30 AUGUST 2013

The inaugural issue of “Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch” was published in April 1988 – over a year before the first edition of the ABC TV Media Watch program went to air. Since November 1997 “Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch” has been published as part of The Sydney Institute Quarterly. In 2009 Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog blog commenced publication.

    Next Week Media Special on 2013 Election: Covering Everything Not Already Covered


    Wasn’t that great viewing on the ABC 1 News Breakfast “Newspapers” segment this morning with Paul Kennedy and Beverley O’Connor on the presenters’ couch and Mike Smith as the guest? Mr Smith is a spruiker from Insight PR and a former editor of The-Guardian-on-the-Yarra.
    It was not long before Mike Smith bagged today’s editorial in The Australian which made some considered criticism of the ABC. Let’s go to the transcript:

    Paul Kennedy: And…the editorial in The Aus today.

    Mike Smith: Yeah. The Australian picks up the media issue again. It’s referring to the ABC as “an institution colonised by perpetually adolescent Triple J graduates who count doltish shows such as The Hamster Decides, Gruen Nation and The Roast as a serious civic debate”.

    Beverley O’Connor: Which encapsulates a good hour of television on the ABC and ignores the rest.

    Mike Smith: That’s right. The Australian can’t resist itself with the ABC [Beverley O’Connor laughing in support]. It says: “The ABC’s clumsily campaign against Rupert Murdoch and his newspapers has backfired badly serving to highlight the corporation’s systemic bias.” They won’t give up.

    Paul Kennedy: This is an extension of an ongoing spat between The Australian and [sic] as it sees Media Watch. Some back and forth.

    Mike Smith: The Australian versus Media Watch, the Australian versus the ABC generally [Paul Kennedy: “Yeah”], The Australian versus Fairfax papers. It’s getting a bit tiresome.

    Well, if it’s all getting a bit tiresome, why was Mike Smith going on about The Australian on News Breakfast today? – while ignoring some important stories. Especially since there was no discussion as Beverley O’Connor agreed with Mike Smith who agreed with Paul Kennedy who agreed with Beverley O’Connor who agreed with Mike Smith that The Australian was up to no good in criticising the ABC.

    Mike Smith went on to praise the “perspective” of foreign correspondents who write on Australia and drew attention to an “instructive” piece in the London Financial Times by Richard McGregor. Mike Smith endorsed Mr McGregor’s criticism of Australia’s “sense of entitlement” and “successive governments, Labor and Coalition” who have thrown away Australia’s advantages with a series of election bribes. Mike Smith also endorsed Mr McGregor’s foreign correspondents’ “perspective” in criticising Tony Abbott in general and his paid parental leave scheme in particular.

    The only problem is that – if MWD is correct – Richard McGregor is an Australian who went to the same secondary school in Sydney as Tony Abbott at around the same time. Some instructive perspective of the foreign correspondents’ genre to be sure.

    John McTernan Seeks Refuge in PVO’s Men’s Shed

    Peter Van Onselen’s very own Men’s Shed – otherwise known as The Contrarians – was in action again on Sky News last Friday. At 4 pm PVO spoke to Rowan Dean and John McTernan and Greg O’Mahoney. At 5 pm one set of blokes was replaced with another set of blokes – and PVO spoke to Tanveer Ahmed and Peter Bentley and Julian Leeser.

    When John McTernan was Julia Gillard’s director of communications, he was involved in the Gillard government’s criticism of Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited and Prime Minister Gillard’s belated attack on 437 work visas. Right now Mr McTernan, who is a 457 visa holder himself, has sought refuge in The Contrarians which airs on Sky News and is partly owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited. Can you bear it?

    Q&A’s Misplaced Barracking

    MWD just loves the Q&A audience – many of whom obtain a seat by pretending to be Coalition supporters and getting the call to “balance” the demand for seats from Greens and Labor voters.

    And so it sometimes comes to pass that Q&A guests who opposes Tony Abbott or the Coalition tend to get a resounding cheer – even if an error has been made. Last week Labor’s Bill Shorten (falsely) implied that Kelly O’Dwyer had supported Malcolm Turnbull against Tony Abbott in the Liberal Party leadership ballot on 1 December 2009. Let’s go to the transcript – just after Ms O’Dwyer referred to the possibility that Labor’s poor polling could be due not to Rupert Murdoch’s opposition but to the fact that Mr Shorten was involved in overthrowing Ms Gillard:

    Kelly O’Dwyer : And in between all of that you knife a Prime Minister, you know, in reacting to the polls.

    Bill Shorten : Did you vote for Tony Abbott or Malcolm Turnbull?

    Kelly O’Dwyer : Well, I wasn’t in the parliament. I wasn’t in the parliament.

