ISSUE – NO. 454

7 June 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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  • STOP PRESS: 7:30 engages Pell antagonist David Marr as sole commentator on George Pell v The Queen

  • Can You Bear It? Michael Rowland and Mark Knight; Phillip Williams on Donald Trump; Tony Wright on the Liberal Party; Mike Carlton on Jimmy Barnes

  • FIVE PAWS AWARD: Step forward Insiders’ Barrie Cassidy

  • Jackie on the Campaign Trail: Laura Tingle’s election prophecy shocker

  • Great Media U-Turns of Our Time: John (“call me doctor”) Hewson’s Native Title flip-flop

  • Hyperbole of the Week: Mike Carlton stars by equating the liberation of Paris in 1944 with his decision to cancel a newspaper subscription in 2019

  • An ABC Update: Expensive travels with Four Corners’ Sarah Ferguson in pursuit of the non-story Donald Trump Russia Collusion “story”

  • Correspondence: PVO helps out on predictions (True & False)

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ABC chair Ita Buttrose’s views on bias at the public broadcaster were quoted in full in last week’s MWD. Of particular note was Ms Buttrose’s comment that “sometimes…people, without knowing it, let a bias show through”.

Perhaps this explains ABC TV 7.30’s decision last night to interview David Marr – yes, David Marr – to discuss the two-day proceedings in the Victorian Court of Appeal in the case of George Pell v The Queen.  This is how the piece was introduced:

Leigh Sales:  A court has finished hearing an appeal against the conviction of Cardinal George Pell for historic child sex charges. Pell stands convicted of five assault charges against two choir boys in Melbourne in 1990s. Guardian Australia journalist David Marr, was at the hearing – and we spoke earlier. David, you’ve been in court. Could you please briefly summarise for us the grounds for appeal being mounted by George Pell’s defence team?

As MWD readers are well aware, left-wing publications like the Guardian Australia serve as a kind of inter-change bench when the ABC is looking for non-ABC commentators to appear on its programs.

Decisions as to the talent who is invited to appear on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster are made by executive producers – not by presenters. Justin Stevens is 7.30’s executive producer.

The decision by 7.30 to engage David Marr as the sole commentator on George Pell v The Queen is extraordinary. Mr Marr is a Pell antagonist – who has written a hostile book on the cardinal.  As a vehement Pell critic, Marr is only matched by ABC TV’s very own Louise Milligan.

Writing in the Guardian Australia about George Pell v The Queen yesterday, David Marr described the performance by the prosecution’s Christopher Boyce SC as a “train wreck” – stating that at times he found himself lost for words. However, Marr did not address the issue that Mr Boyce’s apparent poor performance before the Court of Appeal could have been due to the fact that the prosecution’s case is weak.

On 7.30, however, David Marr avoided comment on Christopher Boyce’s performance. Instead he gave some support for the view that the complainant’s evidence was “compelling”.  It’s not clear how Marr could reach such a conclusion.  Certainly he gave no grounds for doing so. It is a matter of public record that the jury at the first trial did not come to this conclusion.

David Marr also told Leigh Sales that the three Court of Appeal judges “authoritatively stated” that it was possible for Pell to have committed sexual assault while wearing archbishop robes.  The court has made no such finding – and adjourned its decision.  Also, this comment is inconsistent with David Marr’s later assertion on 7.30  that the Court of Appeal “will be handling the robes tonight” (i.e. Thursday night).  If the Court of Appeal has made an authoritative finding on this issue – why would it need to examine the robes? [By the way, there are a couple of typos in the ABC’s transcript of this interview.  For example, it has “roads” instead of “robes”.]

Once again, the ABC’s lack of professionalism was evident again last night.  It should have interviewed both a Pell supporter and a Pell antagonist.  Or it should have spoken to someone like Melbourne Law School Professor Jeremy Gans who has demonstrated a capacity to discuss the case with objectivity.

However, 7.30’s decision to engage a Pell antagonist David Marr to be its sole commentator on George Pell v The Queen is an example of what the new ABC chair has described as unconscious bias.

Can You Bear It


ABC TV News Breakfast co-presenter Michael Rowland is something of a MWD fave.  However, he went over the top when endorsing Herald-Sun cartoonist Mark Knight’s take on the Australian Federal Police raids on a home and subsequently an office of journalists.

MWD feels sympathy for anyone whose house or office was raided by the AFP. However, it is hyperbole to equate such police action in a democracy like Australia with what occurred in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.  No one knows the fate of the brave man who stood in front of a Chinese People’s Liberation Army tank during the Tiananmen Square massacre.  Everyone knows that no such violence was used with respect to any Australian journalist. In the case of the raid on ABC’s Ultimo Headquarters, it appears that the AFP obtained security passes from the ABC before entering the building.

