GERARD HENDERSON’S MEDIA WATCH DOG – ISSUE NO. 169
8 FEBRUARY 2013
See the end of this week’s MWD for details of much appreciated comments on/endorsements of Nancy’s work by Jonathan Green & Michael Rowland, Malcolm Farr, Bob Ellis, Tom Cowie, Mike Carlton, Mark Latham, Robert Manne, Marius Benson, James Jeffrey, Andrew Crook and more besides. Well done chaps – and lotsa thanks.
THIS WEEK – READ ALL ABOUT:
● Stop Press: Jemima Khan and Elizabeth Farrelly Differ on Julian Assange; After a Mere 75 Years the ABC decides to give Fact-checking a Chance
● Five Paws Award: Brendan O’Neill in the Aussie Speccie On The Guardian’s Leftist Mission Down Under
● Can You Bear It? Michelle Grattan’s Lectures to the Media; The Conversation Forgets Its Tax-Payer Funding Base; The Hyphenated-Name-Set Strikes Again – McKenzie-Murray Esq’s Anti-Christopher Pyne Rant in The-Guardian-on-the-Yarra
● Maurice Newman Segment: Yet More Group-Think at the Public Broadcaster on Same-Sex Marriage
● Media U-Turns of our Time: Peter Tatchell Scores
● Keeping it in the Family: The Fran Kelly/Waleed Aly RN Love-In
* * * * *
▪ Ms Khan v Dr Farrelly – In The Matter Of Julian Assange (Bail-Jumper)
As a long time subscriber for the left-wing New Statesman magazine, Nancy’s (male) co-owner was delighted when the journal’s newsletter arrived, via blackberry, at 4.43 am this morning. Featuring as Number One on the “Editor’s Choice” list was Jemima Khan’s article titled “How Julian Assange alienated his allies”.
Ms Khan was a strong supporter of Julian Assange and even contributed to his bail before he absconded and sought refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London. However, she now has had enough of the narcissist whom, she fears, may “end up tolerating only disciples and unwavering devotion, more like Australia’s L. Ron Hubbard”.
In her piece, Jemima Khan lists all the left-of-centre types with whom Assange has fallen out. She also makes a number of intellectually fashionable, if not uncommon, points. Here they are:
▪ Khan believes that Assange is no more vulnerable to extradition to the United States from Sweden than he is from Britain. Moreover, she maintains that onward extradition from Sweden to the US would require Britain’s consent and the treaty between Sweden and the US prohibits extradition for political or espionage offences.
▪ Khan has come to the conclusion that the allegations against Assange of sexual assaults are matters for Swedish due process and that Assange is undermining both himself and his own transparency agenda by turning his refusal to answer questions in Sweden into a human rights issue.
▪ Khan believes that the women in question have human rights too, and need resolution. In her view, Assange’s cause and his wish to avoid a US court does not trump their rights to be heard in a Swedish court.
Right on. But it’s worth contrasting Jemima Khan’s sensible approach with Elizabeth Farrelly’s rant in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald. Dr Farrelly (for a doctor she is) referred to Assange as a “prisoner” who is not only “imprisoned” but is subjected to “imprisonment without trial”.
What a load of tosh. Assange jumped bail and walked into the embassy of Ecuador in London. No one has imprisoned him – except himself. MWD’s sympathies lie with the members of the metropolitan police who have to watch over this bail-jumper in both cold and heat. And to the Ecuadorian Embassy staff who have to put up with the Wikileaks’ founder who, as Kathy Lette once revealed, is not house-trained. See MWD Issue 142.
▪ Aunty’s Money for Jam
After 75 years on the taxpayer teat and with an annual budget of $1 billion, the ABC has managed to get another $10 million from the Gillard Government to set up, inter alia, a fact-checking unit. Is this finally a confirmation of MWD’s long-held view that ABC documentaries give very low priority to accuracy? See MWD passim ad nauseam.
