ISSUE – NO. 489

20 March 2020

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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 – A kinder, gentler Leigh Sales

  • Editorial – Media responsibility at a time of pandemic

  • Can You Bear It? Mike Carlton blames John Howard for panic-buying (over a decade after he left office); Professor Mark Kenny verbals President Trump; Eureka Street’s Cristy Clark sees the evils of capitalism in toilet roll panic buying; Julian Burnside’s (temporary) snake oil advice on how to kill coronavirus

  • Jackie’s Take on Insiders – Another leftist joins the couch

  • Jackie on the Twitter prowl – Tony Windsor sneers at the PM’s religion; Bruce Haigh on “hordes of Morrison’s drooling and greedy bogans”

  • Quelle Surprise! – News Breakfast fails to note criticism of the ABC’s Dr Norman Swan

  • You Must Remember This – Dr Norman Swan’s appearances on The Biggest Loser

  • An ABC Update – More work required on Q+A’s Red Cross logo


Media Watch Dog’s occasional “Media Interrupter of the Week” gong has focused attention on the habit of some interviewers to interrupt politicians and others.  Winners this year include Fran Kelly and David Speers.  Leigh Sales was short-listed on one occasion and she appeared in “Stop Press” last Friday for her interview the previous night with Josh Frydenberg.  On one occasion she interrupted the Treasurer after he had spoken only 30 words.  On another, Comrade Sales put it to Josh Frydenberg that he lacked “political maturity and judgment”.  It was as unprofessional as that.

As avid readers will recall, on Tuesday 3 March 7.30 presenter Leigh Sales adopted an aggressive – and, at times, contemptuous – manner when interviewing Scott Morrison. She appeared more interested in letting viewers know her views than in allowing them to hear what the Prime Minister had to say.  ABC viewers and listeners, whatever their political positions, are clever enough to work out for themselves if a politician is being evasive by avoiding questions and fudging answers. They don’t need ABC journalists to tell them what is going on by interruptions and unprofessional behaviour.

So it was good to see the change of style last night when Leigh Sales interviewed Josh Frydenberg.  Ms Sales asked critical and challenging questions.  But she allowed the Treasurer to respond without constant interruptions.  And she seemed more interested in hearing what Mr Frydenberg had to say than in proclaiming her view about what he should be saying and doing. Here’s hoping that there are more such interviews on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster.

[Perhaps you should have given your prestigious Five Paws Award to Ms Sales this week. Just a thought. – MWD Editor.]



Australia and other nations are in uncharted waters with COVID-19 and, to state the obvious, the situation is changing day by day.  All the Morrison government can do is to act on the best medical and scientific advice with what is a life and death matter now – not in some 20 or 30 years into the future.

At this time, the media should assume the responsibility to report with caution.  This is not always the case. Take, for example, the way Nine Newspapers’ The Age and News Corps’ Herald-Sun covered comments on Tuesday 17 March made at a media conference the previous day by Dr Paul Kelly, Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer.

The Age decided to cover the story with a Page One lead with the heading “Fears 150,000 May Die”.   The Herald-Sun reported the same story, on Page 3, under the heading “Deaths set to exceed 50,000”.

The Age’s Page One story commenced: “Up to 150,000 Australians could die from the coronavirus under the federal government’s worse-case scenario….” The Herald-Sun’s Page 3 story commenced : “About 50,000 Australians could die from the coronavirus, even under the most conservative forecast by the federal government’s medical reports.”

There is a difference.  A Page One lead posting the scenario of 150,000 deaths is sure to increase alarm.  A Page 3 story posting the scenario of 50,000 deaths is something else.  It makes sense for a government medical official to discuss what could be the best and worst estimated outcome.  Yet some Nine newspapers bemoan the fact that a crisis mentality has led some Australians to panic buy – occasionally with violent behaviour – without realising that worst case scenarios can induce panic.

Can You Bear It


It’s over a decade since John Howard stepped down as prime minister. However, it would seem that the Howard-haters of recent memory have yet to go into political retirement.  How else to explain the tweet sent out by the Sage of Avalon Beach on 18 March 2020? Here it is:

So there you have it. According to Mike (“I’ll pour the gin”) Carlton – some Australians are hoarding toilet rolls, medicines and food in 2020.  And it’s all the fault of Australia’s twenty-fifth prime minister who stepped down in December 2007.  It’s not clear how your man Carlton explains individual greed and selfishness in, say, New Zealand and France.