    Bill Shorten : So the point I’m make something is that print is under pressure…

    Kelly O’Dwyer was correct. She entered the House of Representatives following the Higgins by-election which was held on 5 December 2009. But the Q&A audience are barrackers and they cheer for their political heroes irrespective of whether they are right or wrong. So they cheered Bill Shorten’s put down of Kelly O’Dwyer. Can you bear it?

    Fran (“I’m an activist”) Kelly’s Decisive Question

    After a gap of over a year, Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s appeared on Radio National Breakfast program last Monday and was interviewed by Fran (“I’m-an-activist”) Kelly. The interview ran for around 10 minutes. Ms Kelly raised five issues. First, the Coalition’s policies costings. Second, paid parental leave. Third, Tony Abbott’s vision for Australia. Four, same-sex marriage (of course). And fifth, the ABC (of course). Here’s how the interview concluded:

    Fran Kelly: Tony Abbott, we’ve only got 50 seconds until the news. Can I just ask you before we let you go. July 1 last year was the last time you came on this program. This audience that we have here is here for a daily –

    Tony Abbott: Is craving, is craving more of me obviously.

    Fran Kelly: Is craving political coverage. If you are elected prime minister, will you come in – commit to come in to talk to our listeners more than once every 400 days?

    Tony Abbott: Well, get me across the line. Help me to become Prime Minister and then I think that would be a fair deal.

    Fran Kelly: We can take you on trust there.

    Tony Abbott: Thank you so much.

    Fran Kelly: Tony Abbott, thank you very much for joining us.

    Tony Abbott: Okay Fran.

    Well, there you have it. Fran Kelly had her first interview with Tony Abbott in over a year. And she used 10 per cent of the occasion to ask Tony Abbott if he would come on to the program more frequently in the next year and failed to get a firm commitment. Can you bear it? If so, read the MWD editorial below.


    The ABC’s self-obsession is becoming somewhat embarrassing in the 2013 election campaign.

    ABC managing director Mark Scott’s suggestion that the public broadcaster should host Leaders’ Debates in regional centres was rejected by either the Liberal Party or Labor or both. It did not happen. This led to a situation where all three Leaders’ Debates were hosted by Sky News’ David Speers. The public broadcaster ran only the first debate on its main channel. The likes of Leigh Sales, Chris Uhlmann, Barrie Cassidy, Tony Jones, Virginia Trioli, Michael Rowland and Emma Alberici did not get an opportunity to do the gig.

    Meanwhile, leading ABC presenter Tony Jones continues to use the public broadcaster’s facilities to spruik for his employer. Hosting Q&A on 19 August, Jones asked Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey to promise that there would be no cuts to the ABC budget under a Coalition government. He did not receive a firm commitment. And here is how Mr Jones concluded Q&A last Monday:

    Tony Jones : Thank you very much. That is all we have time for…. Now, next Monday on Q&A, Kevin Rudd will answer your questions but he will do it alone. The Prime Minister has agreed to share the stage with the man who wants his job, the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. At this point the Opposition Leader hasn’t responded to our invitation to join this special Q&A debate. But if Mr Abbott [heckling]…But if Mr Abbott doesn’t agree to participate, Mr Rudd will face the audience in a one-man show and we’re offering the same opportunity to Mr Abbott. So, until next week’s Q&A, whatever shape it takes, goodnight.

    On the available indications, Tony Abbott will not be appearing on Q&A next week. Mark Scott invariably throws the switch to denial. However, if the alternative prime minister avoids many or some key ABC programs – then the ABC has a problem whether or not Mark Scott wants to suggest otherwise. A solution is for Mark Scott to do what he promised to do when appointed ABC managing director in 2006. Namely, ensure a greater diversity of views within the public broadcaster.

    While the ABC remains a Conservative-Free-Zone, and Sky News offers a format which is acceptable to both the Coalition and Labor, then the ABC needs the Liberal Party leader more than the Liberal Party leader needs the ABC. It’s just that, in his state of denial, Mark Scott refuses to recognise the reality. He recently welcomed the fact that both the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader will appear this week on Annabel Crabb’s Kitchen Cabinet program. That should be fun – but it is the Leaders’ Debates which are at the serious end of election coverage.

    THE THOUGHT OF MARK LATHAM continuing saga
    What a stunning column by Mark Latham in yesterday’s Australian Financial Review. The failed former Labor leader started off with this put-down of Tony Abbott:

    The verdict on the election campaign is in. Tony Abbott is an opportunist on a scale rarely seen in federal politics.

    Then the Lair of Liverpool turned his attention to what he regards are the Opposition leader’s addiction to middle class welfare:

    What is certain is Abbott’s determination to create new middle-class welfare entitlements. His PPL scheme is the most generous parental policy since the reading of Kerry Packer’s will. The Coalition’s compo-for-nothing carbon tax payments and plan to abolish means-testing of the private health insurance rebate are no less extravagant. On Sunday, Abbott added a fourth budgetary indulgence: cheaper medicines for self-funded retirees.

