17 APRIL 2015

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.





Some confusion surely on 7.30 last night. First up presenter Leigh Sales declared that Western Australian premier Colin Barnett has hinted that unless WA gets a greater share of the GST it “might be a bit slower to help with things like bush-fire and flood relief”.  The Premier said no such thing.

Later in the program 7.30’s political correspondent Sabra Lane also said that Colin Barnett had suggested that Western Australia “won’t be so willing to help other states in their hour of need” if WA doesn’t get a better deal on the GST. Once again, the Premier said no such thing.

In fact both Ms Sales and Ms Lane would have been aware of this had they watched the clip of what 7.30 ran concerning what Mr Barnett had really said – which was this:

Colin Barnett : When Victoria had those tragic fires a few years back, Western Australia was the first state and the most generous state to provide financial assistance, so perhaps the new Treasurer’s got a short memory or perhaps he’s not aware of that. Same when Queensland was in trouble, Western Australia was the first state to provide assistance on the Queensland floods. Now we’d do that and we’d do it again.

 Perhaps it’s time that ABC managing director Mark Scott directed his Fact-Checking Unit to first check the so-called facts which are cited on the ABC before it fact-checks others.


Can you bear it graphic


Last Tuesday evening, Leigh Sales got what every mediocre journalist wants to get. Namely, a “gotcha” moment.

Good interviewers ask probing questions because they want their viewers/listeners to receive useful information. Mediocre interviewers want viewers/listeners to appreciate that they know more than their interviewee.  So they, say, look up Wikipedia, obtain a trick question, ask it and then wait for the interviewee to stumble. Gotcha.

And so it came to pass that 7.30 presenter Leigh Wiki-Sales asked Defence Minister Kevin Andrews on no fewer than four occasions “who is the top leader” of the so-called Islamic State – or IS, or ISIS, or ISIL or Daish.  Let’s go to the transcript:

Leigh Sales:  At the start of the war on terror, back after 9/11, the military campaign was heavily focused on the leadership of Al Qaeda and it remained so for a long time. When it comes to IS, who is the top leader and what sort of focus is there on his capture?

Kevin Andrews:  Well, there’s a cadre of leaders, if you like, in the ISIL forces. And we’re not just dealing with one organisation. There’s fluidity between organisations and individuals who are involved and that’s why… and that’s…

Leigh Sales:  No, but there is a leader and a cabinet of IS; they run like a government?

Kevin Andrews:  And, and that makes it more difficult in terms of the overall objective that we’re seeking to achieve here. But we will continue along the lines that we are. We’re in constant discussion…

Leigh Sales:   So, so: sorry, just to be clear: who is the leader and what is the focus on his capture?

Kevin Andrews:  Well, I’m not going to go into operational matters, obviously, Leigh.

Leigh Sales:  Well, can you name the leader of IS?

Kevin Andrews:  I’m not going to go into operational matters but there are–

Leigh Sales:  I don’t think that’s operational. I think it’s a matter of public record?

Kevin Andrews:   Leigh, I’m trying to answer your question as best as I can and that is: that ultimately our aim here is to degrade and to defeat ISIL. Now, ISIL operates not just in Iraq but across Syria as well and there is fluidity between groups. There’s not just one group involved and not one just group of individuals involved and so we have to counter that as best we can over the coming weeks and months.

Leigh Sales:  Minister, you’re responsible for putting Australian men and women in harm’s way in the cause of this mission. I’m surprised that you can’t tell me the name of Islamic State’s leader. The US State Department has a $10 million bounty on his head?

Kevin Andrews:  Well, as I said, ISIL is a combination of groups, Leigh. There is not just one individual involved in this. There are Australians involved in the senior leadership of ISIL or DAISH, and there is a fluidity between groups that we’ve seen over the past few months in that area. It’s not just one person involved: there’s a series of people involved and we must ultimately destroy all of them if we’re going to degrade their operations in that area.

Leigh Sales:  The specific person to whom I have been referring is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Well now.  Isn’t Ms Wiki-Sales just so clever?  So clever that she asked the knock-out question – after which the interviewee lost any chance to experience a Millionaire Hot Seat victory occasion.

