ISSUE – NO. 453

31 May 2019

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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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This is how Laura Tingle, in her role as presenter, introduced ABC TV’s 7.30 segment last night on Robert Mueller’s report and his public statement concerning President Donald J. Trump:

Laura Tingle, Presenter: Earlier today the man appointed to probe the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, US Special Counsel Robert Mueller, made his first public statement about his investigation. The surprise appearance increases pressure on US President, Donald Trump. To discuss how it might play out from here, I spoke to Republican political strategist, Rick Wilson.

It turns out that the man presented by 7.30 as a Republican political strategist did a full-on anti-Trump rant without citing any evidence in support of his assertions. Early on, he declared that President Trump had obstructed justice.  Towards the end of Ms Tingle’s (soft) interview, the following exchange took place:

Laura Tingle: In his statement, Mr Mueller has gone back to the start of this entire episode, pointing out that there was this extraordinary intervention in the US political system by the Russians. Has that been lost in the focus on the presidency and does the debate in Congress need to go back to that?

Rick Wilson: I absolutely think that it’s vital that we focus on the fact the Russians picked a candidate in 2016, devoted enormous resources to supporting that candidate, ran a national program, an intelligence operation, an information warfare operation against the United States in 2016, on Donald Trump’s behalf. They tried everything they could to elect Donald Trump and they won and I think it’s absolutely certain that, given Donald Trump’s behaviour towards Vladimir Putin, that they’ve already picked their candidate for 2020 and they will be behind him 100 per cent once again and the collusion is in plain sight now….

So, MWD hears you cry, can your man Wilson really be a current Republican political strategist as 7.30 declared? (see screen shot below).

Well, MWD understands that this very same Rick Wilson is the author of Everything Trump Touches Dies.  Enough said?  Not really.  Thanks to the avid reader who drew MWD’s attention to the tweet which the so-called Republican political strategist put out around the time he spoke to Laura Tingle – with reference to the decision of the US Navy to cover up the name of the USS John McCain which is currently in Japan:

Rick Wilson‏@TheRickWilson

It is without question that @realDonaldTrump is the most petty, thin-skinned, trifling no-account shitbird to ever hold the office of President. What a weak-dick move.

Donald J. Trump is the Republican President of the United States. Rick Wilson regards him as a “sh-tbird”. And 7.30 reckons that he is currently a “Republican political strategist”. Turn it up.  Fake News indeed.


Meanwhile, earlier on Network 10 last night, another anti-Trump pile-on occurred involving The Project’s panel of Gorgi Coghlan, Pete Hellicar, Rachel Corbett and Peter van Onselen.

Towards the end of the panel discussion on Trump and all that, in ABC-style, everyone agreed with everyone else that President Donald J. Trump had obstructed the course of justice.  There was not one panel member who could nominate a specific charge that could be laid with respect to a specific crime. But – never mind.  It was The Project after all.

At least The Project, unlike 7.30, interviewed a commentator from the US – CBS Radio’s Michael Williams – who did not pretend to be a current Republican strategist.  Your man Williams downplayed the prospect of President Trump being impeached – and said that the House of Representatives leader, the Democrat Nancy Pelosi, felt that an impeachment process might be playing into Trump’s hands. Fair enough.

But Michael Williams then made this quite extraordinary comment:

Michael Williams: What we do know about Trump is –  he’s one of those people who’s a better victim than victor. He’s not a guy who wins very much but he’s very good at being a victim. And I think that Pelosi, and probably rightly so, feels that this will be the ultimate victimhood if impeachment happens and it doesn’t go through.

Now, Donald J. Trump is one of only 44 Americans who has become president of the United States.  And Michael Williams – unchallenged by The Project’s panel – reckons that President Trump is “not a guy who wins very much”.  Fancy that.

[Perhaps this gem should have gone into your hugely popular Can You Bear It? segment. Just a (belated) thought. MWD Editor.]



