13 APRIL 2012

“Media Watch Dog on Fridays…is a sort of popular read in the Crikey office”

Crikey’s Andrew Crook on ABC 2 News Breakfast, 24 September 2010.

“Gerard Henderson is big enough to take care of himself, but that doesn’t stop us worrying about him from time to time.

Lately it’s Hendo’s tendency to self-harm that has us losing sleep. For example, peruse the correspondence

he’s published in his latest Media Watch Dog blog…..There’s a part of us that just wants to ask:

“Hendo, are you OK?”

– James Jeffrey’s “Strewth!” column, The Australian, 8 November 2010.

“I realise this makes me practically retarded, but until five minutes ago

I thought Nancy was Gerard Henderson’s wife, not his dog.”

– Byronbache via Twitter, Monday 7 February 2011

“Before going further can you write to confirm that these emails

are private correspondence and not for publication” – ABC News Radio’s

Marius Benson, 11 March 2011. He did go further – see MWD Issue 86.

Media Watch Dog – “disgraceful”, “sick”

– Professor Robert Manne, April Fool’s Day 2011.

“Go to the Sydney Institute Media Watch Dog website to marvel at [its] work”

– Mark Latham The Spectator Australia 11 June 2011.

“Henderson…What a pompous, pretentious turd you are.”

– Mike Carlton, Saturday 13 August 2011 (after lunch)

“We’d better be careful what we say, just in case Gerard’s offsider pooch Nancy is keeping an eye on us for his delightfully earnest Media Watch Dog”

– Tom Cowie of The Power Index, Crikey 20 January 2012

Stop Press:  Bob Brown Retires on Friday 13th – After Nancy’s Hack; Margot O’Neill On the Hysteria of Others

The SMH’s Diary Delivers Judgment on Dawkins/Pell Debate

Re Charles Darwin

Nancy’s Pick-of-the-Week: Jonathan Greens Says More than His Guest

Can You Bear It?:  Mark Latham on Political Failure (But Not His); Perth’s 3-Year-Old Macbeth Quoting Genius;

Paul Collins Bags Dawkins and Pell as Hopeless Teenagers; Bruce Haigh’s Fantasy About Abbott/Pell Phone Call

● Hyperbole of the Week: And the Winners are Geordie Williamson, Richard Walsh and The Canberra Times

Robert Manne’s Interview with Malcolm Turnbull As Hacked by Nancy

Correspondence: Gerard Henderson and Fran Kelly Re Adolph Hitler et al


▪ Nancy’s Part In Bob Brown’s Downfall

It’s just two weeks since MWD Issue 131 published “Bob Brown’s Green Oration Draft One – As Hacked by Nancy” – see here.  Some readers believed that it made more sense than the real thing BB delivered in Hobart the previous weekend.

It came as no surprise that, of all the major newspapers, only the Guardian-on-the-Yarra took Senator Brown’s final draft seriously.  It published Bob Brown’s “Fellow Earthians” oration in the “Forum” section of the Saturday Age on 31 March.  The Guardian-on-the-Yarra was particularly taken with BB’s suggestion that the reason we are not being contacted by intergalactic types in the Cosmos by phone is that our “predecessors in the Cosmos…extincted themselves” due to an account of their failure to preserve the environment – with “catastrophic consequences”.  He went on to urge world government.

Enough said.  Bob Brown is not the first party leader to be replaced after a bizarre speech – but he is the first to complain about not receiving texts from heterosexual and gay and bisexual and transvestite little green men and women and more besides from Outer Space.

Speaking personally, MWD will miss Bob Brown.  But all is not lost.  Surely it will not be long before The Age signs up the Greens founder as a weekly columnist with the aim to increase sales in sandal-wearing Fitzroy and on Mars, Venus and who know where else.

▪ Lateline’s Margot O’Neill Declares The Likes Of Maurice Newman “More Hysterical” Than Ever

There was a time in the olden (media) days when ABC journalists reported stories and commentators ran commentary.  Not any more.  Now ABC types are Jacks – and Jills – of all trades.  Take Fran Kelly, for example.  She is the presenter of the influential RN Breakfast program and a regular commentator on The Drum.  Ms Kelly classifies herself as an “activist” rather than a journalist.  See MWD Issue 129.  See also this week’s Correspondence section.