It may be that Kevin Andrews had a momentary memory fade on the 7.30 set.  Or it may be that he was unsettled by Ms Wiki-Sales’ simplistic suggestion that IS operates like a Western democratic “cabinet”.  [I wonder who takes the cabinet minutes? –  Ed]  Or it may be that the Defence Minister did not want to mention Abu Bakr al Bagdadi – since the Abbott Government refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of what the Prime Minister refers to as “Daish” or the “Death Cult”. Or maybe the Minister regarded the question concerning the reasons for the focus on Baghdadi’s capture as an operational matter – which it clearly is, even if Ms Wiki-Sales does not understand this.

In any event, Leigh Wiki-Sales had her gotcha moment – at the expense of her viewers/listeners who learnt nothing from the exchange except that the 7.30 presenter researched Baghdadi’s name before the program went to air and the Defence Minister may have temporarily forgotten it on air.

This is the very same Leigh Sales who in her piss-poor essay On Doubt declared that the Protestant theologian Martin Luther was an indecisive kind of chap who was heavily into doubt. Really.

According to one of MWD’s hundreds of sources within the taxpayer funded public broadcaster, Leigh Sales was frightfully upset by the criticism she received concerning her howler in On Doubt.  Yet she likes to criticise others over whether or not they can remember the very latest name of the Death Cult’s beheader-in-chief. Can you bear it?


While on the topic of mediocre journalism, did anyone hear the interview between AM’s intrepid reporter Michael Edwards and Dr Karl Kruszelnicki on AM last Wednesday?

Dr K was offered – and initially accepted –  lotsa money to promote the Commonwealth Government’s Intergenerational Report on the electronic media. MWD reckons that the gig would be worth around $350,000. 

Some people might have found it odd that a leftie-luvvie like Dr Karl, who is an academic at Sydney University and an ABC broadcaster, would agree to spruik for the Abbott government.  But not if they had read Matthew Knott’s report in The Sydney Morning Herald on 14 March 2015. There Dr Karl told Young Mr Knott that he agreed to do the gig because he gets paid “bugger all” by his employers – the ABC and the University of Sydney. How frightfully sad, don’t you think?

So after the news broke that Dr Karl did not really-and-truly believe in the Intergenerational Report, since it did not comprehensively cover climate change – a cause dear to the hearts of ABC and Sydney University types – he was interviewed by Michael Edwards. Let’s go to the transcript:

Karl Kruszelnicki : I should have insisted there be climate change in it and yet I did not, and that was a mistake on my part.

Michael Edwards : Dr Karl says he’s received a lot of abuse for doing the ads, especially on social media.

Karl Kruszelnicki: Hate emails, hate Twitters. A small percentage of people have seen me as saying vote for this political party or that one, which I am not doing at all.

Michael Edwards: Dr Karl’s told AM he agreed to do the ads because he is passionate about planning for the future and he supports aspects of the report, including the parts on the ageing population and the impact of the end of the mining boom.

But he says the fact it devoted only a few pages to climate change is just not good enough. He blames himself for trusting the Government…. 

Karl Kruszelnicki : It was my fault for not realising the nature of the beast that I was involved with. I really thought that it would be an independent, bipartisan, non-political document.

Michael Edwards: Dr Karl says he hasn’t asked for the ad campaign to stop.

How naïve can you get?  Michael Edwards accepted that Dr K had done the Intergenerational Report advertisements merely because he is passionate about planning for the future.  Edwards did not ask Dr K whether he was also attracted by the financial payment on offer, in view of the “bugger all” remuneration from the ABC and Sydney University.

On Wednesday, Nancy’s (male) co-owner sent the following email to Mr Edwards:

Good afternoon Michael

Interesting “get” on AM this morning. I have one question.  Dr Karl told AM that he did the Intergenerational Report advertisement because he is passionate about planning for the future.  I’m sure that’s true.  But did you ask whether there was any consideration?  In other words, did you ask whether he did the advt for free – or was he paid?

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

Mr Edwards did not respond.  Clearly he never once thought that your man Dr Karl might be attracted by what is sometimes called filthy lucre.  But we are all affected by The Fall. [Could this be a matter which Paul Barry and Tim Latham at Aunty’s Media Watch might examine in their ongoing search for instances of “Cash for Comment”? – Ed]


Fashionista Update


Initially Dr Karl told the SMH’s Matthew Knott that he intended to keep his fee for flogging the Intergenerational Report.  He then changed his mind and has promised to donate all moneys received to “needy government schools”. 