In recent days, editors and journalists in Australia have comprehensively criticised the AFP’s actions. Any such criticism in China during any time in the last three decades would surely result, at best, in incarceration within the Chinese gulag prison system – and, at worst, disappearance or death. Sometimes a bit of perspective is useful. Can You Bear It?


 As far as MWD can determine, President Donald J. Trump’s current visit to Britain (to meet the Queen and others) and France (to commemorate the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944) have gone well. Sure, there were some protestors in London – including Labour leader Jeremy (“Let’s give communism a chance”) Corbyn – but fewer than expected.  The visit went as well as could be expected.  And President Trump’s performance in France was of a high standard – where he joined with French president Emmanuel Macron in remembering the fallen on D-Day.

Enter Philip Williams. Your man Williams seems to have been on international assignments for the ABC since Adam was a boy.  He is currently part of the taxpayer funded public broadcaster’s staff-collective based in London. And so it came to pass that your man Williams was given the task of previewing the Trump visit for the influential ABC Radio AM program. This is how his report was introduced by AM presenter Sabra Lane:

In a few hours US President Donald J. Trump will touch down in the UK for his first state visit to Britain.  He has been there before but this time there will be a banquet at Buckingham Palace and tea with Prince Charles. And later in the week he will join Scott Morrison and others leaders for the 75th D-Day Landing commemorations. But while officially the red carpet will be rolled out at every stop, not everyone is looking forward to the Trump juggernaut – as chief foreign correspondent Philip Williams reports from London.

As if acting on a briefing, your man Williams took up the line that “not everyone is looking forward to the Trump visit”.  A meaningless comment, to be sure, since not everyone in Britain agrees on anything or everything.

In any event, Philip Williams could not find anything positive to say about the United States’ head of state’s visit to Britain – one of the US’s most important allies.  When reporting President Trump’s friendship with Conservative Party prime ministerial contender Boris Johnson, Williams even went out of his way to remind listeners that the man he called “Boris” had criticised Donald Trump four years ago. Really.

This is how the ABC’s intrepid reporter in London conducted his story after having spoken to only one Londoner who, of course, declared his opposition to the visit:

Last time Donald Trump visited Britain a year ago he made headlines with his poor understanding of protocol, at one stage blocking the Queen as they inspected an Honour Guard. Hundreds of thousands of anti-Trump protestors flooded the streets of London last visit and they will be equally determined to send that same message again: “Donald Trump, go home.”

This is Philip Williams in London reporting for AM.

This is mere sneering presented as journalism – which is so common on the ABC.  Sure some Londoners ran the “Donald Trump go home” line.  So what?  The point is that Philip Williams’ negative report falsely implied that the US president’s state visit would be a dud. It wasn’t.  The Australian taxpayer pays good money for such sludge.  Can You Bear It?


Thanks to the avid reader who drew Jackie’s (male) co-owner’s attention to the opinion piece by Nine newspapers’ Tony Wright in The Age on Saturday 18 May 2019 – yes, the morning of the 2019 election.  Titled “Liberals so far from Menzies as imaginable”, the article told the story of Tony Wright’s old man – alas, he was not given a name – and how he “wouldn’t recognise the Liberal Party if he were alive today”. Sadly, Wright the Father died six years ago at age 94.

According to Wright the Son, Wright the Father’s opinion about the contemporary Liberal Party “would likely to be close to unprintable”.  But it was printed anyway.  According to Wright the Son, Wright the Father would regard the Liberal Party under Scott Morrison’s leadership as “an outfit that has consigned the remaining members of its ministry to metaphorical witness protection, gagged and out of sight, while its latest leader preaches inanities…”.

And so it went on. And on. Including this:

Should the bookies and the polls be right and the Morrison-led Coalition be shown the exit this weekend, you need only search for something the more vacuous of Liberals call “the base” to begin to understand what happened.

When you spend your waking hours searching for something that doesn’t exist, you are lost. Oh, we can hear the screams from here. The base represents the foundation of the party; the thing that holds it up. But today’s so-called base explains nothing but why the Liberal edifice is toppling.

Those espousing the need to shout out to “the base” are from the hard right. They have bastardised the idea of what constitutes a conservative. My father and vast numbers of Menzian Liberals believed that to be conservative meant valuing constancy and middle-of-the-road traditions and decency….

What Wright the Son failed to understand is that Scott Morrison did re-unite the Liberal Party base after he succeeded Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister in late August 2018.  That’s why the party was able to man the polling booths on election day.  And that’s why financial support for the Coalition increased as the election approached. Included in this base, are the social conservatives who support Scott Morrison.

Wright the Son’s rant continued targeting “Sky After Dark”, the Murdoch press, the Institute of Public Affairs and evangelicals and so on. Yawn – the usual targets of leftist journalists – along with supporters of Donald Trump and Brexit.  Yawn squared.  Then there was this conclusion:

Instead of reaching out and seeking to persuade and invite new members or those who feel disenfranchised, the Liberal Party’s Conservatives are shouting in a vacuum, while much of the nation has passed by. I’m rather glad my father, of the rusted-on generation, isn’t around to see what has happened to his party. Or what seems likely to happen to it this weekend.