MWD is not aware that, in the existence of the taxpayer funded public broadcaster since its establishment by Joseph Lyons’ government in 1932, that any member of the ABC board or any ABC senior manager has ever conceded that the organisation has a problem with bias.  Until Wednesday, when recently appointed ABC chair Ita Buttrose went on Drive with Rafael Epstein  on ABC Radio Melbourne 774.

Now Rafael Epstein is a player in the ABC staff collective which runs the ABC on a program to program basis. A man of the left, he has constantly denied that the public broadcaster has a problem with bias.  MWD has rarely used the word “bias” with respect to the ABC – preferring such terms as the organisation’s lack of political diversity or political pluralism.  But it’s the same concept.

So, Mr Epstein must have been surprised when what was intended as a leading question, designed to elicit a reply hostile to the ABC’s critics, received an unexpected response.  Let’s go to the transcript:

Rafael Epstein: There’s a lot of people in government who think we’re biased. How do you address that?

Ita Buttrose: Sometimes I think we might be biased, I think sometimes we could do with more diversity of views. I haven’t got a problem with anybody’s view but I think we need to make sure ours is as diverse as we can make it be.

Rafael Epstein: Do you mean sometimes the news is biased? Or do you mean shows on local radio?

Ita Buttrose: I mean sometimes I think people, without really knowing it, let a bias show through. I think we can all do that. But I think the way you sort of deflect the critics that love to sort of give us a tough time, is by having a wider viewpoint. So the more diverse views that we can represent, the better it will be for us.

Rafael Epstein: And what if the government keeps saying “No no no the ABC is too biased – and biased towards the left”. How do you address that?

Ita Buttrose: Well I don’t ever think we should start to think what they might say. Why don’t we just wait and see what they do say?

Imagine Mr Epstein’s surprise.  He asked the ABC’s chair how the public broadcaster should address the fact that “a lot of people” in the Coalition government believed the public broadcaster is “biased”. And, lo and behold, Ita Buttrose responded that the criticism might be correct.

It’s early days yet. However, it would seem that the new ABC chair understands the public broadcaster’s essential problem – it lacks political diversity.  Michelle Guthrie, the previous managing director, proclaimed the ABC’s diversity with respect to gender, race, religion and the like.  But she never addressed the fact that the ABC does not have a conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent television, radio or online outlets.

Now, it appears that Ms Buttrose understands the problem. And perhaps also the solution.  She told Drive with Rafael Epstein that the ABC can “deflect” its critics by “having a wider viewpoint”.  Presumably this means bringing about a situation where both right-of-centre and left-of-centre views are heard within the public broadcaster from presenters, producers, editors and so on – working on prominent ABC programs and online outlets.

Many ABC staff are sensitive to criticism and in denial about reality.  The likes of Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales maintain that there are plenty of conservatives within the ABC.  However, neither has been able to name one such person.  Not one.

Ita Buttrose is chair of the ABC board.  Neither the chair nor the board runs the public broadcaster.  Quite properly, this is the role of the managing director. However, the Board has a legal duty to ensure that ABC management and staff are living up to the public broadcaster’s charter as laid down by the Commonwealth Parliament.  At the moment, the ABC is not abiding by its charter responsibilities to ensure that the taxpayer funded public broadcaster delivers on political diversity and eschews bias.

A reform in the area would increase the standing of the ABC in the eyes of both the Coalition and Labor. In recent times, Coalition governments led by John Howard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, have criticised the ABC. But so did Labor governments led by Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and Julia Gillard. The reason? Well, the ABC staff collective tends to criticise both the Coalition and Labor – from a leftist, or Green/Left, perspective.

Reform of the ABC will not come easily. However, Ita Buttrose has presented a helpful start.  The public broadcaster should spend less time denying a perception of bias – and more time focusing on introducing political diversity within the organisation.

Can You Bear It


It seems that Nine Newspapers’ recently revamped “CBD” column – by Samantha Hutchinson (in Melbourne) and Kylar Loussikian(in Sydney) – has joined the ranks of the sneering secularists.  How else to explain this piece which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Tuesday about Israel Folau?  As readers know, Israel Folau has had his employment terminated by Rugby Australia for posting online a quotation from St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians advising that a number of individuals – including homosexuals – will suffer eternal damnation, in Hell, if they did not repent their sins.

