13 Apr. 2008

Tom Switzer Land

Part 1 in a series: "How The US Neocons Invaded Australia"

Thanks to a reader for reminding me that Tom Switzer, former Opinion pages editor of The Murdochian, left his job at the end of February 2008 to take up work with Brendan Nelson's office. So how's that going, Tom?

Some say Switzer resigned rather than face the humiliation of editing the post-election tsunami of pro-Rudd pieces we've seen from Murdoch's mob. Others say that despite begging for his job he was dumped for taking the opinion pages too far into La La Land.

Switzer's role in Australian political journalism deserves a bit more scrutiny than it has received to date. Consider this meteoric career path for starters:

1990-94: studied history and economics at Sydney University.
1995-98: assistant editor at the American Enterprise Institute (spiritual home of the US neo-conservatives) in Washington.
1998-2001: editorial writer at The Australian Financial Review.
2001-08: opinion pages editor, The Australian.

Switzer joined Murdoch's flagship paper just a month after 9/11. As he tells it, Rupert's hacks were all calling each other "comrade" when he arrived, but he soon put a stop to that nonsense. Janet Albrechtsen became his most ardent devotee:
IT is only a slight exaggeration to say opinion writing in the Australian press has two eras: BT and AT. Before Tom. And after Tom...

The period AT sees this page, and the public conversation, transformed. I would say that, of course. Switzer brought me on board soon after his arrival.
John Howard praised Switzer for giving "an authentic voice to the Right in the culture debates". But don't get the idea that he was another unbalanced neocon! Howard insists Switzer's promotion of voices like Mark Steyn and Christopher Hitchens was "not to the detriment of others". As Janet explains it:
Switzer strove for balance. As he wrote in The Australian back in 2005, between July 2002 and March 2003, while debate about Iraq raged, this page reflected the controversy by publishing 45 dovish pieces and 47 hawkish pieces. After Saddam Hussein’s downfall, 107 columns were critical of the US-led occupation while 114 were supportive. You don’t get more balanced than that.
In other words, there were more hawkish pieces than dovish ones, and more pro-occupation articles than critical ones. And that's despite the fact that the Iraq quagmire has been, as Switzer himself once conceded, a "misbegotten venture" championed by "misguided idealists".

I'd like to know a bit more about Tom Switzer and his links with the US neo-conservatives. I'd like to know who gave him a job at the Fin Review, why Rupert put him in charge of the editorials just after 9/11, and whether his work with former Defence Minister Brendan Nelson includes contacts with US military-industrial supporters.

It's interesting, for example, that Switzer was still listed as a contact for the American Foreign Service Association in 2005:
Please keep in mind that we continue at your service to arrange speakers for your organization on foreign affairs issues. As before, if your organization is interested in a retired diplomat speaker on such issues, contact Tom Switzer, AFSA Communications Director, at: 800-704-2372, ext. 501; e-mail: switzer@afsa.org.
A Different Tom Switzer?

I'd also like to know who organised for John Howard to be in the USA visiting Murdoch and Bush just hours before 9/11. But that's another story...

NOTES: Switzer is an old boy of Sydney's Saint Aloysius college.

Here's an old 1997 AEI interview with Caspar Weinberger, co-authored with Bill Kauffman.

Andrew West in New Matilda, July 2006:
The Australian's op-ed page, run by former American Enterprise Institute (AEI) staffer Tom Switzer, offers a frequent pulpit to former Howard Government staffer Kevin Donnelly to promote free market policies in education. Switzer himself wrote glowingly in the AEI journal last year about Howard, calling him the 'antipodal offspring of his hero Ronald Reagan.'

But, of course, all this is on the record. What is less well known are the extensive social networks connecting the Right-wing activists and columnists. Akerman attends the PM's invitation-only Christmas cocktail party at Kirribilli House. Malcolm Farr, the Daily Telegraph's Canberra political correspondent (and a supposedly neutral member of the ABC's Insiders panel) was one of only three media people invited to a 2003 barbecue at The Lodge for visiting US President George W Bush. The other two were Melbourne broadcaster Neil Mitchell and Sydney broadcaster (and former Liberal Party candidate) Alan Belford Jones.

I once found myself the distinctly odd man out in a gathering that included Akerman, the SMH's Paul Sheehan, the revisionist historian and new ABC Director Keith Windschuttle, The Bulletin's Tim Blair, The Australian columnist Frank Devine and Quadrant editor Paddy McGuinness. There is also a regular dinner party salon of activists that, for a while last year, included Switzer and Alex Hawke, the secretive Federal President of the Young Liberals who featured so prominently in Monday night's Four Corners program.

Is there anything wrong with any of this? No, except when 'movement' activism infiltrates the news coverage.
Wilson Da Silva follows up an SMH investigation:
Australia's neo-conservative think tanks wield extraordinary influence over government policy.

They are so influential that they regard themselves as "the fifth estate", as essential to democracy as the other four: government, parliament, the judiciary and a free press. Each think tank has a clear political agenda, but prefers the camouflage of innocuous-sounding names such as Sydney's Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) or Melbourne's Institute of Public Affairs...

In Australia, as elsewhere, they ply their trade by publishing "independent research" from a network of like-minded scholars whose reports invariably end up backing the neo-conservative world view. Staff and friendly scholars are paid to write newspaper articles which are submitted - usually free - to opinion pages.

By publishing reports that confirm their arguments, neo-conservative think tanks seek to mould public debate. But they also peddle influence, holding closed seminars and lectures where visiting international conservative luminaries address selected rising members of the political elite - such as last week's CIS gathering on the Sunshine Coast. Von Hayek would have been pleased. He died in 1992, but not before Thatcher rewarded him with a visit to Buckingham Palace, where he was bestowed with a Companion of Honour - a tribute to the most successful, if unheralded, political puppet-master of the past century.