    Could this be the very same Mark Latham who in the 2004 election campaign, in a desperate appeal for votes, introduced the non means-tested and unfunded Medicare Gold proposal whereby any rich person who made it to age 75 was entitled to receive free health care in public or private hospitals irrespective of whether they paid private health insurance? Sure was.

    And now the Lair of Liverpool is lecturing at large against profligacy and state paternalism while he struggles to support a wife, three children, a horse and half a dozen bookmakers on a lousy taxpayer funded superannuation handout of a mere $78,000 a year (fully indexed) plus fees for AFR columns and appearances on Fairfax Radio Network. It’s quite a struggle.

    Meanwhile the reports for the Melbourne Writers’ Festival indicate that the Lair of Liverpool had undivided attention last Friday when he delivered the 2013 John Button Oration to an overly still audience. In fact, nobody moved during the oh-so-long lecture. Probably because, after a hard day at the leftist stack which is the MWF, nobody was awake.

    Mark Latham revealed that James Button (John’s son) wanted the Prime Minister to deliver the 2013 John Button Oration. But this became impossible when Kevin Rudd replaced Julia Gillard in June. James Button did not get on with his former employer – so Mark Latham got the gig.

    Here are the highlights of the Lair of Liverpool’s lecture which had the truly exciting title “The Changing Nature of Political Power”.

    • ML described himself as an “intellectual loner”.
    • ML managed to discuss the increase of wealth in Australia over the past two decades without mentioning John Howard or Peter Costello.
    • ML commented that “the Chifley Government’s bank nationalisation program [of the late 1940s] didn’t succeed”. Thanks for that.
    • ML revealed that “if, as some people say, the NBN will place competitive pressure on News Corp…then let’s build three of them”. At a mere $90 billion each, no less.
    • ML declared that “according to a British trade unionist who was at Oxford in the early 1990s, when [Tony] Abbot won his boxing blue, the fellow he beat in the final went on to run the Royal Ballet”. Get it? Say no more.
    • ML stepped up to bag Andrew Robb, Barnaby Joyce, the Institute of Public Affairs, John Roskam, Andrew Bolt, Gina Rinehart, Rupert Murdoch, Paul Kelly, The Australian, Radio 2GB, Eric Abetz, George Brandis, Mathias Cormann, Janet Albrechtsen, Piers Akerman and Rebecca Weisser.
    • Er, that’s it. Wake up now.

      The colonial cringe is alive and well on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster if such a phenomenon is to be judged with reference to the ABC’s search for talent.

      Thomas Watson, the somewhat undistinguished UK Labour MP for West Bromwich East since 2001, has just visited Australia to widespread interest within the ABC. Your man Watson does not have a great CV as a British parliamentarian. After all, he was a supporter of the hopeless Gordon Brown and was indirectly associated with the parliamentary expenses scandal. Watson recently resigned as deputy chairman of the Labour Party following allegations concerning a pre-selection.

      However, Mr Watson’s appeal to ABC types turns on the fact that he is a vehement opponent of Rupert Murdoch and co-author of Dial M for Murdoch which had led to many earlier interviews on the ABC. Tom Watson’s visit Down Under, financed by the US left activist group Avaaz, was somewhat busy. Here’s why.

      • Monday am: Watson, dressed as if he is going to the tip, is interviewed on Mornings with Jon Faine on 774. The interview is conducted on a street in the Victorian sea-side town of Torquay in the marginal seat of Corangamite. No hard questions are asked – setting a precedent for Watson’s follow-up appearances on the public broadcaster.
      • Monday pm: Tom Watson is interviewed by Mark Colvin on the ABC Radio PM program.
      • Monday pm: Watson MP appears on Q&A, which is filmed at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. He is one of three panellists who criticise Murdoch – the others are Labor minister Bill Shorten and Sally Warhaft (who is associated with the taxpayer subsidised Wheeler Centre). Watson attributed Labor’s defeat at the 1992 election to Rupert Murdoch. Shorten and Warhaft suggested that News Limited’s newspapers in Australia are a reason for Labor’s apparent poor showing in the 2013 Australian election. Blame Murdoch.
      • Tuesday am: Watson is interviewed by Fran (“I’m-an-activist”) Kelly on ABC Radio National Breakfast. It’s a soft interview.
      • Tuesday am: Watson is interviewed by Virginia Trioli and Michael Rowland on ABC 1 News Breakfast. Ditto.
      • Tuesday pm: Watson is interviewed on the ABC News 24 program The Drum where lo and behold, he does receive some tough-minded questions from presenter Steve Cannane.