This is what “CBD” had to say about Israel Folau, who is currently considering his legal options:

Controversial rugby star Israel Folau spent last week in talks with Melbourne silk Stewart Wood, QC, plotting the next steps in his battle with Rugby Australia, which terminated his contract over a contentious post he made on social media. And now he’s off overseas. Spies aboard Qantas’ Saturday night Melbourne-to-San Francisco special spied Izzy boarding the plane before it took off at 8.55.

The Wallabies and Waratahs fullback boarded QF49 flanked by two mates. The trio took their seats in premium economy, which is no doubt a novel experience given the luxe treatment usually afforded to members of the team officially dubbed the Qantas Wallabies.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce, who is gay, hasn’t been shy in voicing his approval of Rugby Australia’s decision to punt Folau – a devout Christian who takes the Bible literally – for posting that homosexuals (and other “sinners”) will go to hell.

Folau’s chances of an upgrade are presumably less likely these days.

His reps are tight-lipped on his movements in the States and didn’t respond to questions on whether he was touring for work or for pleasure….

Talk about kicking a bloke when he is down – having lost a contract worth a reported $4 million over four years and having been terminated from employment when an international Rugby Star at the height of his career.  MWD was most interested in the drawing which accompanied the “CBD” story which contained the (sneering) caption “Israel Praying for an Upgrade”.  Here it is:

So according to “CBD”, it’s okay to mock a fundamentalist Christian when he is down – and to sneer at his (alleged) praying to God.  But would “CBD” run a sinister send-up of, say, a Muslim at prayer to his or her God?  Not on your Nelly.  Can You Bear It?


It appears that Deakin University’s most famous senior lecturer Scott Burchill has been moving loads of rubbish/recyclables again. How else to explain that, once again, he did the “Newspaper” gig on ABC TV’s News Breakfast on Tuesday –  dressed in, well, tipping gear.  With a brown – or was it black? – tee-shirt and black – or was it brown? – jacket and pants. It was the type of outfit that you could wear before falling into a tip’s pit and still emerge ready to teach a class in international relations at Melbourne’s Deakin University – before or after a visit to the ABC’s Melbourne studio at Southbank.

And so it came to pass that the News Breakfast’s co-presenter Virginia Trioli entered into a dialogue with Dr Burchill (for a doctor he is) about just how easy it would have been for the Labor Party to explain its position to the proposed Adani coal mine in northern Queensland.  Let’s go to the transcript:

Virginia Trioli: Let’s start with your top story which is in The Australian.

Scott Burchill: Yes, Mr Albanese is being tested on his attitude to the mine – of course the Adani mine that had caught Mr Shorten in some trouble before the election. And it appears that nothing much has changed. I think the big problem for the ALP, particularly during the election but even now, has been the economics don’t really add up. But on the other hand, they’re trying to push – obviously they’re in trouble in Queensland with public support there. The mathematics don’t necessarily add up and of course they want to push a policy of responding to climate change. So, nothing really has changed and I think The Australian newspaper particularly is going to hold Mr Albanese’s feet to the coals on this one.  [Groan. Was this feet-to-coals reference an attempt at humour? – MWD Editor.]

Virginia Trioli: Day one would seem to indicate this. It doesn’t seem that hard.  I mean these arguments have been managed in other countries, in other parliaments, by other governments. I think the UK’s probably the best example of where, you know, transitioning to newer renewable forms and dealing with climate change has never ever been a party-political issue.

Scott Burchill: No, and that’s the problem here, they [Labor] haven’t explained the transitional period, the costs. But also the new economics of renewable energy.

Virginia Trioli: Exactly.  Of the new lot. I mean, that’s what – I look at the Labor Party and think: this argument can’t be that hard. Which is, you know, consider this whaling. We will gradually transition out of whaling and ultimately there won’t be whaling anymore. But instead there will be brand new industries that your children will be employed in.

