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Faceless Men and Lazy Journalism

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The Sun comes up*, Australian journalists speculate endlessly about the Australian Labor Party leadership. Or, in fact, repeatedly fail to find fuel for the story.

Journalists can write whatever they want, really. But one bit of rhetoric in particular is really starting to aggravate me, a spooky, sinister incantation, reminiscent of Miyazaki’s more sinister creations): The Faceless Men.

Who — or what — are the Faceless Men? This amorphous group of unidentifiable entities were, of course, the ones behind the 2010 leadership spill that saw the ALP substitute one Prime Minister for another without even telling any journalists at all, not even the ones that stood around outside parliament house every morning for days and days, where it’s really frickin' cold you know and WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL US THIS WAS GOING TO GO DOWN GUYS?

The funny thing is, it took only a cursory effort on my part to find out that these people do, in fact, have faces. Yes, a whole one each! Identities too, and careers, and for all that they might plot and scheme and conspire… they do so within systems that have these very well documented rules that basically anyone can get a copy of to read at their leisure. Amazing!

I don’t deny that changing the Prime Minister mid-term was a bit of a poor move. Not because it was innately controversial, but a lot of people do actually vote for one member of parliament because they’re being led by another, and we all know that, and in many ways it’s quite a reasonable thing to do. But there seems to be this idea that since party powerbrokers don’t engage with the media cycle — since they don’t put out press releases, or make bombastic remarks about their colleagues, or get caught «verb»ing with «noun»s in a bunny costume… there’s this idea that this gives them powers of invisibility.

Conniving as the Kaonashi may be, they possess very few supernatural powers and invisibility is not amongst them. It’s journalists who want to treat politicians like celebrities instead of civil servants. Presumably it sells more papers (although I don’t see how they’d know this having never tried it the other way). But this template doesn’t work when you try to apply it to committee processes, standing orders, internal party procedures, or, y'know, the entire Westminster system. That’s boring. The men were faceless not because they’d had an encounter with the spirit Koh, but because they were not interesting enough to give press time to, just like the almost-two-hundred pieces of legislation that have been passed through parliament since August 2010 (come on, name twenty, I bet you can’t).

Journalists call them “faceless men” because most Australian voters were never really aware of their existence until this spill took place. But then, whose job is it to keep Australian voters informed? For me, the most direct translation of the phrase “faceless men” is simply, we were looking the other way when this thing happened, and now no-one really has the spine to say that this is not the story you think it is.

* Much to my disgust