Review – The Stalking of Julia Gillard

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By Matthew Horan  @mattyhoran

July 9 2013

With the blood still fresh on the walls of the caucus room, Kerry-Anne Walsh’s The Stalking of Julia Gillard is a victim of excellent – or poor – timing.

Excellent because the public is looking for an insight into what went wrong with the nation’s first female PM in her disastrous three-year interregnum. Disastrous because the book is just as quickly out of date as soon as it arrives on shelves. Such is the nature of political reportage.

However those looking for a definitive history of the Gillard years will need to wait a bit longer. Walsh’s book is not this.

It’s a cry from the heart of one of the nation’s best Gallery journalists on the state of her industry. And the book suffers because of this.

It’s not a history – it’s a polemic tacked onto a diarized recounting of events. And one where the personality – and yes, the anguish – of the author shows through a bit too much, breaching the fourth wall with acerbic comments.

Walsh provides none of the insight we have come to expect from political reads such as Pamela Williams “the Victory” (which set the standard) and Christine Jackman’s “Inside Kevin 07”. These books were more akin to some of the great American reads such as Game Change, with interviews with main players and allowing the reader to peek behind the veil.

The Stalking of Julia Gllard sadly resembles at times a pastiche of cut-and-paste media stories overlaid with commentary. It lacks the insight. I wanted to read the inside story of the night Gillard knifed Rudd, hear of the frantic corridor conversations as her staff stitched up support while she distracted Rudd in his office. I wanted an insight into Rudd’s psyche as he plotted his return, what went through his mind as his former Ministers bagged him.

There’s none of this sort of in-depth research. It’s not like the main players were too shy to talk about it. Marian Wilkinson showed what could be done with her Four Corners report into the end of the interregnum – somewhat of a rush job retelling, but with some insight nevertheless.

Walsh’s book is instead an investigation of how the media covered the main players. To use an analogy, it’s the sort of history that analyses Herodotus rather than the actual Persian Wars, or a sports book that looks at how the media covered the Ashes, rather than the games themselves. It’s a valid enough field of study, even if the marketing has been a little indistinct on this.

But it’s here that Walsh fails. There’s little insight into how the media thought. There’s a recounting of it, and Walsh’s interpretation of it, but no substantive interviews with the journalists in question. There’s an understandable reluctance to reveal sources, but surely some insight into newsroom decisions would be worthwhile. Equally, Walsh’s analysis of the media is her analysis, rarely backed up by third-party sources. It’s her essay – her crie de coeur – on the ills befalling the Gallery, not an independent and sober analysis of what did and didn’t (or should have) happened.

It’s also an attack on Rudd, who Walsh clearly believes went out to attack Gillard, and that this attack was exacerbated because she was a woman. It’s a thinly veiled accusation made less thin by the word “stalking” in the title. It is uncomfortable because the argument falls flat when you remember that Rudd was the one knifed in the first place. He wasn’t white-anting, as much as retaliating. But there is little scholarship to back up Walsh’s hypothesis (even though it’s not implicitly stated as such). Again, her premise falls down because of a lack of third-party analysis and commentary.

For what it’s worth, I think that Walsh is correct, at least in regard to the Gallery. It is obsessed with personality over policy. Many in the media – especially right wing radio – would never have addressed a man in the same terms. Imagine what Hawke’s response would have been to Alan Jones naming him a liar in the same sneering tone? But it’s ever been thus. Caesar would have never become Imperator had he not white-anted the Senate with his Gallic Commentaries. But The Stalking of Julia Gillard fails to give us any new arguments or analysis of why. Those who believe the Gallery is at fault will nod their heads in collective understanding. But The Stalking of Julia Gillard won’t change the minds of the unconvinced.

Matthew Horan is a former Federal Press Gallery reporter and former Chief of Staff of The Sunday Telegraph. Since leaving journalism he has been awarded a Masters in Ancient History and is currently researching post-graduate studies in the later Roman Empire.

 

Comments


  1. Bugger … was hoping it was a little better than this …


  2. Me too. Bugger.

  3. Marilyn says:

    I ‘won’t read it because Kerry Anne is party of the problem with our media and still doesn’t recognise this fact.

    Gillard was not stalked or disliked because she is a woman, she simply was not credible and tortured innocent people.


