GERARD HENDERSON’S MEDIA WATCH DOG – ISSUE NO. 203
11 October 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.
BRAND NEW ENDORSEMENTS (VIA TWITTER) FROM MIKE CARLTON AND JONATHAN GREEN
“I think Henderson is seriously ill. There’s enough there for an entire convention of psychiatrists.”
– Mike (“I’ll pour the gin”) Carlton – After Pre-Dinner Drinks tweet to Jeff Sparrow, 8 October 2013
“Wrong, you got caught out, off to Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog for you! :- ”
– Tim Wilson tweet to Jonathan Green and Virginia Trioli – 8 October 2013.
“Nancy as ever will be the judge”
– Jonathan Green to Tim Wilson and Virginia Trioli (conceding to the arbitral authority of Nancy) – 8 October 2013
- Can You Bear It? Kathy Lette’s Alienation – Brought to You by Melbourne University; PVO’s Men’s Shed – The Latest
- ABC’s Jonathan Green Stars on ABC; Catherine Deveny Tells TVNZ of Australia’s Shame Under the Abbott Dictatorship
KATHY LETTE’S ALIENATION – AS FINANCED BY THE TAXPAYER SUBSIDISED UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE
Nancy’s co-owners have been honoured, absolutely honoured, to receive an invitation from their alma mater to attend a knees-up in Sydney next month. You see, the University of Melbourne has launched its “Believe – The Campaign for the University of Melbourne” to raise funds to “transform the University and tertiary education in Australia”. You know the story. All done by fronting up for canapés and beverages at the end of the month.
The problem with Melbourne University – like most other campuses – is that it knows no debate. The University’s social science departments would never come across a conservative in a day’s work. For example, Melbourne University runs Rai Gaita’s series titled “The Wednesday Lecture Series”. Dr Gaita (for a doctor he is) is open to all ideas – provided the speakers agree with him. No one else gets a guernsey. See MWD passim.
According to last Saturday’s Herald-Sun, the University of Melbourne has just completed its five day Festival of Ideas event. A couple of low-profile leftists got a Guernsey. But it was mainly wall-to-wall leftist luvvies on the program. Featuring the likes of Greg Barns, Julian Burnside (of course), John Doyle, David Karoly, Kathy Lette, Miriam Lyons, Anne Manne, Janet McCalman, Maxine McKew, Julian Morrow (one of the Chaser “Boys”, average age 371/2), Tim (Factless) Soutphomassane, Virginia Trioli and Arnold Zable.
This is London based author’s Kathy Lette’s you-beaut idea, as told to the Melbourne University Festival of Ideas and as reported by Evonne Barry:
“We’re a very sophisticated country, but that’s not how we’re perceived overseas,” said Ms Lette, who is in Australia for the University of Melbourne’s five-day Festival of Ideas, which concludes on Sunday. “Australia is renowned for its misogyny… to still be a country of Les Pattersons and those Foster’s beer ads.”
Ms Lette said the rise of Julia Gillard to prime ministership had helped Australia’s reputation for gender equality. But she said Tony Abbott’s election campaign – including how he praised the “sex appeal” of one female candidate – was embarrassing.
“Oh Lord, he’s so embarrassing, living in Britain, hearing those Neanderthal, misogynist comments from the leader of our country,” Ms Lette said. “The Australian men I know are lovely. They are funny, self-deprecating, warm and witty, but a lot of men in politics, and a lot of men in the media, they are knuckle-draggers.”
How’s that for an idea? The University of Melbourne kicks in lotsa money to bring Kathy Lette to Australia to shed an idea or two. And Ms Lette expresses her concern that in Britain (i) Australia is renowned for its “misogyny”, (ii) Australia’s’ prime minister is a “Neanderthal” and (iii) a lot of male Australian politicians and journalists are “knuckle draggers”.
Shucks. Is this really so? And, if it is so, why should anyone in Australia – including Melbourne University – give a toss?
Kathy Lette has rushed to Australia to tell us that we are perceived as misogynists in the Mother Country. But Ms Lette appears to have remained silent when the British Labour MP Glenda Jackson declared that the late Baroness Thatcher was not really a woman. And the University of Melbourne wants its graduates to kick in real money to financially support such intellectual gems as Ms Lette offered last week as part of its campaign to transform the University and tertiary education in Australia.
Can you bear it?
