would be met with a strong and universal “meh”, but because that opinion has been lovingly repackaged as a “scientific study” and distilled into an easily quotable “press release”, it’s news. You report on scientific studies, even if they’re not scientific. You quote from press releases, even if they’re ads for the people releasing them.
Hence why this article appeared on the Australian‘s website earlier today:
The Core: The IPA Is The High Temple Of Bullshit
Therein lies the final, core layer of bullshit that explains everything the IPA does; if you take yourself seriously enough and give a veneer of respectability to your agenda, no matter how wrong-headed or completely insane it may be, other people will act like you’re worth taking seriously. It doesn’t matter what comes out of your mouth; you’re wearing a tie, and only serious people wear ties. It doesn’t matter if your opinions are wrong; there’s a study that backs you up, and studies are serious things — even if you wrote the study. It doesn’t matter if you’re a raving, frothing-at-the-mouth gronk; you’re a research fellow at a think-tank, and think-tanks are highly respectable.
The biggest bullshit of all? It works. IPA members and the “studies” they churn out are quoted regularly in newspapers, before being cited as “evidence” by other IPA members for other bullshit “studies”. Their representatives appear regularly on TV to give the false impression of “balance” — IPA commentators appeared on Q&A 39 times from June 2011 to June 2012 — and once someone has appeared on TV you can invite them back. Why? Because they’ve been on TV. The IPA’s resident in-house gronks even use the fact that they’ve appeared on or written for the ABC to legitimise themselves — and, by extension, their argument that the ABC is biased.
Do you see how wonderful it is? The IPA is a Möbius strip of bullshit! A Ouroboros circle of bullshit! An unending, eternity-mirrors repetition of bullshit upon bullshit, feeding on itself like some kind of perpetual bullshit machine! It is the bullshit that was foretold!
It is, Mugatu. It is beautiful. And it’s bullshit.