GERARD HENDERSON’S MEDIA WATCH DOG
ISSUE – NO. 431
9 November 2018
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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. Between November 1997 and October 2015 “Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch” was published as part of The Sydney Institute Quarterly. In March 2009 Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog blog commenced publication.
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STOP PRESS: Malcolm Turnbull on Q&A; Fran Kelly & Kellyanne Conway; Waleed Aly & Donald Trump
Can You Bear It? Craig Laundy on Sky News; Wendy Syfret on the ScoMo Express; Malcolm Farr’s “excessive pedantry” & Why Wentworth was not the biggest swing against an incumbent government
An ABC Update: Thomas E. Mann on President Trump as a “fascist” & Jackie Crashes Planet America’s pre-record on the US mid-terms
The Saturday Paper’s Richard Ackland finds the Lubyanka in Melbourne
Correspondence: In which Kevin Rudd verbals Hendo and Pan Macmillan’s Ingrid Ohlsson helps out (sort of)
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MALCOLM TURNBULL ON Q&A – WHERE (VIRTUALLY) NO ONE ASKS HARD QUESTIONS
Without question, the Sex Clown (UNSW alumna Emma Maye Gibson aka Betty Grumble) was the star of Monday’s Q&A – which found its talent in the St James Ethics Centre’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas. At times it was difficult to work out what the program was on about. But the Sex Clown starred primarily due to a painted face.
It was much the same with the Q&A special last night starring former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull – sans his black leather jacket of recent memory – since virtually all critical questions were avoided. This led to a situation where Mr Turnbull was allowed to deliver an anti-mea culpa with little challenge from either the presenter Tony Jones or the audience (with a couple of exceptions).
Mr Turnbull’s surprising inarticulateness was shown early in the program when the following exchange took place:
Tony Jones: Just quickly, are you getting any feedback at all that there are those who voted against you who are having regrets now?
Malcolm Turnbull: Ahh – well I couldn’t possibly comment. Ahh no. *laughs* But uh look I-
Tony Jones: So that’s yes, but you can’t say so?
Malcolm Turnbull: No, no, no, I, look I, I, look, you know, the reality is people have got to be adults and be accountable, okay?
There is nothing that ABC supremos, like Mr Jones, appreciate so much as a professed Liberal Party operative who criticises his colleagues – from the left. So it was not surprising that most of the questions – none of which were spontaneous and all of which was approved in advance by Q&A executive producer Peter McEvoy – were friendly to Australia’s 29th prime minister. As were most of Mr Jones’ interventions.
Mr Turnbull was allowed to state ad nauseam, and without challenge, that he had no idea why he was deposed by his colleagues – an action which he repeatedly described as “madness” resulting in “chaos”. No one pointed out that his fate was determined after he lost support of his colleagues – as occurred with Bob Hawke in 1991, Kevin Rudd in 2010, Julia Gillard in 2013 and Tony Abbott in 2015. It’s as simple as that.
The biggest clap from the audience occurred when Malcolm Turnbull declared that, following his successful challenge against Tony Abbott in September 2015, he received enormous support and went on to win the next election in July 2016. No one mentioned that Mr Turnbull lost 14 seats to Labor and left the Coalition with a majority of only one – which was subsequently lost following his unnecessary decision to step down as the Member for Wentworth, thus triggering a by-election.
It was the case of “Don’t talk about the 2016 election”. When a perceptive member of the audience queried Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to call a double dissolution in 2016 – which facilitated the entry of minor parties and Independents to the Senate – Tony Jones allowed his guest to avoid answering the question. Likewise, no one mentioned the Liberal Party’s dreadful performance in the Longman by-election last July which Turnbull presented as a test of his leadership against Labor leader Bill Shorten. The Liberal National Party (LNP) received under 30 per cent of the primary vote. In 2013, under Tony Abbott’s leadership, the primary vote was 44.84 per cent. It was the 2018 result (under Turnbull) that caused members of the LNP in Queensland to worry about their seats and led to his removal from office a month later.
Also, no one mentioned Malcolm Turnbull had said that a principal reason for deposing an incumbent prime minister in 2015 turned on the fact that Tony Abbott had lost 30 Newspolls in a row. By 24 August 2018, Turnbull had lost 34 Newspolls in a row.