PVO’S MEN’S SHED: AN UPDATE
It was another all-blokes Men’s Shed in Peter Van Onselen’s “The Testosterones” – aka The Contrarians – on Sky News last Friday. At both 4 pm and 5 pm. There was Dr Van Onselen (for a doctor he is), Phil Dalidakis, Dr Phillip Senior (yet another doctor in the PVO Shed), Peter Bentley and Tim Wilson.
PVO told guests at the commencement of the program that he had asked “three Liberal women MPs on to the program” but all had turned him down. Fair enough – since PVO does not have Labor MPs, male or female, on the program. So why should Liberal shielas front up? Also, no mention was made as to why no female non-politicians had been invited into PVO’s Men’s Shed.
Then PVO referred (sneeringly, of course) on two occasions to the Abbott-Credlin government – meaning Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his chief-of-staff Peta Credlin. Ms Credlin is not a member of the Cabinet or the ministry. Yet, according to the usually male-focused Peter Van Onselen, the Coalition in Canberra is best referred to as the Abbott-Credlin government. Can you bear it?
There was absolutely overwhelming interest in last Monday’s Media Watch Dog Special titled “News Breakfast Gives ABC Self-Indulgence a Bad Name” – see here.
Readers were moved to know that the ABC’s Jonathan Green had joined with the ABC’s Virginia Trioli and the ABC’s Michael Rowland on News Breakfast to defend the ABC against criticism from Nick Cater of The Australian. And book readers everywhere were delighted to learn that La Trioli was promoting Mr Green’s book The Year My Politics Broke on the advertisement-free ABC.
That was Tuesday. On Wednesday Jonathan Green appeared on The Drum on ABC News 24. Then on Thursday he appeared for some 20 minutes on ABC Radio 702 in Sydney and had a piece (criticising Tony Abbott) published on The Drum website. Today – who knows? But stay tuned for a Green appearance anytime soon.
Some readers became VERY, VERY SERIOUS about MWD’s reference to Jonathan Green as an “inner-city bicycle-rider who wears sandals”. Particularly Jeff Sparrow (who should know better), Catherine Deveny (who should not be expected to know better) and Mike Carlton (well, it was after lunch).
Dr Sparrow (for a doctor he is) described MWD as a “very strange project”. [He’s right, you know – Ed]. And Ms Deveny thought the reference to “Sandals” deserved a question mark.
In fact, this was a reference to the British writer George Orwell’s depiction of the British left circa 1937 in his book The Road to Wigan Pier. Orwell defended “the ordinary decent person” against “the intellectual book-trained socialist” and wrote that:
[The latter] type is drawn, to begin with, entirely from the middle class, and from a rootless town-bred section of the middle class at that. …it includes…the foaming denouncers of the bourgeoisie, and the more-water-in-your-beer reformers of whom [George Bernard] Shaw is the prototype, and the astute young social-literary climbers…and all that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of “progress” like bluebottles to a dead cat.
Perhaps George Orwell is no longer read in Nancy’s (male) co-owner’s hometown Melbourne – from which Sparrow and Deveny hail.
Meanwhile, on the topic of Catherine Deveny, didn’t she put in a stunning performance on New Zealand TV program “Seven Sharp” on Wednesday 11 September? Believe it or not, TVNZ flew Deveny all the way to New Zealand to hear her analysis of the 2013 election campaign. Fancy that. This is what Deveny had to say. Let’s go to the transcript:
Alison Mau: What’s it like to be an Australian?
Catherine Deveny: Well right now, um. Okay, do you remember when you were a little kid and you were like eight and you woke up it was Christmas Day and you were like: “Oh Father Christmas has been and under the tree there’s all these other presents from these other people, and then my grandparents are coming over at lunch and my cousins to play and there’s pavlova and oh there’s lollies in the stocking and then we’re going on a Summer holiday?” It’s the reverse of that. That’s exactly, it is the absolute reverse everywhere you just look. It is just horror and disappointment and shame, just massive shame.
Go on. Alas, she did. Like, well like – you know – like this. Like:
Alison Mau: Introduce me to Tony Abbott.
Catherine Deveny: ….You know how you guys have got a prime minister who is a bit like a slimy real estate agent?
Alison Mau: Some would say –
Catherine Deveny: We now have a prime minister and his name is Tony Abbott and he’s kind of like a cross between a slimy real estate agent and a really creepy priest. And he actually was in the seminary and was going to be a priest. And he’s a full-on Catholic. His number one adviser is Cardinal George Pell, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney. So let me tell you about Tony Abbott, our, our new prime, (feigns gagging) our new prime minister. He likes his women bare foot and pregnant in the kitchen, he likes his gays unmarried, he likes his asylum seekers out of sight and out of mind, he likes his climate change denied, he likes his media moguls, coal barons and mining magnates happy and he likes his internet at dial-up speed. That’s what he likes, that’s who he is.