To Hendo, this seems needlessly generous.  MWD believes that Dr Karl should keep 10 per cent of his earnings and establish a fund to buy a wardrobe of tasteful shirts. Your man Dr Karl should keep half the shirts for himself and give the other half to Malcolm Farr to wear during his shirt-challenged Insiders appearances.

Such an investment would encourage ABC viewers not to turn their screens to black-and-white every time Dr Karl and Mr Farr appear in their loud but tasteless shirts. One size should do – since Dr Karl likes a relaxed fit.  Mr Farr, on the other hand, likes a tight fitting shirt except for the arms where he tends to favour a short-sleeve number. [Let’s hope this works – and that your men Karl and Farr do not send their existing shirts to St Vincent de Paul’s for recycling.  This would mean more bad shirts appearing on ABC TV.  Why even Dr Scott Burchill (for a doctor he is) might purchase Dr Karl/Mr Farr’s rejects and wears it when he next goes to the tip after an appearance on the News Breakfast program. ed.]



Some of MWD’s hundreds of thousands of avid readers contact Nancy’s (male) co-owner each week asking why-oh-why does Q&A presenter Tony Jones let his leftist-luvvie guests get away with false statements and omissions.  You know, like the time when the late Malcolm Fraser falsely asserted that his government retained Medibank which had been created by Gough Whitlam’s Labor government. The date was 24 May 2010 – and the discussion went as follows:

Tony Jones: Let’s hear from Malcolm Fraser. Medibank was introduced by your predecessor as prime minister, Gough Whitlam. You kept it, obviously?

Malcolm Fraser: Yes, I did.

Oh no, he didn’t.  Obviously, Mr Fraser commenced dismantling Medibank in 1976 and it was completely gone by the 1981 budget.  But no one at Q&A ever corrected Mr Fraser’s falsehood and it remains on the program’s transcript. Malcolm Fraser’s dismantling of Medibank is documented in RB Scotton & CR Macdonald The Making of Medibank (School of Health Services Management, UNSW, 1993). Bob Hawke’s government sent up Medicare in 1984 because its predecessor Medibank had been abolished.

Last Monday, Tony Jones failed to draw attention to a serious omission in journalist Peter Greste’s account of the current situation in the Middle East – including Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the like.  Let’s go to the transcript where Mr Jones raised the issue of why young Muslims in the West head off to fight with the so-called Islamic State:

Tony Jones : Can you just explain one thing for us? I am sure people, most of the audience would be interested in your take on this. Why are so many young Muslims, and even from affluent families throughout Europe and other places, including Australia, why are they so attracted to ISIS?

Peter Greste : This is one of the things. There’s a lot of talk about how disaffected youth seem to be winding up in these places and I think that’s a great myth. There is a sense amongst the Islamic community, the Islamic world, that Islam is under attack. Now, I’m not suggesting that it is. I’m simply trying to explain the logic that a lot of these kids are adopting. There is a sense that —

Tony Jones: Do you think they have a point?

Peter Greste: When I speak to them it’s hard to disagree or it’s hard not to see their point of view. I mean, they’re incredibly angry with the way that Muslims are treated by the Israelis, for example, and the way that the West seems to be supporting Israel. They’re incredibly angry at the way that the United States and its allies have behaved in Iraq and Afghanistan. And so what they say and they respond to these kinds of millennial statements from the Americans, you know, who talk about the war on terror, who talk about a clash of civilisations and they take that to mean themselves and they feel a moral obligation to go out and join that fight. There is also a very —

Tony Jones: Do they miss the central point that the group they’re joining is committing abysmal and horrible brutalities on people of other religions?

Peter Greste: Well, there are things here. I think one is that there is – for them there is a very clear moral clarity, which is very seductive in itself. These guys see that there is a very clear sense of right and wrong. They argue that the West is bombing civilians with targeted – with air strikes, with drone attacks and so on and their argument is that if they are doing it to us then we have to do it back. Now, again, I’m not endorsing that by any stretch of the imagination but we have to understand the kind of logic that drives this forward if we’re ever going to deal with this problem. As I said, there is a sense of adventure and there is a sense of romance. They want to be part of something that is very pure ideologically. They want to be part of something that has a great deal of clarity and it is seductively moral and clear cut, as far as they’re concerned.

This is complete tosh.  What Mr Greste failed to acknowledge is that the young Muslims leaving the West to fight in the Middle East are not attempting to take on Israel or the United States.  Not at all.  They are primarily Sunni Muslims intent on killing Shia Muslims plus some Christians – in Syria and/or Iraq. Yet Tony Jones let Peter Greste go on at length about the current problems in the Middle East without even once mentioning the words “Sunni” or “Shia”. It was a travesty.