BRENDAN O’NEILL FOR REVEALING THE GUARDIAN’S SANDAL-WEARING BURDEN DOWN UNDER
Due to unprecedented popular demand, this prestigious gong returns for the first time in 2013. And the winner is Brendan O’Neill. Next week’s MWD will award a consolation gong to the short-listed. Stay tuned.
In the current edition of The Spectator Australia (9 February 2013), Brendan O’Neill analyses the rationale behind The Guardian’s decision to launch a digital edition in Australia funded by leftist businessman Graeme Wood.
Interviewed on RN Breakfast by Fran Kelly on Tuesday, Mr Wood managed to run The Guardian line – without anyone talking about the fact that the newspaper is losing a staggering $100 million a year. According to The Guardian’s piano-playing editor Alan Rusbridger, the only problem with this newspaper is that it has yet to “monetise” its product. That’s all, folks. See MWD passim.
According to Brendan O’Neill, it appears that The Guardian is prepared to lose even more money Down Under in an attempt to correct us all in a leftist sandal-wearing kind of way. As O’Neill documents, The Guardian regards Aussies as non-politically-correct colonials in need of left-wing re-education.
Brendan O’Neill and Spectator Australia editor Tom Switzer – Five Paws each.
CAN YOU BEAR IT?
▪ Michelle Grattan AO Calls Her Own Media Conference
Last Tuesday The Age’s Michelle Grattan (AO, no less) called a media conference outside Parliament House to announce that she had resigned to take up an academic appointment with the University of Canberra. This is not the first time that Ms Grattan has resigned from a Fairfax Media newspaper – but it could be the last.
Michelle Grattan’s exit from The Age was acknowledged in Parliament by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition leader Tony Abbott. How touching. Except that Ms Grattan has not left the Canberra Press Gallery. She has only moved out of The Age’s office and down the corridor – where she will occupy another office writing for the taxpayer subsidised on-line publication The Conversation. Grattan will also continue as regular commentator on Radio National Breakfast.
In her somewhat pompous press conference, Michelle Grattan commented:
I think at the moment what we're seeing is too much concentration of voice, frankly, and it's a bit of an irony that we're getting this concentration, especially in the mainstream media, while we're also getting the fragmentation of the media in other senses with the internet.
It seems that Ms Grattan was mightily upset that her copy for The Age might be shared with the Sydney Morning Herald, its Fairfax Media stable mate. Michelle Grattan has never run a business and seems unaware that the print media has no option but to cut costs in the current difficult times for newspapers generally. This may require that Fairfax Media’s Sydney Morning Herald, Age and Canberra Times may have to combine their previously separate Canberra bureaus.
Also, Grattan lectures-at-large about there being “too much concentration of voice” in the media. However, in decades at The Age she never publicly objected to the lack of diversity – or multiple voices – in her own newspaper. Currently The Age does not employ a conservative weekly columnist. Not one. Moreover, the opinion page of “The-Guardian-on-the-Yarra” is replete with fashionable left-wing opinion.
And yet Michelle Grattan is lecturing others about the need for more media voices. Can you bear it?
▪ Andrew Jaspan’s The Conversation in Denial About Its Taxpayer Funded Birth
On the morning of her resignation from The Age, Michelle Grattan discussed her decision with Radio National Breakfast presenter Fran Kelly. Needless to say, it was a soft interview, as the transcript indicates:
Fran Kelly: You’re still staying in the Press Gallery. Tell us a little about your new role as the associate editor at The Conversation
Michelle Grattan: Well essentially I’m moving kennels in the Press Gallery, down the corridor. A smaller kennel –
Fran Kelly: Woof.
Michelle Grattan: But, um, basically I’m going to be the political correspondent for The Conversation which is a website that is sponsored by the universities and was conceived by Andrew Jaspan, a former editor of The Age, and he heads that organisation. So it’ll be, hopefully, strongly reporting on politics in an election year and I’ll be in the middle of that.
Fran Kelly: I’m sure you will and from that smaller kennel you’ll be providing commentary here on Breakfast every other morning. Thanks very much Michelle.
