By Darryl Mason
A columnist for The Australian newspaper - the supposedly "balanced" and "not biased at all" flagship of the Australian Murdoch media empire - has been outed as not only a rabid supporter of prime minister John Howard, but also one that lets the prime minister know, days in advance, when she is writing an op-ed that may reflect badly on him.
Who's doing what now?
Yes. Janet Albrechtsen, a columnist for The Australian, rang John Howard's office before she had even written her column about why it was time for him to step down, to let him know what she was planning to write.
She called other ministers as well, allowing them the opportunity to try and talk her out of writing the 'Howard Must Go' column that supposedly "rocked the Howard government" when it appeared in The Australian on September 7.
How do we know all this? Because it's right there in the pages of The Australian newspaper today :
Albrechtsen is an unashamed and long-term Howard supporter who decided to write a special column for Friday's newspaper urging Howard to go.
On Wednesday and Thursday the columnist - a strong supporter of Turnbull, and whose husband, John O'Sullivan, campaigns for the Environment Minister in his Sydney electorate of Wentworth - told Turnbull, as well as Tony Abbott, Nick Minchin and Downer, of her plans.
She also told the Prime Minister's office. She said yesterday she talked to the ministers "as a courtesy".
Turnbull says he urged her not to write it, as did Abbott and Howard's office.
Any sliver of credibility that Janet Albrechtsen may have had is now completely gone.
She's not an independent columnist, with scant regard for the impact of her opinion, as a truly fearless and uncompromising columnist must be. She is a propaganda outlet for John Howard, and has been a key player in the current game of "Howard Must Quit"/"Howard Must Stay" that has dominated political media coverage for the past eight days. The Game that is meant to show just how tough and resilient Howard can be, and how ready he is for the Big Fight in the coming election. And it all took place just when Howard needed it the most, when he is absolutely tanking in the polls.
You can see it all for yourself in Albrechtsen's original 'Howard Must Go' column, that was supposed to have earthquaked the Howard government. We know now it did nothing of the sort. They all knew it was coming. Not only did they know it was coming, they knew what the column was going to be about before she had even finished writing it.
In the column, Albrechtsen first devotes hundreds of words to reminding readers just how brilliant a prime minister John Howard has been, and how we'd all be eating dirt and back on chain gangs cracking sandstone slabs if he hadn't graced us with his leadership.
She immediately follows all this with one of the most gag-inducing paragraphs I've seen in any newspaper all year :
Under Howard it became cool to be a conservative. He rebuilt a political philosophy of individual responsibility for a new generation. His legacy is profound...Bring me another bucket.
When she supposedly unleashed on Howard, it was with a feather :
But now he must go. The Howard factor is there. Where once it meant success, now it presages defeat.Hmm, tell us something we don't know, Janet.
Do you ever get the feeling that you're being conned?
Of course, Albrechtsen's column came at a very opportune time for The Australian newspaper as well.
Murdoch's national broadsheet is widely mocked and ridiculed across the Australian media, the public and within political circles for being the 'Government Gazette'. There was a joke that went around last year for a few days : Why don't you ever see John Howard reading The Australian newspaper? Because he already knows what it will say about him.
Albrechtsen has proved the joke is actually reality.
Her column advising Howard to pack it in and hand over the leadership to Peter Costello was seen as proof that The Australian was not staffed by Howard-huggers and federal government propagandists.
And the timing was perfect. On the brink of an election, when The Australian most surely needs to regain its credibility and give the appearance of being unbiased, up pops Albrechtsen, the "unashamed...long-time Howard supporter", demanding he step aside. Well, not demanding. Suggesting he step aside would be more accurate.
But of course, we know now Albrechtsen didn't just write and publish this column, one of the few she's ever written that even dared to slightly criticise Howard. She actually got on the blower
and called the PM's office, before the column was published, to let Howard know what was coming. She called other ministers and gave them the opportunity to talk her out of it, or perhaps more importantly, convince her to tone it down.
Why would she do this?
Why would a columnist for a newspaper even contemplate doing such a thing, let alone making the calls?
Remember, Albrechtsen said herself in The Australian newspaper today that she called the prime minister, and at least two other Howard government ministers, "as a courtesy."
That is, she called to give them notice and to allow them all to fully prepare for the negative fallout that they knew would surely follow the column's appearance in The Australian, to craft their answers and reactions to media questions days in advance.
Albrechtsen didn't voice her opinion, boldly, honestly, and without regard for who may be offended by her thoughts, she actually tipped off the key players in the Howard government, and Howard himself, before she 'dared' to say it was time for him to go. Before she even typed the words.
Just remember what Janet did every time you see her column, or any column, in The Australian that is allegedly critical of the Howard government, or any of its key ministers.
You may well begin to wonder, as you probably should if Albrechtsen is any example to go by, 'Did they tell Howard what they were writing about?' 'Did they warn Alexander Downer they were going to criticise him today?' 'Did Howard government ministers try and talk this columnist out of writing this piece?' 'Was this column different before the columnist discussed what he/she had written with some Howard government minister?'
Janet Albrechtsen is utterly compromised, even when she is critical of John Howard, because she dwells in a compromised world where she cannot write nor say what she wants, when she wants, and to hell with the consequences.
So why does she get column space in the newspaper, and prominent positioning on The Australian's website?
Well, why do you think?
Shock! Murdoch Journalist Denies Murdoch Media Conspiracy
Murdoch Conservatives Cut Off Howard's Head - Albretchsen And Bolt Lead The Chant : "Howard Must Go"