Indeed, Mr Jones facilitated Mr Greste’s omission when he alleged that young Muslims are “committing abysmal and horrible brutalities on people of other religions”. They are – but not in the main.  Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims are part of the Islamic faith and there is a war within Islam as Sunni and Shia Muslims attempt to kill each other. 

Q&A presenter Tony Jones should know enough to correct Fraser-like howlers and/or Greste-like fudges. MWD will keep you posted.


yet another mwd exclusive


Nancy’s (male) co-owner received a kind invitation to become one of Adam Zwar’s “Agony Aunts and Uncles” and appear in the latest series of the saga titled The Agony of the Body which commenced on ABC1 on Wednesday.  Hendo thought about the proposal for a full 51/2 seconds and then sent an oh-so-courteous “thanks but no thanks” response to Mr Zwar. 

However, Hendo is a fan of the program and watched the new series last Wednesday.  Without question, the “star” performer was Monash University academic Susan Carland – who teaches, you’ve guessed it, gender studies and sociology at the taxpayer subsidised institution. 

This is what Ms Carland (for a doctor she is still studying to become) said concerning that part of the program when the Agony Aunts and Uncles were asked to discuss female attire – from the burka to the bikini:

Susan Carland: I feel very uneasy when I hear Australian politicians talking about curtailing, how specifically, Muslim women can dress. There is already a ruling authority that does that. And that’s the Taliban. You know, we already have people that control how women dress. Why do we want to be like that? You know, they’re forcing them to put it on – we’re telling them they have to take it off. I see it as two sides of the same coin, both equally alarming.  What is totally missing from the discussion is, what do these women want for themselves? “What do you want? To wear it? Okay, then you should be able to. If you don’t, then let’s talk about how we can facilitate that to happen.”

Susan Carland did not name one prominent Australian politician who wants to curtail how Muslim women can dress. But MWD can name some imams who tell women how to dress. Certainly a few politicians, from time to time, have objected to the wearing of the burqa and sometimes the niqab.  But there has been little if any opposition to the wearing of a hijab.

In any event, it is absolute tosh for Susan Carland to claim that the Coalition and Labor politicians in Australia are as “equally alarming” as the Taliban – which persecutes women, denies education to children and is intent on destroying non-Islamic artefacts.  This is extraordinary hyperbole – even for a Monash university academic who teaches gender studies and sociology.


Duck Loving Leunig

 Age cartoonist Michael Leunig is The Guardian-on-the-Yarra’s leading Che-Guevara-loving-sandal-wearer.  [Come to think of it, he even fronted up for an interview with Andrew Denton on Enough Rope (8 May 2006) wearing cow-hide leather sandals. No kidding. – Ed].

This is a Leunig cartoon which was published in The Age last Wednesday.

Leunig anti vaxer

 Your man Leunig has always had an obsession with ducks.  Now we know why. This Sandalista is an absolute QUACK – when it comes to medicine.  He even opposes vaccinating young children. Mr Leunig is one of The Age’s highest paid contributors.  Enough said.

Meanwhile Nancy has been up early this morning scribbling away in her kennel and offers the following naïve drawing – along with some very naïve policy – channelling Michael (“I love ducks”) Leunig. 

Abbott sandals Leunig

 Meanwhile, for the non-queasy MWD avid readers, here’s a pic of The Age’s leading Sandalista in sandals.

leunig sandles


anti catholic sectarianism


Last weekend the Sunday Age ran with yet another attack on Cardinal George Pell. The so-called Sunday Age “Exclusive” commenced on Page 1 and spilled on to Page 2.  It was written by Chris Vedelago and Jane Lee.

The gist of the Sunday Age’s (non) story was that in 1988 the commercial company Catholic Church Insurance Ltd (CCI) warned members of the Catholic Hierarcy that the Church faced financial exposure of up to $150 million for child sexual abuse.  In 1988 George Pell was a newly appointed auxiliary bishop in Melbourne. He was not responsible for an archdiocese or diocese.

When George Pell became Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 he immediately set up the Melbourne Reponse to handle child sex abuse matters. Dr Pell was one of the first archbishops or bishops in the world to take such an initiative. 