      It is most unlikely that a visiting Australian parliamentarian visiting Britain would be rushed from one BBC microphone to another to give his/her ideas on a British election or the state of the British media. But the ABC leftist luvvies just love to hear from a Brit who criticises Murdoch during an election campaign where the media proprietor is not supporting the Australian Labor Party. Like now.

      MWD’s favourite quote form Tom Watson during his fly-in-fly-out Australian visit turned on his interview with Michael Lallo in the Sydney Morning Herald on 26 August 2013. An indignant Mr Watson whinged:

      To be targeted [by News Corporation] like I was – to be followed by covert surveillance specialists, to have someone try to destroy your character – is very threatening. You get a sense of what it was like for people in the former Soviet Union.

      Yeah, right. Tom Watson, who claims to have been subjected to surveillance by News Corporation, sees himself as suffering just as much as the dissidents in the Soviet Union who were murdered, sent to the gulag or incarcerated in mental asylums. This suggests that Tom Watson’s knowledge of the Soviet Union of recent memory is just as well informed as his conviction that Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers determine election outcomes in Australia and Britain.

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      This enormously popular segment of MWD has been assisted this week by James Jeffrey’s “Struth!” column in yesterday’s Australian. You see “Struth!” managed to get a response to the AFR’s Joe Aston’s criticism of Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mike Carlton. Your man Carlton was upset by the comment that his attempted satire on Tony Abbott (See MWD Issue 196) was not very funny.

      Mike (“I pour the gin despite my unexplained cracked ribs”) Carlton responded by describing young Mr Aston as (i) a “creep” (ii) “an epicene little flea with no pedigree in journalism” and (iii) a “talent to brown nose his way into a job as an airline trolley-dolly”.

      According to Carlton, such withering criticism should just “about stop him [Aston] dead”. MWD doubts it. Nancy’s (male) co-owner has received even more hyperbolic assessments by Mr Carlton and proudly regards them as endorsements. See the end of MWD Issue 197.

      Last Friday, around the time that Nancy had retired to her kennel for the evening, it was announced that David Marr’s Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott (Quarterly Essay, published by Black Inc) had won the 2013 John Button Prize for writing on public policy and politics. The other two books on the short-list were Tony Kevin’s self-published Reluctant Rescuers: An exploration of the Australian border protection system’s record in detecting and intercepting asylum boats 1998-2011 and Tim Soutphomassane’s Don’t Go Back to Where You Came From: Why Multiculturalism Works (NewSouth Books).

      Geoff Gallop’s Praise for Political Animal

      The John Button Prize is judged on a range of criteria including (i) the impact and public benefit of the work, (ii) the power and originality of its ideas, (iii) literary merit and (iv) accuracy and, where relevant, fairness.

      Former Western Australian Labor premier Geoff Gallop, one of the judges, commented that David Marr’s Political Animal explored “one of the great themes of our time – the quality of leadership” and added that “Marr has got us thinking about what we want from our leaders”.

      David Marr’s Assessment of Tony Abbott

      David Marr’s response to his $20,000 prize was recorded on the John Button Foundation’s website:

      It is pure pleasure to win this Prize. After all the hullabaloo the essay provoked, I am delighted it has been recognized as a piece of analysis.

      There’s a chasm in him [Tony Abbott] between the values he claims and the politics he practises. Australia is about to drop into that chasm. He is a most unpredictable leader, because what appears to matter most to him he cannot do. The electorate won’t let him pursue his religious convictions, and his party will fight like mad over his social justice convictions.

      In fact, there is no evidence that Tony Abbott has ever expressed a desire to “pursue his religious commitments” in government. Moreover, there is no evidence that the Liberal Party “will fight like mad” over Tony Abbott’s “social justice convictions” if the Coalition wins office on 7 September 2013.

      David Marr does not understand Tony Abbott. This is evident from the inaugural sentences in the first edition (September 2012) of Political Animal which read as follows:

      Australia doesn’t want Tony Abbott. We never have.

      This comment was written in September 2012 when the Coalition was well ahead of Labor in the opinion polls. It was the belief that Abbott would win the next election that led Labor to replace Julia Gillard with Kevin Rudd in June 2013.

      The inaugural sentence in the second edition (February 2013) now reads as follows:

      Australia has never shown much enthusiasm for the man.

      If the opinion polls are correct, the Coalition will win the 2013 election and Tony Abbott will have prevailed over two Labor leaders in less than four years.

      Marr’s “Punch” Errors Ignored by Media

      David Marr is one of Australia’s top journalists. It speaks for his standing that virtually no one in the media has questioned Marr about his revision of “The Punch” allegation in Political Animal which created headlines when his essay was first released. Namely, that at Sydney University in 1977, Tony Abbott punched a wall on both sides of the left-wing student activist Barbara Ramjan’s head.

