The Possum Box

Thoughts of the Pollytics Community

Is the media in Australia suffering from groupthink?

Posted by Possum Comitatus on June 14, 2008

By Ad astra

‘Groupthink’ is described by Irving Janis as “A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”

Recurrent themes in the Australian media suggest that groupthink is alive and well among political journalists. Here are some examples.

‘Narrative’ has become a buzz word. When Glen Milne first used the word some time ago on Insiders, he seemed very pleased that he’d discovered a fashionable new word he could use. Now many columnists accuse the Government of not having, or not stating a narrative or story that portrays its plans and aspirations. No one has defined what such a ‘narrative’ should look like, or what it might contain. The plans and fiscal policies detailed in the recent budget seemingly do not count as ‘narrative’ although they describe short, medium and long terms plans and how they are to be processed and funded. What the columnists have in mind is a mystery, but they enjoy using the word in a pseudo-authoritative way. Perhaps one day mere mortals will discover their meaning, if indeed they have any common understanding of the word. Is the widespread use of ‘narrative’ a manifestation of groupthink?

Another idea that has gained currency is that Kevin Rudd and his Government manifest “more symbolism than substance”. This has been purveyed by the Opposition and has been taken up by many journalists. Where is the supporting evidence? There has been symbolism, important symbolism, for example in signing Kyoto and saying ‘Sorry’, but that has been accompanied by substance in the form of numerous announcements and parliamentary bills, so much so that the Opposition is protesting that there are too many bills to pass in the time provided. It’s hard to see how it can be argued that there is little substance, yet complain in this way. So is it media groupthink that perpetuates what appears to be a myth? Is it a handy catchphrase without much substance itself?

A related term is ‘stunt’. The Opposition has often accused Kevin Rudd and his Government of stunts. The term is now frequently used in the media. Alexander Downer proclaimed the call for an Asia Pacific Community a stunt, although in the same breath, he said it was a good idea. Already this is being echoed in the media. Greg Sheridan uses the less offensive term ‘half-baked’ to describe this and other recent foreign policy initiatives. ‘Policy on the run’ is a similar phrase used by politicians, now the stock in trade of almost every journalist.

Possum Comitatus points out the frequency with which ‘political crisis’ is used in political commentaries. ‘Crisis’ means ‘a time of intense difficulty or danger’, ‘a turning point that defines recovery or death’. ‘Disaster’ is a commonly used alternative. But why not use ‘problem’, ‘predicament’, ‘difficulty’ ‘dilemma’ or ‘quandary’? Not dramatic enough, I expect. Groupthink demands no deviation from a common position, but a more extreme manifestation of it is acceptable. Columnists do not enjoy being outdone, so exaggerated language is the norm.

‘Honeymoon’ is another word that flows from many a columnist. Dennis Shanahan looks longingly for its disappearance in almost every column he writes. He has many fellow-travellers. They believe that newly-elected governments enjoy a period when the members of the public have honeymooners’ stardust in their eyes and can see no fault, but that disenchantment soon sets in and appeal fades. This distorts the metaphor. How many honeymoons quickly deteriorate into disillusionment? Some do, but most settle into a comfortable relationship that lasts for years, sometimes a lifetime. After only six months, do they expect a surge of those who voted Labor to believe they’ve made a terrible mistake and reflect their disillusionment starkly in the opinion polls? That hasn’t happened; few marriages evolve that way. So why do so many journalists persist with the concept of a ‘honeymoon’? Is this another example of groupthink?

‘Control freak’ is a term used to describe Kevin Rudd. Andrew Bolt labours this term incessantly. ‘Kevin24/7’ is an accompanying term used to describe a manic approach to work. These terms have been picked up by many journalists and joined to stories of overworking the public service, undervaluing their advice, and exercising power plays over them. No doubt there is some truth in this, but the manner in which these sentiments have been slavishly replicated by many journalists suggest groupthink is operating.