The Sunday Age provided no evidence whatsoever that George Pell had any responsibility for the CCI’s handling of claims or any knowledge about the extent of possible claims. Yet it is asserted that its “revelations” about what the CCI did in 1988 somehow diminishes Pell.  This is the Sunday Age’s argument:

The revelations are expected to raise fresh questions about Cardinal George Pell’s knowledge about the extent of abuse after testifying before the Royal Commission in 2014 that he was aware of only “dozens of complaints” when the Melbourne Response was created in 1996. Then Bishop Pell was a member of the bishops’ conference that was notified of the liability problem and ultimately approved the creation of a “special issues” insurance policy and compensation pool in 1991.

This is yet another example of the attack by Fairfax Media and ABC journalists on Cardinal Pell.  The Sunday Age did not tell its readers that in 1988 Pell was one of the most junior bishops in Australia.  Clearly the Sun-Herald did not think much about this so-called exclusive.  It ran the story on Page 8 without any reference to the word exclusive.


abc refuses to denounce peredasty

Meanwhile neither The Age nor the ABC have reported MWD’s scoop that the Melbourne based ABC chairman Professor Richard Downing wrote a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald on 19 July 1975 – in his formal capacity as ABC chairman –  calling for an “understanding” of paedophiles.  See MWD passim and ad nauseam.

It is not unreasonable to assume that the support of the ABC chairman in 1975 for attacks by men on boys encouraged the criminal act of child sexual abuse, in some instances at least. 

But you won’t read about this in The Age or the Sydney Morning Herald. And current ABC chairman Jim Spigelman has refused to disassociate the ABC from the statement of its chairman four decades ago. At the time Professor Downing was defending the decision of ABC Radio to provide soft interviews to self-declared paedophiles some of the worst acts of pederasty in Australian history were taking place in religious, secular and government institutions.

Here’s a visual reminder of how the ABC goes into denial when criticised. Even to the extent of refusing to distance the ABC from a past chairman’s public expressed tolerance of criminal behaviour.

[table id=12 /]


correspondence header caps

This overwhelmingly popular segment of Media Watch Dog usually works like this. Someone or other thinks it would be a you-beaut idea to write to Nancy’s (male) co-owner about something or other. And Hendo, being a courteous and well-brought up kind of guy, replies. Then, hey presto, the correspondence is published in MWD – much to the delight of its hundreds of thousands of readers.

There are occasions, however, when Nancy’s (male) co-owner decides to write a polite note to someone or other – who, in turn, believes that a reply is in order. Publication in MWD invariably follows. There are, alas, some occasions where Hendo sends a polite missive but does not receive the courtesy of a reply. Nevertheless, publication of this one-sided correspondence still takes place. For the record and in the public interest, of course.

As hundreds of thousands of avid readers are aware, The Guardian Australia’s deputy editor Katharine Murphy put out the following tweet on 6 June 2014 at 4.33 pm – when that issue of MWD was “hot off the press”. Here is Ms Murphy’s tweet: “Without in any way wanting to breach anyone’s human rights or free speech – why do people write emails to Gerard Henderson?” It’s a very good question. Thankfully, not everyone follows Katharine Murphy’s wise counsel. 


James Franklin is a mathematician and historian. He is also an avid MWD reader who has an interest in Arthur Calwell (1896-1973) who was Labor Opposition leader between 1960 and early 1967 and Daniel Mannix (1864-1963) who was the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne between 1917 and 1963.

In recent times Professor Franklin has sent emails to Hendo concerning (i) Mr Calwell and (ii) Archbishop Mannix and biographer Brenda Niall.  Your man Franklin received but one reply.  Here we go. The correspondence has been slightly cut to remove some material unrelated to the topic: 

James Franklin to Gerard Henderson – 27 March 2015 


Thanks for calling everyone’s attention to the recognition at long last of Arthur Calwell’s prime ministership. Since he got 50.5% of the two-party preferred vote in ’61, he had some claim to have been elected.


James Franklin to Gerard Henderson – 10 April 2015


Brenda Niall says, p. 5, that Frank Little told her that the papers (other than the ones immediately taken by Santamaria) were burned by May Saunders and Arthur Fox. She adds that Tom Boland had spoken to May Saunders and confirmed that. That’s not perfect evidence but it’s far from “no evidence”.