Scott Burchill: And also, people see through the idea of saying “we’ll make up our decision after the election”. You know you can’t be taken seriously on climate change and say, “what’s your attitude to a new coal mine, well we’ll talk about it later on”. It just doesn’t wash.

What a load of absolute tosh.  Labor’s problem in the 2019 election campaign was that its leader Bill Shorten presented himself as vaguely in support of the Carmichael (i.e. Adani) mine when in northern Queensland – and as an opponent of the opening of any new coal mine when in the inner-city and wealthy parts of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. In short, Labor wanted to appeal to the miners in Queensland as well as to the anti-mining Sandalista set in Australia’s capital cities.

It was a tough ask – and it didn’t work.  But not because there was an easy way out of the dilemma – as La Trioli and Comrade Burchill imply.

In fact, there was considerable opposition, especially from the British Labour Party and British Trade Union Congress, when inefficient coal mines in Britain were closed during the early years of Margaret Thatcher’s conservative government in the early 1980s.

Also – when Malcolm Fraser’s Coalition government forced the end of commercial whaling in Australia in 1978, this was a small, dying industry which had been in decline since the 1930s.  It was nothing like the coal industry today.

The fact is that, currently, coal is Australia’s leading export.  And coal mining provides very well-paid jobs to men and women in regional Australia – including Indigenous Australians – who spend considerable money locally.

Virginia Trioli’s idea that it’s easy to sell opposition to coal mining in central and northern Queensland and elsewhere is just naïve.  As is Scott Burchill’s view that voters in, say, Rockhampton will accept that a Labor decision to stop Adani and other mines from going ahead will be okay –  since there is a promise of other (unspecified) jobs in renewable energy somewhere and sometime in the future.

And here were two inner-city types, sitting on a taxpayer funded couch in inner-city Melbourne telling Queenslanders that it’s easy for Australia to junk coal – including new highly efficient coal projects.  Can You Bear It?


Being a journalist means never having to say you’re sorry – for errors of judgment, that is.

Take Niki Savva, for example. Ms Savva is author of two books – So Greek: Confessions of a Conservative Leftie and Road to Ruin.  Jackie’s (male) co-owner has read So Greek – without discovering how someone can be both a conservative and a leftie.  But there you go.

Perhaps the most quotable part of Ms Savva’s inaugural tome is where she outed herself and some (unnamed) journalists as liars. Yes, unmitigated liars.  This is what she wrote:

When it comes to scheming and lying, plain old hypocrisy, and dishonesty, journalists – apart from a few honourable exceptions – win hands down. If you can call it winning…. As a journalist I lied often, usually about my sources, but about other things, too.  Journalists can and do get away with lying; politicians and staff can’t. Nor should they.

How about that? It’s sort of okay for journos to tell whoppers – but not politicians or political staffers.  And now Jackie’s (male) co-owner awaits the publication of Niki Savva’s latest book – a tome with the title Highway to Hell: The Coup that Destroyed Malcolm Turnbull and Left the Liberals in Ruins. (Scribe).

Except, er, that this will no longer be the title. The blurb put out by Scribe before the May 2019 election sort of explains the problem. Here it is:

In an enthralling sequel to her bestselling The Road to Ruin, Niki Savva reveals the inside story of eight days of madness that cast a Liberal prime minister and his party into the outer darkness of Australian politics. On 21 August 2018, 35 Liberal MPs cast their vote against Malcolm Turnbull, effectively signalling the end of his leadership. Three days later, the deed was done, and Scott Morrison was anointed prime minister.

Abbott’s relentless campaign of destabilisation, helped along by his acolytes in the Parliament and by his powerful media mates, the betrayals of colleagues, and the rise of the religious right, climaxing in the challenge by Peter Dutton, all played a part in Turnbull’s downfall. But so did Turnbull’s own poor political judgement. He was a good prime minister and a terrible politician. The good bits of Malcolm were not enough to make up for the bad Malcolm. Nevertheless, the sheer brutality of his removal left many Liberals aghast.