The fact is that Tony Wright has no idea of what his father would have thought if he had lived another six years.  Just as Tony Wright had no idea what would happen to the Liberal Party in the 2019 election. Can’t The Age’s opinion pages do better than this?  Can You Bear It?


For continuing evidence that there seems to be one law for conservatives and quite another for leftists (who like to be called “progressives”) – you need not go beyond Mike Carlton’s tweet concerning last Monday’s ABC TV Q&A program..  The panel included rock star Jimmy Barnes and the Liberal MP for Boothby Nicolle Flint MP.

Here’s Comrade Carlton’s tweet:

Never have I admired Jimmy Barnes so much as tonight. How does he not leap from his seat and strangle the Liberal shill on his right ? #QandA

So there you have it.  Your man Carlton was wondering why Comrade Barnes does not strangle a small woman half his strength and age – because Carlton does not like what she is saying. Imagine if a conservative commentator had made such a remark with respect to a leftist (read “progressive”) woman. Just imagine.

For the record, among the five member panel – Barnes took up about a third of the conversation at 31 per cent.  Compared with Ms Flint 23 per cent. In other words, the bloke was the garrulous one. And that’s not counting the words in the song Shutting Down Our Town which Barnes sang at the end of the program.

By the way, when some individuals objected to Comrade Carlton’s apparent endorsement of violence, he told them all to “f-ck off”.  How clever is that?  Can You Bear It?

Media Watch Dog’s Five Paws Award was inaugurated in Issue Number 26 (4 September 2009) during the time of Nancy (2004-2017). The first winner was ABC TV presenter Emma Alberici.  Ms Alberici scored for remembering the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 23 August 1939 whereby Hitler and Stalin divided Eastern Europe between Germany and the Soviet Union.  And for stating that the Nazi-Soviet Pact had effectively started the Second World War, since it was immediately followed by Germany’s invasion of Poland (at a time when the Soviet Union had become an ally of Germany).

Over the years, the late Nancy’s Five Paws Award has become one of the world’s most prestigious gongs – rating just below the Nobel Prize and Academy Awards.


As former prime minister Paul Keating once remarked, it is a considerable achievement to set up something new that lasts for a decade or more.

ABC TV’s Insiders, which commenced with an original idea by Barrie Cassidy, has run on Sunday mornings since 2001.  He has been the presenter since then and will front his final program tomorrow.

Of course, Barrie Cassidy did not create Insiders alone.  He was supported by ABC managers Max Uechtritz and Gaven Morris.  Also Kate Torney played a formidable role as the program’s inaugural executive producer in bringing a political diversity to the Insiders panel which is not found on some other ABC programs.  And Mike Bowers developed Insiders’  “Talking Pictures” segment.

Insiders is perhaps ABC news and current affairs’ most successful program – in that it outrates all competitors in its 9 am Sunday time-slot.  This is quite an achievement.

Barrie Cassidy: Five Paws.


There was enormous interest in the “news” in last week’s MWD that today’s issue would look at Laura Tingle’s coverage of the 2019 election campaign in the days leading up to Saturday 18 May.

Now, this is a reasonable undertaking to make. After all, La Tingle was announced as a great “get” when she moved in early 2018 – from being the Australian Financial Review’s political editor to the role of ABC TV’s 7.30’s political correspondent.

This is one of the most important positions in political commentary in Australia.  In addition to her leading role at 7.30, Ms Tingle also appears regularly on Phillip Adams’ “little wireless program” Late Night Live on ABC Radio National as well as on ABC TV’s Insiders (where she appears to be the lead panelist).

Now back to the issue at hand.  Writing in ABC News Online on Saturday 11 May 2019 – Ms Tingle had this to say:

In the wake of the last of the leaders’ debates, and the debacle for the Coalition of the Daily Telegraph attack on Bill Shorten over his mum, the leaders got back on their planes and buses to visit electorates across the country.

But something had shifted. The Prime Minister didn’t have anything much to say out on the road: he was back defending Coalition seats. There was increasing pressure to explain where all his ministers were. There were conflicting messages about how he really did believe in climate change, but didn’t want the economy tied up in green tape.

There was a sense within the Coalition that its campaign had run out of steam, even before the official “launch” of the campaign in Melbourne on Sunday. On the ground around the country, Coalition assessments have turned much blacker in the past week: Tony Abbott is gone in Warringah.

The NSW seats of Gilmore and Reid seem lost, and the Coalition may not even pick up Lindsay from Labor.

Cowper may be lost to Rob Oakeshott, and Farrer, despite Sussan Ley’s 20 per cent margin, to a local mayor. Senior cabinet ministers are panicking and drawing in resources to protect their own seats.