The appraisal by journalists of the performance of Government members in parliament seems too to be another example of groupthink. Peter Costello was classed by many commentators as ‘a stellar performer’ in Parliament. They saw his sarcastic, voluble, and at times raucous utterances that ridiculed the Opposition as humorous and politically telling, performances that many ordinary citizens found repugnant. The new Government is said to be unable to match him. Groupthink has many columnists now riding along with this, asserting that the Government is not ‘cutting through’.

Journalistic responses to the June 3 Newspoll provide another example of groupthink. Although the two party preferred figures were the same as in the two previous polls, much more was made by Dennis Shanahan of changes in the preferred PM and satisfaction/dissatisfaction figures. Several columnists, and radio and TV news bulletins picked up on this aspect, hardly mentioning the static 2PP figures.

Thanks to groupthink, the ‘can you guarantee’ syndrome has taken hold. Tony Jones is the master of this approach, which seeks to corner politicians into saying something most sensibly refuse to do. There are few iron-clad guarantees in politics, yet although Tony knows this he persists ad nauseam hoping the interviewee will break. Kerry O’Brien, Laurie Oakes and John Faine too are connoisseurs of this technique.

Media groupthink now seems to be moving towards belittling Kevin Rudd and his Government, reinforcing the approach of the Opposition. Perhaps this is a manifestation of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’; Kevin Rudd has had it so good for so long, it’s time to cut him and his Government down to size. Journalist after journalist now insist ‘the wheels are falling off’. What value do they see in demeaning a Government that has two and a half years to run, elected convincingly by the people just six-months ago? What value is it to the Australian public to thwart the Government’s agenda? Do they do this because groupthink is inherently unthinking?

The ‘news’ for newspapers, TV and radio furnished by ‘video news release suppliers’, a phenomenon labelled ‘churnalism’, sounds like marketed groupthink. Rather than passing from journalist to journalist, material passes pre-packaged with little journalistic input.

Possum Comitatus points to groupthink when he describes a “…world of the Opinionatas – a sort of deafening echo chamber of electoral ignorance and lemming like commentary.” We saw a classic example of that recently over the subsidy to Toyota to build a hybrid car. A piece in The Age was changed in a matter of hours to bring it into line with a contrary piece that appeared in The Australian which confidently asserted that the car would have been built without a subsidy. Now of course The Australian has recanted this in a page four ‘correction’.

Groupthink is usually seen in cohesive groups. It could be argued that members of the media, and in particular the Press Gallery, do not constitute a cohesive group, as they come from a variety of media outlets. Yet they work together, they read or watch each other’s work, they appear together on programs such as Insiders and Meet the Press, and they socialize together. Few of them seem to be willing to be the ‘odd man out’. Even journalists that are generally considered fair-minded are sometimes induced to join the pack on contentious issues. Very few are willing to express a view that differs substantially from the mainstream. David Marr, George Megalogenus, Brian Toohey and Laura Tingle are examples of such fiercely independent journalists that spring to mind. Most of the rest prefer to fall in with the crowd.

The result is media of indifferent quality, which generally follows the leader in promulgating facts that are often inaccurate or distorted, embraces fashionable concepts and buzz words, and indulges in ‘copy-cat’ commentary that does little to inform or enlighten. Perhaps the only reassuring aspect of this lamentable state of affairs is that so many of the voting public let most media offerings pass harmlessly over their heads.

Many in the media abuse the power inherent in the journalistic pen. Where have objective, informed, balanced reporting and commenting gone? Often the two are confused as journalists seek to promulgate their views rather than the facts. It’s a pity that the small coterie of good quality journalists is diluted by such a motley collection of writers of indifferent, and in many instances, low standard. Groupthink seems to be the genesis of much of the pathology they exhibit.

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44 Responses to “Is the media in Australia suffering from groupthink?”

  1. Just Me said

    Good article, Ad Astra.

    What value do they see in demeaning a Government that has two and a half years to run, elected convincingly by the people just six-months ago? What value is it to the Australian public to thwart the Government’s agenda?