Then there is Margot O’Neill who reports environment matters for Lateline.  Last night she reported a story that bipartisan support for green energy is collapsing – focusing on a call by the NSW Coalition government for the abolition of the national target to generate 20 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020 – consequent upon the introduction of a carbon tax on 1 July.  The logic of this decision is clear – if there is a carbon tax there should be no need for renewable energy targets.

Margot O’Neill lined up a bevy of commentators to declare that NSW Energy Minister Chris Hartcher had got it wrong – Tristan Edis from The Climate Spectator, Kane Thornton from the Clean Energy Council and Giles Parkinson (who describes himself as a green business reporter). Lateline gave all three of the above their proper title.  But Tim Wilson, who took a different stance, was described as coming from the “conservative think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs”.  Fancy that.

Margot O’Neill also weighed into green advocacy – declaring:

The Federal Coalition says it remains committed to the renewable energy target. But some energy commentators believe the debate over renewable energy is becoming more hysterical, especially when it comes to wind power.

So there you have it.  The likes of former ABC chairman Maurice Newman, who opposes the establishment of wind farms on rural properties, are not just hysterical.  They are becoming even “more hysterical”.  How do we know?  Well, Margot O’Neill told us so.  That’s how.

Ms O’Neill went on to warn against an “ugly debate” on renewables to match the debate on climate change.  In other words, if everyone is supporting what is called action on climate change – that’s fine.  However, if someone states that this is not a great idea – well that’s ugly.

Margot O’Neill is just one of the many ABC journalists who do not just report the environment debate but advocate environmental causes. It’s the new (taxpayer funded) journalism.


There hasn’t been such a fight between atheism and Catholicism in Australia since Fr Paddy Ryan took on Communist Party functionary Edgar Ross at the old Sydney Stadium in Rushcutters Bay in September 1948. The “highlights” of the stoush were Mr Ross’s assertion that in no other country in the world were human rights so explicitly acknowledged as in Joe Stalin’s Soviet Union and Fr Ryan’s condemnation of the USSR for its (alleged) postcard divorces.

The old coms are a thing of the past. [You must return to Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon’s communist past soon, otherwise readers will come to think that this obsession has also passed – Ed.  See MWD passim].  Nowadays it is the sneering secularists, like Richard Dawkins, who are in the front line against the Catholic Church.

Among the highlights of the Richard Dawkins/Cardinal George Pell Big Fight on Q&A last Monday was the exchange about what Charles Darwin (1809-1882) believed.  Let’s go to the transcript:

Jo Blades : As a young Catholic scientist, I’d like to ask the Cardinal to clarify the Roman Catholic Church’s position on evolution and comment on whether the dichotomy between science and religion is, in fact, real?

George Pell : Well, science and religion are two different activities and in the Catholic Church you can believe, to some extent, what you like about evolution. I think Darwin made a great contribution. I remember talking with Julius Kornberg, a very distinguished biologist, and he’s worked with ants for years and he said, you know, he’s managed to change them by changing the conditions but there are a number of things that evolution doesn’t explain. Darwin realised that. Darwin was a theist because he said he couldn’t believe that the immense Cosmos and all the beautiful things in the world came about either by chance or out of necessity. He said: “I have to be ranked as a theist.”

Richard Dawkins : That just not true. George Pell : Excuse me it’s-

Richard Dawkins : It’s just plain not true. George Pell : It’s on page 92 of his autobiography. Go and have a look.

MWD took up the invitation.  The following statement can be found at Pages 92-93 of Nora Barlow(ed) The Autobiography of Charles Darwin (Collins, 1958):

Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight.  This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance of necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.

That’s pretty clear, then.  George Pell was correct in claiming that Darwin ranked himself as a “theist”. And Richard Dawkins was incorrect in asserting that Pell’s claim was “just plain not true”. In fairness to Dawkins, Darwin was not the most consistent of thinkers and The Autobiography of Charles Darwin contains references to the author’s description of himself as an agnostic.

