December 12, 2014

Koch/Abbott

By Ben Jenkins
Koch/Abbott
Stefanovic and Koch: Australia’s David Frosts?

On Monday morning, David Koch discussed shopping-centre Santas with no fewer than five pundits, got annoyed with a plush cow wearing a Hawaiian shirt, read out a riddle about a stapler and obliterated the 28th Prime Minister of Australia in a six-minute interview.

This surprised many because David Koch is a serious journalist in the way that a picture of a horse is a viable Melbourne Cup champion. Of course, adding to this was the fact that Tony Abbott, only one week previously, had been taken to task by Today Show host and bar tab enthusiast Karl Stefanovic in a short film titled Tired Man Is Uncomfortable In Front of Big Christmas Tree.

Being Frost/Nixoned by a man whose previous interviewees include a literal cat is not a great look, and these poor showings have only fuelled leadership speculation, with suggested candidates for the top job ranging from Julie Bishop to an ice sculpture of Bob Menzies chiselled from a block of frozen tears.

So what’s going on here? Was the PM ambushed by two usually sympathetic interviewers? To use the boxing parlance so often adopted when talking about the PM, did Abbott “let his guard down” only to be “question-punched” in by these two “featherweight word-boxers” in some kind of “interview ring”?

Not really. Neither man asked any particularly pointed questions. It’s actually just a case of the PM suffering from a phenomenon political scientists call “being extremely shithouse at interviews”.

While Abbott tries valiantly to smash the ship of state through the iceberg of public opinion, it’s easy to forget that our prime minister is, and always has been, a terrible interviewee. His complete inability to change tack renders any interview a stilted exchange with a distressingly sinewy random word generator, in which an answer matching a question is purely a matter of chance.

True, it’s better than his previous strategy of “wordlessly stare into Mark Riley’s soul until he leaves you alone out of pure awkwardness”, but not by a huge margin. Abbott is so unwilling to back down on any matter at all that when he calls David Koch “Chris” for a second time during the interview, the PM doesn’t even acknowledge it, let alone apologise.

In fairness, this takes an impressive amount of chutzpah. Imagine any other politician on either side of the house doing this. Anyone. You can even envisage Scott Morrison – a man who gives off the aura of a malevolent entity forged in a volcano – pulling up and acknowledging his mistake. It wouldn’t be hard. “Sorry, it’s that time of year, David!” or “Sorry, David. It’s early and some of us have been up all night drawing a pentagram of runes over the hellmouth.”

The issue is not that Stefanovic and Koch are having their Network moments. Abbott’s strategy of remaining heroically disconnected from reality is what makes these interviews likely and magnificent trainwrecks. The truly remarkable thing about these two exchanges is not that they happened on breakfast television, it’s that they haven't happened more often elsewhere.

Ben Jenkins
Ben Jenkins is a Sydney-based writer. @bencjenkins

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