If Comrade Carlton is correct, then it would seem that John Howard’s successors – Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison –  did nothing to turn back the culture of individual greed and selfishness in Australia which, apparently, Mr Howard “seeded”.  Needless to say, your man Carlton did not mention that unemployment was very low during the Howard years and immigration levels were high. Yet according to the Sage of Avalon Beach, the Howard years were a time when individual greed and selfishness swept the land. Can You Bear It?

[Er, no. Not really – now that you’ve asked, Comrade Carlton’s “blame-Howard-for-all-our-discontents” approach reminds me of what Mungo MacCallum told Good Weekend in February 2005 – in one of its “The-two-of-us” features.  Jenny Garrett, MM’s partner, advised Good Weekend that Mungo Man consumed lotsa booze only because he had been driven to the turps by John Howard and his government.  Your man MacCallum agreed with Ms Garrett’s (psychological) assessment – despite the fact that MM had had a drink or two in the years before John Howard became prime minister in 1996.  For my part, I blame thirst for my consumption habits in this area. – MWD Editor.]


Media Watch recalls that, once upon a time, professors at universities reached their exalted status following years of teaching and research – usually including in the publication of journal articles and books. Now, however, it seems that professors can achieve this glittering (academic) prize with a journalistic background as a media scribbler and commentator.

Take Mark Kenny, for example.  Your man Kenny – or, rather, Professor Mark Kenny – is a professor at the Australian National University’s Australian Studies Centre.  According to the ANU, the learned professor was born into academic life “after a high-profile journalistic career culminating in 6 years as chief political correspondent and national affairs editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times”.  It also mentions that the professor worked for the ABC before joining The Advertiser followed by Fairfax Media (as it then was).  But not that he was once a political staffer for a centre-left minister (Gavin Keneally) in the South Australian Labor government led by premier John Bannon or that he worked at the Centre for Labor Studies in Adelaide.  And it does not mention that the learned professor is the author of even one book.  Nor is there any reference to undergraduate degree or degrees.

Also the ANU’s  CV for Professor Kenny puts his journalistic career in the wrong order.   In fact, Comrade Kelly took the familiar journalistic path from being a Labor Party operative via the ABC to Fairfax Media (now Nine Newspapers), with a brief stop-over at  The Advertiser – between the leftist luvvies at the ABC and the leftist luvvies at the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

When Jackie’s (male) co-owner studied at the feet of professors all those decades ago, he understood that assertions should be backed by evidence.  And that it was not professor-compatible to verbal those with whom you disagreed, or anyone else for that matter.

It seems that Professor Kenny divides his time on Sundays between appearances on the ABC TV Insiders and Sky News Agenda programs. Last Sunday he put on his academic gown and headed to the Sky News studio in Parliament House in Canberra to take part in a panel discussion on the political events of the week.  Kieran Gilbert was the presenter and the second panellist was Andrew Clennell. Let’s go to the transcript where discussion turned on – you’ve guessed it – just how bad President Donald J. Trump really is.

Kieran Gilbert: The fact is, the other measures – I think Andrew’s right, in terms of those decisive measures that the [Morrison] government made early. It would be nice to see a few more right now. Like, you know, shut down travel from the United States. They do not look like they’ve got a handle on it, Mark.

Here Mark Kenny bagged Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s messaging along with the decision, subsequently changed, that he intended going to the football on Saturday. Mark Kenny continued:

Mark Kenny: I agree with that point you make about the US, for example. I mean it looks like a debacle the way it’s [COVID-19] been handled by the Trump administration. I mean, Trump was still calling it a hoax not that many days ago…

What a load of absolute tosh. Donald Trump never said that COVID-19 (sometimes referred to as the coronavirus) was “a hoax”. This is the full report of what President Trump said at this rally in South Carolina – as reported by the New York Times (which is a constant critic of the Trump administration):

Donald Trump: Now the Democrats are politicising the coronavirus. You know that, right? Coronavirus. They are politicising it. We did one of the great jobs — you say, “How’s President Trump doing?” They go, “Oh, not good. Not good.”  They have no clue. They don’t have any clue. They can’t even count the votes in Iowa. No, they can’t. They can’t count their votes. One of my people came up to me and said, “Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia.” That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried it over and over. They’ve been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning. They lost. It is all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax. But, you know, we did something that’s been pretty amazing.