So there you have it.  In the lead-up to the May 2019 election, Ms Savva wrote a manuscript with only a final chapter to put in. It was to describe the “Hell” into which the Liberal Party had descended following the decision of the Liberal Party room in Canberra to replace Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister in August last year.  This, according to Ms Savva’s crystal ball, was to be consummated in the defeat of Scott Morrison’s government at the polls this year.  Which, as everyone now knows, did not happen.

So, what to do?  Easy, really. First, change the title of the tome. Out with Highway to Hell: The Coup that destroyed Malcolm Turnbull and left the Liberals in Ruins – it’s been despatched down the memory hole.  And in with the brand new title Plots and Prayers: Malcolm Turnbull’s demise and Scott Morrison’s ascension.

That’s how a book describing why the Liberal Party lost the 2019 election metamorphosed into how the Liberal Party won the 2019 election.  Can You Bear It?


Lotsa thanks to the avid reader who drew MWD’s attention to ABC Radio presenter and Nine columnist Richard Glover’s piece in The Washington Post on 20 May 2019 titled “10 key lessons from Australia’s poll-defying election results”.

Reading your man Glover’s hindsight-analysis of the 2019 election, you wonder why so many of his ABC and Nine Newspapers (Sydney Morning Herald, The Age) colleagues got the likely outcome of the election so wrong.  Including Laura Tingle (the ABC’s chief political correspondent who also writes a column for Nine’s Australian Financial Review). MWD will examine La Tingle’s pre-election prophecies in next week’s issue.

According to The Thought of Richard Glover, Scott Morrison’s success was due to (i) Labor leader Bill Shorten’s crowded policy agenda, (ii) a Coalition scare campaign, (iii) Scott Morrison’s unilateral campaigning style with little help from colleagues, (iv) the division in the electorate on climate change which helped the Coalition in Queensland, (v) Labor’s policy to abandon franking credits for some four per cent of the population, (vi) Australia’s class system, (vii) Rupert Murdoch (of course) and (viii) the difficulty of implementing economic reform.

Er, that’s it.  But what about the promised 10 lessons? What are the missing two? – MWD hears you cry.

Well, here they are.  Betting agencies should not pay out on an election outcome before the results are in.  According to your man Glover, “Sportsbet was – along with everyone else – so certain of the election result, it paid out on bets predicting a Labor victory…”. So it did.  But it is incorrect to state that “everyone” predicted a Labor win.  Perhaps at the ABC and Nine – but that’s not Australia. The other point was “don’t believe polls” – thanks for that.

What Richard Glover overlooked was the fact that Scott Morrison’s government won back support in areas where the Coalition performed poorly in 2016 – northern Tasmania, western Sydney, central and northern Queensland. He ignored the fact that the Prime Minister’s social conservatism and commitment to job creation, including in mining and industry, was a key factor in the success of the Coalition.

The fact is that the Liberal Party’s internal polling found that, from April 2019, the Coalition was ahead in enough marginal seats to prevail in May.  Mr Glover and his colleagues at the taxpayer funded public broadcaster had no idea of this – primarily because most live in the inner-city and have no feel for life in the suburbs and regional areas. And now your man Glover is telling Americans about Australia. Can You Bear It?

[Er, no.  Not really. But at least it’s a step up from Richard Glover’s Washington Post piece of 26 February 2019 where he advised American readers – if readers there were – that he could recall the “dandruff on his [George Pell’s] clerical collar” when he met Pell some years ago. Now that’s real insight.  MWD Editor.]

Media Fool Of The Week


As the saying goes, it’s foolish to make predictions – especially about the future.