Writing in “The Diary” column of the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday, Matt Buchanan and Scott Ellis gave Dawkins a knock-out victory over Pell in the dispute about Darwin.  This is what they wrote:

To win an argument by saying ”go and have a look” at a document that is not to hand is a bit cheeky, even if it did win Pell a hand from the audience. So we went and had a look, as did Herald reader, Greg Finlayson, who kindly scanned the relevant pages into an email and sent them to us: ”I am attaching below pages 92 & 94 of his autobiography which make it clear that Darwin professed to be agnostic.” And so they do. Darwin, after affirming the reasonableness of a belief in God based on the impossibility of conceiving the universe as a result of blind chance, says, in his breath: ”I cannot pretend to throw light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.” Thank you linesmen, thank you ball boys.

The Buchanan/Ellis dismissal of Pell was achieved by not quoting Darwin’s comment that he deserved to be called a theist.  Pretty tricky, eh? – which used to be called the art of selective quoting when Nancy’s co-owner was in secondary school.  Thank you linespersons, thank you ball retrievers.



Jonathan Green has had a brilliant media career.  He was a left-wing journalist at the left inclined Age newspaper in Melbourne.  Then he became editor of the leftist Crikey on-line magazine.  Then he became editor of The Drum at the ABC.  Like Crikey, The Drum did not employ a fact-checker during Mr Green’s time on its taxpayer-funded editorial  chair.  He handled The Drum’s howlers by the familiar tactic of delay and denial.  See MWD Issue 128.  In recent times Jonathan Green “moved on” from his position at The Drum and now is employed full-time as presenter of the ABC RN Sunday Extra program. Well done.

Nancy had a well-earned break over Easter.  So this is the first occasion in which it has been possible to cover Jonathan Green’s stunning April Fool’s Day performance on Sunday Extra.

Each Sunday Jonathan Green hosts an “Opinionistas” segment – in which he invites opinion writers to come on his program and discuss what is on their mind.  On 1 April the “Opinionistas” segment was filled by David Penberthy, the editor-in-chief of – a News Limited publication.

Green led off what was supposed to be a conversation on the topic of the allegation in the Australian Financial Review that, around a decade ago, a News Limited subsidiary was involved in television piracy.  There is scant evidence for this claim and neither police nor other authorities seem interested in the AFR’s claim.

Green got so excited about the prospect of bagging Rupert Murdoch that he dominated the conversation.  Channelling Kerry O’Brien, Green spoke more words than Penberthy.  Moreover, Penberthy obtained just 43 per cent of the total air time.  His attempt to defend Murdoch had to be cut short when Green realised that the ABC News was upon him.

Here’s a modest proposal.  If Green wants more air time than his guests – he should interview himself next Sunday.  The deaf Nancy will be listening.


▪ Mark Latham – Now An Expert on the Political Failures of Others

When presenting The Contrarians on Sky News 30 March, Peter van Onselen foreshadowed that Mark Latham would be appearing on Australian Agenda the following Sunday – which happened to be April Fool’s Day.  Van Onselen added that the former Labor leader had not been doing much media about what he thought of the Queensland election results and urged viewers to look forward to Mr Latham’s 1 April deliberations.

In fact, Mark Latham had already opined about Labor’s defeat in Queensland in his other two paid media gigs.  Namely, in his Australian Financial Review column (on 26 March) and his Spectator Australia column (on 31 March).  The superannuated Mark Latham is also paid for his Sky News contributions.  [I don’t know why you keep going on about this.  Surely you don’t expect Mr Latham to survive on his annual taxpayer funded superannuation of a lousy $75,000 a year (fully indexed for life) do you? – Ed].

In the AFR, Latham – who led Labor to its disastrous defeat in the 2004 election –  banged about how the public “could not care less about Australia’s political class”. In Tommie Switzer’s “Aussie Specie”, Latham ran a similar line suggesting that the contemporary ALP had lost touch with the electorate and predicted that Julia Gillard would be replaced before the end of the year.  There was more of the same on Australian Agenda when the Sage of Camden declared: “The only option for the Labor Party is to bring in a non-liar as prime minister.”