Any professor who understands spoken English – even in a Queens’ New York accent – would realise that President Trump was claiming that his opponents were engaging in a “new hoax” by alleging that he had mishandled the administration’s response to COVID-19.  Just that, according to the president, the Democrats had engaged in hoaxes with respect to the alleged collusion between the Trump team and Russia in the 2016 presidential election campaign.  He compared the “hoax” that he had colluded with Vladimir Putin with the “hoax” that his administration had not taken COVID-19 seriously. That’s all.

So Mark Kenny’s (learned) contribution to Sky News Agenda on Sunday was to verbal President Trump.  And this from an ANU professor. Can You Bear It?


Thanks to the avid reader who drew Media Watch Dog’s  attention to the article by Cristy Clark in the 12 March 2020 issue of Eureka Street.  According to the online magazine’s blurb, the writer “focuses on the intersection of human rights, neoliberalism, activism and environment”- whatever that might mean.

The article, headed “We are all in this together”, was illustrated by a photograph of a score of toilet rolls – illustrating, it would seem, the run on toilet rolls in some shops following news of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s how Dr Clark (for a doctor she is) commenced:

Toilet paper, huh? It might make no sense, but it does say so much about where we are as a society right now. We are fearful, reactive and encouraged to behave in crazily selfish ways. But this behaviour did not come out of nowhere. It has been carefully cultivated through over 40 years of neoliberal economic policies that have made it blatantly clear to people that they are on their own and will absolutely be left to fall if they don’t scramble their way to the top of the heap — supported, if necessary, by their own accumulated rolls of toilet paper.

What a load of absolute tosh.  The idea that what is called panic buying is a product of “over 40 years of neoliberal economic policies” is the product of, well –  an academic whose work focuses on the intersection of something or other with something else.

It so happened that, the morning after the Clark thesis on toilet roll purchases appeared in Eureka Street, the Australian Financial Review  ran an article by Aaron Patrick titled “Panic buying has a long history”.  The story turned on the research of Steven Taylor – who has studied the psychology of pandemics.

Professor Taylor, a professor at the University of British Columbia, has studied centuries of pandemics from the Black Death to SARS.  He believes that  the response to COVID-19 is an example of the kind of herd behaviour that repeats itself over centuries.

According to Professor Taylor, who grew up in Melbourne, during the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic (H1N1) there was a panic buying of Vicks VapoRub.  It is said that a factory that made this menthol-based  ointment, which is rubbed on the skin, operated 24 hours a day to meet the demand. In fact, Vicks VapoRub is about as useful in a pandemic as toilet rolls – but just as in demand during a time of panic buying.

Now according to MWD’s calculations, 1918-19 was just over a century ago. It is decades before what Cristy Clark describes as when “neo-liberal economics” emerged. But Comrade Clark reckons that panic buying of toilet rolls is a consequence of a “trust deficit” created by so many individuals who feel abandoned by government in recent decades. To which MWD responds – Remember Vicks VapoRub! Can You Bear It?


It seems that Julian (“I just love flashing my post-nominals”) Burnside AO QC is not quite the same man since – after a four decade membership – he realised last year the Savage Club on Melbourne’s Bank Place was a blokes-only organisation.  As avid readers are aware, JB AO QC suddenly quit the Savage Club when he decided to run against the Liberal Party’s Josh Frydenberg as a Greens candidate in the May 2019 election. He lost.

So why is your man Burnside a changed man? – MWD hears you cry.  Well on Monday, Nine Newspapers’ “CBD” column revealed that m’learned friend had put out a tweet concerning COVID-19. It contained “very useful advice” about how to handle this coronavirus which JB AO QC said had been circulated by Stanford University’s health clinic.

JB AO QC told his social media followers (if social media followers there are):

This new virus is not heat-resistant and will be killed by a temperature of just 26/27 degrees.  It hates the sun.  Even if the virus gets into your mouth, drinking water or other liquids…will kill the virus.

What a load of absolute tosh.  At least the snake oil salesman of old sold snake oil.  Whereas JB AO QC’s medical advice as to how to recover from COVID-19 is to stand in the hot sun and drink lotsa water.  Really.