    Like many others, I have been wondering over the last couple of years if the overwhelming dominance of the mainstream corporate media is coming to an end, and there are more balancing forces emerging. The internet age is providing some very real alternative ways to experience, define and report ‘news’. A lot of people I know, who are not particularly big tech-heads or web junkies or socio-political radicals, get their news from a range of sometimes quite obscure online sources. In the pre-internet era most people already were sceptical to some degree of the MSM, but now they have an actual opportunity to vote with their feet (hands?), to be more actively informed and make their own judgements instead of relying on the pontification of ‘expert political commentators’, and are many are doing so. And the MSM have nobody but themselves to blame for this situation.

  2. janice said

    Where has objective, informed and balanced reporting gone indeed? The buzz words/phrases used by ‘Groupthink’ cover a multitude of sins, are quickly picked up by uninformed readers to use as criticisms of issues of which they have little understanding, and the journos of poor quality escape accountability and scrutiny for the tripe they present as reporting. It appears that the majority of journalists see themselves as king makers and judges.

    Prior to the Howard era, when a story broke in the media we were able to turn to the ABC to get the facts, but this is no longer the case as what you find in our National Broadcaster now is a carbon copy of the reporting in the tabloids.

  3. Just Me said

    It appears that the majority of journalists see themselves as king makers and judges.

    The cult of personality has arrived and become entrenched in Australian journalism, in which the journo’s ‘opinions’ and ‘interpretations’ of the story become more important than reporting the basics facts of the story.

    And Ad Astra, I would add Mike Steketee to your list of decent journos.

  4. Ad astra said

    Your right Just Me, Mike Steketee is a quality journalist.

  5. another said

    Yes! Yes! Yes! No I’m not trying to do a Meg Ryan. I’m finally reading an article that covers everything I’ve been witnessing from the media, in the last four years.

    I just read a comment from our much loved Antony Green on Pollbludger. He says that alot of the online media articles are handle by junior journalists (inexperienced). If these journo’s are having trouble with getting a quote from Nelson about a Rudd press release or getting a quote from Rudd about a Nelson press release, then they need to be more closely monitored. I remember reading last year before the election that every press release that Labor was putting out, had a rebuttal from the coalition at the end of the story. Post election there is only the press release or interviews by one party. It doesn’t make for a balanced article.

  6. another said

    By the way Poss this is the bloody best idea. Thanx

  7. Harry "Snapper" Organs said

    Well, what a thoughtful article, Ad Astra. Groupthink is a very good explanation, along with Just Me’s idea about the journos. opinions and interpretations being more important than the facts. Ali Moore also quality.
    Bravo, Poss, great idea.

  8. Peter Mc said

    Ad Astra
    excellent work. It would be great if Media Watch new about this article – its one of those pieces thats hits the nail on the head.
    One extra dimension to this is the decline of journalistic standards at the ABC. If you want to find a leader (in the pre-Howard era) the public could look to the ABC. Journalists and reporting formats where developed in the ABC, and this seeded the commercials. Now of course the major ABC news and current affairs are just not reliable as a source of information on politics. Its awful but I no longer trust what I hear. I suspect this might change once the Howard appointees to the ABC board are shifted aside. Their appointments where not just overtly political but intentionally destructive (at lest in my view). Similarly the straight-jacket of the anti-bias guidelines which was almost Maoist in dimensions or at least intention.
    I’ve felt that Australia will take a decade to recover from Howard’s destructive rule and the media will probably improve over this time but only if people like you and possum stay on the case.

  9. Local Identity said


    You no doubt wondered if this thing was a good idea or not

    It was and is

    The above proves it in one go!

  10. cille said

    Yay – couldn’t agree more Astra, you’ve captured it – and also to Possum, thanks for the new forum – will be watching (lurking) – cheers

  11. another said

    shute, i forgot to say “good job Astra” 🙂

  12. Scorpio said

    Ad Astra,

    I agree substantially with much of your take on the way the MSM has evolved towards a group think mentality.

