When a great national icon loses credibility there is no easy way back to the days of glory. If that icon is Australia’s only national newspaper it is important for all of us that it should get back to some semblance of balance and not continue to behave like a print version of Fox News.

Nor should it be so heavily biased and in denial of evidential and scientific fact, that it loses touch with reality, and with most of its readers. The tipping point is when a newspaper becomes the butt of jokes rather than the chosen source of information for the educated public.

“The Australian” is a newspaper that has crossed the border of strong opinion into the realm of deranged hysteria that is the home of movements like the US Tea Party and the British National Front. It is now providing a strange mixture of high culture and jack boot politics.

The newspapers recent crusade in the defense of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s reputation after he was accused of threatening behaviour to a female political opponent has been hysterical and well over the border of high farce.

 The Australians leading journalists and commentators are beginning to sound more like Tony Abbott’s teenage girlfriends than rational reporters or commentators.

Foreign editor Greg Sheridan has made a heroic leap from his newspaper columns to television programs to defend his flailing “best mate” Tony Abbott who is sliding down the popularity slope to political oblivion. In the style of one of his heroes, Donald Rumsfeld,  Sheridan assures us Abbott is a “good bloke who wouldn’t threaten a woman as everyone who knows him knows”.

Bravely storming the enemy territory to appear on ABC’ Q@A program, Sheridan acted like a man who had combined Dutch courage with paranoid delusions, as he angrily denounced Abbott’s detractors for making “disgraceful slanderous slurs” that were, according to Sheridan, “inaccurate as well as ugly and sectarian”. Another panel member who also knew Abbott during his student years strongly disagreed.

Irving Wallach said that the Abbott that Sheridan describes is not the Tony Abbot he knew. Wallach’s Tony Abbott was an aggressive drinker and who was very physical at meetings. According to Wallach he was aggressive and disrespectful towards people he didn’t agree with and particularly towards women.

 Sheridan however, knows the bad stories aren’t true because he knows Tony really well and he is a good bloke who does things for charity. And we do know he does, because the TV cameras are always there to record his acts of kindness. In fact to ensure we all know of Tony’s kindness, his ministerial front bench have chorused an identical message of Tony’s feats to any camera that strays within range. Tony is, by their reckoning a modern day Jesus!

 Sheridan prefaced his remarks by saying he needed to be careful not to lose his reputation for fairness and balance. It is on this matter that he is most delusional.

 To any rational reader Sheridan’s reputation for balance and fairness has not yet bloomed in fact it is more like Monty Pythons parrot, its dead, snuffed it, an ex-attribute.

 In his columns Sheridan has lauded Abbott as having all the qualities required of a “great world leader” who can comfortably mix it with the international political elite.

In reality Abbott’s behaviour is more akin to a steroidal stunt monkey who keeps forgetting his lines, than an august statesman.

The Australian’s “Save Abbott Campaign” has even drawn in the veteran commentator Paul Kelly. Kelly who although having a tendency to pontificate usually keeps his commentary to the more rational side of the street. However, on the Tony Abbott defence he tries to deviate attention onto Prime Minister Julia Gillards sins by comparing the importance of the unproven accusations against Gillard to the unsubstantiated claims against Abbott. In his pontifical way he absolves Abbott and suggests purgatory for Gillard.

What Kelly is trying to do is to rationalise The Australian’s position which is to malign Gillard on the basis of 17 year old unsubstantiated rumours while furiously attacking detractors for criticising Abbott’s behaviour in the same unsubstantiated way. Sorry Paul while you have been clever in trying to put the focus back on the Prime Minister, it hasn’t worked. You are simply building on the impression that The Australian is an untrustworthy informant not worth reading unless your into rugby or ballet or weapons of mass destruction.

It is clear The Australian is following the lead of its American owner in trying to bring about a change in government by manipulating public opinion through a campaign of misinformation. Just like it has done in the UK, by going too far it has lost the battle and ruined its own credibility.