So here is a failed former Labor leader Mark Latham getting paid real money to opine about why Anna Bligh failed as Queensland premier and why Julia Gillard is failing as prime minister.  Can you bear it?

A 3 Year Old Genius Around The (Governor’s) House

Last Saturday Jane Cadzow did the interviews for Good Weekend’s the “2 of us” feature.  The happy couple were Malcolm McCusker, the 73 year old Governor of Western Australia and his 44 year old wife Tonya McCusker.  There was a lovely pic of the Governor (who has three adult children from a previous marriage) and the Governor’s wife (who has two children from a previous marriage) – both clad in white.  It turns out that the McCuskers have an offspring of their own – namely the unplanned Mary. [Why did you read such tosh? – Ed].

This is what Mrs McCusker had to say about three year old Miss Mary McCusker:

She is a real live wire.  I mean, she’s amazing.  Malcolm teaches her Shakespeare. At three she can quote Macbeth.

So, here’s another lovely couple with a genius offspring – one who quotes Shakespeare in between watching old footage of the Wiggles.  Can you bear it?

▪ Paul Collins Dismisses Richard Dawkins and George Pell as 16 year olds

Last Monday’s debate on Q&A between Dr Richard Dawkins and Cardinal George Pell was the highest rating episode on the program’s history.  So how did Andrew West handle the matter on his RN Religion and Ethics Report on Wednesday?  Well, he invited the former Catholic priest and former ABC broadcaster Paul Collins to come on air – without mentioning that Dr Collins is a long-standing critic of Cardinal Pell.

It turned out that Collins’ concept of “balance” was to bag both participants.  Here’s how the discussion ended –  with Paul Collins responding to Andrew West’s leading question.

Andrew West : As a long time journalist I got the impression that much of this debate was essentially a “he said, she said” debate, atheism versus Christianity. Is that really the way to cover questions of faith?

Paul Collins : Well look, it’s what was my whole point about dialogue and debate. What we need about that is a dialogue. That is, two people, or groups of people who respect each other, who listen to what each other say and don’t try to score points. I mean, and that in a way was the tragedy of the program. What could’ve been a good dialogue in fact was an argument between two people about the level of 16-year-olds.

Andrew West : Paul Collins, many thanks indeed.

So there you have it.  According to Paul Collins, Richard Dawkins and George Pell made a contribution to the debate on atheism that resembled “the level of 16 year olds”.  This from Paul Collins – as he called for respect and an absence of point-scoring.  Can you bear it?

Bruce Haigh’s Fantasy About Pell/Abbott Phone Call

Retired diplomat Bruce Haigh appears occasionally on The Drum and contributes to The Drum’s website.

This is what he had to say on The Drum last Tuesday – following a piece by Mungo MacCallum – concerning the Dawkins/Pell Q&A debate:

After last night Tony Jones should be watching his back. Pell will have been on the phone today eliciting promises from Abbott that Jones and his show should go and seeking cuts to ABC funding with the exception of Christian programs put together with advice from his office.

I agree Mungo, Julia should go for broke, the alternative is a right wing church/state alliance of Abbott and Pell, who between them will dismantle the last vestiges of what was once a passable to good liberal democracy.

Bruce Haigh

What a load of (sectarian) tosh.  Since The Drum does not employ a fact-checker, Bruce Haigh got away with his unsourced claim that Cardinal Pell phoned Tony Abbott on Monday night and elicited a promise that an Abbott-led government would junk Q&A and cut all ABC programs except for Christian programs produced by the Cardinal’s office.

This is fantasy land.  But it is published on the taxpayer funded The Drum website.  Can you bear it?



The weeks either side of Easter were replete with exaggeration – perhaps due to an increased intake of chocolate products.  This time around, the prestigious gong is shared between:

The Australian’s chief literary critic Geordie Williamson who described Queensland’s “political classes” as exhibiting a “philistine spasm”.  He also accused new Queensland Liberal and National Party premier Campbell Newman of “vandalism”.  This in response to Mr Newman’s decision to cancel the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards in 2012. That’s all.