      Marr’s account of the alleged “Punch” in the first issue of Political Animal was inaccurate. And now, a year later, Marr has won the John Button Prize which is judged, inter alia, on accuracy.

      • In the first edition of Political Animal, David Marr dated “The Punch” as having taken place in September 1977. In the second edition of Political Animal, Marr changed the date to 28 July 1977. However, in an evident lack of professionalism, in the second edition Marr did not admit that he had changed the date – this was discovered by Gerard Henderson. Marr refused to explain on Insiders on 7 July 2013 how he got the date wrong in the first edition. He just asserted that the event happened.

      David Marr has refused to state who gave him the false date which appeared in the first edition or who advised him that the date of the alleged incident should be revised to 28 July 1977 from September 1977.

      • In the first edition of Political Animal, David Marr explained Tony Abbott’s (alleged) “Punch” with reference to the fact that Abbott was under pressure in September 1977 on account of the fact that he had been involved in an earlier controversial incident with a left-wing female activist at the Ku-Ring-Gai College of Advanced Education in Sydney the previous month. Marr wrote that allegations concerning the Ku-Ring-Gai incident “were still hanging over” Abbott when “The Punch” took place in September 1977.

      However, in the second edition of Political Animal, Marr changed the date of the Ku-Ring-Gail incident from August 1977 to October 1977. In other words, Marr’s comment that the Ku-Ring-Gai allegations were “hanging over Abbott” at the time of “The Punch” is inaccurate. Once again, Marr lacked the professionalism to acknowledge in the second edition that he had corrected his account of the Ku-Ring-Gai incident from the first edition. Once again, this was discovered by Gerard Henderson.

      Initially David Marr denied that he had altered the date of the Ku-Ring-Gai incident. He later conceded that he “forgot” that he had given the date of this event as August 1977 rather than October 1977. See MWD Issue 181. Now David Marr says that he has no idea about how he made the inaccurate statement in the first edition. See MWD Issue 196.

      Nor will Marr address the issue that he used the Ku-Ring-Gai incident to explain Tony Abbott’s subsequent (alleged) “Punch” – despite the fact that he now concedes that “The Punch” took place before the Ku-Ring-Gai incident and, consequently, cannot be used to explain Tony Abbott’s subsequent alleged behaviour.

      Neither Independent Witness Nor Contemporaneous Evidence

      The matters are important for a number of reasons. First, there is no independent witness to the incident. That is, some four decades after the event, no one has said that they saw “The Punch” take place. Second, there is no evidence of damage to a Sydney University wall or to Tony Abbott’s fists at the time. Third, there is no contemporaneous evidence. Barbara Ramjan wrote to the Sydney University student newspaper Honi Soit, complaining about Tony Abbott’s behaviour, on 13 September 1977 and again on 3 October 1977. On neither occasion did she make reference to “The Punch” – which, according to Marr’s second version, took place shortly before on 28 July 1977. A strange omission – which Marr has made no attempt to explain.

      David Marr subsequently claimed that his researchers had examined the Honi Soit files before writing the first edition of Political Animal. However, there is no reference to Barbara Ramjan’s 1977 Honi Soit letters in the first edition. Once again, this demonstrates, at the very least, sloppy research on Marr’s behalf. If he was aware of the Ramjan 1977 Honi Soit letters – then he should have addressed why he did not refer to them in the first issue of Political Animal since they reflected Ramjan’s attitude to Abbott in late 1977.

      Once again, it was Gerard Henderson who first drew attention to Barbara Ramjan’s Honi Soit 1977 letters. In turn, he was ridiculed by David Marr on the ABC News 24 program The Drum (20 March 2013). Marr sneered at Henderson as the “Inspector Clouseau of forensic journalism”. During this interview, Marr simply refused to discuss Henderson’s criticisms of the sloppy research in the first edition of Political Animal. Nor did Marr admit that he had secretly responded to Henderson’s criticism by correcting some earlier accuracies in the second edition which had just been published.

      Marr and His Mates

      David Marr has many mates and admirers. In the United States or Britain inaccuracies in the first edition of a biography on a political leader by a prominent journalist would be a matter of public discussion.
      In Australia, on the other hand, there has been all but nil coverage of what David Marr now concedes were inaccuracies in the first edition of Political Animal. And now David Marr has received the 2013 John Button Prize – which is meant to reward, inter alia, accuracy.

      Perhaps the John Button Prize reflects a trend in awards whereby judges are more interested in stories told than the facts which are supposed to sustain them. Recently Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoir – which is co-authored by Malcolm Fraser and academic Margaret Simons won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award despite the fact that it is both littered with howlers and relies on Fraser’s memory which he acknowledges is notoriously fallible.