Gerard Henderson to James Franklin – 17 April 2015


I refer to your recent emails concerning 7.30’s approach to Arthur Calwell and to Brenda Niall’s approach to Archbishop Daniel Mannix in her recently published book Mannix (Text, 2015).

In response, I make the following comments.

Re Arthur Calwell & the 1961 Election

As you may or may not be aware, the ABC removed its reference to “Arthur Calwell Australian Prime Minister 1960-1967” from the 7.30 transcript and from the Iview of the program which originally aired on Wednesday 25 March 2015.  Both without acknowledgement – it was as if the howler was never made in the first place.  The ABC is quick to point out errors of others but reluctant to acknowledge its own.

I note your comment that since the Arthur Calwell “got 50.5 per cent of the two-party vote in ’61, he had some claim to have been elected” prime minister.

This is nonsense.  The 1961 Federal election was fought essentially on the electoral boundaries which had existed when Labor lost in office in 1949.  It is estimated that the ALP’s two-party preferred vote in 1961 was 50.5 per cent.  However, this was an estimate only. Votes were only fully counted to include preference distributions, following Malcolm Mackerras’ advocacy to the Australian Electoral Commission, as from the 1983 election.  Before that, there are estimates only for the two-party preferred vote.

Labor essentially failed in 1961 because it did not win any seats in Victoria from Robert Menzies’ Coalition government.  As you know, Victoria was Mr Calwell’s home state and the base of his seat of Melbourne.  Calwell, as the senior Labor politician in Victoria throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, was at least partly responsible for the ALP’s poor performance in Victoria in 1955, 1958 and 1961 and beyond.

Arthur Calwell did not take any initiative to resolve the Labor Split of 1955 which had a disastrous impact on the ALP vote following the creation of the Democratic Labor Party.  Nor did he ever stand up to Labor leader Bert Evatt during the 1950s – Evatt was primarily responsible for the Labor Split of the mid-1950s. Moreover, Mr Calwell never confronted the left-wing domination of the ALP Victorian Branch in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  In short, Calwell was a disastrous Labor leader who was his own worst enemy. After all, he was a three-time loser leading Labor to defeat in 1961, 1963 and 1966.

As you know, government is won in Australia by the political party which attains a majority of votes in a majority of seats.  Labor, under Calwell’s leadership, won an estimated 50.5 per cent of the two party-preferred vote. It lost because it did not win a majority of votes in a majority of seats.  A similar outcome occurred in:

1990 – The Coalition’s Andrew Peacock won 50.1 per cent of the two-party preferred vote and lost to Bob Hawke.

2001 – Labor’s Kim Beazley won 50.9 per cent of the two-party preferred vote and lost to John Howard.

So, according to your analysis, Andrew Peacock and Kim Beazley also have “some claim to have been elected” prime minister. Turn it up.

Re Daniel Mannix, Brenda Niall and the (alleged) destruction of documents

I note your comment that, contrary to the view advanced in MWD Issue 264, there is some evidence that Archbishop Daniel Mannix ordered that his papers be burnt upon his death.  This claim was made by Phillip Adams on Late Night Live on 8 April 2015 when he was about to interview Brenda Niall.  I note that Brenda Niall makes this claim at Page 5 of her recent book Mannix. As readers of The Sydney Institute Quarterly and Media Watch Dog will be aware, I have challenged Brenda Niall on this issue when a similar (undocumented) claim was made in her book The Riddle of Father Hackett.

Phillip Adams proffered no evidence to support his assertion. In her book Mannix, Brenda Niall makes the following claims:

It was vandalism to burn the Mannix papers, said one of his successors. Frank Little, the last Archbishop of Melbourne to live at Raheen, had heard the story from a reluctant vandal. May Saunders, housekeeper to Bishop Arthur Fox, was used to doing what she was told. So was Arthur Fox, auxiliary bishop to Daniel Mannix. Between them, they disposed of most of the Mannix papers, setting aside those that were clearly on diocesan matters. May Saunders didn’t like it, but what could she do? Archbishop Frank Little, who told me the story in 2008, was still indignant, but he didn’t blame May Saunders. And he understood Bishop Fox, who did his loyal and deplorable duty. Mannix’s order to Fox is in keeping with his habitual reticence. Although he never shrank from the public gaze, where he performed magnificently, his whole life in Australia was disciplined, self-sufficient, answerable to no one and nothing except to God and the sense of mission to his people which expressed God’s will.