▪ Publisher Richard Walsh who declared on Richard Glover’s Drive program (702, 2 April) that “the middle class…actually believe that, in a real world, they shouldn’t pay tax”.

The Canberra Times’ “The Public Sector Informant” which, in its April 2012 edition, captioned a photograph of ASIO’s new headquarters in Canberra as “The Lubyanka”.  The Canberra Times seems unaware that, at the real Lubyanka in Moscow, Stalin’s secret police tortured and murdered opponents of the Soviet Union’s communist totalitarian regime and that Lubyanka is a symbol today or state induced terror.


Ever on the alert, Nancy was able to sniff out the inaugural draft of Robert Manne’s interview with Malcolm Turnbull – which is published in the April 2012 issue of The Monthly under the title “One Morning with Malcolm”. It is printed below.  As alert readers will note, there is a certain similarity between Professor Manne’s first draft (as hacked by Nancy) and the final version (as printed in The Monthly’s current issue). Fancy that.

* * * * *

Sometimes the results of the narrowest election truly matters.  If a few hundred citizens of Florida had voted for Al Gore rather than George W. Bush in 2000, there would have been no invasion of Iraq and the question of catastrophic climate change might still be on the American agenda.  You see, Mr Gore would have gone to the White House and turned off the lights.  He also would not have required his current six luxury homes which produce more carbon emissions than the yearly print run of The Monthly, published by my millionaire friend Morry Schwartz.  A Gore victory would have delayed the end of the world.

I talk about such philosophical matters with my philosopher friend Rai Gaita.  Rai believes that if my father’s only sibling had been a boy, then I would not have an aunty on the old man’s side. Think about it.  Rai is a professor.  No wonder.  If Arthur Calwell had defeated Robert Menzies in 1961, instead of narrowly losing, then we would still have the White Australia Policy.  If Richard Nixon had defeated J. F. Kennedy in 1960, instead of narrowly losing, then the United States would not have sent astronauts to the moon.  And if I had been born a girl, I would have been called Roberta. History is a fascinating topic for “what if” academic types like me.

I’m pleased that Morry encourages me to write for The Monthly, both in the print edition and on The Monthly’s blog.  I like The Monthly because it does not employ a fact-checker; handy for an academic like me with a fading memory.  And Morry likes my writing style. Particularly my ability to number my thoughts in order – from one to, say, seven and my fearlessness in writing about myself on every available occasion.

This is the way Morry builds his factories and office blocks.  He starts with the first floor, followed by the second floor and so on.  By the time he gets to the seventh floor, it’s time to stop. That’s why in my current blog on The Monthly website, titled “The Long Goodbye: Explaining Gillard’s Collapse”, I explain the unpopularity of the Gillard government according to its strategic errors – which I numbered from one to seven.  Some people maintain that the Gillard government made eight or even nine strategic errors but I know it was seven.

At Morry’s suggestion, I decided to ask Malcolm Turnbull for an exclusive interview.  Sure, I am a self-declared Greens Liberal Party frontbencher voter. But I have an interest in Mr Turnbull acquiring his rightful place as Opposition leader and alternative prime minister.  If catastrophic climate change is to be avoided, the Liberal Party leadership needs to be determined by Greens voters like me.

I can count. So I know that if Turnbull had not been defeated by Tony Abbott by one vote in December 2009, then he would have won the ballot and remained Liberal leader – and the popular culture of populist conservatism that overtook Australia during the reactionary Howard Years might by now be losing its grip.  The Howard Years were a blight on Australia and I wish that Gerard Henderson would stop reminding the world that I voted for the reactionary, racist Howard in 1996.  Surely a tenured professor is entitled to make a mistake.  Perhaps even two and maybe any number up to seven.

With these thoughts in mind, I emailed Malcolm Turnbull requesting an interview.  I was surprised that it took him a whole 30 seconds to accept.  I guess he’s just so busy that he cannot provide immediate responses to interview requests from Greens voting professors.  We agreed to meet in Canberra.  Since I am so concerned about catastrophic climate change, I decided to ride my tricycle to Canberra.  It took me a month to get there.  But Malcolm was waiting for me at his Parliament House office – with a green welcome mat laid out and a cup of (somewhat cold) green tea ready.  He’s the most generous millionaire I know. Apart, of course, from Morry.