When it was drawn to the barrister’s attention that he was promoting dangerous fake medical news, JB AO QC put out this tweet:

How naïve can you get?  How could such advice look ok?  The point is not that JB AO QC circulated something from a “normally reliable source”.  The point is that he fell for the claim that COVID-19 could be killed by standing in the sun and/or drinking water. And Julian Burnside AO QC wants to obtain Greens’ endorsement for the Senate since he believes that he has a lot to tell both the Senate and us mere mortals.  Can You Bear It?

[Perhaps, like Burnside QC, I’m a bit naïve.  But I’ve heard that I could cure COVID-19 with a Gin & Tonic or two.  If I had some gin and if I had some tonic. MWD Editor.]

By popular demand this segment, which first appeared in Issue 486, returns this week.


Jackie is just so excited that a brand new panellist will sit on the Insiders’ couch this Sunday.  Well, he won’t really – because, in view of COVID-19 and all that, there will not be a couch this Sunday.  The presenter and the panellist will be in Melbourne and two panellists will be in Canberra.  The Melbourne-based panellist will be Rafael (“Call me Raf”) Epstein – the presenter of “Drive” on ABC Radio Melbourne.

Your man Epstein is a life-long ABC employee who has never had a long-term job outside of journalism.  It’s a brilliant choice by Insiders executive producer Samuel (“Call me Sam”) Clark. Comrade Epstein is just what Insiders needs. To wit, another leftist journalist to agree with the welter of ABC and  Guardian and Nine Newspapers journalists who sit on the couch.

So Sunday’s panel will consist of Raf Epstein (ABC), Katharine Murphy (The Guardian) and Australian columnist Niki Savva.  It seems that Ms Savva, along with Peter Van Onselen, are the kind of non-leftists whom Insiders likes.  Namely, those who believe that its okay for the Liberal Party to govern –  provided it is led by someone like Malcolm Turnbull.

It’s great to have  Comrade Epstein, who regularly rails against the Morrison government on Twitter, on the Insiders panel since it should provide plenty of copy for MWD.



Due to overwhelming popular demand this segment returns after a period of reflection.  Initially presided over by the late Nancy (2005-2017), it has been taken over by her successor Jackie (Dip. Wellness, The Gunnedah Institute). [I’m very impressed by your canine Jackie’s academic qualifications.  The way she’s going, it could be that Jackie will become, in time, a professor at the Australian National University – like Professor Mark Kenny who, I note, features in this week’s (hugely popular) “Can You Bear It?” segment. – MWD Editor.]

Jackie noticed this tweet by media tart and former Independent MP Tony (“Yep I chickened out of running against Barnaby Joyce in the 2016 election”) Windsor.  Here it is:

And now for a news flash. As journalist Eliza Barr (who is based in Scott Morrison’s electorate of Cook in Sydney’s south) has pointed out on Twitter, the Prime Minister is not a member of Hillsong which is based in the Hills District in Sydney’s north west. Rather he attends the Horizon Church in Sutherland.  Sure the Horizon Church and Hillsong are Christian churches which are part of the Pentecostal Christian tradition. But they are not affiliated.

Tony Windsor should know that a reference to “the blood of Christ” cleansing people does not mean that Christ’s blood will literally descend from above and wash all over believers. It’s a metaphor.

It is simply false for the bitter Tony Windsor to claim that Scott Morrison said he found “the viral cure” for COVID-19 at the Hillsong gathering last Sunday.  Moreover, Scott Morrison has never claimed that, at this stage, there is a “cure” for COVID-19. Your man Windsor just made this up – he’s a social media verballer.


And then, the following day, there was this tweet from former Australian diplomat and ABC fave Bruce Haigh.

Sure it was shocking and reprehensible that a group of individuals took buses from Sydney in order to bulk-buy products from supermarkets in rural and regional NSW towns – including Lithgow – apparently with a view to on-selling the goods online.  Similar events have occurred in Victoria.

However, there is no evidence that the so-called “hordes” were part of Scott Morrison’s “drooling and greedy Bogans”  – whoever they are. In any event, when the Prime Minister heard that this had occurred, he condemned this behaviour as unAustralian and called for an end to the practice.

Indeed, there is some evidence that the individuals in question were Asian Australian citizens, Asian Australian residents or perhaps Asians in Australia on visas. Which is hardly consistent with Comrade Haigh’s claim about “drooling and greedy” Bogans.

