Us and them: Anti-elitism in Australia

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That gilded youth Lachlan Murdoch, delivering the Andrew Ollie Lecture in late 2002, singled out Media Watch for attack. Why? Because we had drawn attention to the multiple connections between Telstra–battling to convince the bush of its bona fides–and a private outfit called the Farmhand Foundation with its vision splendid of drought proofing Australia: ‘How something so simple could be turned into a grand conspiracy to sell a phone company I have no idea’, young Murdoch told the crowd. ‘But, again out of narrow mindedness disguised as high mindedness, rooted in jealously as the idea was not their own, our media elite launched a disgraceful and biased attack’.

After dinner Murdoch and I had a cordial chat which ended with me saying something like this: ‘You define the elite in this country. You come from an elite family; you have had an elite education; you have a job which puts you at the centre of power in this country. How can you attack Media Watch for being elite?’

He didn’t flinch. One of the pleasures of Us and Them is to discover how deeply involved News Ltd is in this ridiculous–but curiously effective–campaign of abuse. Sean Scalmer and Murray Goot declare The Australian to be a ‘principal site for the discourse on elites’ and that national broadsheet has maintained its enthusiasm for the campaign even though, by 2002, its tabloid stable mate the Daily Telegraph had all but given it away. Here lies an important clue to what’s going on here: the campaign against ‘elites’ is aimed squarely at the educated and prosperous. It’s not designed to sway the minds of working men and women–Michael Pusey argues it’s hardly relevant to their concerns–but to break the confidence of progressive Australia.

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