  4. At least Kerry Anne had the insight to start the conservation, Julia Gillard was the victim of stalking, like it or not by Rudd and his Labour Party mates, Abbott also had an unhealthy fixation along with some members of the Media . I am waiting for the day a creditable person will put pen to paper about the success of the 43rd Parliament under the Leadership of Julia Gillard with the support of Tony Windsor and Rob Oakshott.. That will be the true legacy of Julia Gillard, something that Rudd nor Abbott will ever be able to live up to.


  5. Try reading it yourself and make your own judgment rather than the reviews of others – . I thought it very interesting well worth a read- and it does argue a disturbing case that time will reveal how on the mark she is I suspect.
    I think that MSM has played a huge role – either deliberately biased , or hypnotised by the attentions of the then opposition leader. Appalling that the leaking and strategies were kept from the public by the media whose job it is to keep us informed.
    All the more fascinating because she wrote it not knowing how it would end. Well done Kerry-Anne


    • Agreed. I enjoyed reading it, though it didn’t really give me any new insight, but I did think was a timely reminder of some events which should be remembered and scrutinised a bit more. I also thought it may have worked better as a blog rather than a book and am thus left curious as to why KA didn’t write a blog at the time.


  6. Well, Matthew. Three re-prints (within 10 days of its launch) decries the put-down of your petty analysis. I agree with Tali B. Read the book, people! The Author’s Note at the beginning puts the contents into perspective. Read that too!! The book delivers what we have come to expect from Walsh – honesty, irreverence, kick-down-the door style of writing, courage; and it’s obviously appealing to a lot of people. (Boo hoo. Sucks to be a successful author, hey, Matthew??)

  7. FelineCyclist says:

    Matthew’s review reminds me of much of what was said by the Press Gallery about The Misogyny Speech. The Gallery missed the point then and I’m afraid it appears that Matthew has missed the point here. Matthew assesses the book, and finds it lacking, as something it doesn’t intend to be or purport to be. The problem identified by the book has not ‘ever been thus’. The hounding of a PM based on her gender is entirely new (because we’ve never had a PM before who didn’t fit the gender stereotype) and deserves a different approach to analysis. If that analysis is a little personal, then that’s because the “objective” assessment of this issue is still captured by old-school paradigmatic thinking – the exact sort of thinking that is unfortunately expressed in Matthew’s review. I encourage Matthew to re-read the book and open his mind to what it is, rather than expecting it to be something that it isn’t.


  8. Agree with previous 3 comments- am almost finished book and what now strikes me about Matthew’s review is his disapproval of what he thought it should be! Seems to me that the diary structure reveals a perspective in sharp contrast to a msm with an agenda and a conviction/ determination to be on the ‘winning’ side.

  9. Shirley B says:

    Mathew says that Kevin Rudd “wasn’t as much white anting as retaliating” and that he was “knifed in the first place” as though these are facts. Yet Kerrie Ann’s detailed analysis of Kevin Rudd’s actions, statements, timing, conversations – over the three years Julia Gillard was Prime Minister show exactly how he was white anting both her and the labour government. I feel for the MP’s whose hard work and integrity mattered nothing to Kevin Rudd – if they believed Julia Gillard was the best person to lead the Labour government then to Kevin Rudd they were the enemy and expendable. Kerrie Ann joins the dots – shows how particular news stories were written because Kevin Rudd wanted them to be. Among the many disgraceful acts of disloyalty is the planned resurrection of the AWU “scandal” by disgruntled Labour MP Robert McCelland – in order to seriously blemish Julia Gillard’s character. Kerrie Ann’s book is a great read if you are interested at all in how MSM works, and in the how and why’s of the way the last three years of this government have played out.


  10. Stalking Julia Gillard is a book definitely written in the heat of a very particular moment and it is useful just for that. It is also very much from a woman’s perspective. I stopped reading most of the MSM, listening to radio news and watching TV news and Analysis (even ABC news) about 2 years ago because I felt completely besieged by the misogynistic feeding frenzy focused on Julia Gillard. Both Kerry Anne Walsh and Anne Summer are important because they spoke out while it was happening. As a woman it was like a light had been switched on to illuminate the chaos and made me feel much less alone in my response to what has been the most unedifying period in our political history. There will be more books written but that doesn’t discount Walsh’s book which is more of a personal primary text/ diary. I don’t think it makes any claims to be an authoritative / magisterial account of the time. After three years of out right bias from a press gallery and commentariat that presented itself as measured, magisterial and authoritative Walsh’s book is a much needed antidote. Plus, it has been selling like hot cakes so it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

  11. Matthew Horan says:

    Reviews should stand on their own – they’re a particular snapshot of a reviewer’s thoughts at a moment in time and should be reflective of that, rather than hindsight, so I’m loathe to try to defend it.