This analysis was hopelessly wrong.  As we now know, the Liberal Party’s internal polling showed that the Coalition had a good chance of retaining government.  Prime Minister Scott Morrison was still campaigning in marginal seats and there was no evidence that his campaign had run out of steam or that Cabinet ministers were panicking.  And, by the way, the Daily Telegraph’s criticism of Bill Shorten for not pointing out that, late in life, his mother obtained a law degree made no impact on the campaign.

Now move closer to Election Day.  Bob Hawke’s death, which was announced late in the afternoon of Thursday 16 May, truncated political coverage on that evening. But La Tingle had her crystal ball out in the previous and subsequent day.

Wednesday, 15 May:  This is the exchange which took place between 7.30 presenter Leigh Sales and Laura Tingle:

Leigh Sales: Labor has not lost a Newspoll since the last election, as we know. Is Labor still going into the election on Saturday as a front-runner?

Laura Tingle: It is going in as a front runner. Most people think that Labor – most people on both sides of politics think that Labor is on track for a win. The question is how big?  And the Liberal Party may pick up a couple of seats around the country but will not be in a position to form a government.

So that’s pretty clear. Not “may” or “might” or any qualifying terms like those. But “will”.  7.30’s chief political correspondent – without dissent from Ms Sales – declared that Scott Morrison “will” not be in a position to form a government on Saturday 18 May.

By the way, Laura Tingle said that the key to the election would turn on “what happens in Melbourne and Brisbane”. She added: “if those seats start to swing quite strongly [to Labor] that suggests that the result is going to be a comfortable Labor win rather than a very tight result.”

Then on Friday 17 May, Laura Tingle had this to say:

Laura Tingle: …While the two-party-preferred vote shows the parties neck and neck, the noise generated by the vote for the minor parties – and the very local nature of many campaigns involving Independents and three-cornered contests – means the primary vote of the major parties may be a better indicator. The Coalition’s primary vote is 38.3% [attributed to], almost four points lower than the 42% it polled in 2016 when it achieved a one-seat majority. That gives you an idea of how big a battle the government faces to be re-elected. On a seat-by-seat basis, the task of the Coalition – thanks to defections and redistributions – is the equivalent of having to win four seats back from Labor or Independents and also lose none.

There followed La Tingle’s predictions which, summarised, were as follows:

▪ Seats rated as Labor gain or Labor win: Swan, Chisholm, Dunkley, Reid, Gilmore, Robertson, Forde, Flynn, Bonner – i.e. 9.
  Seats rated as Labor possible gains: Hasluck, Stirling, Pearce, Higgins, Deakin, Corangamite, Flinders, La Trobe – i.e. 8.
  Seats Labor actually gained: Dunkley, Gilmore, Corangamite – i.e. 3.

▪ Seats rated as LNP gain: Braddon, Wentworth, Herbert – i.e. 3.
  Seats rated as possible LNP gain: Bass, Indi – i.e. 2.
  Seats LNP actually gained: Braddon, Wentworth, Herbert, Bass, Lindsay, Longman, Chisholm – i.e. 7.

▪ Seats rated as independent gain: Cowper, Warringah – i.e. 2.
  Seats independents actually gained: Warringah – i.e. 1.

Laura Tingle’s “ultra-conservative” prediction was as follows: Labor gains 10, LNP gains 3, Independents gain 2.  The actual results were – Labor gained 3, LNP gained 7, Independents gained 1.

Moreover the Coalition’s primary vote was 41.5 per cent – compared with Laura Tingle’s predicted 38.3 per cent.

The point is that 7.30’s political correspondent did not have to make any predictions about the election result.  She chose to do so and was hopelessly wrong. Has La Tingle explained to 7.30 viewers why she erred so badly? Not on your Nelly. Being a journalist means never having to say you are sorry for errors of commission or omission.


Former Liberal Party leader John Hewson – who lost the other “unlosable” election in 1993 – is a fave of both the ABC and Nine newspapers (Sydney Morning Herald, The Age). The leftists at the taxpayer funded public broadcaster and Nine newspapers just love it when someone they can describe as a former Liberal Party leader bags the Liberal Party every morning, every night and frequently during the day. That’s why Dr Hewson (for a doctor he is) gets such a run on the ABC and in Nine newspapers.

On 31 May 2019 John Hewson’s weekly SMH/Age column was titled “It’s time to earn our welcome to country: give first peoples a Voice”. The writer was described as a “columnist” and “former Liberal opposition leader”.

So it came to pass that the former Liberal Party leader decided to lecture about Indigenous Australians. By the way, in his article Dr Hewson referred to Prime Minister Scott Morrison as “Morrison”.  [Does Nine newspapers have no (courteous) sub-editors? – MWD Editor.]