Malcolm Turnbull was allowed to get away with numerous comments – including:
٠ MT said twice that he joined the Liberal Party in 1973 – he failed to mention that he let his membership lapse in 1983 and he re-joined in late 2000 not long before replacing the sitting Liberal Party member for Wentworth, Peter King, in what was described as the biggest branch-stack in Liberal Party history. It was in the late 1980s and early 1990s that Mr Turnbull attempted to win Labor party pre-selection a seat in Federal parliament. No one mentioned this last night.
٠ MT said that he had had little or nothing to say about Australian politics since 24 August – overlooking his tweets from New York, including one advising Prime Minister Scott Morrison to send Peter Dutton’s case to the High Court with respect to his eligibility to sit in the Parliament under Section 44 of the Constitution. Such a suggestion was most unhelpful to Scott Morrison and his government.
٠ MT said that he “did support” Liberal Party candidate Dave Sharma in Wentworth. No one mentioned that he refused many requests from Mr Sharma and others to indicate his support in public by means of an email or similar message. This was all the more important since Alex Turnbull (the former prime minister’s son) along with John Hewson (the former Liberal member for Wentworth) urged voters not to support the Liberal Party.
▪ MT said that the influence of conservatives on the Liberal Party led to a situation whereby the Liberals have lost three seats to what he termed small “l” Liberal Independents. He named Cathy McGowan (Indi), Rebecca Sharkie (Mayo) and Kerryn Phelps (Wentworth). No one mentioned that Mayo had been lost when Turnbull led the Liberal Party at the 2016 election.
And so it went on. And on. The only video question came from billionaire and Turnbull “bestie” – Mike Cannon-Brookes. [It seems that he is a member of what Paul Keating used to call the Eastern Suburbs’ “Hyphenated-Name-Set”. MWD Editor.] Mr Cannon-Brookes banged on about the need for Australia to have 100 per cent renewable energy and so on. [Okay – Give the billionaire another government grant – it might stop him going on the ABC. – MWD Editor.]
This proposal was met initially by another inarticulate response – as the transcript attests:
Mike Cannon-Brookes: My question to you is, what’s your advice to get politicians on board with our vision and will you join us?
Malcolm Turnbull: Well, well thanks. Well thanks, Mike. Ah, I, ah, I think we’ve gotta have, ah, a, ah, technology-agnostic approach to energy.
All up it was a very predictable night – which demonstrated that, like Kevin Rudd, Malcolm Turnbull is in denial about the fact that he lost the prime ministership because he lost the support of the majority of his colleagues. Instead he blamed (i) Sky News (after dark), (ii) Sydney Radio 2GB (after sunrise), (iii) The Australian, (iv) Rupert Murdoch and (v) nine of his colleagues. Yawn. But Malcolm Turnbull seldom, if ever, criticised the Labor Party. And he admitted to no faults of his own.
Has there ever been a softer interview of a politician on Australian television in recent memory – since Leigh Sales’ fawning interview with Prime Minister Turnbull in September 2015? Not on your nelly. In modern parlance, Mr Jones’ effort as presenter was a bit of a joke – albeit of a slightly different kind that Q&A had on Monday.
FRAN KELLY GIVES MISOGYNY A CHANCE
Did anyone catch the ending of Fran Kelly’s interview with Trump-hater Richard Painter on RN Breakfast this morning? Mr Painter is a George W. Bush Republican and what is called a “Never-Trumper”. Here is how he ended today’s interview:
Fran Kelly: Donald Trump maintains – just finally – there was no collusion [with Russia] in 2016. He’s called the Mueller probe again a witch-hunt. Kellyanne Conway says: “We’ve been compliant; we’ve done everything we’ve been required to do.” Just briefly and finally, is it overstating it to suggest that the US is on the precipice of some kind of constitutional crisis here?
Richard Painter: Well we’ll see where this goes. But I think a lot of people have long since given up listening to either Donald Trump or Kellyanne Conway. Kellyanne Conway’s own husband George Conway, prominent lawyer in New York, has written several times about how Robert Mueller needs to be protected, that Robert Mueller is doing his job. So uh, her own husband doesn’t believe what comes out of her mouth. And you know, I think a lot of people just take it with a grain of salt, what’s coming out of this White House.
The ABC is packed to the rafters with feminists. But Fran Kelly said nothing when Richard Painter claimed that White House counsel Kellyanne Conway should do what her husband thinks – and, effectively, shut her mouth. It’s impossible to imagine Ms Kelly not objecting if, say, someone said that Hillary Clinton should follow her husband’s views. [Interesting. Perhaps this should have run in your hugely popular Can You Bear It? segment. Just a thought. – MWD Editor.]