    One thing though, you omitted to examine the role that the concentration of media outlets has affected the dissemination of news and information in the last decade especially.

    The manner in which “news” items are shared across the News Ltd stable is a prime example whereby an article by a particular “journalist” is published in each outlet or is tagged with supple differences under the auspices of a different “journalist”, although more often with no identified authorship, but is still basically the same article.

    The Oz is a prime example of publishing matter without any authorship being quoted. Especially with so-called “editorials” which are often derivatives from articles in the paper but do not identify the Editor and which leads one to think they have been written by the same person who lays claim to the journalistic masterpiece elsewhere in the paper.

    Group think is inevitable under the current concentration of media in Australia. I long for more players in the market.

  13. Miserable Trolling Type Person said

    Somebody had to do it

    Your all a bunch of!


  14. Harry "Snapper" Organs said

    Miserable Trolling Type Person, you are trying to articulate exactly what?

  15. Doug said

    A good article that hits the buttons with ideas formed and half formed in my mind but having difficulty expressing them. Groupthink is the same or similar to peer pressure and you see this in action as you grow up in school and later in the workforce. There are not many people who will stand apart from it in any community. There are not many who are willing to think for themselves and most people prefer to go with the flow.
    The situation could become an issue for the Gov’t later on unless they can find a circuit breaker.
    People deserve a better and more reliable information from the Media from what they are getting.

  16. Marktwain said


  17. Grumps said

    Good article Ad Astra.

    Whilst exploring group think, I hope you have a few more articles on why “groupthink” has come about.

    To get rid of the oldies but goodies;

    The obvious answer would be the concentration of media. Does this mean those jurno’s still standing have the right to consider themselves king makers? In any other buisness context, time servers like this would be considered a bad thing. Such longetivity an indication that they have not got the skills to advance themselves. Obviously the new squeal style is adopted by all in an attempt to remain relevant, and up to date within a clique.

    And the most political would be the old Joh Bjelke line of “feeding the chooks”. After all this time this line hasn’t lost it, And it is the best description of how Howard and now Rudd are/is trying to handle the media. (Not to successfully for Rudd at the moment. Could this be payback/kneejerk for not getting the Phesp angle right at the last election?)

    In some ways I think it is a reflection fo the lifestyle we have gained/impressed under the Keating/Howard years. Busy lifestyles in the pursuit of what ever means that fundemental nicities, such as a slow read of all papers on a saturday morning.

    IMO For the current young generation the need to be quickly informed manifests itself in the form of the freebie paper down here called MX. Open print style, short articles grouped or headed in forms that identify the style of deep, not so deep and trivial. It mimics other forms of MMS and in some respects the internet formats.

    For us oldies concerns such as juggling the lifestyle to achieve all requires dumping something. Obviously time taken to read media good be seen as indulgent. One’s preference is to listen rather than watch/read/consume.

    For me another is the personl a cost in consuming a paper. Taking the Hun in Melbourne for 13/06/08 (normally I wait for the Hun to mature by 5 days before I venture to pickit up, but I Was desperate for something to read). Of 88 pages 31 was for sports (I never read sports) 8 racing form, 8 classifieds, 7 buisness. Of the remaining 34 pages 21 equivalent pages of advertisement leaving 13 news pages of which 2 where editorial featuring Doltbolt, 1 weather, 1 television. A total of 9 pages that told me nothing new or I couldn’t get from alternate sources.

    I must say thank you to you lot in forcing me to discern and engage in more quality media forms such as quartely essays.

    For me George Megalogenis is quality editorialist and author.

  18. JP said

    If the editors/proprietors wanted independent, intelligent reportage, then they’d get it. It would only be a morning’s work to sack a sycophant like Shanahan and hire someone insightful from the blogosphere, for starters.