In recent times Peter (“Look at me”) FitzSimons – he of the Red Bandanna – has become the Fool of Sydney.  He is forever moralising about this or that and telling people how to live their lives. It is as if Fitz is of the view that most Australians believe in the causes advanced by middle-aged millionaires who live in Sydney’s Lower North Shore and walk around with a red rag on their heads.  It hasn’t worked. Voters rejected Fitz’s assertion that they should vote against Gladys Berejiklian’s Coalition government in the NSW State election last March as a protest against the demolition and re-build of the Allianz Stadium in Sydney.  Again, on 18 May voters rejected Fitz’s advice to bring down the Coalition government led by Scott Morrison. But there’s more.

At 6.52 am on the morning of Sunday 25 November 2018, The Red Bandannaed One announced the main story in his Sun-Herald column that very morning. Here’s the announcement:

Peter FitzSimons‏ @Peter_Fitz

My Sunday column: ‘The walls are closing in’: 2GB management wants Alan Jones out….

6:52 AM – 25 Nov 2018

When readers – if readers there were – reached for the Sun Herald  later that morning this is what they found in “The Fitz Files”:

To cut to the chase, Alan Jones’s contract is up in the middle of next year, and current 2GB management does not want to renew it. There are a variety of reasons, but first and foremost is that Jones has in recent times gone from being the biggest asset the station possesses – and the greatest generator of profits – to being a massive liability.

The record $3.7 million defamation payout to Toowoomba’s Wagner family is a big part of that. Jones’ repeated slurs of the family over years were simply shocking, most particularly when, as the court case showed, Jones had no basis for accusing them of “murder” at all. The reckoning is that if Jones is so wildly reckless as to engage in that kind of defamation in his twilight years as a broadcaster, just what might he do next, and how much would that defamation cost?

The second factor is that with the advent of social justice warriors such as Sleeping Giants pursuing Jones’s sponsors online over being associated with his brand of bigotry, racism, misogyny and bullying – take your pick – many of those sponsors are not just running from Jones’s show, but all of 2GB. He has, in sum, lost the confidence of the management, and they want him gone.

On Tuesday it was announced that Jones had signed a contract, at around $4 million per annum, to remain at 2GB Radio in Sydney for the next two years.  It seems that 2GB management accepted Alan Jones’ error with respect to the Wagner family. Moreover, it has been unmoved by the leftist Sleeping Giants’ advocacy to get rid of him and has rejected Fitz’s view that Alan Jones is possessed of “bigotry, racism, misogyny and bullying”.  Adam Lang, 2GB’s chief executive, drew attention to the fact that “Alan Jones has dominated Sydney radio” over two decades and said that “all of us at Macquarie are delighted that we will continue along for the ride [with Alan Jones]”. Which is a long way south of Fitz’s assertion of only six months ago that Mr Jones was “a massive liability” to 2GB.

In short, the Red Bandannaed One is a False Prophet.

Peter FitzSimons: Media Fool of the Week.



There has been considerable interest in Gerard Henderson’s obituary to Bob Hawke which appeared in MWD Issue 451 (17 May 2019). Interest focused on Hendo’s account of the Four Corners’

program he presented – titled “The Loved One” – which went to air on Monday 15 August 1994.  It coincided with the publication of Bob Hawke’s memoirs.  Among those interviewed for the program were Bob Hawke, Hazel Hawke, Blanche D’Alpuget, Susan Ryan, Kim Beazley, Gareth Evans, Jim McClelland, Max Walsh and John Ducker.

The late Ian Carroll was Four Corners’ executive producer at the time – and Mick O’Donnell was the producer of “The Loved One”.

In 1995, Professor Ross Fitzgerald asked Gerard Henderson to write on the topic “Affection” for his edited collection titled The Eleven Saving Virtues (October, 1995). Jackie’s (male) co-owner used the opportunity to describe the making of “The Loved One” – focusing on the affection which Bob Hawke believed Australians had for him – and his reciprocal affection for the Australian people.  Or something like that.

The Eleven Saving Virtues  is out of print and it pre-dated the online era.  Those who are interested in “The Making of the Loved One”, or Gerard Henderson’s interpretation of Bob Hawke, can read the essay here.