WALEED ALY FOCUSES ON DONALD TRUMP – BUT OVERLOOKS COMPARISONS WITH BARACK OBAMA OR BILL CLINTON
Today’s Sydney Morning Herald carried Waleed Aly’s fortnightly column – under the heading “Trump’s politics of race hit wall”. Reading it, you would get the impression that Donald J. Trump and the Republican Party did not do all that well in the United States mid-term election this week. Here’s an idea of what Dr Aly (for a doctor he is) is on about:
About the most Trump managed to achieve is to allow the Republicans to hold onto their base. But even that might be a generous reading, because the story of this election is that the Republicans have sacrificed their support in the once-Republican suburbs of America. That’s part of the Republican base, too, but it apparently found Trump’s cultural politics a little too hard to swallow.
That leakage started in 2016, but it wasn’t fatal because Trump managed to offset it with those working class gains in the midwest. Now he’s handed back those gains, and the suburbs have continued to desert. Trump’s Republican Party is now a rural one, capable of consolidating its rural support in the most Republican territory, but right now, not much else. The result is defeat in the House of Representatives despite a Republican-friendly gerrymander and a concerted effort in several Republican states to suppress the vote of Democrat-leaning minorities. It might not be the landslide the Democrats were hoping for, but we’re still talking about a win in the popular vote of around 9 per cent.
It seems that your man Aly is overlooking one central fact. In mid-term elections following the inauguration of a new president, there is usually a substantial swing against candidates whose party is in the White House.
It is superficial to claim that President Trump did no more than “allow the Republicans to hold on to their base”. Look at it this way. In the first mid-term election after Barack Obama became president, the Democrats lost a total of 63 seats in the House and six in the Senate. For Bill Clinton – the comparable figures were 54 and six. Whereas Donald Trump lost just over 30 seats in the House and probably gained four Senate seats. Also, the Republicans held the governorships of Florida and Ohio – key states that the party will need to win in 2020 to retain the presidency.
President Obama won easily for the second time in 2012. And Bill Clinton won easily for the second time in 1996. The Republicans are in a strong position to hold the White House in 2020. Moreover, contrary to Waleed Aly’s claim, there is no reason to expect that the Republicans might try and win in two years time “on race and immigration alone”. President Trump does not need to be told by a Monash University academic that the economy will be important in 2020.
CAN YOU BEAR IT?
CRAIG LAUNDY REGARDS SKY NEWS AS UNIMPORTANT – EXCEPT WHEN HE’S ON SKY NEWS (AFTER DARK)
While on the topic of (yet another) appearance of Malcolm Turnbull on Q&A – thanks to the avid reader who drew MWD’s attention to this (welcoming) tweet put out by Liberal Party Member for Reid – and Turnbull bestie – Craig Laundy on 31 October 2018. Just after it was announced that Mr Turnbull would appear on Q&A last night:
So, according to Craig Laundy – who recently moved out of his electorate in Western Sydney and settled in leafy Hunters Hill or some such – Sky News has only 600 viewers after 6 pm. Which makes MWD wonder why Malcolm Turnbull and the ABC are always banging on about it. In any event, didn’t your man Laundy rock-up after 6 pm on Sky News as a commentator on 20 October to comment on the Wentworth by-election? Sure did. Can You Bear It?[Er, no, Not really. It seems that Mr Laundy not only massively underestimates Sky News’ audience – he also confuses ratings with influence. ABC Radio National – whose stars include Fran (“I’m an activist”) Kelly and Phillip (“I was once a teenage communist”) Adams – has low ratings. But it is very influential. Ditto Sky News. – MWD Editor.]
ON THE (HYPERBOLIC) BUS WITH VICE’S WENDY SYFRET
What a stunning performance by VICE Media’s head of editorial Wendy Syfret on ABC TV News Breakfast segment on Tuesday. Having decided to focus on Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s visit to Queensland – which will be a crucial state in the 2019 election – she did not go beyond what is called the “ScoMo Express”. Let’s go to the transcript:
Wendy Syfret: If you’ve learned one thing, I think going into politics, it should be that you should never stand in front of something that is green or blue because it’s such a photo shop opportunity. Which obviously wasn’t a memo they got when designing the Scott Morrison express. This bus that he has unveiled, obviously everyone’s talking about it, something that really caught my eye this morning is that it has become incredibly meme-able because it’s a total photo shop dream. That you can really do anything when you have someone standing in front of a sky-blue bus.