Michelle Grattan: Thanks Fran.
Yeah, thanks. Except that Michelle Grattan did not tell Fran Kelly all the facts about The Conversation But, then, perhaps she does not know.
The former (hopeless) editor of The Age, Andrew Jaspan, set up The Conversation in 2011 – some time after he was sacked by the Melbourne broadsheet. Jaspan has always maintained that The Conversation is into full disclosure. Yet The Conversation’s website contains no mention of the fact that it was created following taxpayer handouts from both the Federal Labor government and the (then) Victorian Labor government.
The “Who We Are” section of The Conversation’s website contains the following assertion:
Sincere thanks go to our Founding Partners who gave initial funding support: CSIRO, Monash University, University of Melbourne, University of Technology Sydney and University of Western Australia, Strategic Partner RMIT University and a growing list of member institutions also provide financial support.
This statement is so deficient as to be misleading. As Andrew Trounson reported in The Australian on 25 March 2011, the Commonwealth and Victorian governments initially stumped up $ 2 million to fund The Conversation. The rest of The Conversation’s money comes from the taxpayer subsidised CSIRO and a number of taxpayer subsidised universities.
Yet Michelle Grattan told Fran Kelly that The Conversation is sponsored by “the universities”. And Andrew Jaspan makes no mention of the initial taxpayer funding provided to The Conversation – while insisting that his website is into full transparency. Can you bear it?
▪ Hyphenated-Name-Set Member Gets Rant Pass By The Age
Here’s what former Labor Party speech writer Martin McKenzie-Murray wrote about Liberal Party front bencher Christopher Pyne in The Age yesterday:
The Liberal frontbencher is a grubby little willy-willy – not the impressive, swirling columns of the outback, but the small and insignificant ones that form in sandpits. Pyne is all fierce but facile energy, expending itself almost facetiously. There's a glibness to Pyne, a sort of private schoolboy mischievousness, and the result is a public record of comments that have almost zero enduring worth. But, as night follows day, the willy-willy flares up, scattering gauche hyperbole across our headlines, and we breathlessly report it.
Apparently such over-written tripe is well regarded at The Guardian-on-the-Yarra. Can you bear it? [Er, no. By the way is McKenzie-Murray Esquire part of that group Paul Keating disparaged as the Hyphenated-Name-Set? I wonder. – Ed.]
MAURICE NEWMAN SEGMENT: IN WHICH ABC PANEL BEATS THE DRUM – IN UNISON OF COURSE – ON SAME SEX MARRIAGE
Due to unprecedented demand, the Maurice Newman Segment gets another run this week. As MWD readers will know, this (hugely popular) segment is devoted to former ABC chairman Maurice Newman’s suggestion that a certain “group-think” might be prevalent at the ABC – and to ABC 1 Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes’ certainty that no such phenomenon is extant within the public broadcaster. See MWD passim.
What a wonderful debate, in the ABC way, on ABC News 24’s The Drum last Wednesday. As Richard Aedy (presenter of ABC Radio National’s The Media Report) has acknowledged, the issue of what is called same sex marriage has become almost a compulsory topic on many programs on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster. The discussion invariably commences and concludes with an assumption that blokes marrying blokes and sheilas marrying sheilas is a REALLY GOOD THING. Alternative views are invariably dismissed as ill-informed or prejudiced and commentators invariably throw the switch to self-indulgence as they admire each other’s inherent wisdom and moral righteousness.
And so it came to pass that a “debate” was organised on the topic on The Drum on 6 February 2013 – following the vote in the House of Commons supporting same sex marriage. Prime Minister David Cameron supported the legislation despite the fact that a clear majority of Tory MPs either opposed the bill or abstained on the issue.
The Drum presenter John Barron introduced the segment with the comment that “this result has raised the question of whether Australia may soon follow suit”. First up, Labor MP Stephen Jones and Greens Senator Hanson Young were reported supporting same sex marriage. No member of the Labor Party or the Liberal Party or the Nationals who oppose same sex marriage got a run in this segment.
