A Royal Commission met by an embarrassed silence
It’s not often I sympathise with an investigative reporter for the ABC but Anne Connolly has a point. With only rare exceptions, when the national broadcaster runs a set-piece ‘investigation’ the objective is to bring down somebody or something it ideologically dislikes. When it scrutinises somebody or something on the left, it does so from the left. The worst example of a doctrinal ‘get’ of the first kind was the malicious campaign against George Pell; the most absurd (this year) was Four Corners’ giddy three-part mini-series on Donald Trump’s links to Russia (we already knew there were none). When Who Cares? reporter Connolly yesterday lamented the paltry media coverage of the royal commission into aged care, however, I had to agree. That graph doesn’t lie. Unfortunately, her explanation for the indifference is flawed, proving that she too – like the media and politicians she criticises – is missing the real story. Here’s the thing: it’s the missing of the real story that is the story. Say what you like about the media but they know what sells. Stated plainly: we don’t care about elderly people as a class. That’s why so many of them are in “homes” in the first place. There’s your lede. This is lost on Connolly whose sincerity I don’t doubt. She argues that “without a knowledgeable media asking questions and putting pressure on the aged care ‘industry’ and Government, there is a great risk that the system will fail our elderly — and us — again.” There’s that Dalrymple knife again: “the system.”
The government is not ‘us’
What’s missing from the aged care conversation, then, is moral coherence – the identification of cause and culpability. Connolly decries the fact that the banking royal commission generated three times more media interest. But the media – especially the ABC – had an easy goodies-baddies storyline for banks: they were said to be egregiously misappropriating their customers’ money. What’s more, a Liberal government was conjointly to blame. For journalists, that combination was as straightforward and enticing as it gets. By contrast, there aren’t enough media consumers in aged care facilities to really matter, the crisis being revealed by the royal commission transcends party culpability and the broader population isn’t personally affected. With no rightist villain in the frame the media is floundering. Nobody wants to talk about family responsibility to elderly loved ones, the hypocrisy of lionising “blended families” – as long as no old people are in the blend – or the fatal damage done to the extended family by have-it-all feminism. Unwilling to acknowledge the cost of the cultural shifts they championed, commentators like Ross Gittens have nothing to offer except hackneyed banalities about “smaller government.” Whatever its size, government isn’t to blame. We are. There is therefore no budgetary fix. A regulatory clamp-down will only reduce the number of headline travesties. The deeper crisis – of misery and ghettoisation – will continue until we figure out a way to love people now living to average ages without any precedent in history. We’re talking about an awakening, not a news cycle.