And it went on and on. Catherine Deveny banged on about Tony Abbott’s alleged misogyny and his treatment of asylum seekers. Deveny thought that presenter Alison Mau had recently moved to New Zealand – she’s been there for two decades. And Deveny predicted that Australians would flee by boat to New Zealand. Funny, eh? [Perhaps she was making a serious point about the Clerical-Fascist-Abbott-Dictatorship – Ed].
Then Catherine Deveny attempted to make some jokes about the America’s Cup. This went down like a two-tonne lorry landing suddenly on a catamaran. And, er, that was all. When she is not in New Zealand, Deveny makes a living as a stand-up comedian. Her career has been assisted by the fact that most of her late night audiences are absolutely pissed. [No wonder. If you weren’t under the table when the lady commenced her gig, you soon would be there by the time she ended – Ed].
It was not long ago that Mike (“I’ll pour the gin”) Carlton bemoaned the standard of political debate in Australia and praised that which prevails in the United Kingdom.
Well, here’s an example of the standard of political debate which your man Carlton advocates. This is what he tweeted about Environment Minister Greg Hunt MP during the ABC 1 Q&A program on Monday 7 October 2013. After dinner, of course:
Now, this is the kind of humour which might have been funny in the 1960s when young Mike attended Barker College in Sydney. But that’s half a century ago. It seems that any time after lunch your man Carlton is likely to send out a very/very angry tweet which he believes is really and truly funny.
These days, book reviewers in Fairfax Media newspapers are effectively syndicated. Last Saturday, Gerard Windsor’s review of David Marr’s The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell was carried in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Canberra Times.
The Catholic-born reviewer Gerard Windsor is a critic of the socially conservative Catholic Archbishop of Sydney. So it is not surprising that Windsor is broadly sympathetic to Marr’s depiction of Cardinal George Pell – asking the rhetorical question: “Has a more devastating portrait of a ‘respectable’, living, non-politician, Australian public figure ever been published?” Good question. Certainly Pell fares worse in this study than some Australian extant murderers and criminals whose lives have been depicted in biographies.
Although a critic of Pell, Windsor correctly frames Marr as an anti-Catholic sectarian. Early in the review, Gerard Windsor writes:
There is no doubt that Marr sees Pell as an enemy. His 2000 book, The High Price of Heaven, made clear his antipathy to religion, above all in the form of the Catholic Church. Here Marr’s colours are nailed to the mast even in the miniature on the cover: Pell, prince of the church, enthroned, bathed in Renaissance gold – never a benign look for a prelate.
Windsor also refers to David Marr’s “celebrated caustic wit” directed at Pell and makes the point that “in the Marr telling, Jesus Christ does not make an appearance”. In short, Marr simply cannot understand Pell’s Christian beliefs. Interestingly, Windsor makes no reference to Marr’s deep personal resentment – as depicted in The Prince – of the Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality, although he does recognise Marr’s obsession with Pell’s celibacy.
Gerard Windsor, who attended a Jesuit run school (St Ignatius College, Riverview) and who spent time training to be a Jesuit priest, added his own perspective on the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney:
It’s a grim time for Pell. He has his loyal Praetorian guard, but the Royal Commission must haunt his dreams. Now – fearful irony – he’s having to cope with Francis, a pope he certainly didn’t want, a Jesuit, an order he is not partial to, and whose increasingly liberal statements he is furiously having to recast for local consumption, or at least for readers of The Catholic Weekly.
Windsor provides no evidence for his assertion that Pell “certainly didn’t want” Francis to become Pope. How would he know? And Windsor neglected to mention that Pope Francis has appointed Pell as one of several cardinals to review the operations of the Vatican. Nor does Windsor provide any evidence that Pell is “furiously” recasting Pope Francis’ statements for local consumption. This is mere verballing.
More seriously, Windsor goes along with the hint in The Prince that Cardinal Pell still has something to answer for with respect to the sexual abuse of young boys. This is what Windsor wrote in his review:
The essay must be something of a dry run for the Royal Commission, and it makes very painful reading. Evil men and their orgies of destruction of young lives occupy much of its space, and it is more a forensic piling-up of evidence than any artistically choreographed revelation. Centrally, it’s an indictment of Pell for blind, evasive, flint-hearted reactions to reports of paedophilia by priests who were his responsibility. For good measure, there is also a ready summary of the case brought against Pell by two former altar boys turned criminals, a case where the outcome was a technical draw.