In his column John Hewson made some reasonable points about the recognition of the First Australians. But what was absent from the column was even a modicum of self-awareness.  You be the judge.  This is what Dr Hewson wrote on 31 May 2019:

It is an issue of great shame to our nation that, in the nearly 250 years since Cook arrived in 1770, the issues of recognition and disadvantage still remain unresolved. Indeed, it took until 1967 for the initial amendments to the Constitution to include Aboriginal Australians in determinations of population, and to empower the federal Parliament to legislate specifically for our First Australians. It then took a further 26 years to partially deal with the issue of Native Title, and a further 15 years for the issue of a National Apology to the Stolen Generations. These were all very important steps, but still collectively inadequate, and embarrassingly slow, for a nation accepting the realities of its history.

So, that’s pretty clear then.  It’s a matter of “great shame” that, inter alia, it took so long for Australia in 1993 “to partially deal with the issue of Native Title”. According to John Hewson circa 2019.

And this is what John Hewson said in the House of Representatives on 22 December 1993 – when Paul Keating’s Labor government introduced the Native Title Bill following the decision of the High Court in the Mabo Case. Let’s go to the Hansard record:

Dr HEWSON (Wentworth-Leader of the Opposition) (8.57 a.m.)…this is a day of shame for Australia that will haunt the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) and his government every hour of every day between now and the next election. The Prime Minister stood up here and put his hand over his heart, claiming to represent the interests of Australians in general and Aboriginal Australians in particular. He then set out to exploit the politics of this issue through the essence of his comments this morning. It was a classic piece of Keating hypocrisy.

The best way to encapsulate what has been done with this piece of legislation is to recognise that it is simply a deal and, as deals go – and this takes some doing – this is the new low watermark of deal making in this country. It was a deal stitched up between a weak Prime Minister, some Aboriginal leaders, one pastoralist and the minority parties in the Senate. In doing that deal, the Prime Minister sold out all Australians and the interests of all Australians. It was nothing more than a deal, stitched together for political ends. It reveals how far the Prime Minister will capitulate to the left wing of his own party in order to save his political hide.

In this speech to the House of Representatives, John Hewson also referred to the Native Title Bill as a “monstrous piece of legislation” and accused Prime Minister Keating of having “sold out” the miners, the farmers and “all other Australians”.

So, in 1993 John Hewson described the Native Title Bill as “a monstrous piece of legislation”. However, in 2019 he criticised the very same legislation as having only “partially” dealt “with the issue of Native Title”.

Surely, a Great Media U-Turn of Our Time.

[How frightfully interesting that your man Hewson has moved in a mere quarter of a century from accusing Paul Keating of having sold out the rights of miners to bagging coal and distributing anti-Adani mine flyers.  All this without even acknowledging his change of opinion. – MWD Editor.]


It was 8.04 pm on Sunday 2 June, not long after Gin & Tonic time, that Mike Carlton put out this tweet:

Mike Carlton‏

I feel this delicious Lightness of Being. A heady draught of Liberation !

Freedom ! It is like Paris, August 1944. I’ve just cancelled my subscription to The Australian.

Talk about the sense of self-importance.  Does anyone really care whether or not the Sage of Avalon Beach has a subscription to The Australian?  Is this really a hold-the-front-page story?  All this will mean is that Mike (“I’ll pour the gin”) Carlton will now be less informed than would otherwise be the case. Also he will be less able to target his political enemies at what he calls NewsCorpse – so expect fewer ranting tweets about Rupert Murdoch and so on.

But how about the hyperbole?  In August 1944 the Allies, advancing from the west, drove the German occupation army out of Paris.  This followed a series of deadly battles following the D-Day invasion of 6 June 1944 – led by British, Canadian and United States forces. Some Australians were involved in D-Day operations due primarily to their service in the Royal Air Force (RAF).

Sure there had been collaboration between some French and the Germans during the Nazi occupation of France.  But some French had fought bravely against the occupiers. And then there were the tens of thousands of French Jews who had been deported from France to concentration – including death – camps in German occupied Poland and elsewhere.

The liberation of Europe was one of the most important occasions in world history. And yet Mike Carlton reckons that the “freedom” he experienced in cancelling his very own subscription to The Australian on a Sunday in May 2019 equates with the freedom of the citizens of Paris who were liberated, after enduring years of rule by Nazi Germany, in August 1944. Turn it up.


In recent times, new ABC managing director and editor-in-chief David Anderson has warned of cut-backs in the taxpayer funded public broadcaster. On the other hand, the ABC’s new chair Ita Buttrose has implied that jobs may not need to be cut in order to meet budget realities. We shall see.

In the meantime, MWD offers some (gratuitous, of course) advice as to how the ABC could save money.  Cut back on overseas travel – and some overseas postings. That’s it.  Here is an example of why.