Then the panel spoke with NSW State Independent MP Alex Greenwich who, before entering the NSW House of Assembly, was the national convenor of Australians for Marriage Equality. No member of the NSW Parliament who opposes same sex marriage got a run in this segment. Mr Greenwich received a series of soft questions from the presenter. In reply, the Independent MP demonstrated that he is so dedicated to same sex marriage that he regards civil unions as a “failed experiment”.
Then it was time to involve the panel – with occasional interventions by Alex Greenwich. John Barron commenced the formal discussion this way:
John Barron: It seems, panel, that we’re hearing increasingly from supporters of same-sex marriage that this is inevitable, it’s just a matter of time. Do you each agree that it is inevitable? And if so, how much time? Or, in fact, do you think the hold-outs remain?
So there you have it. According to the presenter, the conflict is between those who support the inevitable and those who are holding out.
It was not long before everyone agreed with everyone else. Judith Whelan (editor The Sydney Morning Herald’s Weekend Edition) supported same sex marriage but thought it was unlikely to get through the Commonwealth Parliament before the next election. Ms Whelan implied that Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s opposition to the same-sex marriage was not genuine.
The Australian Financial Review columnist Rowan Dean said he agreed “totally” with Alex Greenwich and declared that he has “never understood what the opposition to gay marriage is”. Rowan then told Alex: “I purely, totally, support your cause.” Then Peter Brent (of “Mumble” fame) agreed with Judith Whelan about Julia Gillard’s lack of conviction on this matter and deplored the conservatism which he maintained John Howard had imposed on Australia in 1996. Brent went on to criticise Labor’s (alleged) addiction “to their opinion polls and their market research” and disparaged the views of “people in Penrith”. [Was this because suburban Penrith is quite a way from the inner-city? – Ed].
Dean then said Labor’s social conservatism stemmed from its “very strong Catholic, very strong conservative working class roots” – ignoring the social conservatism of other Christians and also Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims in such Western Sydney suburbs as Penrith. Then Greenwich (falsely) claimed that Opposition leader Tony Abbott had “sort of broken a Coalition tradition and not allowed a free vote” on same sex marriage in the Parliament. This overlooked the fact that the Coalition – and Labor – had gone to the 2010 election with policies opposed to same sex marriage. There is no Coalition tradition to have a conscience vote in such a situation. No one corrected Greenwich’s error.
And so the discussion concluded with John essentially agreeing with Judith who essentially agreed with Rowan who essentially agreed with Peter who essentially agreed with John who had essentially agreed with Alex who had essentially agreed with the case presented earlier by Stephen and Sarah who essentially agreed with everyone else. No other view was heard. A very ABC debate indeed in which group-think led to the exclusion of all dissent.
Maurice Newman : 5
Jonathan Holmes : Zip
MEDIA U-TURNS OF OUR TIME: THE CASE OF GAY ACTIVIST PETER TATCHELL
Just after viewing The Drum on Wednesday, Nancy’s male co-owner watched ABC TV News with Nancy’s female co-owner. The latter had her republican shackles up. Her line was this. If same sex marriage comes into law in Britain, then Prince Harry will be able to marry any female or male – provided the partner in question is not a Catholic. In other words, David Cameron is intent on changing the marriage laws. However, the Act of Settlement which forbids the Royal Family from marrying Catholics, remain in situ. For the moment at least. Even if the Act of Settlement is amended, Prince Harry would not be able to bring up any issue in the Catholic faith or get married in a Catholic Church. David Cameron does not intend to dismantle the Protestant Reformation as it affects contemporary Britain. So there will still be a religious test which affects Australia’s Palace-based head-of-state.
No sooner had Nancy’s female co-owner stated her case than, lo and behold, Australian-born gay activist Peter Tatchell was on the ABC News declaring:
Peter Tatchell: I hope that both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott will see the way the wind is blowing not just in Britain but all around the world.