In Melbourne last weekend, Gerard Henderson picked up the very latest edition of Louise Milligan’s Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell (MUP, 2017 – reprinted with corrections 2017, 2018 and 2019).

The 2019 edition of Cardinal – which is said to contain what MUP calls “New Revelations” even though it is not clear what they are – is replete with endorsements.  First up, there are the high profile sneering secular commentators – mainly from the ABC, Nine Newspapers (Sydney Morning Herald and The Age), The Guardian Australia, The Saturday Paper and The New Daily. They include Annabel Crabb, David Marr, Peter FitzSimons, Kate McClymont and Quentin Dempster.  Most have no special knowledge of either criminal law in general or the Pell case in particular.

And then there are the prizes. So far, literary gongs for Louise Milligan’s book include the Walkley Book Award, the Melbourne Prize for Literature 2018 (Civic Choice Award), the Gold Quill 2017 and so on.

In view of all this praise – and in view of the fact that MUP has reprinted Cardinal on three occasions with corrections – it’s surprising that a number of factual errors remain in the book – along with numerous dubious and evidence-free claims.

The foreword to the most recent edition is by author Tom Keneally.  This was written after Cardinal Pell’s conviction in December 2018 on five charges of historical child sexual assault.  Another 22 charges were dismissed by a magistrate or dropped by the prosecution – some of the dropped charges are still presented by Milligan in Cardinal as if decisions of courts and prosecutions are of no interest to her if they favour George Pell.  Cardinal Pell’s appeal – on issues of fact and law – will be heard by the Victorian Court of Appeal on 5-6 June 2019.

In a strange claim in his foreword, Keneally asserts that Cardinal “is not a polemic”.  It is.  When Peter Craven reviewed Cardinal in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 5 June 2017, he wrote that it was a “racketing case for the prosecution”. He also referred to “plenty of inaccuracies” in the book and described Milligan as “a writer of flaming convictions and sensationalist prose who backs her intuitions in the face of any notion of evidence or scruple”.

In any event, Tom Keneally’s foreword concentrates not so much on the crimes for which Cardinal Pell has been convicted – and which he is appealing – but on Pell’s political, social and religious views.  The foreword refers to George Pell’s relationships with Tony Abbott and John Howard and mentions climate change, asylum seeker policies and so on. In short, Keneally described Pell as “a notable neo-conservative” and stated that his conviction had resulted in “an inestimable loss…to the forces of the right when they find themselves uniquely out of fashion with the Australian electorate”. Note, Tom Keneally’s piece was written before the May 2019 federal election.  Today it is by no means clear that what Keneally describes as “the forces of the right” are “out of fashion” in Australia.  However, such political considerations should have no relevance to a criminal conviction – as Keneally should know.

Tom Keneally concluded his foreword by criticising George Pell’s (alleged) “flawed response to child sexual abuse by clergy” – this despite the fact that he was one of the first Catholic leaders in the world to address the crime. A reader of Keneally’s foreword might get the impression that Keneally is not convinced by the guilty verdict in the second trial – but believes that someone high in the Catholic Church had to be punished for its errors of commission and omission with respect to clerical child sexual abuse over the decades.

In the original and subsequent editions of Cardinal, Louise Milligan writes that it has always been her journalistic practice to send “a list of questions” to people she is writing about.  She sent such a list to Cardinal Pell’s staff before completing the first edition of her book. Before reviewing Cardinal in The Sydney Institute Review Online, Gerard Henderson sent a list of questions to Ms Milligan. She did not reply. Instead she sought the protection of her publisher at MUP – then Louise Adler.  Ms Adler emailed Gerard Henderson advising him that Cardinal was a good book – in other words, go away.

As it turned out, Ms Milligan has never replied to the  questions about such issues as the use of anonymous sources, constructed quotations created decades after conversations allegedly took place, the fallibility of memory, hearsay, the use of the word “if” and so on.  These are all important issues which any writer should be able and willing to discuss. Nor has Louise Milligan corrected the historical errors drawn to her attention by Gerard Henderson in his questions and in his review – or to those identified by Peter Craven and others.