    But there’s a couple of points to make to some of the commenters.

    First of all – make up your own mind. Don’t let a review influence you one way or another (even though they do). It’s an argument, a hypothesis and I’m glad to have people try to shoot it down.

    Second – my problem wasn’t – and isn’t – whether the thrust of Kerry-Anne’s book is or isn’t valid. As I said, I actually agree with her arguments. It’s just that I think the arguments are poorly researched and poorly argued. No footnotes, no bibliography apart from a list of media stories, no source list. Whether it was rushed by the publishers? I just don’t know.

    Third – my final point seems to be proved. Those who are convinced KA’s argument is correct are indeed nodding their heads in unison. My disappointment is that a better-argued book could have actually convinced the fence-sitters.

    As for the book going into it’s third printing? You go girl. KA is a top writer (and it does show through in the book, just not enough) and as her former news editor I’m genuinely thrilled. Interestingly enough I don’t think she’s sold as many as her predecessor in the Sunday Tele job, Peter Rees, whose book “Lancaster Men” is a seriously good read and flying (pun not intended) off the bookshelves :)

    As a final point – I’m also thrilled that people are debating the book. It means you’re thinking and caring enough to discuss it. Not to mention actually supporting local authors (the publishers can go to hell – they blocked cheaper books through parallel imports, but that’s another story…)


    • try being a professional woman who has experienced so much discrimination (wages 75% of males, can’t work in that office because no female toilets, must have slept with the boss to get that promotion [no-one could be that desperate], was better when we only had male lecturers because we didn’t need amplifiers – the list is endless) and then rewrite your review. You lost me at ‘what went wrong with the Prime Minister’ – when the question should be what went wrong in society.


  12. MH’s review lost me from almost the outset given the classification of JG’s PM’ship since 2010 as a disastrous interregnum.
    Both KR and JG were/are legitimate prime ministers and it is not empirically correct that KR’s re-election as leader restores a continuity – this would only be so if KR had some entitlement to the role. Was it disastrous? Many good things were done by JG’s Government so from this viewpoint, it is incorrect to assert it was all a disaster or alternatively that the mistakes and missteps were in fact disasters.
    This strong and emotive language is in the same vein that MH criticises Walshe for – her cry from the heart etc.
    MH says the book isn’t the definitive history. It doesn’t give him what he wanted. OK. But why does Walshe’s book have to be be those things, and why is what the book is not grounds for a negative judgement? Does Walshe hold out her book as the definitive work or did she make and break a pact with MH that she would write a book to suit his wants on this?
    MH’s arguments around the stalking/retaliation issue are a bit muddled. He says “It is uncomfortable (ie the argument that KR went out to attack JG) because the argument falls flat when you remember that Rudd was the one knifed in the first place. He wasn’t white-anting, as much as retaliating.”. Just because KR was knifed does not per se exclude that he also stalked JG or that it is incorrect to characterise his behaviour as stalking or white anting. And white anting and retaliation are not mutually exclusive are they?
    There is plenty of opinion, including Walshe’s that KR did stalk and it is a bit strange that MH has ignored this widely held opinion. That opinion has been publicly expressed by JG caucus supporters and by Crean and they are in a position to know.
    So while MH dismisses Walshe’s opinion and conclusion that JG was white anted due to lack of scholarship, without any scholarship of his own MH baldy asserts KR “retaliated”. Implicitly MH agrees, KR was taking some action in the period 2010 – 2013 but MH need not adduce evidence (scholarship) of this as his opinion needs no justification? Cant have it both ways but not for want of trying in this case.

  13. Shona W. says:

    I don’t understand this review. It’s as if Horan is reviewing the book he wants it to be rather than the book it is. I’ve read it and it’s often savage but witty. It pulls together the media’s treatment of Julia Gillard compared to the kid glove treatment they gave Rudd. In the author’s note Walsh said the book didn’t pretend to be a history of the Gillard government; it was a diary of how journalists ran with the Rudd agenda and how Rudd’s people used them. From the words of the journalists themselves! It had Walsh’s acerbic personal comments but isn’t that what people write in diaries? If I wanted to read a he said-she said justification from lying politicians or a boring historical monologue, I would have waited for a Paul Kelly book to hit the remainder bin.