Talk about blowing in the wind. The ABC TV News reporter failed to mention that no so long ago Peter Thatchell held the then common view among gay activists that marriage was a bourgeois institution which radical queers, like him, rejected. Now, it seems, that Mr Tatchell is all excited at the prospect of imminent same-sex nuptials.
Writing in The Spectator Australia on 23 June 2012, Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill commented:
In 2002, Peter Tatchell, Oz citizen turned best-known gay rights campaigner in Europe, railed against “cuddly issues like gay marriage” (his words), arguing that gays were more interested in winning the right to live freely outside traditional set-ups like marriage than they were in squeezing themselves into a “pre-existing framework of institutions”. Yet now Tatchell and other gay campaigners claim, with straight faces, that not being able to get hitched is the cruellest misfortune suffered by homosexuals.
Quite so. Needless to say, Tatchell was not asked to explain his significant U-turn on gay marriage in a mere decade.
KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY – OR HOW’S YOUR AUNTY? A NEW (IRREGULAR) SERIES
What stunning performances by Waleed (“Tony Abbott is a reactionary”) Aly and Fran (“I’m an activist”) Kelly on Radio National Live last night.
Waleed Aly (presenter of RN Drive) interviewed Fran Kelly (presenter of RN Breakfast) when both were in Canberra. These days Ms Kelly is just so active that she presents in the morning and then bobs up somewhere else in the evening as a commentator. Aly also occasionally comments on the ABC when he is not presenting RN Drive.
Toward the end of last night’s gig, it became a case of gush-all-over as the RN presenters/commentators fawned over each other. Let’s go to the transcript:
Waleed Aly: Thanks so much for coming in. It’s wonderful to have you in the studio, it’s a rare treat, I would say.
Fran Kelly : It’s a pleasure. I know, you know, we operate in different places – different spaces.
Waleed Aly : I know.
Fran Kelly : One network. One family – the RN family.
Waleed Aly : Are we ever awake at the same time? That’s the question. Now I know that we’re – and we’re book-ending the day, that’s wonderful.
Fran Kelly : Exactly
Waleed Aly : So there’s a couch out there, have a sleep.
Fran Kelly : I’m off.
Yes, we know. How frightfully wonderful. In a book-endish kind of way.
HOW MARGARET SIMONS FAILED TO FACT-CHECK MALCOLM FRASER’S CLAIM THAT HE SAVED THE NATO ALLIANCE IN 1982 – THE FULL STORY
Margaret Simons is the Director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism at the University of Melbourne and is also the co-ordinator of that university’s Masters in Journalism. As such, she is responsible for teaching journalism to students including the need for accuracy and the primacy of evidence. Yet Dr Simons refuses to enter into any correspondence about the multiple errors in the taxpayer subsidised award-winning Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs, which she co-authored with the former prime minister. The book refers to Mr Fraser in the third person.
Malcolm Fraser has two excuses to cover the howlers in his political memoirs. In the “Additional Note by Malcolm Fraser” at Page 754 of his book, he wrote: “Memories can be, as I know of myself, notoriously fallible”. In other words, the former prime minister acknowledges that he has a notoriously bad memory.
In this note, Malcolm Fraser also made it unequivocally clear that Dr Simons was ultimately responsible for fact-checking Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs. At Page 754 he commented:
…Margaret has done not only the writing but also the assiduous research that the book required. She has done this with unfailing care to make sure the facts are right. This regard for detail is especially important since the book turns some current myths about my public life on their head.
So, if there are any errors in Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs – blame Margaret Simons. But not only Dr Simons. In the “Acknowledgements” section at Page 753, Fraser and Simons write that “Professor Brian Costar read the entire manuscript”. So presumably, Dr Costar must bear at least some responsibility for the howlers in the Fraser memoir.
The errors in Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs are documented in Gerard Henderson’s article “Malcolm Fraser’s Memoirs: The Fallibility of Memory” which was published in The Sydney Institute Quarterly Issue 37 July 2010. Copies of this issue were sent to Malcolm Fraser, Margaret Simons and The Miegunyah Press (an imprint of Melbourne University Publishing Limited). Neither Mr Fraser nor Dr Simons nor Melbourne University Publishing’s management has contested any of the specific claims in Gerard Henderson’s analysis.