      Postscript – David Marr’s Flawed Defence

      MWD’s attention has just been drawn to correspondence between a MWD reader who wants to be titled “X” and the John Button Foundation. “X” wrote to the John Button Foundation after reading Gerard Henderson’s account of his recent conversation with David Marr at Melbourne Airport on 17 August 2013 – which was reported in MWD Issue 196.

      Loretta Mannix-Fell of the John Button Foundation passed on Anthony Smith’s email to David Marr who responded to “X”. David Marr described Gerard Henderson’s account of the Melbourne Airport conversation as “lively” but he did not contest its accuracy. David Marr’s most recent defence of his Political Animal raises more questions about his commitment to accuracy.

      • David Marr acknowledges that there were a “few errors of detail” in the first edition of Political Animal but he claimed to have “corrected” them in the second edition.
      • This is not accurate. Certainly Marr made changes in the second edition. But these were done without acknowledgement. In other words, the second edition of Political Animal made no specific reference to the fact that the first edition had been corrected.

      • In his email to “X”, David Marr wrote:
      • Abbott punched the wall the night Barbara Ramjan was elected president of the SRC in 1977. There are now, apart from Ramjan herself, two further witnesses to what happened that night. Their accounts are all set out in full in the new edition of the Abbott essay.

      This is inaccurate. Neither of the “two witnesses” to whom David Marr refers saw Abbott punch a wall on either side of Barbara Ramjan’s head in July or September 1977.

      The first person – who is identified as a one-time “science student” – specifically told Marr that he “did not see a punch land”.

      The second person – long time Ramjan friend David Patch – claims to be a “witness”. However, Mr Patch wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 13 September 2012: “I did not see the incident, but I was nearby.” David Marr should understand that a person cannot be a witness to an event which he/she did not see.

      In his email to “X”, David Marr did not disclose (i) how he got the date of the alleged “Punch” wrong in the first edition of Political Animal or (ii) how he got the date of the Ku-Ring-Gai incident wrong in the first edition of Political Animal.

      The inaccuracies have been altered in the second edition. But they have neither been openly acknowledged or explained. Yet David Marr’s commitment to accuracy was recognised by the judges of the 2013 John Button Prize.

      Without “The Punch” allegation, Political Animal : The Making of Tony Abbott would have received very little publicity. David Marr has done very well out of the alleged “Punch”. However, there is neither an independent witness to, nor contemporaneous evidence of, such an event. Moreover, David Marr continues to decline to explain how the inaccuracies in Political Animal occurred in the first place.

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      Phil Craig Replies to Gerard Henderson About Jean Kittson’s Bad Memory

      As readers of this hugely popular segment of MWD will be aware, Nancy’s (male) co-owner has been corresponding with Phil Craig, the ABC Head of Factual, about the howlers, misrepresentations and lack of balance in the ABC 1 documentary Whitlam: The Power & The Passion. This documentary – which was written and directed by Paul Clarke – was advertised on ABC TV as a “definitive” account of Gough Whitlam’s political career.

      The August 2013 issue of The Sydney Institute Quarterly contains a detailed critique of Whitlam: The Power & The Passion concerning which Mr Craig has been offered a right of reply.

      The following correspondence takes up Phil Craig’s initial rejection of Gerard Henderson’s claim that – contrary to Jean Kittson’s recollection four decades after the event – there was no violent demonstration outside the US Consulate in Melbourne on 11 November 1975. Mr Craig apparently believes that a person’s (false) “memory” of an event which never happened should be run unchecked as part of a taxpayer funded “definitive” documentary.

      Phil Craig’s response of 28 August 2013 provides a glimpse of the ABC’s sensitivity to criticism. He resorts to ridicule. Then engages in self-justification by describing the program, which he signed off on, as “beautifully made”, “intelligent” and “scrupulously fair-minded”. And then he declines to defend the documentary against considered and documented criticism. It’s the familiar ABC three-step reaction. Phil Craig proceeds from sneer to self-praise and then into denial.

      The fact remains that the ABC Head of Factual approved a documentary, for showing on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster, which contains numerous factual howlers and unproven assertions. Now read on:

      Gerard Henderson to Phil Craig – 28 August 2013

      The August 2013 edition of The Sydney Institute Quarterly should be out later today. As promised, I will forward you a copy. If you wish to respond to my critique of Whitlam: The Power & The Passion, you should forward an article no later than mid-November and I will publish it in the planned December 2013 issue.
      Since writing my SIQ piece, I have had time to check out details of Jean Kittson’s memory – as depicted in Whitlam: The Power & The Passion – of what took place on the streets of Melbourne soon after The Dismissal on 11 November 1975. As you will recall, this is what Ms Kittson remembered:

      Jean Kittson: We heard about it [the Dismissal of 11 November 1975] and we immediately gathered in Bourke Street, at the top of Bourke Street. And then very soon the mob started chanting “Hang Fraser” and then “Kill Fraser” and then everyone starts chanting “Hang Fraser, Hang Fraser”. I’m going, “well”…Then we were going down St Kilda Road, where there’s the American Embassy. And, suddenly, there’s rocks flying over my shoulder from someone behind me, starting to smash the glass windows of these buildings. And, it’s just, from there it just turned into something really, really unpleasant. A mob.