Let’s start with the Four Corners three part series on President Donald J. Trump and his (alleged) collusion with Russia in the lead-up to and during the November 2016 presidential election. It was titled “Trump/Russia”.   This is how the ABC presented its expensive three part series – which saw presenter Sarah Ferguson travel from Sydney to New York, Washington DC, London and Moscow in investigating the allegations that Donald Trump colluded with Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian government in Russia in order to win the November 2016 United States presidential election:

In a Four Corners special series, award winning investigative reporter Sarah Ferguson follows the spies and the money trail from Washington, to London, to Moscow. In this three-part series, Four Corners delivers a riveting account of the allegations and evidence from the characters central to the drama that has gripped the world. On Monday night, the story begins:

Follow the Money [5 June 2018]: Four Corners follows the money trail from New York to Moscow, tracking the ties between Trump, his business empire and Russia.

 Secrets, spies and useful idiots [12 June 2018] : In part two, Four Corners speaks to key protagonists at the centre of the unfolding drama over members of the Trump team accused of being compromised by Russia.

 Moscow Rules [19 June 2018] : In part three, Four Corners investigates the central allegations that members of the Trump team, including possibly the President himself, actively colluded with Russia to subvert American democracy.

Months in the making, filmed across the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia, Sarah Ferguson charts the extraordinary allegations, interrogating the evidence and interviewing central characters in this unfolding story that could be lifted from the pages of a blockbuster spy novel.

You bet it could do – with the emphasis on “novel”. And, yes, it was. Sarah Ferguson’s travels sounds like a Peter Stuyvesant cigarette advertisement of old – from Sydney, to Washington, to New York, to London and on to Moscow.  In search of a conspiracy which, as it turned out, never was.

This is how a breathless Ms Ferguson introduced the first of the three part Trump/Russia Series:

Tonight, we begin our special 3-part investigation into the story of the century – the election of US President Donald Trump and his ties to Russia.

So there you have it.  For Four Corners and the reporter, this was “the story of the century” – even though, as of 5 June 2018, there was no story at all.  Just an allegation. Moreover, many would regard such 21st Century events as the 9/11 attacks on the United States, Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq by the Coalition of the Willing – along with the rise of Islamist terrorism in Europe, India and Australia – as bigger stories than the Trump collusion allegations.  But there you go.


Monday 4 June 2018 “Follow the Money”:  Four Corners’ first interview with James Clapper (the US director of National Intelligence from 2010 to 2017 – a Barack Obama administration appointee). Clapper is a Trump-hater. This interview essentially sets the tone of the “Trump/Russia” series – which also ends with a quote from the Trump-hater James Clapper.

Later Ms Ferguson asserts: “Even the best informed spy could not have anticipated Donald Trump’s success; but if you planned to disrupt US politics, here was the perfect gift.” In fact, quite a few people believed that Trump would win both the Republican nomination and the 2016 Presidential election.  But, apparently, this outcome was not considered a possibility within the staff collective (or soviet) at Four Corners’ base in inner-city Ultimo in Sydney.

But MWD digresses.  Back to the Clapper interview. The Four Corners reporter was soon into leading questions of this kind: “Would Russian intelligence look at Trump’s business career as a vulnerability to exploit?” Needless to say, Clapper said “Yes”. He suggested that Russian intelligence might have obtained “compromising material” on Trump.  However, he had no evidence to back such speculation.

And so it went on. Ferguson’s next leading question was to the journalist Tim O’Brien, another Trump-hater. There followed coverage of Trump’s real and attempted business deals with Russia over the years.  Much gossip about this or that – but no evidence of collusion with respect to the 2016 presidential election.

There were also interviews with Sergey Aleksashenko, Republican Roger Stone, attorney Ken McCallion, Felix Sater, Diana Pilipenko.  “Follow the Money” did not lead to a pot of (political) gold. Er, that was it.  A lot of information about not very much at all.


11 June 2018 “Secrets, Spies and Useful Idiots”: Alas, in her second program, Ms Ferguson does not break any secrets or locate any spies.  Just lots of speculation.  And a person who confesses to being a “useful idiot” – how useful is that?

Sarah Ferguson describes Donald Trump’s role in the 2016 primaries as that of “the rogue Republican candidate”. It’s not clear in what sense Trump was a “rogue”.  At one stage, Ferguson said that “Trump not only defied political convention but flirted with notions of treason”. She provided no evidence for this serious allegation.  The Four Corners presenter cites Luke Harding – another Trump-hater and the author of Collusion – that what Christopher Steele’s sources were “telling him was that there was essentially a conspiracy”.  The British-born Steele is another Trump-hater who declined to stand by his own unverified dossier which was directed at taking Trump out of the presidential contest.

Discussion goes on – and on – without Ms Ferguson advancing the case that there was any collusion between Trump or the Trump campaign and Russia.  She grills Carter Page, a one-time adviser to the Trump campaign, but cannot shake his denials of any conspiracy.