And Ms Syfret went on. And on. And on – with reference to colour and shape and things like that. She said that people had been offering alternative bus slogans on Twitter which were not necessarily appropriate for breakfast – fancy that. And the talk that ScoMo has three difference signatures – who cares? And that the bus has poor font-spacing and the text on it looks like a hyperlink – really. And that the Prime Minister Ockerisms and bad videos rival Kevin Rudd’s “fair shake of the sauce bottle” – go on. Never in the history of News Breakfast has so much been said or written about a bus for such little purpose as co-presenter Michael Rowland suggested – politely, of course. The only matter that was not referred to was what Scott Morrison said in Queensland.
And how profound is Ms Syfret’s claim that if you learn anything about going into politics it should be never to stand in front of a bus in something green or blue? How trivial can you get? Just imagine Winston Churchill at the commencement of the Battle of Britain saying in 1940: “People of Britain: Hitler’s Luftwaffe will be bombing our cities and towns tonight – but rest assured I will not stand in front of a green or blue bus.” Can You Bear It?
MALCOLM FARR’S REALLY AND TRULY EXCESSIVE PEDANTRY ABOUT A ONE-TIME SENATOR
While on the topic of elections and all that stuff, wasn’t it great to see Malcolm (“Gerard is a complete f-ckwit”) Farr on the ABC TV Insiders couch last Sunday? And what a stunning final comment he made – here it is:
Malcolm Farr: Going back to your [Gerard Henderson’s] discussion about the status of Phil Cleary – this might be excessive pedantry, but Malcolm Roberts keeps billing himself as “former Senator for Queensland”. He wasn’t. He was ineligible to sit in the parliament. It’s false advertising after a short period of false pretences.
Fancy that. Your man Farr reckons that because One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts was found, by the High Court of Australia, to be ineligible to sit in the Senate due to his (then) dual Australian/British citizenship – then he was never a senator in the first place and for him to say otherwise is a case of false pretences.
What a load of absolute tosh. If Mr Roberts was never a senator – how come his speeches, questions and votes are still recorded in the Senate Hansard? If Malcolm Roberts was never a senator – then all contributions by him in the Senate should be removed from Hansard and the Senate votes for his period in parliament re-calculated.
Moreover, if Comrade Farr is correct – then, what about Barnaby Joyce? – who was found to be ineligible to sit in the parliament due to his (then) dual Australian/New Zealand citizenship.
According to Mr Farr’s logic (for want of a better word), Barnaby Joyce was never deputy-prime minister of Australia. Never. What’s more, he was never a member of the House of Representatives from September 2013 to late 2017 and, consequently, never a member of the Abbott and Turnbull governments. Also, he was never a member of the Senate between July 2005 and August 2013. Turn it up.
Clearly Malcolm Roberts is a former One Nation senator – just as Barnaby Joyce is a former deputy prime minister and Katy Gallagher (who was also ruled ineligible to sit in the Senate by the High Court) is a former Labor Party senator. Talk about Malcolm Farr’s “excessive pedantry”. Can You Bear It?
WHY WENTWORTH WAS NOT THE BIGGEST SWING AGAINST AN INCUMBENT GOVERNMENT
While on the topic of political events that (allegedly) never happened – let’s look at the Wills by-election of April 1992. In December 1991, Paul Keating prevailed over Bob Hawke to take over the Labor Party leadership and the prime ministership. Mr Hawke resigned from his seat of Wills in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and a by-election was held on 11 April 1992. Phil Cleary ran as an Independent candidate and easily defeated the endorsed Labor Party candidate.
The High Court of Australia, on 25 November 1992, found that Phil Cleary was not qualified to sit in the House of Representatives – since, at the time of the by-election, he held an office of profit under the Crown. Consequently, he was held in breach of Section 44 of the Constitution. By then it was too late to hold another by-election before the general election which was held in March 1993. Mr Cleary contested and won Wills in the March 1993 general election.
On Insiders last Sunday, Malcolm Farr implied that the Wills by-election was a bit like Malcolm Roberts’ time in the Senate and suggested that it was false to refer to the event as having occurred. This reflected the view of Fran Kelly – who said on Insiders, on 21 October 2018, that the Wills result was “not official”.
There are two problems with this analysis. First, the electors of Wills certainly believed they voted in a by-election in April 1992. Second, the Wills by-election is included in the list of by-elections held since the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia in January 1901. This is contained in the 45th Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, 2017 (published by the Parliamentary Library and the Department of Parliamentary Services). The reference to Wills contains this footnote with respect to Phil Cleary: “Disqualified 25/11/1992. Re-elected 13/3/1993”. That’s all.