This latter statement is seriously flawed. A case was brought against George Pell by one – not two – men. The man also made a claim with respect to another man (who was deceased) about an event alleged to have taken place in 1961 or 1962. There was no independent evidence to support the man’s claim and the alleged account of the deceased person. Moreover, George Pell was merely identified as “Big George” and there was a genuine query as to the identity of the person involved.
The Catholic Church set up an inquiry by Alec Southwell QC, a non-Catholic former Supreme Court judge. Southwell found that both the man and Pell were truthful witnesses. Nevertheless, his finding was unambiguous in rejecting the allegations against Pell:
In the end, and notwithstanding that impression of the complainant, bearing in mind the forensic difficulties of the defence occasioned by the very long delay, some valid criticism of the complainant’s credibility, the lack of corroborative evidence and the sworn denial of the respondent, I find I am not satisfied that the complaint has been established.
Clearly, Alex Southwell found that the man’s complaint had not been established. In view of the lack of independent evidence, no other finding was plausible. Yet, David Marr maintains that Southwell QC’s finding was “ambiguous”. And Gerard Windsor claims that the outcome of the inquiry “was a technical draw”. Marr, as Windsor concedes, is an anti-Catholic sectarian. But Windsor himself should know better than to support Marr on this issue.
Gerard Windsor is a fine writer but is somewhat naive about polemical debate. At the commencement of his review in the Sydney Morning Herald last Saturday, he wrote:
George Pell refused to speak with David Marr for this Quarterly Essay. It was not a wise move. If you have any attractive elements in your personality, and many testify that Pell does have them, an intimate conversation with an enemy can only have a softening impact.
How naive can you get? As MWD predicted (See Issue 196), David Marr’s essay on George Pell was always going to be a hatchet job. And a hatchet job it is. If the Cardinal had spoken to the author, it would have given legitimacy to Marr – whom, as Windsor concedes, regards Pell as an “enemy”. No conversation would have changed Marr’s judgement.
It sounds like a scene from a David Nobbs novel. But it’s not. As reported in The Sunday Age last weekend, the Australia Council and Arts Victoria have kicked in good money to fund a study into what Australian Rules football would look like if it consisted of (i) three teams (not two), three sets of goal posts (not two) and (iii) 24 players on the field (not 36). Oh yeah, and if the game is played with a round (not oval) ball.
Believe it or not, a game of “Australia Council Rules” was played near Horsham recently which drew a capacity crowd of 200 souls. Wow. This is how The Sunday Age Jill Stark reported the historic occasion (in all seriousness):
The idea was the brainchild of Melbourne conceptual artist Gabrielle de Vietri, who wanted to test what happens when Australia’s national game was turned on its head.
”I went to my first game at the MCG in 2011 and it got me thinking, why are team sports always between two teams? And why is sport either an individual struggle or a binary phenomenon? It’s a tradition that’s so ingrained and I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if you disrupted that gently,” she said. ”It’s not completely subverting it – I’m not trying to destroy football and I’m also not trying to make a mockery of sports or the ritual itself.”
The project, which was funded by grants from the Australia Council and Arts Victoria, has been shortlisted for the $100,000 Basil Sellers Art Prize.
Yeah, right. And how about a grant from the Australia Council and Arts Victoria to fund a study to see what happens when instead of one orchestra at an artistic event, there are two? Each playing from a different script?
MAO ZEDONG’S (ONLY) JOKE: NOT MAO, MAYBE GORE VIDAL BUT CERTAINLY WITHOUT GOUGH WHITLAM – DESPITE THE ABC’S “DEFINITIVE” DOCUMENTARY
In his Sydney Morning Herald column in 8 October 2013, Gerard Henderson wrote, inter alia, about the unwillingness of the ABC to address errors in its documentaries. As readers of MWD and The Sydney Institute Quarterly will be aware, the documentary Whitlam: The Power & The Passion contained numerous errors. Last Tuesday, Gerard Henderson identified another howler in this documentary. This is what he wrote:
The August issue of The Sydney Institute Quarterly (now online) documents serious errors in Paul Clarke’s Whitlam: The Power & The Passion which was advertised as ”definitive”. The program has been defended by Phil Craig, the ABC Head of Factual, on the basis that it is ”lyrical”. A lyrical fact, how about that?
In the documentary, actors re-enact a scene when Whitlam met Mao Zedong in Beijing in 1973. Whitlam asks Mao what would have happened if Nikita Khrushchev, rather than John F. Kennedy, has been assassinated in 1963 and Mao replies that Aristotle Onassis would not have married Mrs Khrushchev.