      When I pointed out that there was no evidence of any attack on the United States mission in Melbourne on 11 November 1975, you wrote to me on 29 July 2013.

      I see no reason to question an interviewee’s memory of what happened inside a crowd 40 years ago. She talks of stones being thrown and the mood turning ugly and that is her version of events. This series is made up of personal memories and experiences. In our view we were painting a portrait of an individual and a period in Australian history. Memory, interpretation, individual reactions and personal anecdotes and are all essential ingredients.

      If you believe that the difference between an “embassy” and a “consulate” in someone’s story of a demonstration that took place four decades ago is important, then so be it. It’s a little like demanding absolute technical accuracy around the use of a term such as “head of state”. In both instances the fundamental meaning and the point is clear and there’s no intention to mislead….

      As you are aware, I am surprised that the ABC Head of Factual saw no reason to fact-check a person’s memory of an event which (allegedly) took place around four decades ago. The issue turns on not whether windows were smashed at the US Embassy (which is in Canberra) or at the US Consulate (located in Melbourne) – but whether Jean Kittson’s memory of a violent anti-American demonstration is accurate.
      You may – or may not – be interested in my own fact-checking. I have now had time to check The Age and The Australian on 12 November 1975 – the morning after the events recalled by Jean Kittson occurred.

    • On 12 November 1975, The Age reported that (on the previous day) there was a demonstration outside the Victorian Liberal Party headquarters in South Melbourne and that windows were broken at the Robert Menzies Centre. According to The Age, the demonstrators in South Melbourne consisted of the remnants of a larger group which had previously attended a rally in the City Square and then marched down St Kilda Road to the gates of Government House. According to The Age, the group outside Government House dispersed at around 6.30 pm and returned to South Melbourne where the demonstration outside the Robert Menzies Centre occurred and where rocks were thrown at the plate glass windows. The US Consulate in Melbourne was around 2 kilometres from Government House in the opposite direction.
    • On 12 November 1975, The Australian also reported that – following a demonstration at Government House – protestors marched to “the Liberal Party headquarters in South Melbourne” where a violent demonstration took place with windows broken.
    • The self-proclaimed Marxist Tom O’Lincoln in his book Years of Rage: Social Conflicts in the Fraser Era (Bookmarks Australia, 1993), describes the events in Melbourne in mid-November 1975. He recalls that, at the demonstration in Melbourne on Friday 14 November 1975, the left-wing organisers specifically decided not to demonstrate outside the US Consulate. Tom O’Lincoln, who was a member of the International Socialists (IS), described the occasion as follows:
    • The organisers were anxious to keep the restive crowd from getting out of hand, so they led it away from the city centre to the old Treasury Building in Spring Street, where they appealed to the marchers to “go home and make your street a street for Labor”. Keen for further action, a large section of the crowd preferred to follow the banners of a collection of revolutionaries, with about 10,000 people proceeding to Parliament House, then down Bourke Street toward the centre of town.

      At the front of the march raged a battle for control between Maoists who wished to take the crowd to the US Consulate – a considerable distance away in St Kilda Road – and the Trotskyist International Socialists (I.S.) who insisted on heading for the Stock Exchange. Each had a political significance: the Maoists blamed the Kerr Coup on the CIA and US imperialism, while the I.S. saw the struggle in class rather than national terms.

      A combination of geography (the Stock Exchange was far closer), better organisation and superior political logic ensured victory for the I.S. in this tussle….

      I know that you believe that it is okay for documentaries to be lyrical and story-telling. But the fact remains that Ms Kittson has a “memory” of an event which never happened. As the contemporaneous reports make clear, there was no violent demonstration outside the US Consulate in Melbourne on 11 November 1975 – and no windows at the diplomatic mission were broken. Yet, according to the ABC, Whitlam: The Power & The Passion was a “definitive” documentary.

      I find it surprising that the ABC has spent up to $10 million setting up a Fact Checking Unit to monitor the “facts” of others – when the ABC Head of Factual does not bother to fact-check the ABC’s own documentaries and is not concerned about errors.

      * * * * *

      By the way, the account of Mao Zedong’s conversation with Gough Whitlam in 1973 – as told in Whitlam: The Power & The Passion – is also fanciful. Mao’s (alleged) joke about Jackie Onassis never took place. It’s just more taxpayer funded lyrical story-telling. More of which later.