  14. I have to agree with many of the previous commenters who have pointed out that Hogan’s review is missing the point entirely. For an alternative view on the book (from an infamous Labor identity) I’d recommend checking out the following piece: http://www.afr.com/p/national/arts_saleroom/mark_latham_shame_on_the_canberra_unhJxxsoQjtvJaZT7QVIVO


  15. If you want the real low-down about Kerry’s book, read Mark Latham’s review in the Financial Review today. he describes it as a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the dark arts of Rudd’s media manipulation. He says a book like it has never been written in Australian political history before. he seems to get exactly what I think the book is about. I’ve read it and it’s gripping, brave and makes me bloody angry about the state of politics and journalism. Matthew Horan must have read a different book to me.

  16. Jacqueline says:

    Horan is right. Don’t be influenced by reviews, especially his. It’s a load of nonsense and betrays his own bias from the description of Gillard’s prime ministership as a “disastrous three-year interregnum” to his defence of Rudd’s betrayal of his own party as not so much white anting as retaliating for being knifed himself. So that makes it all ok, then, the near loss of the 2010 election and the continuation of the destabilisation of the Government, Mr Moran? KA’s book is a splendid read and chronicles the destruction of Australia’s first female PMship by the Rudd forces, an ugly Opposition, disgusting shockjocks and a MSM which was at best merely compliant and at worst eager participants. And by the way, Mr Moran. Go easy with the “you go, girl”. Between women, it is ok but when a man says it to a woman, it can be interpreted as patronising and, gosh, dare I say it, sexist.


  17. I hope they make it into a film.


  18. Dude, you say Gillard Knifed Rudd, way to destroy your own credibility. 100 of 112 ministers decided to boot Rudd and they said to Gillard “If you don’t want the job we will give it to someone else” You lost me.


  19. I have had so many arguments with men and women alike about the extent of incredibly ferocious criticisms of JG. The reply has been “she deserves it”. It shows the extent of the brainwashing that happens with an audience that doesn’t think past the last written word they read in the press. There is little critical thinking in this country. The general intelligentsia appear to be mushrooms – and I expect a much higher level of ethical behaviour in press and politicians. At least I can hope but it seems the ‘blue ties” or the “cowardly custards” win out in the end.
    Lets find other Tony Windsors and Rob Oakshotts to bring our press and parliament back from ill-repute.


  20. Like many others I stoped reading the msm in disgust at their inability to write about policy and constant running of the Rudd stories. I found the book a very interesting overview of the press gallery and team Rudd during those years. What was obviousis the press gallery failed to provide honest, thorough and un biased information. Something has to change.

  21. Eva Makowiecki says:

    Have just finished the book, and think all Australians should read it. Australians should know how much of ‘planet media’ lives in a parallel universe,and appears to write whatever they like to support their undeniable biases. Because certainly running a minority government (which included several conservative politicians who apparently could not work with Tony Abbott),, passing hundreds of pieces of legislation, launching numerous SUCCESSFUL initiatives, ably representing the country overseas, – was apparently not really worth reporting.

    I have watched politics for the last 30 years, and consider that over the last 3 years, we have been treated with contempt by the right wing elements of the press.. I have spent 3 years waiting for some qualitative policy analysis, but it never came. Now I no longer read any of the newspapers as they appear to work with an agenda incompatible with actual journalism.

    I have never seen a PM so insulted and abused. Julia Gillard made the mistake of being civil. The media mistakes civility for weakness, and as with all bullies, all apparent weaknesses must be exploited for all they are worth. Perhaps what she should have done (metaphorically) is kick a few of them in the nuts, as this appears to be the only way to earn their ‘respect’, or at least get them to not ‘write crap’. Kerry-Anne Walsh had to do it for her, and I thank her for that.

    By the way, Matthew Horan, this is not an academic work by Ms Walsh, so formal references are not required. More to the point, what she so brilliantly said, was actually just the bleeding obvious. How many people did she need to interview to establish the bleeding obvious? So cut the condescending crap and admit it’s a great book..

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