General George Patton – McTernan’s alter ego?

by on 19 June, 2013

Bertel Torsten in Canberra

Even the best political spin-doctors have their bad days.

Whatever else you might think about Hitler’s fabulously titled Minister for National Enlightenment and Propaganda, Dr Josef Goebbels, he was a consummate master of the dark art.

In 1941 when the war from his perspective was going quite nicely, came the shattering news that the Deputy Fuehrer Rudolf Hess had secretly flown to the UK on a lunatic mission to try and broker a peace deal.

The acknowledged spin doctor of his era went into a complete meltdown, fled to his country residence and went into a massive sulk. Begged by his offsider for guidance on what to say, Goebbels shouted down the phone, “Say whatever you please. I don’t know what to advise you. There are situations which even the best propagandist in the world cannot cope with.” Then he hung up and went to bed.

PM Gillard’s propaganda chief John McTernan, a British import who has had his job since September, 2011, must have similar and ever increasing moments daily.

Back in May 2012, Sydney Morning Herald journalist Paola Totaro described his modus operandi thus: “McTernan’s strategy has been to keep the Prime Minister looking like a prime minister … (his) job is not so much day-to-day media management and monitoring, though he does do some of that, but to keep the government message on track. If that means yelling at journalists, backbenchers or ministers who stray, McTernan is happy to oblige.”

It wouldn’t surprise if the frequency and crescendo of his yelling recently has reached frenzy level.

In March this year, ABC Online asked him if he was working here on a 457 visa and his reply was at least concise: “Hardly f*ck**g relevant.”

Reflecting on his contribution to good government, it is hardly surprising that Gillard’s government has decided to crack down on those naughty employers who bring in foreign workers on such visas rather than hire Australians. Then again, perhaps Julia couldn’t find an Australian prepared to do what McTernan has done and continues to do. Particularly as the job is a career terminator.

His charm offensive includes twitters such as “Ah, so now we are clear, you’re a graceless buffoon” and “What a surprise. Abuse from a moron.”  Sydney 2GB’s Ross Greenwood has revealed McTernan called him once and launched into a spray which Greenwood later described as an “absolute tirade” laced with the incessant use of the “F bomb”.

According to 2GB’s Ben Fordham, he and McTernan met at the State of Origin match in Sydney earlier this month when McTernan said, “You might want me to do a regular spot on your show next year if we lose the election.” When asked by a journalist if this was true, McTernan flatly replied “NO” yet he texted Fordham complaining, “Your tweet had gone viral, I though that what goes on at Origin stays on Origin”

Fordham commented, “Nobody likes a bullshit artist, it’s no big deal but he should own up to it.”

My favourite McTernan story was the disclosure in May that he gathered some seventy Ministerial advisers to inspire them to sell the forthcoming budget and screened a motivational scene from the 1970 movie Patton, about the US World War 11 hero, General George Patton.

In this famous scene George C Scott, playing Patton, delivers a speech before a giant American flag to his troops just prior to the 1944 D Day invasion saying, memorably, “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country; he won it by making the other poor bastard die for his country.”   

Just what Ministerial advisers, many of whom no doubt have a long history of selfless devotion to the ALP, thought of this tactic from some pommy blow-in isn’t hard to imagine.

It was that great American statesman Richard Milhouse Nixon who screened Patton – one of his very favourite movies – to Henry Kissinger and a friend the night before he ordered the massive assault on Cambodia saying, “We go for broke”. Kissinger remarked later, “When he was pressed to the wall, his (Nixon’s) romantic streak surfaced and he would see himself as a beleaguered military commander in the tradition of Patton.”

Perhaps McTernan has a romantic streak although nobody has ever accused him of that or perhaps he just thinks the Nixon precedent was so inspiring that it should have been repeated. “We go for broke” sure could be a McTernan quote.

It would not surprise me if McTernan agrees with another quote attributable to the equally charming Nixon, “When you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”

Patton was speaking ahead of an actual victory; Nixon’s career ended with his own Waterloo. I wonder if McTernan, no doubt inadvertently, has foreseen his own inglorious demise?


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