Good joke, to be sure. But there is no evidence that Mao ever said this. The documentary attributes the account to former Labor MP Barry Jones. But, in private correspondence, Jones has said that he told the story merely as an example of Whitlam’s ”quirky sense of humour” and has accused the documentary of ”completely distorting” his own position.
Mao is long dead and Whitlam is in ill-health. The only person who can comment with authority on the topic is Stephen FitzGerald, Australia’s former ambassador to China, who was present at the meeting. In private correspondence, FitzGerald has confirmed that Mao made no such comment.
No doubt the ABC Head of Factual will declare this a ”lyrical” truth and reject all criticism. A non-lyrical truth is that the ABC should refrain from spending taxpayers’ money checking the facts of others, while it runs fiction in its self-declared definitive documentaries.
* * * * *
THE MAO/WHITLAM CONVERSATION – ACCORDING TO THE ABC
Paul Clarke was the director/writer of Whitlam: The Power & The Passion and the documentary was approved by the ABC Head of Factual, Phil Craig. Clearly neither Mr Clarke nor Mr Craig made the slightest attempt to fact-check the Mao/Whitlam story.
The script for that part of Episode 2 of Whitlam: The Power & The Passion reads as follows:
Narrator, Judy Davis: Now, the Whitlam government recognised China as one of its first acts. When he went there as Prime Minister, he arrived a hero. He was summoned to meet Chairman Mao and was warned, “no small talk”.
Barry Jones : And the story goes, that Gough then went in and said, “Mr. Chairman, what do you think would have happened in the 60s if it were Khrushchev had been assassinated rather than John F. Kennedy?”
Mao [Actor]: One thing for certain. Onassis would not have married Mrs. Khrushchev.
The problem is that Mao made no such comment to Gough Whitlam. The ABC could readily have found out what really happened had it accurately reported what Barry Jones told the film’s director or if it had fact-checked the account with Dr Stephen FitzGerald who was present in the room when the Mao/Whitlam conversation took place. Just a couple of emails would have sufficed – as Gerard Henderson found out.
* * * * *
● THE MAO/WHITLAM CONVERSATION ACCORDING TO BARRY O. JONES
Gerard Henderson to Barry Jones – 21 August 2013
Good Morning Barry
I was interested in your comments on the Whitlam: The Power & The Passion documentary which screened recently on ABC1 concerning Gough Whitlam’s visit to China in the 1973. You related what you described as a “story” – namely that Mao made the joke about Kennedy and Khrushchev. As you are aware, the line is that Mao said that if Khrushchev, rather than JFK, had been assassinated in 1963 then Onassis would not have married Mrs Khrushchev.
A good joke to be sure. But before viewing the Whitlam documentary I had not thought that Mao made this comment to Gough. It is referred to in the Jackie O biography titled America’s Queen by Sarah Bradford but no reference is made there to Whitlam. I wonder if you remember where the story originated and when you first heard it.
Barry Jones to Gerard Henderson – 21 August 2013
I am glad that you picked up the Whitlam- Mao story. Nobody else did.
I was a bit irritated by some aspects of the production. The shooting in Melbourne took place at a former furniture warehouse in Coburg and they used a light similar, no doubt, to the ones used by some of your friends in the interrogation of suspects. There was a single camera and the director was present as a voice of God from Sydney observing things by monitor and giving directions to the hapless sound/camera person. I thought I looked ghastly – and it was all very black and white unlike, say, Barry Cohen, who was in living colour.
But I digress. I did use the word “story”. I made the point that only Whitlam and Fitzgerald were at the meeting with Mao. Richard Woollcott and other officials were left outside.
I said that when Gough and Stephen emerged, Woollcott asked, “What happened?” and Gough then told his anecdote. I said: “Woollcott immediately responded: ‘But you just made that up!’, and they all laughed”. I told the story as an illustration of Gough’s quirky sense of humour – but they cut out my “framing” sentences and launched into the dramatized excerpt, completely distorting what I had intended.
Somehow I had missed the version of the story in Sarah Bradford’s book. I’ll follow it up. Presumably the story, in a Kennedy context, must date from after the Whitlam version, so Gough’s fictional account may have had some (unacknowledged) priority?