Among numerous errors in Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs, the following are particularly noteworthy:
▪ The authors (falsely) claim that Harold Holt announced the despatch of Australian troops to South Vietnam in 1966. In fact, the decision to commit combat forces to South Vietnam was made by Prime Minister Robert Menzies in 1965. As Minister for the Army during Holt’s government, you would expect Malcolm Fraser to know this.
▪ The authors (falsely) claim that the Fraser Government “retained Medibank as a universal taxpayer-funded means of health insurance”. In fact, Medibank (which was established by Gough Whitlam’s Labor Government in the early 1970s), was gradually dismantled by the Fraser Government until it disappeared completely in 1981. That’s why Bob Hawke’s Government created Medicare after Labor defeated the Coalition at the March 1983 election.
▪ The authors (falsely) claim that “by 1990 Bob Hawke had now won four elections – the same number as Fraser”. This was no typographical error. Rather, the point of the claim was to suggest that, by 1990, Hawke had become as electorally successful as Fraser. In fact, of course, Fraser won three elections (1975, 1977, 1980) and Hawke won four (1983, 1984, 1987, 1990). The other imputation in the Fraser/Simons claim is that Fraser was as electorally successful as John Howard. But Howard won four elections (1996, 1998, 2001, 2004).
This is just an illustration. In fact, Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs is littered with errors and contentious claims unsupported by evidence. There are also omissions and self-serving assertions designed to present the subject of the book in a favourable light. Mr Fraser’s targets include John Gorton, Sir John Kerr and John Howard.
Malcolm Fraser’s Dinner with George Bush Snr At The Lodge – 30 April 1982
The only new material in Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs can be found at Pages 482-483 – which contains Fraser’s assertion that his intervention with the (then) United States Vice-President George H.W. Bush was instrumental in the US’s decision to support Britain against Argentina in the Falklands War in 1982. And that this, in turn, preserved the NATO Alliance. The line is that, without Fraser, Margaret Thatcher would have taken Britain out of NATO circa 1982.
George H.W. Bush visited Australia (as US vice-president) in late April 1982. According to the authors, at a meeting at The Lodge, Fraser convinced Bush that the US should support Britain in the Falklands War. It was known at the time that Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, was sympathetic to Argentina. The line in Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs is that, before his conversation with Fraser, Bush had not thought through the implications for the US- Britain relationship, and for NATO, if the US abandoned Britain over the Falklands. On hearing Fraser’s advice, the following events took place – according to Fraser’s recollection – as reported in Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs :
Bush looked at his watch. He said, “Malcolm, I think that I am going to have to disrupt your dinner party. The National Security Council is sitting down to examine this matter in three minutes’ time; I think that I better key myself in to the discussion. Have you got a telephone?”
Fraser showed him to the office. Bush made his phone call and emerged about an hour and a half later, giving Fraser the thumbs up. Fraser asked him what would have happened if he hadn’t made the call. “Kirkpatrick would have won the argument in ten minutes,” he said.
Mr Fraser Sticks by His “I Saved NATO” Story
On 23 February 2010, shortly before the launch of his political memoirs, Fraser was interviewed by Mark Colvin on the ABC Radio PM program. The issue of the Falklands War was discussed in that part of the interview which did not make it to air – it was placed on the PM website. On 3 March 2010 Colvin made use of this for an article which he posted on the website of The Drum – titled “The day Fraser may have changed history”.
In his Drum article Colvin gave some credibility to Fraser’s assertion that his intervention in this issue had changed history. He quoted from the full Fraser interview – where the former prime minister claimed that the National Security Council meeting on 30 April 1982 commenced at 7 pm Canberra time.
The problem here is that 7 pm on 30 April 1982 in Canberra was 5 am that morning in Washington DC. Fraser’s claim that he alone convinced Bush of the need for the Reagan administration to support Margaret Thatcher over the Falklands is far-fetched enough. But Fraser and Simons also want readers to believe that the National Security Council which decided on this policy commenced its meeting at 5 am on 30 April 1982.