It is only by pretending the Wills by-election never took place that it is possible to claim that the swing against the Liberal Party in the Wentworth by-election of recent memory was the greatest swing against an incumbent government ever.
Hence the howler by Fairfax Media’s Dana McCauley who wrote this in The Age on 31 October 2018 – in a piece on how former AMA president neurosurgeon Brian Owler will contest the seat of Bennelong at the next election against Liberal Party incumbent John Alexander:
The neurosurgeon’s candidacy comes after fellow former AMA president Kerryn Phelps snatched the safe Liberal seat of Wentworth with the biggest ever swing against a ruling party in an Australian by-election.
Here are the facts:
▪ At the April 1992 Wills by-election, the Independent Phil Cleary won 33.5 per cent of the primary vote and 65.7 per cent after preferences. This was a swing against the incumbent Labor government of over 23 per cent. Yet Paul Keating’s Labor government (following the loss in Wills in 1992) went on to win the 1993 election.
▪ At the October 2018 Wentworth by-election, the Independent Kerryn Phelps won 29.2 per cent of the primary vote and 51.2 per cent after preferences. This was a swing against the incumbent Coalition government of under 19 per cent. It remains to be seen whether Scott Morrison’s Coalition government (following the loss in Wentworth in 2018) can win the 2019 election.
Clearly, the 1992 Wills by-election was the biggest swing against an incumbent government in Australian history. But the likes of Malcolm Farr and Fran Kelly reckon it never officially happened. And the likes of Dana McCauley apparently know nothing about it. All are in denial or ignorant. All want to believe that Wentworth was the biggest swing against an incumbent government – and that the Wills by-election never happened. It did. Can You Bear It?
AN ABC UPDATE
It is MWD’s contention that the ABC is a Conservative Free Zone without one conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent television, media or online outlets. No one at the ABC has challenged MWD’s assessment by providing the name of any one such conservative. Every now and then, MWD looks inside the ABC’s CFZ to see what can be found. Here’s the very latest.
SABRA LANE, THOMAS E. MANN & PRESIDENT TRUMP AS A “FASCIST”
On Wednesday, the day in which Australians were to learn of the results of the United States mid-term elections, ABC Radio AM – the taxpayer funded public broadcaster’s key current affairs program – interviewed one American about the likely election outcome. Just one.
Step forward Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow in governance studies at The Brookings Institution. Now, your man Mann is not a leftist. But he is an avowed opponent of President Donald J. Trump. AM presenter Sabra Lane remained mute when Thomas E. Mann made the following points:
Thomas E. Mann: The early indicators from the early voting suggests that turnout could jump from 37 to 45 per cent or more, and that’s likely to reflect a much larger, sort of, democratic voting component than in the last midterm election. So, anything is possible but at this stage the safe bet is Democrats win between 30 to 40 seats. That is comfortably exceeding the 23 needed for a majority in the House.
The Senate map is impossible. Republicans will likely hold their majority and add a seat or two. Democrats will gain eight or nine governorships and hundreds of state legislators, improving their position following the 2020 census. It could be bigger, it could be – turnout could surge. It could be a blue wave that even carries the Senate with it but that’s a long shot.
In fact there was no blue (i.e. a Democrat) wave in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Indeed, it seems that the Republicans have won four Senate seats from the Democrats – which suggests that Mr Mann’s (optimistic) long-shot was very long indeed.
Then there was this leading question. And an over-the-top response:
Sabra Lane: Mr Trump says that these elections are a referendum on his presidency. But rather than focus on jobs and the economy which are going pretty well, he’s been highlighting issues like the migrant caravan and topics around nationalism. Why?
Thomas E. Mann: That’s who he is and what he knows and he just loves going to rallies where the crowds adore that kind of focus and rhetoric. He’s clearly not aiming for swing voters. This is all about him and his gratification.
If you listen to him, it’s not just explicitly racialising politics. It’s a little scary, it’s personalising the presidency. Like an autocrat, even the fascists, would do. And it resonates among a part of the base but it is not the means by which to ward off a mid-term election defeat for his party.
So there you have it. Sabra Lane said nothing when Thomas E. Mann declared that President Trump is acting like a fascist. What a load of absolute tosh. If President Trump was a fascist, your man Mann would be incarcerated in prison controlled by fascist guards. And the 2018 result was not a “defeat” for the Republican Party – that’s just wishful thinking.
