Every time News Corp turns to a new target, Twitter activists blame an unprecedented “murdocracy” for the dire state of our political culture.

Yet we must remember that every significant social movement in Australian history has faced vocal – and sometimes overwhelming – opposition from the mainstream press.

In 1856, when stonemasons working at the University of Melbourne marched through the city to demand the eight-hour daythe Melbourne Herald called them “stupid mischievous fools[s]“indulging in” childish and useless wanderings “.

During the campaign against the Vietnam War, the Daily Telegraph urged citizens to shun the moratorium protest as “a point of plague”, warning that anyone who attended was taking “a part in the blind recklessness of the mob, and it is an unnecessary moral burden that is not sane”. the man will take care to support”.

After the police attacked the first gay liberation Mardi Gras in 1978the Sydney Morning Herald published the names of all those arrested, more or less guaranteeing their victimization by employers and landlords.

If you try to change society, you necessarily challenge those invested in the status quo. Almost by definition, you have to compete against companies that benefit from the world as it is – a category that for at least the past 150 years has included the various media empires.

That is why, for most of the 20th century, newspapers, of course, urged their readers to vote Conservative.

“The Australian Press”, writes Nick Economou“private property and for much of their history subject to the authoritarian style of individual landlords who saw interference as the right of property, had a long history of never endorsing the Australian Labor Party”.

When the Melbourne Herald – the preeminent headline in the Herald and Weekly Times stable – backed Bob Hawke in 1983, its decision shattered a century of anti-Labour editorials.

Back then, newspaper endorsements mattered – or at least they mattered a lot more than they do today.

Before the Internet, Australians had little choice when it came to news. If you lived in a metropolitan area, you would choose between two or three daily newspapers and tune in to a handful of television and radio stations.

the jingle with which Melbourne’s Channel Nine promoted its newsreader Brian Naylor captures something of the power journalists once possessed.

“I know everything I need to know,” he would say, “because Brian told me.”

No contemporary media would dare to claim a monopoly on relevant information in the same way. How could they? Today the Internet is become the main source of information for Australians – and the diversity of the offer considerably reduces the authority of a particular point of sale.

A recent survey found only 43% of Australians trust the media, the only major institution distrusted by the majority of the population.

Popular skepticism of the media is particularly relevant to the outlets most associated with right-wing culture wars, with, for example, another study in 2021 showing how little people trusted the media. The telegraph of the day.

Yes, the right-wing media still wield power – but not as much as they would have us believe.

Think of the cover of Anthony Albanese’s “Gaffes”.

His campaign could only be derailed by trick questions because Labor’s “small target” strategy relied in part on placating News Corp to avoid even the slightest hint of controversy. Hence Albanese’s willingness to endure Daily Telegraph criticism humiliating pop quizzes on his awakening or lack thereof.

By refusing to fight for an agenda of its own, Labor has allowed the media to set the terms of the debate.

It didn’t have to be like that.

When Adam Bandt broke “Google, buddy” to a reporter trying to catch him on statistics, the response resonated with an audience dismissive of stunts and shenanigans.

Similarly, when pundits attacked Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, he simply attacked them back, consciously cultivating hostility from a deeply unpopular media class on the grounds that it would augment his own actions.

In Victoria, Dan Andrews developed a different strategy with the lengthy press conferences he held during the pandemic. The aggressive questioning Andrews received did not shake his position; on the contrary, live footage of reporters questioning him won him considerable sympathy.

Even in the past, the conservative media have often proved powerless against those willing to take it on.

In 1856, the “unnecessary wanderings” of stonemasons meant that Australian workers took advantage of the eight-hour day long before most comparable countries. Anti-war activists forced the government to withdraw from the cruel Vietnam War; the gay rights movement grew and grew and grew, with SMH finally apologizing for its coverage.

Today Jack Waterford correctly describes Murdoch’s media as a “paper tiger”, noting that his headlines failed, despite concerted campaigning, to swing the vote in recent elections in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.

He adds: “They often fail to set the agenda either. It emerged, for example, that the moral panic over African gangs – said to have scared every Melburnian out at night – provoked a backlash – disgusting many voters from the campaign’s thinly disguised racial base and turning instead to Labour. At the height of Dictator Dan’s troubles, with the Herald Sun (and the Australian) all but inciting an uprising against Melbourne’s lockdown, Prime Minister Daniel Andrews’ popularity actually seemed to be on the rise.

Remember, paper tigers might as well be real if we cower under our beds in fear of them.

Obviously, it’s a good thing that so many people feel passionate about improving media.

We can and must demand a different approach.

At the same time, progressives cannot use the media as an alibi for our own failures. The best reporting in the world will not change society for us.

If we want to win, we have to fight.