Malcolm Fraser told Mark Colvin:
[George H.W. Bush] said the National Security Council was sitting down at 7 o’clock our time to discuss this very issue. I know that turns out to be an odd time for the National Security Council to be sitting but we checked later and it was accurate.
Dr Simons’ Self-Serving Defence
In fact, this statement is incorrect. No such checking occurred. Margaret Simons responded to criticism, concerning Fraser’s claim, in a piece she wrote for The Interpreter website on 17 March 2010, titled “Fraser and Falklands” viz:
When Fraser first told me about his conversation with Bush Snr, I was sceptical, not least because the timing seemed wrong. When I told Fraser that his story would mean that the NSC would have met in the early hours of the morning, he held firm to his memory, but we agreed I should do all possible checking before we used the anecdote in the book.
First, I checked that Bush was indeed in Canberra on the day in question. He was. He addressed the National Press Club on 30 April. Fraser's diary reveals that he did have dinner with him that night; 30 April was also the day US Secretary of State Alexander Haig held a media conference after an “emergency meeting” (The Age) of the NSC. This very basic confluence of dates was itself some corroboration of Fraser's memory.
Now, I know that in his interview with Mark Colvin, Fraser said that the conversation with Bush took place at around 7pm – which would make it 5am in Washington. When he first mentioned it to me, he did not put a precise hour on the conversation, but recalled that Bush's making the call to the NSC disrupted the dinner, and also that Bush was out of the room making the phone call for about an hour and a half.
Fraser's diary is not specific enough to say when this would be, but a couple of things make me think that dinner was probably later than 7pm – more like between 8pm and 10pm, or between 6am-8am in Washington. In any case, at the outside we can say that the Bush phone call to Washington must have been between 5-8am Washington time. It is also possible of course that the call began before the NSC meeting, and that Bush spoke to people before the meeting got underway. But that is just speculation.
So then I tried to find out what time the NSC meeting was held. This was unexpectedly difficult to pin down, however a few matters make it clear that it was an early meeting, and an emergency meeting.
Fraser and I thought the record corroborated Fraser's memory sufficiently to include the anecdote. The extent to which his conversation with Bush, and Bush's call to the NSC, was decisive is more than I can say. Bush may have been flattering his host when he told Fraser that it had been decisive. Or Bush may have overstated or overestimated his own influence. Or the call may indeed have helped tip the balance….
There is one way in which more information could be obtained. See this webpage, part of the Reagan archives. Under 'White House Staff and Office Files' there is Box 91284, which seems to be a record of the National Security Meeting in question. The budget for our book did not extent to a trip to the USA for me to go and see what's there.
The Director for the Centre of Advanced Journalism at Melbourne University should be aware that you do not need any budget to check the files of any former American president. They are available on request for the cost of an email plus postage.
Ronald Reagan Library Solves Dispute – For a Mere $US 59.25
After failing to get Dr Simons to respond to his queries, on 24 May 2012, Gerard Henderson sent an email to the archivist at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, seeking information about the material in Document 91284. On 27 June 2012 the Ronald Reagan Library posted a photocopy of the entire file. The total cost (for photocopy and shipping) was a mere US$ 59.25 – which should have been within the budget of both Mr Fraser and Dr Simons.
The documents reveal that the National Security Council met at 9.30 am Washington time – or 11.30 pm Canberra time – on 30 April 1982. This demolishes the Fraser/Simons theory – since Dr Simons has indicated that the Fraser thesis only works if the NSC commenced its meeting by no later than 8 am in Washington. The minutes make no reference to any phone call into the meeting by Vice-President Bush. The minutes also indicate strong support for the British position on the Falklands by President Ronald Reagan himself but also from such senior Reagan administration officials as Alexander Haig and Caspar Weinberger. In other words, Messers Reagan, Haig and Weinberger did not need the advice of Malcolm Fraser to be convinced of the need to support Britain in the Falklands.