Bruce Haigh’s reference to “drooling and greedy Bogans” is just snobbery from a well-educated professional.  As to the claim that the supermarket raiders were supporters of Scott Morrison – well, Comrade Haigh just made this up. Like Comrade Windsor, he’s just a verballer.


Did anyone see the Newspapers’ segment on ABC TV’s News Breakfast this morning?  Lisa Millar and Michael Rowland were the presenters sitting not quite a metre and a half apart.  And the guest commentator was Imogen Crump, a one-time ABC journo.  Ms Crump currently edits Pursuit which appears on the Melbourne University news site.

It was Hangover Time this morning when Comrade Crump appeared on News Breakfast by Skype from her home – so it’s possible that MWD’s memory of the occasion may be faulty. MWD recalls that Ms Millar pointed out that Ms Crump sat in front of a photo – or was it a painting?  For his part, Jackie’s (male) co-owner noticed that the Crump Edwardian house has nicely painted white walls and a nicely painted white door with a brass handle.  Being  a bloke, Hendo is more interested in the British Paints type of painting rather than the Jackson Pollock genre.

Needless to say, Ms Crump spoke mainly about COVID-19. But guess what?  News Breakfast’s executive producer plus Lisa Millar and Michael Rowland plus Imogen Crump herself failed to mention a BIG STORY of obvious interest to ABC viewers today.

Page One of today’s Sydney Morning Herald features an article by Natassia Chrysanthos and Michael Koziol titled “Health officials plead for unity”.  An identical piece appears on Page 12 of The Age today under the title “Health bodies back nation’s top doctor”.

The article reveals that the Public Health Association of Australia has asked its members to reinforce the advice provided to the various Australian governments by Professor Brendan Murphy, the Chief Medical Officer. The PHA is concerned that the CMO’s advice to the government is being undermined by the campaign being run on the ABC by Dr Norman Swan, who presents the Health Report on ABC Radio National.

So today’s Nine Newspapers carry a story that health professionals have criticised ABC fave Norman Swan for second-guessing Professor Murphy.  And the ABC TV program which focuses on newspapers failed to mention this criticism of the ABC in its “Newspapers” segment.

Quelle Surprise!

[I understand that Gerard Henderson has written about the ABC’s intervention in the COVID-19 debate in his column in The Weekend Australian tomorrow. – MWD  Editor.]



“You Must Remember This” is based on the chorus line in the song As Time Goes By which was popularised by the film Casablanca. It is devoted to reminding the usual suspects of what they and/or those they supported once wrote or said or did. On this occasion MWD invited a reality TV addict to review an Australian celebrity’s appearances on Network 10’s The Biggest Loser.


In recent days, the ABC has leaned on Dr Norman Swan, a physician, journalist and long-time ABC employee, to weigh in on the Covid-19 pandemic. ABC viewers would recognise Dr Swan from presenting gigs at Catalyst and Quantum. However, some may also remember the good doctor from his stint as the resident health expert on Channel 10’s reality weight loss show The Biggest Loser.

Before its cancellation in 2017, The Biggest Loser aired 11 seasons. During this run the show was routinely criticised by doctors and former contestants for its unhealthy and sensationalist approach to weight loss. This did not perturb Dr Swan however, who regularly made appearances designed to lend the show medical credibility.

In a representative episode from 2012, Dr Swan met with the contestants and brought along a dump truck loaded with 1.5 tons of fat which was unloaded at the contestants’ feet. Afterwards, Dr Swan and a nutritionist presented the contestants with their “Bio Age”, supposedly a measurement of the toll fat has taken on their bodies. This elicited tears from some contestants as they reflected on how they may never have children or grandchildren thanks to their premature aging. Later in the same episode, the contestants played “Wheel of Temptation”, a Wheel of Fortune knock-off where they spin a wheel and must eat a certain number of calories based on the result. Those who, by chance, consumed fewer calories put on less weight. Fancy that.


As avid readers are aware, recently ABC TV’s Q&A program changed its logo to read “Q+A”. A good idea – except for the fact that the new “+” was red on white, the much protected logo of the Red Cross.  So it came to pass that the program – now presented by Hamish + Macdonald – had to dump its new logo since it breached international copyright law. After all, the Red Cross’ red cross on a white background logo is the international symbol for “don’t shoot” in times of war.

The only problem is that the ABC has forgotten to take the red cross off the Q+A floor design – as was evident last Monday. Go to it Aunty.


Until Next Time.