It was said that his decision to have his papers burnt was a defence against biographers. He had read a life of one of the archbishops of Dublin, Dr William Walsh, and thought it a travesty of the man he had known. No one would do that to him; no one would analyse the mind and heart of Daniel Mannix. It would be bad enough if they got it wrong. And for him, it might have been almost as bad if they got it right. He knew what it was like to be misunderstood and, at least at the level of ideas and policies, he thrived on argument. Intrusion into his private world, his fortress, was another matter.

The three-day bonfire of 1963 was an ending. But the resolve to keep no private papers must go further back and have complex meanings. Other prelates have been just as discreet. The surviving papers of Archbishop Patrick Clune of Perth fit in a single archive box and those of Archbishop Andrew Killian of Adelaide are meagre. These three Irishmen must all have written to one another many times. In the days of the three-minute telephone call, most communication would have been by post. Besides, Mannix never used the telephone.

Brenda Niall’s alleged evidence concerning the alleged “vandalism” is no more than hearsay.  Archbishop Frank Little (1925-2008) told Brenda Niall in 2008 what the late May Saunders told him at some time.  Despite the fact that Archbishop Little and Bishop Fox were fellow members of the Hierarchy, Little never claimed that Fox had spoken to him about the burning of Mannix’s papers – which is alleged to have taken place in November and December 1963.  You state that Niall asserts that Fr Tom Boland has claimed that May Saunders made a similar statement to him – but I cannot find a source for this in Mannix.

On 7 January 2010, I wrote to her as follows:

At Page 136 [of The Riddle of Father Hackett], you write that “Mannix had all his papers burned, so as to frustrate biographers”. And at Page 269 you write that Mannix had “all his private papers burned”.  My question is this – when did this act, or acts, of burning take place? Who burned the papers and where did the incineration occur?

As you may or may not know, I worked for B.A. Santamaria part-time in 1970 and 1971.  In this position, on occasions I worked on the Mannix material which you had accumulated when you were Santamaria’s research assistant about a decade earlier.  As you are aware, some of Mannix’s papers did survive and were subsequently used by B.A. Santamaria in his biography Daniel Mannix: The Quality of Leadership (1984). It seems to me that if Daniel Mannix had taken a conscious decision to have all his papers burned, then the material which ended up in Santamaria’s files would not have survived.

On 8 January 2010 Brenda Niall replied as follows:

The Mannix Papers.   It is a story widely told, but my immediate source was Frank Little whom I interviewed a few months before his death (you will see the interview quoted in The Riddle). He said that the burning was done by May Saunders, housekeeper to Bishop Fox, and that she told him (Little) that she was unhappy about it but she was following instructions from Mannix which Fox had been told to carry out. “It was vandalism”, Frank Little said.

In Mannix, Niall claims that Fox was also involved in the burning. In this book, she says that the vandalism took place in 1963 and involved “a three day bon-fire”. In view of the fact that Niall is only discussing the personal papers at Raheen, Mannix’s residence, and not the papers at the Archdiocese of Melbourne at St Patrick’s Cathedral – there must have been a huge amount of material to justify an alleged three day bon-fire. There is no evidence that Mannix ever kept extensive files at Raheen that would require a three-day bonfire to destroy.

Brenda Niall’s theory is just that – a theory based on hearsay evidence.  These are the problems: 

▪ Niall claims that May Saunders burnt “all” Mannix’s papers (according to The Riddle of Father Hackett) or “most” of Mannix’s papers (according to Mannix).  Clearly Niall changed her position between 2010 and 2015 – without explanation. Why? 

▪ If Mannix ordered the destruction of “all” or even “most” of his private papers, how did B.A. Santamaria obtain the Mannix papers which he used in Daniel Mannix: A Biography in 1985?  Niall has declined to answer this question.

▪ Dr Mannix was not a hard-worker – especially in his latter years – and delegated most matters to his advisers such as Arthur Fox. It is not at all clear that Mannix wrote or received many letters.  Niall has provided no evidence that Mannix generated so much personal correspondence that he required three days to burn it after his death.  Dr Mannix had little regard for office procedures. It’s possible that he simply did not keep much personal correspondence. Brenda Niall has declined to address this issue.

▪ Dr Mannix was a loner who did not keep in touch with his family in Ireland following his mother’s death in 1925.  Brenda Niall has declined to address the issue that little of Mannix’s personal correspondence remained because few people wrote to him and he wrote to few people – apart from essentially pro-forma responses to his Catholic parishioners and others.