I enjoyed the bike ride even though it was difficult at times.  My toughest moment occurred when passing the Hume Weir near Albury. There was water everywhere.  I know that, due to catastrophic change, the oceans are rising at an alarming rate.  Even so, I was surprised that the rising seas have reached Albury already.  It was only when I fell off my bike, and tasted the water, that I realised it was fresh.  A flood, no less.  How can this be, in view of the fact that my good friend Tim Flannery confidently predicted that there would never be substantial rainfall over Australian water catchments ever again?  In any event, I planned then and there to tell Malcolm that not only drought, but also the ending of drought, is caused by catastrophic climate change. And I got back on my bike.

I pressed north.  Then, five miles from Gundagai, I felt enormous pain.  Partly this was due to emerging piles on my left buttock. But, above all, I was pained by the legend of the Dog who sat on the Tucker Box five miles from Gundagai. This is a terrible story that goes to the heart of the senseless, environment-denial, materialistic greed which has afflicted Australia in the period I call “BG” – i.e. Before the Greens.  It thought about the trees that had been cut down to build a Tucker Box on which came to sit a Dog, five miles from Gundagai.  And I wept. My pain was unbearable. However, I got back on my bike and peddled north again, favouring my right buttock wherever possible.  This was a compromise I felt compelled to make – for the good of the nation.

When I arrived at Malcolm Turnbull’s office I immediately looked into his eyes.  This is my tactic when interviewing for Morry Schwartz.  I never use a tape recorder or take notes – as readers will be aware from my recent interview with The Australian’s editor-in-chief, the reactionary captain of the Hate Media, Chris Mitchell.  I voted Labor in 2007 and Greens in 2010 but I now want Malcolm as our leader.  I know that very senior people in the Labor Party thought about asking Malcolm to lead Labor in 2011.  It’s just that I can’t remember who they are.  Otherwise I would name them, in The Monthly.

I tell Malcolm I believe him to be in the tradition of such Liberal Party greats as Alfred Deakin, Malcolm Fraser (who I voted against when I had the chance) and Alan Missen (whom Fraser refused to promote). Malcolm smiled knowingly. Malcolm told me that he is concerned about the “power of money”.  Not his own money which – like Morry – he nurtures well.   But other people’s money – especially that of climate change deniers.

There are three interpretations of the reason why Malcolm Turnbull lost the Liberal Party leadership to the reactionary Tony Abbott in December 2009.  One suggests that a majority of Liberal MPs voted for Abbott.  Another argues that Turnbull was deposed because he was determined to return the party to true liberalism of Deakin/Fraser/Missen – which was an heroic commitment for one who once desired Labor pre-selection.  A third interpretation suggests that the reactionary neo-liberals who support Abbott really want catastrophic climate change and see an Abbott victory as their best chance to bring about the end of the world. Malcolm Turnbull agrees with all three interpretations. He is brilliant.

A discussion soon takes place about Howard.  A Turnbull staffer, who has entered the room, suggests that Howard is not a climate change denier but just wants to encourage debate. I reply that Howard has gone further than this in his autobiography.  Turnbull asks “What does Howard say?”. I point out that he calls himself a climate change agnostic.  Turnbull declares, “Well, I think an agnostic means he’s not persuaded by it.” To which I reply: “If you’re not persuaded by it, it means you don’t accept it.”.  Turnbull does not disagree.  Clearly, he thinks I’m brilliant.

The conversation goes back to the United States. Turnbull suggests that the US is a  dysfunctional nation – a country that is barely governed. I agree and blame the Koch brothers.  Turnbull goes back even further in American history and cites the Marx brothers.  He understands, like Malcolm Fraser, that China has benefited from the Karl Marx real thing and will come to dominate the world.  Turnbull is emphatic that American supremacy in the Asian region is drawing to a close.  “The Pax Americana has been fantastic for everyone concerned – but, hello, wake up.” That’s what I like.  Malcolm is a brilliant mind, in the tradition of Deakin/Fraser/Missen, who says such original things as “Hello, wake up.”  Plato never thought of such a missive.  Nor did even so great a mind as Rai Gaita – or if he did, no one understood what he was on about.