All the best
* * * * *
THE MAO/WHITLAM CONVERSATION – ACCORDING TO STEPHEN FITZGERALD
Gerard Henderson to Stephen FitzGerald – 21 August 2013
I was wondering if you could spare some time to answer a reasonably straightforward question. In the recent ABC documentary Whitlam: The Power & The Passion, it was said that Mao joked with Gough Whitlam in 1973 that if Khrushchev had been assassinated rather than Kennedy in 1963 then Onassis would not have married Mrs Khrushchev.
I had heard this joke before but I had not heard it sourced to Gough Whitlam at his meetings with Mao in 1973. As I understand it, you were present at the 1973 meeting where this exchange is supposed to have taken place. My question is – do you have any recollection of Mao having made this comment to Gough Whitlam and/or do you recall Whitlam ever mentioned this at the time?
Stephen FitzGerald to Gerard Henderson – 22 August 2013
I was present at the meeting and Mao didn’t say that. It was not that kind of conversation. I’ve heard the joke too, but I don’t know who first made it.
* * * * *
THE MAO/WHITLAM CONVERSATION – ACCORDING TO RICHARD WOOLCOTT
Richard Woolcott, then an officer in the Department of Foreign Affairs, accompanied Gough Whitlam to China in 1973. While not present at the Mao/Whitlam meeting, he was soon advised as to what took place. Mao was quite sick at the time and mumbled his words. They were deciphered into Mandarin by Mao’s daughter and subsequently translated into English. There was no way of checking as to the accuracy of Mao’s daughter’s account of what her father had said.
Richard Woolcott has heard the Mao joke. But he has no recollection whatsoever of it having been retold by Gough Whitlam after his meeting with Mao in 1973.
* * * * *
THE MAO/WHITLAM CONVERSATION – ACCORDING TO BARRY COHEN
When writing Life With Gough and its successor Almost the Complete Gough, Barry Cohen asked friends colleagues and associates for anecdotes. If they were amusing or insightful he included them in his accounts of Gough Whitlam sayings. He did not fact-check the stories he heard. After all, the books were primarily anecdotes.
Barry Cohen has advised MWD that he has no idea where the Mao/Whitlam story came from – and that he has no way of checking. But Cohen says the joke was funny. Correct. As to who was the author of the joke, he has no idea.
* * * * *
THE MAO/KENNEDY/KHRUSHCHEV JOKE – ACCORDING TO THE AVAILABLE EVIDENCE
● It appears that Paul Clarke and his research team at Whitlam: The Power & The Passion got the story from the website of The Whitlam Institute which contains the following reference :
Whitlam had been advised that Chairman Mao Zedong disliked small talk, and that in order to keep the conversation dynamic, he should ask the occasional hard-hitting question. Given that it was the tenth anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy, Whitlam asked Mao Zedong, “if Nikita Sergeivich Khrushchev had been killed instead of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, would anything have changed?’, to which Mao Zedong thoughtfully replied, ‘I don’t think Mr Onassis would have married Mrs Kruschev”.106
Footnote 106 is to Barry Cohen’s book Almost the Complete Gough (Allen & Unwin, 2001). Barry Cohen did not provide a source for his account and has no source for the quote – see above.
● An earlier reference can be found in Sarah Bradford’s America’s Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Onassis (Penguin UK, 2001) :
The marriage drew a rare joke from Mao Tse-tung: “If Mr Khrushchev had died,” he commented, “I doubt if Mr Onassis would have married Mrs Khrushchev.” Onassis’ comment on this last [sic] was significant: “Can you imagine?” he told Marina Dodero, friend of his daughter Christina, “I wasn’t known in China until marrying Jackie. She was my last diamond on my crown”.55
Footnote 55 is to an interview between the author and Marina Tchomlekojoglou Dodero. Ms Dodero was Christina Onassis’ (daughter of Aristotle Onassis) closest friend. There is no mention to Gough Whitlam in Sarah Bradford’s book.
● An entry on the Past Imperfect website attributes the joke to Gore Vidal viz:
Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, left and Nina Khrushchev:
“The main difference for the history of the world if Khrushchev had been shot rather than Kennedy”, said Gore Vidal,
“is that Onassis probably wouldn’t have married Mrs Khrushchev”.
* * * * *
Clearly neither Paul Clarke nor Phil Craig fact-checked the (alleged) Mao joke. They did not contact Stephen FitzGerald nor Richard Woolcott nor Barry Cohen – and Barry Jones claims that Whitlam: The Power & The Passion distorted what he said. There is no reference to Mao’s joke in Gough Whitlam The Whitlam Government: 1972-1975 (Viking 1985) which covers the 1973 meeting in Beijing. Nor is the matter referred to in Jenny Hocking Gough Whitlam: His Time (MUP, 2012)
Mao was not the joke-telling kind. Certainly not by 1973 when he was quite ill and apparently incoherent. Certainly Mao did not tell the joke to Whitlam. And he almost certainly did not tell it to anyone. It seems like a witty myth – of the kind that Gore Vidal (who knew the Kennedy family well) might have created.