Which raises the question. Why does the ABC engage so many Democrat-friendly commentators and so few Republican-friendly commentators? The answer lies in the CFZ.
JACKIE CRASHES PLANET AMERICA KNEES-UP
On Thursday Jackie went out on a trip to see the live taping of Planet America’s US mid-terms special, hosted by John Barron and Chas Licciardello at Giant Dwarf theatre in Redfern. It airs tonight on the ABC’s second channel. But if you’d like a sneak peek (or want to give it a miss) you can see her notes below.
JACKIE’S TAKE ON THE SATURDAY PAPER
Whatever Morry Schwartz’s The Saturday Paper is – it is not a newspaper, in that it contains scant news. More like a weekly leftist house-journal. The problem is that The Saturday Paper goes to press on Thursday evenings. So, when it comes out on Saturday morning, its “news” is already 36 hours old. That’s why Hendo reads it on Monday – what’s the hurry? Even Martin McKenzie-Murray (The Saturday Paper’s correspondent) acknowledges that he writes incoherently and is inherently uninteresting. (See Issue 404). [You can say that again. But this could be why it is distributed in the fog of a Fitzroy North morning. – MWD Editor.] But at least Richard Ackland is worth a read – if only to see what he is on about. Or, come to think of it, on.
RICHARD ACKLAND LOOKS AT THE HERALD SUN AND SEES THE KGB HEADQUARTERS
Richard Ackland, the “Gadfly” columnist of The [Boring] Saturday Paper (proprietor Morry Schwartz, editor-in-chief Erik Jensen), started off well last Saturday. He reflected how society has changed – after flying from Melbourne to Sydney recently. You see, former newspaper proprietor John Hartigan was in steerage – while ABC star Emma Alberici was “ushered into a business-class seat surrounded by flattering ladies-in-waiting”. Ah, life’s tough at the taxpayer funded broadcaster.
But then your man Ackland threw the switch to hyperbole – like this:
One of the highlights of the trip to Yarraside [i.e. Melbourne] was a side excursion to Heide, the former dairy farm and romping ground of John and Sunday Reed, Sid Nolan, Bert Tucker, John Perceval, Joy Hester, Angry Penguins and others. Gadfly was nostalgically flung back to a period when we had time to churn butter, make our own soap, swap partners, paint bushrangers and lay about in the Paterson’s curse having cups of tea.
What heaven – soon shattered by returning to the hotel in Little Collins Street with its menacing view of the hulking Lubyanka, the Herald Sun building.
How about that? Gadfly looks at the Herald-Sun office in Melbourne (home of mere journos) and sees the Lubyanka in Moscow (one-time home of the KGB where opponents of Stalin and his communist heirs were incarcerated, tortured and sometimes murdered). Turn it up.
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 Gerard Henderson 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 avid readers.
There are occasions, however, when Jackie’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 MWD 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 – not even Ms Murphy herself (See MWD Issue 297).
GERARD HENDERSON AND INGRID OHLSSON (PAN MACMILLAN) re KEVIN RUDD: THE PM YEARS & THE VERBALLING OF HENDO
While at Melbourne Airport last Saturday with 20 minutes to spare, Gerard Henderson purchased a copy of Kevin Rudd: The PM Years (Pan Macmillan, Australia). This is Volume II of an apparent three part memoir [Groan – MWD Editor]. The inaugural volume was titled Kevin Rudd: Not for the Faint-hearted. Volume 1 ran for 674 pages and Volume 11 checks out at a mere 652 pages. The fact is that the faint-hearted would not be able to get through either volume. It reminds MWD of Barry Humphries’ joke about the somewhat prolix Australian author Xavier Herbert. Your man Humphries referred to Xavier Herbert’s Poor Fellow My Country as “Poor Fellow My Reader”. Quite so.
Just counting the text of the Rudd memoir (i.e. excluding the content page and the index), Volume I runs for around 287,000 words and Volume II runs for around 285,000 words. The way Mr Rudd is going, he could reach 2000 pages and not far from one million words by the time he’s finished writing about himself – if he ever concludes the task.
It’s not clear who – if anyone – has read either tome from cover to cover. After all, the most successful Australian prime ministers in the last half century were Bob Hawke and John Howard. Bob Hawke’s The Hawke Memoir runs for 608 pages and John Howard’s Lazarus Rising runs for 674 pages. Kevin Rudd was prime minister for three years. Bob Hawke for around eight years and John Howard for close to 11 years. Kevin Rudd would have been well advised to restrict his apologia to one volume – along the lines of Julia Gillard’s My Story.