Ferguson raises the issue of the meeting between (then) Australian High Commissioner to Britain Alexander Downer and small-time adviser in the Trump campaign George Papadopoulos. She speaks to Simona Mangiante, Papadopoulos’ wife, but to no consequence.  Papadopoulos told Downer that Russia had dirt on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and was planning to use it.  Downer reported the conversation to Australian authorities who passed the information on to US authorities which led the FBI to open an investigation.  Again, it came to naught.

Sarah Ferguson also interviewed Masha Gessen, Andrew Wood, Michael Isikoff, J.D. Gordon, Roger Stone, Sergey Aleksashenko, Dan Hoffman, and Michael McFaul. Neither Trump’s critics nor Trump’s supporters nor anyone else said anything of any importance.

So Episode 2 also broke no stories.  But it did conclude with the piece of hyperbole by Trump-hater James Clapper, encouraged by Ms Ferguson’s leading question:

Sarah Ferguson: You saw your nation convulsed by division caused by the Watergate scandal. How does this compare?

James Clapper: I don’t think, I think what’s going on now makes that pale. That was purely a domestic thing. We didn’t have the involvement of a foreign adversary, our prime foreign adversary, Russia, in that and so to me it’s much more worrisome.

Sarah Ferguson:  So, these are dangerous times?

James Clapper: They are.

Richard Nixon was impeached following the Watergate incident. It is unlikely that Trump will be impeached.  If he is, there is no prospect of him “doing a Nixon” and resigning from office. Nor did Bill Clinton when he was impeached. James Clapper’s Nixon/Trump comparison is absurd.


Monday 18 June 2018, “Moscow Rules”: And now for Four Corners’ finale – headed “Moscow Rules”. Except it doesn’t. Sarah Ferguson cannot find any evidence linking Vladimir Putin in particular, or Russia in general, to Donald Trump or the Trump campaign.

In Episode 3, Sarah Ferguson spends considerable time in Moscow – but fails to establish any link between the Trump campaign and Russia in spite of interviews with Margarita Simonyan, Sergey Aleksashenko, Masha Gessen, Michael McFaul, Robert Hannigan, Roger Stone and Michael Isikoff.

Four Corners’ intrepid reporter even reports – from Christopher Steele’s “dossier” – that Trump got involved with a number of hookers while staying at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow.  According to the story, he became compromised at this time. Evidence? Zip.

The “highlight” of Episode 3 turned on Four Corners’ journey to Moscow to meet the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.  Here’s how the interview went:

Natalia Veselnitskaya:  Sarah, you can ask me any question you like.

Sarah Ferguson: Are you a spy or an agent for the Russian government?

Natalia Veselnitskaya: No, of course not. I work only for myself.

Sarah Ferguson: Were you working for the Russian government when you went to Trump Tower?

Natalia Veselnitskaya: Of course not. I represent the interests of a Russian citizen in America and I struggle against powerful financial and government structures in the US.

Sarah Ferguson: When you read about yourself, about Natalia, in particularly the American media, do you recognise yourself in the stories?

Natalia Veselnitskaya:  No. Nothing about myself.

So there you have it.  Sarah Ferguson and her Four Corners team travelled all the way to Moscow to ask the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya whether she was a spy for Russia. The answer was in the negative.  Quelle surprise! And if she was, it’s not clear how this would have been capable of bringing down President Trump.

In the end, Sarah Ferguson concluded where she started – talking to the Trump-hater James Clapper.  And then Four Corners reporter ends up with a conclusion of her own.  Let’s go to the transcript again:

Archive Donald Trump, President Of The United States: We now call it “Spygate”. You’re calling it “Spygate”. A lot of bad things have happened. If you look at Clapper – he sort of admitted they had spies in the campaign.

Sarah Ferguson: A battle is now being waged in the United States, not only between political opponents but against the very institutions that were built to protect America.

Roger Stone: The President advocated and was elected on policies that deeply threatened a two-party duopoly, kind of a permanent government. Dwight Eisenhower called it the Military Industrial Complex. Today it’s called the Deep State.

Sarah Ferguson:  That “deep state” according to President Trump and his backers includes the Department of Justice, the FBI and the wider US intelligence community. It’s a battle that James Clapper says ignores the real enemy.

James Clapper: Russia is the existential threat to the United States. They are a foe of ours and I think right now the indifference to that imperils the country.

Sarah Ferguson: The Kremlin’s puppet master now has America dancing to his discordant tune. He couldn’t have planned it better.

What a load of absolute tosh.  There is no evidence today – and there was no evidence last year when Four Corners’  “Trump/Russia” series was aired – that Vladimir Putin (i.e. the Kremlin’s puppet master) has the United States “dancing to his discordant tune”. Ms Ferguson just made this up.