For the ABC to run such a myth, without any attempt at fact-checking – in what was presented as a “definitive” documentary – demonstrates that the taxpayer funded public broadcaster has no firm commitment to historical accuracy.
FRIENDS OF THE ABC WRITE TO MWD CONCERNING WHAT PASSES FOR FACT ON THE ABC
This highly popular segment of MWD usually works like this. Some soul believes it would be an inspired idea to write to MWD. And Nancy’s (male) co-owner decides to return the compliment by replying. Then, lo and behold, the correspondence is published – in unedited form – in MWD. Here we go. Again:
Glenys Stradijot (Friends Of The ABC, Victorian Branch) to Gerard Henderson – 9 October 2013
Subject: Errors in ABC documentaries
Dear Mr Henderson
I have read with concern the mention in your article in yesterday’s SMH that numerous serious inaccuracies exist in some recent ABC documentaries.
Friends of the ABC share your concern for the importance of accuracy in documentary programming, and it not an uncritical supporter of the ABC.
Has the Sydney Institute lodged a formal complaint(s) with the ABC about errors in its documentary programming? FABC would welcome receiving a copy of any such complaints and the reply that it receives from the ABC. Thanking you in anticipation.
Gerard Henderson to Glenys Stradijot – 11 October 2013
Dear Ms Stradijot
I refer to your email of 9 October 2013 concerning my Sydney Morning Herald column of 8 October 2013 re factual errors in ABC documentaries.
First, I should clarify one matter. The Sydney Institute is a forum for debate and discussion. It does not have positions or advocate causes. Take the ABC, for example. In recent years, both former ABC chairman Donald Macdonald and current ABC managing director Mark Scott have addressed the Institute and the Institute has published their addresses in unedited form.
I express my own opinions in my Sydney Morning Herald column, in my Media Watch Dog blog – and elsewhere. I have views on, say, the ABC. But The Sydney Institute does not have opinions – that’s why the Institute is happy to give a platform to ABC defenders and critics alike.
In response to your specific question, I have a long-standing policy of not lodging formal complaints with the ABC. As you will be aware, such complaints are determined by bureaucrats within the Audience and Consumer Affairs department in Canberra. The ABC bureaucrats in Canberra invariably ask executive producers and/or presenters to respond to criticism – and then invariably support the view passed back by the executive producer or the presenter to Audience and Consumer Affairs. In some cases, Audience and Consumer Affairs staff are simply not qualified to make assessments in such areas as history, law and science. In other instances, they are over-awed by the standing and seniority of ABC personnel against whom complaints have been made.
In 2006, I was seriously misrepresented by Monica Attard and the ABC 1 Media Watch program. I took the matter up with the program’s (then) executive producer Peter McEvoy. Mr McEvoy refused to address my specific criticisms and, against my wish, passed on the matter to Audience and Consumer Affairs department.
The issue turned on the interpretation of a decision in the Supreme Court of Victoria. Audience and Consumer Affairs’ Kirstin McLiesh, who had no legal qualifications, found in favour of Monica Attard and Peter McEvoy after consulting a Media Watch researcher who also had no legal qualifications.
As I subsequently discovered, Mr McEvoy obtained a report from a Media Watch researcher and presented it to Ms McLiesh as his own. Ms McLiesh then plagiarised Mr McEvoy’s minute and presented it to me as her own.
Such a process is not an independent review – but, rather, a farce where ABC bureaucrats invariably find in favour of their employer.
As the ABC Annual Report 2011-2012 documents, in the financial year 2011-12 the Audience and Consumer Affairs department dismissed 95.3 per cent of complaints received and held that ABC editorial standards had been met in all these cases. As you will be aware, last week Audience and Consumer Affairs held that the Chaser’s depiction of journalist Chris Kenny having sex with a dog was consistent with ABC editorial standards.
Clearly, Audience and Consumer Affairs is of the view that ABC editorial standards are not set at a high level. This very same incident was criticised by Mark Scott as being not only ”full-on” but also “tasteless and undergraduate”. This demonstrates that Audience and Consumer Affairs’ standards are significantly lower than those of the ABC managing director.