The Melbourne lawyer Mark Leibler, who is head of the Australia Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, has said that he was verballed by Kevin Rudd in Volume II – concerning a meeting which both men attended at The Lodge on 3 June 2010. MWD has checked with a Labor Party operative who attended the 2010 meeting – and can confirm that Mr Leibler did not say what Mr Rudd claimed he said in Kevin Rudd: The PM Years.
In a tweet in response to Mark Leibler’s criticism, Kevin Rudd failed to defend his central allegation. As Mark Leibler put it, the Rudd tweet “does not address the core issue of the controversy at the moment – the fact that his book apparently contains fabrications about the June 3, 2010 meeting, asserting a version of events that simply did not occur”. It’s a story familiar to MWD readers of someone having a clear recollection of an event that never happened. By the way, Kevin Rudd uses quotes to report his (alleged) conversation with Mark Leibler – despite the fact that there is no recording of the event. Somewhat unprofessional – don’t you think?
Conveniently, Kevin Rudd: The PM Years has a detailed index. So, aware of the Mark Leibler matter, Hendo decided to check the index to see if he got a guernsey. Yes he did – at Page 175. Turning quickly to the relevant page, Hendo found out that he also had been verballed by Australia’s 26th prime minister. Consequently, he wrote to Pan Macmillan who declined to provide Kevin Rudd’s email address. Now read on.
Gerard Henderson to Ingrid Ohlsson – 5 November 2018
Thanks for returning my call – in response to the message which I left at your office this morning – concerning the publication of Kevin Rudd: The PM Years (Macmillan, 2018). As you are aware, at Page 175 Mr Rudd makes the following claim with respect to what he terms “the OzCar, Utegate or Godwin Grech affair”.
The issue rolled on through August and September . Turnbull couldn’t escape the matter in any of his press conferences despite his attempt to shift the agenda elsewhere. His defence was that folks like me should accept accusations of corruption as part of the rough and tumble of politics. Indeed, this line was reflected by an increasing number of Liberal Party factotums, including Gerard Henderson, who sought to pivot the debate about Turnbull’s judgement into one about my preparedness to accept criticism. This in turn went to the Murdoch media’s political management craft. If they were found to have printed a false accusation, they would never apologise. They would simply dig in, arguing it as their “duty” to hold everybody to account and that any criticism of their role in such affairs simply reflected the “glass jaw” of the person who had been falsely attacked.
My responses are as follows:
▪ There are 1357 endnotes in Kevin Rudd: The PM Years. Yet there is no citation for my (alleged) comment. No fact-checker employed by either Mr Rudd or Pan Macmillan bothered to check this particular “fact” with me prior to publication.
▪ I am not a “Liberal Party factotum” – whatever that might mean. In my entire, life, I have been a member of the Liberal Party for a total of about four years – most recently in 1985. I note that Kevin Rudd attempts to link me with Godwin Grech – whom he describes as a “Liberal Party operative”. This is grossly unfair – I never believed the allegations Godwin Grech made about Kevin Rudd in 2009 and I never promoted them.
▪ I have always enjoyed a professional relationship with Kevin Rudd. During his time in politics Mr Rudd addressed The Sydney Institute on seven occasions. And, Kevin – with Therese – had dinner at our home on one occasion before he became Labor leader in 2006.
▪ Mr Rudd seems to be of the view that when, the so-called Utegate issue arose in 2009, I was part of the Murdoch media. In fact, between January 1990 and December 2013, I wrote for Fairfax Media.
▪ I never said or wrote that Kevin Rudd “should accept accusations of corruption as part of the rough and tumble of politics”. Mr Rudd just made this up.
▪ I wrote two columns in the Sydney Morning Herald with respect to the then Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull’s allegation – that in June 2009 the then prime minister Kevin Rudd had acted corruptly by leaning on the government funded OzCar scheme to provide financial assistance to his friend John Grant. On 23 June 2009, I made the following comment:
It is not credible that Rudd would act improperly for so slight a benefit as access to a motor vehicle. And it is not believable that Turnbull would knowingly use a false email to score a political point. The OzCar legislation is yet to pass the Senate and it is not clear whether the Special Purpose Vehicle proposal will ever be implemented. In other words, all this is a long way short of the real Watergate.