    But they don’t want that. Murdoch in particular has made no secret that what he wants is MONEY, and if that’s to be had by pandering to people’s prejudices, then he’s more than happy to do that. And he needs foot-soldiers who are happy to take the company line that’s sent down from above if he’s to implement his strategy. And he’s got them – no surprises there. All the corporate MSM outlets have self-interest driving their agendas, and the discerning reader just isn’t a huge market segment compared the the tits and football and nationalism segment, alas.

    Such a shame to see the ABC following instead of leading on this.

    The other pressure leading to “regurgitate the group line” practices is an increased pressure for timeliness. Front page articles have to be ready to go to the website before the competition – for example just minutes after the conclusion of a press conference. No wonder that what little thoughtful analysis remains the mainstream press comes from weekly columnists who can avoid that to a greater extent – with half an hour to come up with copy, who’s going to be consistently insightful?

  19. Ad astra said

    Janice and Peter Mc, the ABC did seem to change tack last year after the Coalition alleged countless instances of bias in reporting. Although subsequent enquiries narrowed that to a tiny handful of substantive matters, the outcome was a noticeable emphasis on giving both major parties equal time. If the purpose is to put alternative viewpoints to enable reasoned debate, that is necessary and laudable. But so often a proposal from one side is accompanied not by an alternative, but by a rebuttal from the other that simply says “we don’t agree”, or worse still “it’s another stunt”, or it’s all symbolism and no substance”. Such sound bites or visual clips seem to have become mandatory at the ABC, presumably in the interests of balance, but they so often serve to irritate rather than contribute to the debate. How much the Howard appointees to the ABC Board influence such matters is unknown, but it will be interesting to see if anything changes when they are replaced.

    Just Me, Another, Scorpio and Grumps, your references to journalists and media control are pertinent. As the major dailies are controlled by just two owners, instead of a diversity of views from a variety of journalists, we too often see identical or very similar pieces in several papers across the nation, although the attributed authorship often differs. While syndication is understandable when several papers reside in the same stable, to represent the same article in several outlets as being the work of a multiplicity of authors is misleading, encourages groupthink, and is lazy to boot. It does little to train young journalists in the rigours of sound reporting and reasoned comment.

    Finally, today’s Insiders featured more groupthink, as it does most weeks. ‘Gesture politics’ cropped up several times, and Glen Milne clearly enjoyed repeating ‘thought bubble’ time and again. He eagerly seized a newer one, ‘bumper sticker politics’. Wait for more of that one.

  20. Just Me said

    [Milne] eagerly seized a newer one, ‘bumper sticker politics’.

    Fits in nicely with his bumper sticker journalism.

  21. Nick G said

    In regards to the ABC falling into line with the lazy journalism of group think, is it possible that the Board may exerted some editorial control on this? i.e. Don’t stray from what the mainstream media is doing for fear of ‘left wing bias’?

    But for a handful of quality journalists (I personally would add SMH’s Ross Gittens and Canberra Times’ Peter Martin to the list), i suspect the ‘Opinionatas’ are either deluded or consciously trying to keep themselves relevant. I suspect when one becomes so involved with a world that revolves around ‘the gallery’, and day-to-day contact is with other members of the press and politicians (and those associated with them), they loose sight of the fact the ‘mainstream’ just don’t care at the moment.

    Print media is declining, and I imagine the headline grabbing “Honeymoon is over” (and so forth) sensationalisation of nothing-news won’t help their cause.

  22. Nick G said

    Further, I can’t stand to watch Insiders anymore. Groupthink is rampant. If ever there was pontification to be labeled ‘half-baked’, I think Insiders may just qualify. (Sorry to the handful of quality journos who do appear on it – Megalogenis et al… Also, ever noticed how hard it is for Brian Toohey to get a word in?)

  23. josh lyman said

    Nice post Ad, and Just Me’s comment about opinion pieces resonates as well. Reminds me of hearing Miranda Devine give a talk bemoaning the relativism of news journalism in which ‘truth’ no longer matters. I laughed out loud but most of the crowd were nodding their heads at the sage warning about impending moral decay.