Presumably, Louise Milligan refused to answer Gerard Henderson’s questions because she had no plausible responses.  After all, Ms Milligan told ABC TV News Breakfast on 17 May 2017 that Cardinal was written “from the complainants’ point of view”.  In other words, it is a book about advocacy – not scholarship.  That’s possibly why Ms Milligan regards queries about evidence as not requiring an answer or even an acknowledgement.

Gerard Henderson’s questions of 30 May 2017 – concerning which Louise Milligan did not have the courage to respond to, despite expecting others to respond to her questions – can be read here.

And now for an example of some of the errors which still remain in Cardinal after four editions.  They indicate a degree of laziness, or denial in the face of criticism, on the author’s behalf.

▪ There are several references in the 2019 edition of Cardinal to George Pell walking pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale to court in 1993 in Warrnambool.  In fact, Ridsdale pleaded guilty to child sexual assault at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.  This is a significant error since, in 1993, Pell was an auxiliary bishop of the Melbourne Archdiocese. He was asked by the Melbourne Archdiocese’s curia to walk Ridsdale to the court door – which he did.  Pell declined to give character evidence for Ridsdale.

If the court case had been in Warrnambool, which is in the Diocese of Ballarat, Pell would not have been obliged to carry out the wishes of the Ballarat curia. In other words, it appears from Cardinal that walking with Ridsdale (allegedly in Warrnambool) would have been a voluntary act on Pell’s behalf. It wasn’t.  There is footage and still photography of Pell’s walk with Ridsdale in 1993 – this clearly demonstrates that the event took place in the Melbourne CBD – not Warrnambool.

The 2019 edition of Cardinal corrects the Warrnambool claim early on. But not on Pages 201 and 229 where the original howler that the Ridsdale case was heard in Warrnambool remains.

▪ At Page 142, Milligan writes that Ridsdale shared presbytery accommodation with the (then) young priest Paul Bongiorno in Ballarat East.  Such accommodation was shared in Warrnambool.  This is evident to anyone who has examined the reports of the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse where the relationship between Ridsdale and Bongiorno is discussed. Again, this error was drawn to Ms Milligan’s attention but remains uncorrected after three re-prints. By the way, Milligan referred to Pell sharing accommodation for a year with Ridsdale as an “infamous” fact – but made no such claim with respect to Bongiorno.  Cardinal is that kind of book.

In reviewing Cardinal for The Weekend Australian (11 June, 2017), Gerard Windsor described Cardinal as the “case for the prosecution”.  It would seem that Louise Milligan is so dedicated to advancing the case against George Pell that she cannot be bothered to make corrections concerning errors which have been drawn to her attention.

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The decision of the Supreme Court of Victoria to live-stream George Pell’s appeal – which will be heard by the Court of Appeal in Melbourne next Wednesday and Thursday – is to be welcomed.  According to reports, it is consistent with Cardinal Pell’s wishes.  Cardinal Pell’s legal team is led by Bret Walker SC. The grounds of appeal are as follows:

  1. The verdicts are unreasonable and cannot be supported having regard to the evidence because on the whole of the evidence, including unchallenged exculpatory evidence from more than 20 Crown witnesses, it was not open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on the word of the Complainant alone.
  2. The Trial Judge erred by preventing the defence from using a moving visual representation of its impossibility argument during the closing address.
  3. There was a fundamental irregularity in the trial process because the accused was not arraigned in the presence of the jury panel, as required by sections 210 and 217 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009.

There has been much misreporting of the sentencing decision in R v George Pell.  Some journalists did not understand that appeal counts can overturn jury verdicts on matters of fact as being unsafe.  While some others believe that the trial judge agreed with the jury’s verdict – despite the fact that Peter Kidd SC, the Chief Judge of the Court, made it emphatically clear that it was not his role to second-guess the decision of the jury.

Now there is an opportunity for journalists, commentators and others to watch an appeal in real time and learn how the judicial system operates in Victoria.

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Until next time.

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