      Best wishes

      Gerard Henderson

      Phil Craig to Gerard Henderson – 28 August 2013

      Hi Gerard

      I cannot but smile at the idea of you as a documentary commissioning editor. Although I grant you that the twenty seven minute sequence you’d produce on which building was attacked on which day by which crowd and with what size of rocks would be a little ripper.

      We clearly see things very differently. You’ve identified a few trivial differences of opinion in Whitlam and for reasons best known to yourself you’re trying to undermine the success of what was a beautifully made, intelligent and scrupulously fair-minded TV biography.

      Thanks for the offer of a slot in The Quarterly. On reflection I’ve explained my reasoning in the comments already published on your blog so please direct your readers to them for my views on whether your “gotchas” are what youthink they are.

      Best wishes


      Gerard Henderson to Phil Craig – 29 August 2013


      Your sneering response reached me after I had posted you a copy of the August 2013 issue of The Sydney Institute Quarterly. Unlike so many employees of the ABC, I am able to take considered criticism. So if you happen to change your mind and wish to criticise my critique of Whitlam: The Power & The Passion – I will still run it in unedited form in the next issue of the SIQ.

      There is no point in continuing this correspondence. However, I make one comment about your resort to ridicule in an attempt to defend a factual error.

      I never proposed a “27 minute sequence” in Whitlam: The Power & The Passion to explain “which building was attacked on which day by which crowd and with what size of rocks” on 11 November 1975. That’s just a sneer.

      In fact, if you had asked me to fact-check Whitlam: The Power & The Passion, I would have made Jean Kittson’s account shorter by just deleting one sentence which wrongly claimed that the US mission in Melbourne was attacked on 11 November 1975. This is how it could have been done:

      Jean Kittson: We heard about it [the Dismissal of 11 November 1975] and we immediately gathered in Bourke Street, at the top of Bourke Street. And then very soon the mob started chanting “Hang Fraser” and then “Kill Fraser” and then everyone starts chanting “Hang Fraser, Hang Fraser”. I’m going, “well”…Then we were going down St Kilda Road, where there’s the American Embassy. And, suddenly, there’s rocks flying over my shoulder from someone behind me, starting to smash the glass windows of these buildings. And, it’s just, from there it just turned into something really, really unpleasant. A mob.

      Easy, really. And accurate.

      If, as ABC Head of Factual, you had removed such errors from Whitlam: The Power & The Passion then the documentary would have been even “more beautifully made” and “more intelligent” and “more scrupulously fair-minded” than the version which went to air. Fancy that.

      Best wishes

      Gerard Henderson

      Phil Craig to Gerard Henderson – 29 August 2013


      I may tease but I hope I do not sneer.

      I trust that your loyal readers will see the difference, and note that while keen to defend Whitlam I was happy to engage with you on this, and even cede some ground (on the great ‘Head of State’ debate).




      “The nation mourns Gerard Henderson. He’s in perfect health.”

      – Phillip Adams, via Twitter, 2 July 2013 (favourited by Virginia Trioli)

      “Old Australian saying. ‘He wouldn’t know a tram was up him unless the bell rang’. Wholly appropriate to Gerard Henderson”

      – Phillip Adams, via Twitter, 7 May 2013

      “I said publicly once that I thought that Gerard’s views on the ABC came not from his brain but from his spinal cord”

      – Tim Bowden as told to Phillip (“I was a teenage Stalinist”) Adams, Late Night Live, 11 June 2013 – Queen’s Birthday Public Holiday.

      “Gerard Henderson is a crank”

      – David Marr at the 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival (as reported by Mike Carlton)

      “The great Australian media nutter Gerard [Henderson is an] ungrateful bastard”.

      – Mark Latham, Q&A, 10 June 2013.

      “[Gerard Henderson] is a moral dwarf …Gerard, pull your head in”

      – Professor Sinclair Davidson, 24 April 2013.

      “[Henderson] You are mad. In the 18th century you would have been caged, with the mob invited to poke you with sticks.”

      – Mike Carlton, 5.23 pm (Gin & Tonic Time) 25 March 2013

      “I like to think of Gerard [Henderson] as the Inspector Clouseau of forensic journalism”

      – David Marr, ABC News 24 The Drum, 21 March 2013.

      [Media Watch Dog is] not a moan, more of a miserable dribble”

      – Peter Munro, 21 March 2013

      “You are a fool, Henderson, a malicious and mendacious piece of shit…

      Now F_ck off”

      – Mike Carlton, 11 March 2013 (Hangover Time).

      “[Gerard Henderson is] an internet pest”

      – Dr (for a doctor he is) Jeff Sparrow, 26 February 2013.

      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.

      Until next time. In the meantime, keep morale high.