    I’d love to go on Q&A and ask a question, not of the pollies, but of Tony Jones, about why the media is so incapable of asking questions that generate more understanding, rather than the endless groupthink and ‘gotcha’ crap we get now. I’d ask him what role he thinks he has in society, because what he does is not actually holding politicians accountable on any real scale (and he’s one of the ‘quality’ journos!). I’d point out that if the media runs the emissions trading story like it just ran the petrol price story, we f***ed as a country.

  24. El Nino said

    Good article. One of the comments above alluded to media concentration. Groupthink is particularly evident when combined with a ‘corporate citadel’ mentality. Groupthink is also interesting when it crosses proprietary lines in journalism or anywhere else in the corporate world. In this way, groupthink is a potential precursor to cartel behaviour.
    A couple of words of warning follow.
    Groupthink is not restricted to MSM. I have seen evidence of it on this and other blogs. Always be wary of agreement for agreement’s sake.
    Don’t write all off all consensus as ‘groupthink’ otherwise ‘groupthink’ could easily be confused with ‘doublethink’. For example, the idea of Rudd workaholic is not really an example of groupthink. It’s an idea that has been fed liberally to the media ‘chooks’ by Rudd for some time. Thoughtless reportage is just bad journalism – not groupthink.

  25. Ad astra said

    From its 7 am bulletin this morning ABC news on 774 headlined the petrol story in today’s ACNielsen poll. Bulletin after bulletin featured this, with passing references to PPM and preferred Coalition leader. It is now after midday, and so far there has been no mention of voting intentions, about which anyone interested in politics would want to know. An online search of The Age and the SMH revealed that voting intentions were there (and virtually unchanged from last month), but buried in their stories and therefore quite hard to find. So the news writers at the ABC had taken not just the story as it appeared online, but also the emphasis within the story, replicating it without mentioning the hard-to-find voting intentions.

    So is this groupthink? In a recent Pollbludger blog Antony Green pointed out that Canberra reporters are “…deluged from sun-up to midnight by press releases, reports, media feeds, day in day out…” and that online news services are done on an hourly turn around basis, and are “… always written by the youngest, most inexperienced and lowest paid journalists.” This may explain today’s ABC news. If it’s not overt groupthink, it might be a variant that could be called ‘group-unthink’, as thoughtful processing of online information before further release is made impossible by the logistic imperatives of media institutions. Could ‘group-unthink’ be almost as dangerous to democracy as groupthink?

  26. El Nino said

    ‘Unthink’ is not a danger to democracy (whatever that is), it is a function of a modern liberal economy. It is not a conspiracy to take away a loftily held principle of journalism or some other ideal; it is a function of base late capitalism. In terms of media content, ‘thinking’ gets in the way of volume. That is, there is a direct correlation between volume/frequency of content and the value of advertising real estate. If at 2:30 pm a ‘junior’ journalist get a story about a secret royal involved in a scurrilous, mass murder, bizarre alien conspiracy, its best not too much thinking takes place. Sorry – the last line is for possum’s search results.

    [Ha! Cheeky bastard :mrgreen: ….. Poss]

  27. Janet said

    Someone who keeps better tabs on these thing than I do might be able to quote examples, but I’m pretty sure that John Howard’s work ethic and party room control were considered virtues by the msm once upon a time. So there must be more than groups speak in ‘Kevin 24/7’ and ‘control freak’. A good dollop of bias, methinks.

  28. Peter Mc said

    Re Anthony Greens comments.

