Journos and MPs: differences are reconcilable

Politicians and journalists have long maintained a symbiotic relationship. Journalists need political stories to fill pages or bulletins. Politicians need journalists to publicise their policies – and film them nodding inanely behind colleagues.

Knowing they each need the other, the two professions generally co-exist in a state of enforced trust – much like the fish that feed on ticks on the skin of sharks, knowing that at any time their host could suddenly decide that they too would make a filling mid-morning snack.

And when they do turn on each other, the consequences can become bigger than any story either thought would be making headlines that particular day.

Two such examples occurred recently on either side of the Pacific.

ABC reporter Ashleigh Raper took on NSW opposition leader Luke Foley around the time CNN reporter Jim Acosta was tackling US President Donald Trump.

The former related to alleged sexual misconduct, the latter was about misbehaviour.

The fallout from both has provided a stark contrast. 

Foley resigned as Labor leader, vowing to fight to clear his name.

Teflon Trump, however, attempted to claim the moral high ground, accusing Acosta of rudeness and aggressiveness towards women in the way he attempted to prevent one of the president’s female staffers from grabbing his microphone.

Notwithstanding that being lectured on rudeness by a finger-pointing Trump is like being advised to cut back on the swearing by Gordon Ramsay, Acosta had grounds for complaint given that the more obvious aggressive behaviour came from the White House staffer.

Certainly, had the journalist been female and the staffer male, there would have been considerably more outrage.

Trump responded in predictably mature fashion – by withdrawing Acosta’s pass, gabbling on about fake news and issuing new guidelines for White House press conferences.

These included each reporter being limited to a single question, with follow-ups permitted at the discretion of the president or his staff.

Erosion of the freedom of the press is the first step in any transition from democracy to dictatorship.

Politicians and journalists may not always make comfortable bedfellows.

But they certainly embody the adage about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.

Rob Shaw is a Fairfax journalist.