However, there is evidence that some senior figures in the FBI and the US intelligence services infiltrated the Trump campaign since they did not believe that Donald J. Trump should become the US president. This matter is currently being looked into by the US Attorney General William Barr.


There’s much more of the story about the 2016 Trump campaign to come but it is likely to involve interference in the campaign by the FBI and some intelligence services.  It can be said that at this stage Sarah Ferguson’s expensive and lengthy travels to the United States, Britain and Russia produced nothing to suggest that Trump colluded with Russia.  “Trump/Russia” used graphic footage along with dramatic music to liven up what was an expensive non-story story.

The ABC could have saved a lot of money waiting for The Mueller Report – i.e. the Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, III.  It found no collusion between President Trump and Russia – in spite of the fact that Mr Mueller and his Special Counsel team (which comprised many Hillary Clinton supporting Democrats) are no fans of President Trump.

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 was 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).


 As readers of The Weekend Australian will be aware, Gerard Henderson consistently held the view, in the lead-up to the 2019 election, that the Coalition had a pathway to victory – which could result in a (surprise) victory on 18 May 2019.  In his column last Saturday, Hendo revisited the issue and used the occasion to warn against the fallacy of dogmatically predicting election results – as many journalists have done in recent times.  Hendo’s conclusion was: “Only a fool would predict the outcome of the 2022 election. Just as only fools believed that Morrison could not prevail.”

It turned out that The Australian’s very own Peter van Onselen – who is also Network 10’s political editor and appears on 10’s The Project (which attempts to mix political commentary with comedy) threw the switch to Twitter to comment on Hendo’s column. This is what PVO had to say:

Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP)
1/6/19, 7:25 am

I’m not foolish enough to assume that the next federal election will be held in 2022, but I am convinced  Scott Morrison will win it…you can take that prediction to the bank! #auspol

Since PVO had got himself involved in this debate, Gerard Henderson wrote to him about political prophecy and all that. It turned out that Mr van Onselen had the good grace to acknowledge that his political predictions are invariably of the false kind.  Now read on – before you go to the bank:

Gerard Henderson to Peter van Onselen – 3 June 2019


I was amused by your tweet of last Saturday concerning the final para of my Weekend Australian column.

I note that you are “not foolish enough to assume that the next federal election will be held in 2022”. This from someone who has made so many foolish assumptions in the lead-up to the 2019 election – including a 6 pm call on Saturday 18 May that Labor would win 81 (or was it 86?) seats. Which is, I think you will agree, a long way south of Labor’s likely win of 68 seats.

Sure it’s possible the Coalition could call an early election for before 2022 – but unlikely. In any event, the next election is due in 2022.

It seems that you are channelling Bob Ellis – the late (and unlamented) False Prophet of Palm Beach.  If I were you, I would have given away sooth-saying around 7 pm on election night when those who were convinced that the Liberal Party could not win without Malcolm Turnbull were packing up the unopened champers and the untouched cucumber sandwiches.

Sure, Scott Morrison has a good chance of winning again in three years’ time – especially since the Coalition now only holds two of the ten most marginal seats. But anything can happen in this period.  I’m sure that the Morrison team is not convinced that it will win next time – but I’m sure that it will work hard to achieve a winning outcome.

I would suggest that you undertake a three day retreat – supervised by Jackie (Dip, Wellness, The Gunnedah Institute) and try to wean yourself off exuberant predictions.  They tell me that most journalists/commentators of the sooth-saying kind are loosed from their folly around Gin & Tonic time on the second day.

Give it a try.  It will make your commentary more considered – if less exciting.

Best wishes


Peter van Onselen to Gerard Henderson – 4 June 2019

Hi Gerard:)

I was just playing around. And yes I think I have FINALLY learnt my lesson re predictions, although as I think I said in the podcast (in the full version not the Media Watch short grab) for many reasons I would be happy to be wrong this time! I predicted 80 seats [for Labor], I had actually thought 78 but bumped it up when told what the exit polls said. I should have listened to the little buddy that told me the Coalition’s track polls had it coming in at a hung parliament – I just didn’t believe every other poll would be wrong!

But my track record at predictions is first class – I didn’t think Rudd would become Labor’s leader, when he did I didn’t think he’d be PM. Once PM I didn’t think he’d be rolled in his first term. Once rolled I didn’t think he’d come back. I thought Gillard would get a majority, didn’t think Abbott would ever be Liberal leader, when he was didn’t think he’d become PM (at first), once PM I just knew Liberals wouldn’t do to him what Labor did to Rudd. I was certain MBT [Malcolm Bligh Turnbull] would never come back as leader, when he did I thought he’d get a relatively comfortable majority in 2016. I didn’t think Liberals would seriously consider a move to Dutton, and yes I thought Shorten would win the last election. Should Scott Morrison worry that I think he’ll win the next election! Ha ha.

All the best (as always)


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Until next time.

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