    I have a lot of respect for Anthony (the election goblin) but I think he’s missed some important points here particularly in relation to the ABC. There isn’t a clear agenda that is aimed at a Liberal party world view in the ABC, what we have instead is a removal of reasoned and focused debate on issues (as opposed to personalities and political strategy). As soon as Howard got in all those years ago, I remember a shift from debate on issues, to one on personal credibility. This was how Howard developed the culture of the coalition. Issues where won by force of will rather than an intellectual process informed by evidence. So if you wanted to report politics you don’t have substantive information you have only spin to mull over. This is how the ABC has developed and the ABC board (who are part of this culture surrounding Howard) have removed examination of substantive issues from the agenda as a result. Take Chris Masters “Jonestown” as an example – a clear example of board intervention.
    Also the ABC anti-bias thing was straight forward government censorship. Why? Because at the time it was introduced the focus should have been, for the most part, on the government and its prosecution of the war in Iraq (and issues like the pacific solution etc). The anti-bias thing was an a useful, and successful way to avoid examination.
    We can talk about the commercials but they do what they want and we can’t influence them directly (although I agree that laws regulating media concentration need reform) but we should expect that the ABC achieves the goals of its charter. I believe at present it falls short of doing this.

  29. Enemy Combatant said

    Excellent article Ad astra, really enjoyed the examples you gave of groupthink’s predominance in Oz MSM.
    Just Me at 1 and Janice at 2, your observations are most apt. It will take years to weed out the The Rodent’s influence on the ABC by his appointment of hard right board members like Brunton, Albrechtsen and Windschuttle, as indeed it will take years for B43’s SCOTUS appointees to dwindle in influence.

    Scorpio at 12, your yearning for more players is at hand and you’re looking at it on blogs like this.

    Josh Lyman at 19 and Peter Mc at 23, d’accord.

    To the extensive list at the bottom of the surprisingly good wiki page(Newspeak and duckspeak are mentioned furthur up) I’d add CW or conventional wisdom, teh hivemind (much in evidence on some blogs) and perhaps even Prevailing Norm should also get a guernsey. Bewdy, Norm!

    “Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish, or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance. The term is frequently used pejoratively, with hindsight.”

  30. Ad astra said

    Enemy Combatant, the definition of groupthink you have quoted is more apt than the one I used. Thank you.

  31. Ron said

    Ad Astra

    I think the premises of your article on ‘GroupThink’ would be applauded by Media Proprietors for one , & as wel by many political journalists for your piece offering a novel camouflage for journalists political works & agenda ’ I disagree with your article and suggest alternativley political journalists fall into “bandwidth leaning” agendas

    Virtually all of the examples you quoted ultimately had an unjustified , but adverse reflection on th Rudd Government or Rudd or conversely a positive reflection of the Opposition
    Those examples simply reflect the historic longterm political leanings to the ‘right’ of those journalists The DEGREE of those political leanings (the ‘bandwidth’ agenda) is always consistent with the level of ferocity & extravegance of adverse ‘left’ articles each journalist historically writes For example , Shanahan’s articles r historically consistently at the firm ‘right’ “bandwidth leaning” agenda , Albrechtsen & Bolt’s articles are historically consistently more aggressively ‘right’ again and are at the outer ‘right’
    “bandwidth leaning” agenda , the ‘right’ Shock Jocks are historically consistently at the extreme outer right “bandwidth leaning” agenda They never vary outside the level of their ‘right’ “bandwidth leaning” The decision to employ , and the quantum employed , in each category of these ‘right’ variously ranging “bandwidth leaning” agenda journalists are a reflectionn of the ‘right’ leanings of the management or the proprietor Phillip Adams for example is in the light ‘left’ “bandwidth leaning” agenda & is one token regular ‘lefty’ on the ‘oz’ The presentation of political storys from headlines onwards are a further reflection

    The new ‘right’ leaning ABC management have simply followed the same princile of employing ‘right’ “bandwidth leaning” agenda journalists , but of varying ‘bandwith leanings’agendas for subtlety

    Regarding Channel 9 , having watched it for 20 years as a mild ‘right’ leaning TV presenter in its ‘news’ broadcasts on political news , has dramatically moved from about 12 months ago to firm ‘right’ “bandwidth leaning” agenda in how and what adverse ‘left’ storys it “presents” One suspects with Kerry Packer gon , the new management have followed the ABC example