In Mannix Brenda Niall asserts that the likes of Mannix, Clune and Killian “must have all written to one another many times”.  This is (yet another) Niall assertion. She has no idea whether the likes of Mannix, Clune and Killian wrote to one another on a regular basis – if at all.


In conclusion, the essential problem with Brenda Niall’s books on both Daniel Mannix and William Hackett is that she makes claims which she cannot substantiate and simply assumes that people acted in certain ways – without evidence.  It’s not good history. The fact is that there are numerous files containing Daniel Mannix’ papers in the Melbourne Diocesan Historical Commission. If Brenda Niall’s thesis is correct, this material would not be extant.

By the way, all the best with your edited collection The Real Archbishop Mannix: From The Sources.


Until next time – keep morale high.

“Gerard’s condescension levels high on #insiders this morning”

– Lenore Taylor, via Twitter, 22 February 2015

“Gerard Henderson and David Marr are on #Insiders this week. Like a political Felix and Oscar.”

– Mark Scott via Twitter 19 February 2015 at 1.10 pm

“I once called Gerard Henderson `a complete f%^wit’. I deeply regret that. I was being much too harsh on f%^wits.”

– Malcolm Farr via Twitter 14 February 2015 at 10:14 am

Oh Gerard. You total clown.”

– Jonathan (“Proudly the ABC’s Sneerer-in-Chief”) Green on Twitter, Friday 3 October 2014, 4.31 pm [Mr Green must be an obsessive avid reader to respond so soon. – Ed]

“Good morning. All the gooder for being attacked (for thousandth time) by silly Gerard in the Oz”

– Phillip Adams via Twitter, 27 September 2014

“What troubles me most is that he [Gerard Henderson] shows such low journalistic standards, yet he is politically quite influential. He is often on Insiders. It’s hard to see why: he comes across as a crank.”

– Kate Durham as told to Crikey, 16 September 2014

“The unhinged but well spoken Gerard Henderson….”

– Bob Ellis, Table Talk blog, 10 August 2014

“Gerard Henderson and Nancy are awful human beings.”

– Alexander White, Twitter, 25 July 2014

“This is my regularly scheduled “Oh Gerard” tweet for every time he appears on #insiders”

– Josh Taylor, senior journalist for ZDNet, Twitter, 20 July 2014

“…that fu-kwitted Gerard “Gollum” Henderson….”

– Mike (“I’ll pour the gin”) Carlton, via Twitter, 12 July 2014

“[Gerard Henderson is a] silly prick”

– Mike (“I’ll pour the gin”) Carlton – tweeted Saturday 27 June 2014 at 4.15 pm, i.e. after lunch

“If Gerard Henderson had run Beria’s public relations Stalin’s death would have been hidden for a year and Nikita [Khrushchev] and co would have been shot”

– Laurie Ferguson via Twitter – 22 June 2014 [By-line: Mr Ferguson is a member of the House of Representatives who speaks in riddles.]

“[Gerard Henderson] is the Eeyore of Australian public life”

– Mike Seccombe in The [Boring] Saturday Paper – 21 June 2014

“Without in any way wanting to breach anyone’s human rights or free speech – why do people write emails to Gerard Henderson?”

– Katharine Murphy, Twitter, Friday 6 June 2014

“[Gerard Henderson is] an unhinged prick”

– Mike Carlton, Twitter, Thursday 12 June 2014

“There’s no sense that Gerard Henderson has any literary credentials at all.”

– Anonymous comment quoted, highlighted and presumably endorsed by Jason (“I’m a left-leaning luvvie”) Steger, The Age, 31 May 2014

On boyfriend’s insistence, watching the notorious Gerard Henderson/@Kate_McClymont Lateline segment. GH: What an odd, angry gnome of a man.

– Benjamin Law, via Twitter, Thursday 17 Apr 2014, 11:21 pm

Can’t believe I just spent my Thursday evening with a video recap of Gerard Henderson. I’m a f-cking moron.

– Benjamin Law, via Twitter, Thursday 17 Apr 2014, 11:23 pm

“[Gerard Henderson is an] unhinged crank”

– Mike Carlton, via Twitter, Saturday 29 March 2014, 4.34 pm

Complete stranger comes up to me: that Gerard Henderson’s a xxxxxx.

– Jonathan Green via Twitter, 8 February 2014