If anyone were forced to resign on account of the OzCar issue, it would be an unfortunate day for Australia. Whether or not you agree with their policies or the style of their behaviour, Rudd, Swan and Turnbull are able politicians who are in no sense corrupt or corruptible.
Since in this column I never said that Kevin Rudd should accept accusations of corruption as part of the rough and tumble of politics – consequently, it follows that I did not seek to “pivot the debate about Turnbull’s judgement into one about” Kevin Rudd’s “preparedness to accept criticism”. Once again, Mr Rudd just made this up.
▪ By the time I wrote my second column referring to this issue in The Sydney Morning Herald on 7 July 2009, Kevin Rudd’s popularity had increased in the wake of Malcolm Turnbull’s disastrous handling of Godwin Grech’s false allegations. My point was that Mr Rudd was the winner out of the Utegate matter and – in view of this – he should not be so sensitive to criticism. This is how the column commenced:
The popularity of Kevin Rudd and the Labor Government appears to be boundless. According to the most recent survey – the Morgan Poll published online last Friday – Rudd has an approval rating of 63 per cent and is regarded as the preferred prime minister by 70 per cent of voters. How telling, then, that this was the week in which the Prime Minister showed considerable sensitivity to media criticism – in particular, the OzCar affair.
The claim that Rudd may have misled Parliament concerning this matter was a legitimate journalistic story which was reported at various levels of intensity by virtually all sections of the media. The News Limited metropolitan papers led on the issue because they had what was purported to be an email from the Prime Minister’s office to a Treasury official. As soon as the email was demonstrated to be false, the Canberra press gallery focused its criticism on Malcolm Turnbull who had given the fake email unintentional credibility. As the polls quickly established, the unintended consequence of the saga was to discredit the Opposition Leader and enhance the credibility of the Prime Minister.
My point was that Kevin Rudd had prevailed in the Utegate affair – and that Malcolm Turnbull had scored an “own-goal”. I made reference to this to make the point that Rudd was too sensitive to criticism – either of the invalid (Utegate) or valid genre. That was all.
Contrary to the implication in Kevin Rudd: The PM Years, I did not attempt to defend Mr Turnbull’s judgment on the Utegate affair. Rather I specifically wrote that Malcolm Turnbull had been discredited by the matter.
▪ The essential theme of my 7 July 2009 column was that Kevin Rudd had enjoyed a dream run in the media up to mid-2009 – and suggested that Mr Rudd should address the real issues facing Australia, without focusing overly on criticism. My column finished as follows:
Rudd Labor is experiencing criticism over its borrowing and spending program and its commitment to introduce an emissions trading scheme (which could have a deleterious effect on Victoria and South Australia). However, in the future, the Prime Minister could face sustained criticism from those on the left who believe he has not done enough on climate change. Over time political spin loses its clout. The democratic leaders who make an impact are rarely loved while in office and demonstrate little sensitivity to criticism. In the past, Rudd had adapted his persona to meet new challenges. There is unfinished business here.
▪ On reflection, this was good advice. I never argued that Kevin Rudd should “accept accusations of corruption as part of the rough and tumble of politics”. It was evident in mid-2009 that he had prevailed over the false allegation. My position covered Mr Rudd’s sensitivity to criticism in those circumstances where the critics had a plausible claim. That’s all.
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In conclusion, I would be grateful if, in the online edition, Pan Macmillan withdraws the words “including Gerard Henderson” from Page 175 of Kevin Rudd: The PM Years along with the reference to me in the book’s index.
Ingrid Ohlsson to Gerard Henderson – 6 November 2018
Thank you for your time yesterday on the phone and for laying out your concerns by email below.
We will make that change to our ebook edition as requested.
Gerard Henderson to Ingrid Ohlsson – 6 November 2018
Gerard Henderson to Ingrid Ohlsson – 7 November 2018
Last night I reflected on our email exchange.
I note that – while you said that Pan Macmillan would make the change to Kevin Rudd: The PM Years along the lines I suggested – you did not apologise for the error in Mr Rudd’s memoirs with respect to me.
The fact is that Kevin Rudd made a false claim concerning me – which will remain on record as long as the printed editor of Kevin Rudd: The PM Years is extant. However, Pan Macmillan Australia has failed to apologise for not fact-checking this professionally damaging howler before it went to press. Moreover, your managing director has not spoken or written to me about this – despite the fact that I attempted to contact him in the first instance.
I guess that, in the familiar phrase, being a publisher means never having to say sorry. From Pan Macmillan’s perspective, at least.
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Until next time.
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