Friday, April 23, 2004

Did Mark Latham plagiarise a Bill Clinton speech?

That this “news” lead last night’s ABC TV news (and then was extensively further raked over in The 7.30 Report) is abundant confirmation that political debate is this country is (i) pointless or (ii) non-existent (take your pick).

Despising Latham and PM Howard equally (more or less), I make this point in a strictly non-partisan way. Which is not to say that I don’t care.

For starters, Latham’s “No child will be without an X-box by 2010” speech did have a bleeding obvious angle for the government to attack it on. For news-byte impact, all that needed to be done was to recall Bob Hawke’s infamously unmet promise that “No Australian child will be living in poverty by 1990”. More substantively, at least two of Latham’s sweeping promises are utterly, manifestly hole-ridden.

Every 17-year-old must be ready to extend their education into post-secondary qualifications.” Oh yeah? Apart from the absolute stupidity of the idea (there’s already tens of thousands of unemployed uni graduates out there), who’s going to pay for it? A HECS-style system would be economically-nonsensical, because if everybody is getting post-secondary qualifications, there is little or no private benefit in a single individual racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Just as stupid is Latham’s “Every 10-year-old must be able to log into the Internet” promise. We can at least make some allowance for Bill Clinton’s similar, May 1997 promise (about “Every 12-year-old”) for being caught up in the hype around the then still-early days of the Internet, but in 2004, the Net is just another text-delivery medium. Meaning that kids need to be able to read (and write) to use it. Not that Mark Latham knows or cares, apparently – sustainable funding of public schools is not on his florid wish-list.

In other words, zero points to the government for a tangential and piss-weak attack on a full-of-holes piece of Latham policy.

And zero points to Labor and Bob McMullen too, for having the nerve to counter-attack using a stale, “I know you are . . .” argument that was itself plagiarised. As discussed here* in March 2003, John Howard’s supposed plagiarism from 'The Threatening Storm' by Keith Pollock was a non-event, despite Media Watch’s beat-up to the contrary on 17/3/2003. Seriously, Bob if you’re reduced to re-hashing serial plagiarist David Marr’s leftovers, then you can’t get any lower.

Except, perhaps if you’re the ABC, which wasted tens of thousands of your and mine tax dollars on televising this whole, pointless piece of crap, cum cynical diversion.

P.S. The Age, as would be expected, runs with the story today as a simple re-hash of last night’s ABC. Bob McMullen’s own plagiarism is not picked-up on, despite its being discoverable, via Google, in five seconds flat.

Double discredit to The Age, too, for using the "news" to run with what amounts to a free ad for Don Watson, and his multinational publishers:

Mr Watson said it had become common for politicians to re-use jargon and hack phrases - and journalists were not picking them up on it.

Touché, Don. Does the category of “journalist” include political Op Ed writer (and apparently close friend of yours) Michelle Grattan? If so, don’t you perhaps have an itsy-bitsy problem with Grattan writing a nakedly unbalanced pseudo-news item on your behalf? Too busy flogging books to write a letter to the ed, Don? Or is Michelle such a byline-whore these days that she feels justified in throwing basic journalistic standards to the winds?

* Post is reproduced here:

{{{{{Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Media Whatcha?

Last night’s ABC TV Media Watch nicely followed up the previous Monday’s 4 Corners [see 10 March post, below] in the “Serve ‘em up dubious bombast” stakes. Three minutes or so were given over to showing that PM John Howard had stated, during last week’s address to the nation, three colourful examples of how awful Iraq’s criminal justice [cough, cough] system was – with his obvious (almost verbatim) source being unmasked as a US-authored book. “Plagiarism”, sayeth Media Watch presenter David Marr.

For a lawyer and writer of Marr’s calibre, this degree of misinfor-pinion is baffling. Reporting news is not just a legal, formalist defence to breach of copyright; it is elementary common-sense that the practice of journalism (and indeed of human communication in any form) could not take place without facts – of which “news” is a major, and increasing, sub-set – being public domain. Of course, in most cases when news is made material or disseminated, some value-adding to the bare facts has taken place, ensuring that the news program, as such, is copyrightable. (A world of only bare facts would be unbearably repetitive, for all its utopian ownerlessness).

Did John Howard cross this fact/expression line, so free-riding on the US author’s ostensible keyboard labour, of dressing up three Iraqi laws in purpler prose? My own answer is a clear cut “no” – as stated, the PM’s three examples were certainly colourful (which quality, in fairness to Marr, is not often to be found in legal pronouncements generally), but that this colour came all the way from the source – Iraq.

Terror, Mr Marr, needs no intermediary to make it sound worse.

Paul Watson 12:44 PM }}}}

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