Contented, I get back on my bike and proceed down the Hume Highway to my taxpayer subsidised job at La Trobe University – where I hold the position of Distinguished Professor of Polemics, which means that I have not done any dispassionate writing for around a quarter of a century.

There are seven reasons why I am riding this tricycle on my return trip to Bundoora and my abode in Cottlesbridge.  The first is that I am worried about catastrophic climate change.  The second is that it is too big to post.  The third reason….[continues for 117 pages].


Gerard Henderson & ABC RN Breakfast re Fran Kelly’s Free Kick to Richard Dawkins Against George Pell

During last Monday’s Q&A debate between Richard Dawkins and Cardinal George Pell, the former became somewhat agitated.  The last time Dr Dawkins was on Q&A discussing atheism and faith he was presented with a soft target in the Christian fundamentalist, and one time Family First senator, Steve Fielding.  Predictably, Dawkins demolished Fielding.  Last Monday, however, the debate was balanced between a clever and considered atheist and a clever and considered Catholic.

Early in the program, Dawkins accused Q&A presenter Tony Jones of having assembled a biased audience.  He also became angry when some members of the audience laughed at his assertion that any query about the purpose of life was not a valid question. Dawkins is used to speaking at functions where everyone agrees with him and he and the audience laugh at believers.  It seems that the Q&A audience was evenly divided between supporters of both men.

On the morning after the Q&A debate, Fran Kelly conducted a scheduled interview with Richard Dawkins – supposedly on the topic of his new book The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. In fact, only a couple of minutes of a long interview were devoted to the book.  Dawkins preferred to use the designated time scoring points against George Pell and Kelly let him get away with this.

On Tuesday Gerard Henderson wrote to RN Breakfast’s executive producer Tim Latham – who, it turned out, had taken a well-earned break. The correspondence is set out below. We’ll let you know if anyone on RN Breakfast defends the Kelly/Dawkins interview.

Gerard Henderson to Tim Latham – 10 April 2012


As you are aware, I have not contacted you about RN Breakfast for some years.  However, I do listen to the program from time to time – including for an hour this morning.

In view of my past support for this program, I thought I should bring your attention to the soft and unprofessional interview with Richard Dawkins today.

The interview was supposed to be about Dr Dawkins’ latest book The Magic of Reality but this covered just two minutes of a 12 minute interview.  It soon turned into an occasion whereby Richard Dawkins was invited to have a “free kick” at the expense of Cardinal George Pell, following last night’s debate on Q&A.  As I understand it, Dr Pell was not given any right-of-reply.

I know that in recent times Fran Kelly has declared that she is primarily an “activist”.  However, the presenter of an influential program  on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster should be informed and considered when interviewing polemicists like Richard Dawkins.  Today she failed to understand her topic or to challenge Dawkins’ occasional rhetorical flourishes and undocumented assertions.  Let me give some examples:

▪ Early in the interview, Kelly said that on Q&A Pell had “conceded” that the Bible is not literally true. Pell made no such concession since – as Kelly should know – the Catholic Church has never proclaimed that the Bible is literally true.  Some branches of Christianity hold this view – but not the Church of Rome.

▪ Then Kelly let Dawkins get away with the gratuitous and unsourced allegation that Pell had been “obviously very well prepped, very well briefed” and went on to allege that Pell had “briefing notes” for his Q&A appearance.

Kelly should know that Pell is well-educated, widely read and highly articulate.  Yet she let Dawkins get away with the assertion that Pell had to be “briefed” for his Q&A appearance and had to rely on (unseen) “briefing notes”. This was just an unprofessional smear and unworthy of a program of the standing of RN Breakfast.

▪ Then Kelly said nothing when Dawkins alleged that “Hitler was a Roman Catholic”. Kelly should know that this statement is simply false.  Indeed, during his speech at The Sydney Institute’s Annual Dinner last month, Melvyn Bragg said that Dawkins’ assertion that Hitler was a Catholic is dishonest. By the way, Lord Bragg is an atheist.  Unlike Dawkins, he is an historian. As you are aware, Melvyn Bragg’s program runs on RN each week.