Gerard Henderson wrote this up in his Sydney Morning Herald column on 1 January 2013. Before doing so, he sent the following email to Margaret Simons on 21 December 2012:
As a matter of courtesy, I thought it appropriate to ask whether you have had any chance to check that part of the Ronald Reagan Archive which refers to the National Security Council Meeting on 30 April 1982, which considered United States support for Britain in the Falklands conflict.
You will recall that you wrote in The Interpreter on 17 March 2010 that there might be material in Box 91284 which confirms the comment in Malcolm Fraser’s biography that his intervention with George Bush Snr helped save the NATO Alliance. If you have obtained any more material in support of this contention, I would be grateful to receive it.
Margaret Simons did not respond. Nor did she challenge the refutation of the “Malcolm Fraser Saves NATO” claim following the publication of Gerard Henderson’s column in the Sydney Morning Herald on New Year’s Day 2013.
Mr Fraser’s (False) “Recovered” Memory
When co-authoring Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs, Dr Simons should have been cautious of Mr Fraser’s claim to have saved the NATO Alliance in 1982. For, in a sense, this was a recovered memory on Fraser’s part – which Simons subsequently endorsed.
Fraser had never mentioned this matter in the almost three decades which passed between the Falklands War in 1982 and the publication of his memoirs in 2011. There is no reference in Philip Ayers’ Malcolm Fraser: A Biography (Heinemann, 1987), despite the fact that Fraser co-operated generously with the author. And Fraser did not mention the matter in his 2002 book Common Ground (Viking).
Clearly, in relation to the details of his (alleged) conversation with George H.W. Bush in April 1982, Malcolm Fraser has a recollection of an event which never happened. This is consistent with Mr Fraser’s acknowledgement that his memory is “notoriously fallible”. But it is not consistent with his claim that Dr Simons took “unfailing care to make sure that the facts [in Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs] are right”. Clearly this was not the case. Dr Simons did not even bother to examine the files in the Ronald Reagan Library – which is the obvious place to check out the deliberations of a National Security Committee meeting at which President Reagan was present.
Failing the Taxpayer
Dr Simons does not regard it as appropriate to address the numerous errors in Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs. This despite the fact that she received taxpayer funds to write the book – as an Australian Prime Ministers’ Centre research fellow. Moreover, Mr Fraser and Ms Simons shared a $50,000 taxpayer funded prize per courtesy of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.
The failure of Malcolm Fraser and Margaret Simons to correct or even specifically acknowledge the errors in their book is unprofessional. Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs currently perpetuates myths – such as “Malcolm Fraser saved NATO” – which are based on Mr Fraser’s faulty memory and which are bunk.
The 30 April 1982 NSC meeting – The Minutes
In order to correct the public record, the minutes of the meeting of the National Security Council on 30 April 1982 (commencing at 9.30 am Washington DC time – or 11.30 pm Canberra time) is here.
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Until next time.
READ ALL ABOUT IT – COMMENTS ON/ENDORSEMENTS OF MWD
Jonathan Green: “Nancy, will be taking notes, I suspect”
Michael Rowland: “Nancy…yes. We’ll get a nice write-up on Friday. Good morning as well, Gerard. Thanks for watching, by the way.
– ABC 1 News Breakfast, 18 October 2012
“Gerard [Henderson] is a complete f-ckwit”
– Malcolm Farr, via Twitter, 29 June 2012 (circa pre-dinner drinks)
“What a haughty flapping half-arsed buffoon he [Henderson] is”
– Bob Ellis on his Table Talk blog, 8 May 2012 (before breakfast)
“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
“Henderson…What a pompous, pretentious turd you are.”
– Mike Carlton, Saturday 13 August 2011 (after lunch)
“Go to the Sydney Institute Media Watch Dog website to marvel at [its] work”
– Mark Latham The Spectator Australia 11 June 2011.
Media Watch Dog – “disgraceful”, “sick”
– Professor Robert Manne, April Fool’s Day 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.
“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
“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.
“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.