In other words, there is no independent fact-checking organisation within the public broadcaster. Recently Mark Scott received extra funding from the Labor government to set up a Fact-Checking Unit. However, as I understand it, the ABC’s Fact-Checking Unit has no remit to check what passes for factual content within the ABC’s documentaries.
In recent times, I have drawn attention to serious errors in ABC TV documentaries to such senior ABC executive as the (then) Head of Television Kim Dalton and the current Head of Factual Phil Craig as well as to Mark Scott himself. I have also pointed to howlers with some documentary makers direct – including John Moore. I have received three kinds of responses. Sometimes ABC management simply goes into denial. On other occasions ABC management runs the line that factual accuracy does not matter since the documentary’s role is to tell what is termed a “lyrical” truth. And occasionally ABC management just ignores the issue.
ABC managing director Mark Scott, whose duties include those of an editor-in-chief, simply refuses to adopt the editorial-in-chief role that he is employed to carry out – of a kind which is carried out by newspaper editors-in-chief.
The number of serious errors in ABC documentaries are too numerous to document in an email. For recent examples, I would suggest that you consult the following sources – all of which are on the web.
● The errors in Whitlam: The Power & The Passion are fully documented in the August 2013 issue of The Sydney Institute Quarterly. Phil Craig, ABC Head of Factual, declined an offer to respond to this critique. My correspondence on this matter can be found in my Media Watch Dog blog Issues 193, 194, 195 and 197.
● The errors in Chris Masters’ The Years That Made Us are documented in Media Watch Dog 189.
● The errors in Paul Ham’s and Ann Delaney’s All The Way (on the Vietnam War) are documented in my Sydney Morning Herald column of 17 April, 2012 and in Media Watch Dog Issues 133 and 157.
● The errors in Peter Butt’s I Spy (on ASIO) are documented in my Sydney Morning Herald column on 2 November 2010 and in Media Watch Dog Issues 77, 78 and 79.
● The errors in Menzies & Churchill at War are documented in The Sydney Institute Quarterly Issue 35 and in my Sydney Morning Herald column of 18 November 2008.
Unlike the ABC, The Sydney Institute is willing to run responses to material it publishes in the same format as that in which it was originally published. Nobody, but nobody, from the ABC has seriously challenged any of my specific criticisms of serious inaccuracies in such recent documentaries as Whitlam: The Power & The Passion, The Years That Made Us, All The Way, I Spy and Menzies & Churchill At War. I assume this is because the powers-that-be at the ABC believe that “lyrical” facts are good enough.
I believe that there is a role for a public broadcaster and that the ABC can do better. However, I have come to the conclusion that the ABC does not have a commitment to serious documentary-making and historical accuracy.
Take the Whitlam: The Power & The Passion, for example. The ABC ran a documentary which re-enacted an alleged conversation between Mao Zedong and Gough Whitlam in 1973 which never took place. Its apparent source – Dr Barry Jones – has said that his position was distorted in the documentary. And the only person present at the 1973 meeting who could have confirmed the accuracy of the report – Stephen FitzGerald – was not asked his opinion. In private correspondence Dr FitzGerald has confirmed that the purported Mao/Whitlam discussion never took place. The ABC simply made it up.
ABC management has not sought to defend – or explain – how it is that Whitlam: The Power & The Passion portrayed a complete falsehood by re-enacting an event which never happened. I can only come to the conclusion that ABC management is not committed to historical accuracy in ABC documentaries.
If senior ABC managers in Sydney and Melbourne will not defend ABC programs, what’s the point of complaining to ABC bureaucrats in the Canberra based Audience and Consumer Affairs department?
* * * * * *
Until next time. In the meantime, keep morale high.
* * * *
“I think Henderson is seriously ill. There’s enough there for an entire convention of psychiatrists.”
– Mike (“I’ll pour the gin”) Carlton – After Pre-Dinner Drinks tweet to Jeff Sparrow, 8 October 2013
“Wrong, you got caught out, off to Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog for you! :- ”
– Tim Wilson tweet to Jonathan Green and Virginia Trioli, 8 October 2013.
“Nancy as ever will be the judge”
– Jonathan Green to Tim Wilson and Virginia Trioli (conceding to the arbitral authority of Nancy), 8 October 2013
[Gerard Henderson’s analysis of the ABC] is absolutely simplistic.”
– ABC managing director Mark Scott talking to ABC presenter Jonathan Green on ABC Radio National Drive, 2 May 2013.
“Oh my God; you’re as bad as Gerard Henderson.”
– Dr Peter Van Onselen (for a doctor he is), The Contrarians, Sky News, 20 September 2013.
“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.