Kelly should know that, during his entire adult life, Hitler opposed the Catholic Church.  She should also know that, in the 1937 encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge, Pope Pius XI condemned Nazism for many reasons – including Hitler’s opposition to the Catholic Church.

▪ Kelly then offered Richard Dawkins an opportunity to attack Republican candidates in the United States presidential election and to conclude by claiming that George Pell is a climate change “denier”.  As I understand it, Pell has never denied that climate change is taking place – he is agnostic about the cause.

Kelly let Dawkins get away with an attack on Pell for not following what Dawkins believes is the scientific truth.  Yet on Q&A last night, Dawkins himself said that “any scientist of any sense will not say that they can positively disprove the existence of anything”. So if a scientist cannot positively disprove the existence of anything, how can Dawkins disprove Pell’s views on climate change?  Alas, Kelly did not ask Dawkins to explain this inconsistency.

▪ Kelly concluded by describing The Magic of Reality as “great”. If Fran Kelly had interviewed Richard Dawkins about The Magic of Reality, I doubt that I would have raised this issue with you.  However, she chose to get into the Dawkins/Pell debate but did not know enough to challenge Dawkins’ responses.  Fran Kelly should be able to do better.

In view of Fran Kelly’s style as an “activist” interviewer, it is not surprising that Tony Abbott is “not inclined” to appear on the program – her comments on Breakfast this morning refer.

In conclusion, please note that this is not a formal complaint.  I have never made a formal complaint to the ABC and never wish to do so.

Best wishes. Regards to the RN Breakfast team.



– Kate Dundas, Director, Radio

– Michael Mason, Group Program Director & Manager, Radio National

– Fran Kelly, Presenter, RN Breakfast

– Cardinal George Pell AC

Tim Latham’s (Out-of-Office) reply to Gerard Henderson – 10 April 2012

I am on leave and overseas for two weeks, returning Monday April 23.

If you need to contact any journalists on RN Breakfast please call xxx xxx.

Tim Latham

Executive Producer

Radio National Breakfast – with Fran Kelly
Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Gerard Henderson to James Carleton – 10 April 2012


I sent this to Tim but have just found out that he is on a well-earned-break (as the saying goes).

I would be grateful if you could send this to the active executive director – come to think of it, it might be you.

Best wishes


Michael Mason to Gerard Henderson – 10 April 2012

Dear Gerard

Tim is away on leave at the moment so I will reply. I have noted your comments and on the interview between Fran Kelly and Richard Dawkins from RN Breakfast this morning.  I will ensure your comments are drawn to the attention of the Breakfast production team in Tim’s absence.


Michael Mason

A/Manager RN

cc:      Kate Dundas

Fran Kelly

Cardinal George Pell

Gerard Henderson to Michael Mason – 11 April 2012

Dear Michael

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

I expect that someone on the RN Breakfast team will respond eventually.  I do not believe it sufficient that my views are simply noted – which is close to them being ignored. As I understand it, Fran Kelly offered no correction or clarification this morning.  Moreover, I understand that Cardinal Pell has not been offered a right of reply.

There should be way of resolving matters like this quickly without resort to the time-consuming and bureaucratic complaints set up.  In other words, it should not be up to a public servant in Canberra to determine whether or not Adolf Hitler was a Catholic or whether there was a 1937 papal encyclical condemning Nazism – in part because of its anti-Catholicism.

If Fran Kelly does not know enough to challenge Richard Dawkins on such issues someone else, preferably a historian, should be invited on to the program to state a different view.

By the way, in the forthcoming edition of my Media Watch Dog blog I intend to write about the recent spike in left-wing presenters on RN. Mark Scott’s stated intention in 2006 of ensuring a greater plurality of views on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster is certainly not reflected in RN’s current program presenters.

There is no need to respond to this.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

cc:      – Kate Dundas, Director, Radio

– Fran Kelly, Presenter, RN Breakfast

– Cardinal George Pell AC

* * * *

Until next time.