    The Canberra Press Club by its confines exercises some seniority & club mentality restrictions but Glen Milne proves perhaps that if you are in the outer ‘right’ “bandwidth leaning” agenda , then even Oakes’ etc seniority counts for nought & so ‘club mentality’ there may be somewhat of a fantasy with only some truth

    Your inclusion of the ‘can you guarantee’ brigade of Tony Jones , Oakes etc was irrelevant & inconsistents to the other examples stated in the Article The fact these TV journalists use the same form of question is not a coincidence or an example of Groupthink’ at all The words ‘can you guarantee’ to a politican in a question are the surest way to force a politican to give an unqualified committment which he is bound by or to evade and wear the politial consequences Given the skill with which even an average politican can skirt around any othr form of question and still appear to the viewer he has answered it when he has not , the ‘can you guarantee’ is an exellent format and so beit if all TV jounalists use it

    For my part , I found George Megalogenes , Kenneth Davidson , Tony Jonnes , Michelle Gratten , Tingle usually & some others , whilst all are hurtful when they hit my side of politics with hard questions I accept they are reasonably fair & are at almost neutral “bandwidth leanings” agenda journalists

    The notion that journalists operate by “GroupThink” is unsupported Whereas the notion journalists reflect their “bandwidth leanings” agenda is clearly evidenced by years odf persual of the same journalists articles , which is why they are individualy employed Whether each journalists bandwidth leanings’agenda is solley theirs or in part influenced regulary on the job by their immediate management as a term of employment , does not diminsh the ‘bandwidth leanings ‘ agenda argument vs GroupThink’

  32. Cath said

    A little off topic but I really responded to your opening comment on the use of ‘narrative’ in the MSM. I think this demand for narrative is linked to a much wider cultural trend away from a willingness to engage in layered, complex debate to the insistence on a simple and non-ambiguous story line with a clear moral.

    As a secondary history teacher, in Howard’s last term I went through a period where I was constantly told that I had to present a narrative history about how our nation was built ie aboriginal culture, first fleet, federation, first and second world wars, Vietnam war/ sixties etc. Then the state changed the year 12 exam and I wasn’t told so much as made to teach this way.

    Now I have no problem with this so long as it isn’t presented as the ONLY way to engage with history (or political debate). Simple can be elegant/ compelling and sometimes forcing a student (or a politician) to give you a summarised story of the material under discussion is the only way to truly test their understanding of and approach to the content under discussion. But this shouldn’t be at the expense of taking a thematic approach that would require looking at a broad topic – say identity – and taking apart what it has meant at different times to different groups of people. It’s not a surprise to me that one kind of historical analysis – feminist history – is very badly served by a chronological approach (as is social history in general). The best article I read before the election was one where the journo asked Rudd what he thought the role of the Prime Minister was in general (all the other articles asked what he was going to do about A B and how he would get C done). It was in the Bulliton, apologies as I can’t remember the name or title.

    The nature of a narrative is that to construct it you have to leave many more things out than you put in. What bothers me is that I don’t think the commentators calling for it are doing so because that are watering at the mouth at the thought of the hard and pertinent questions this format might allow them to ask. I have a horrible feeling its because narratives are great when you have a limited word count, and are suited perfectly for the ‘Labour said, Liberals responded’ stenography that covers for balanced investigative journalism – after all if the government would just get their story straight the opposition could come up with a counter-narrative and then they wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of actually researching a range of reports/ views/ facts about, say, climate change, education health etc…

  33. Travis said

    Great post on an interesting subject.
    I found this page here to be useful in explaining it a little clearer and putting it in layman’s terms.

  34. estetik said

    Well, what a thoughtful article, Ad Astra. Groupthink is a very good explanation, along with Just Me’s idea about the journos. opinions and interpretations being more important than the facts. Ali Moore also quality.
    Bravo, Poss, great idea.

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