Australian politics, society & culture

The Greasy Pole

Is Graham Richardson psychic?

In the course of last week’s Crean Immolation, there was only one commentator who finished the day of chaos with a perfect record of prediction. That man was Graham Richardson, Labor’s own Talleyrand minus the stocking. For the entire day, nearly everything he said was wrong.

In the early afternoon, Richo told 2GB radio that there was no doubt Rudd would contest the leadership (wrong), that he would emerge from the room a slim victor (wrong). He kept this string of incorrectness unbroken until minutes before the afternoon deadline, insisting on Sky that Rudd would not ‘show his hand’ before the ballot (wrong). A lesser commentator might have accidentally strayed into fact when Rudd publicly ended his own leadership career moments later, but our star held his nerve. At dusk he was still insisting Rudd was playing “the long game”. So was Richo, and he had just gone misère.

He must have been surprised to see Gillard still standing - after all, she had outlasted his terminal electoral diagnosis by more than ten months. He had also forecast her doom in December 2011, February 2012, May 2012, August 2012, December 2012 and March 2013. At times he seemed to genuinely lose track of exactly what he was concocting – in January 2013 the ‘odds favoured’ Gillard remaining the PM until election, a month later he was offering those same odds in reverse, backing Rudd’s return at “60/40”. 

Anyone can see how often Graham Richardson is wrong, even Graham Richardson. “Alas, I am fallible” he wrote today by way of explanation. It’s not the first time he’s confronted his own record. “Given that my fallibility will be obvious to all who read this,” he wrote in his Australian column last year, “I must admit to getting something badly wrong.” That “something” was the Labor polling comeback he had previously written off, then recanted. The recantation was of course wrong – the comeback was illusory. This makes Richo wrong even about his own wrongness.

He is our Not-stradamus, perhaps the only person writing in pen who can make the For-Novelty-Purposes-Only prophecy of Bob Ellis look like Nate Silver-grade modelling. Graham Richardson is a one-man, multi-platform, multi-purpose bullshit generator. He’s also the single most utilised and listened to political commentator in Australia.

This demand would only be surprising to someone who hadn’t seen TV since the millenium. We’re at the end of a media era where whole unembarrassed careers were built on being relentlessly wrong about everything - wars, interest rates, even where the rain will fall – apparently with no consequences of any kind. There’s no industry, not even finance, that rewards failure quite like 21st century punditry. Apart from one – psychics.

I worked on a TV show about psychics, and came to know their techniques very well. They’re often very convincing, and develop significant followings. The best work by establishing their credentials, building trust by stating the obvious or self-evident, then making a vast number of vague and qualified guesses. Their ‘powers’ are our fault, springing from a quirk of cognition where we remember the few hits, and forget the many misses. Sounds familiar, don’t you think?

The ‘horse race’ criticism of political coverage doesn’t go far enough – Richo’s tips would embarrass the tea lady. Right now the opinion pages aren’t the form guide, they’re the stars section, where seers consult the runes of Newspoll and the spirit guides of the backbench, before addressing a credulous, anxious audience in the mood for certitude. This model continues, strengthened, after a decade in which its failure on every important question couldn’t be more abject. There’s something very wrong with that.


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