ISSUE – NO. 520

30 October 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


As pointed out last week, the ABC has sent re-inforcements to cover the US presidential elections. The taxpayer funded public broadcaster has only five reporters on the ground in the US – Kathryn Diss, David Lipson, Phil Williams, Greg Jennett and Michael Rowland – with Sarah Ferguson to follow.

Clearly they’re all hard at work – as is evident from Michael Rowland’s tweet sent out this afternoon. By the way, that’s MWD’s fave ABC punster in the middle. It’s a long way to travel to send such a bad joke.



Believe it or not, ABC Radio AM this morning covered the fact that the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) is celebrating its centenary today. “Happy Birthday to the Commos”, MWD hears readers cry.

ABC reporter Andrew Greene, who covered this story, seems a nice kind of guy.  But an historically ill-informed one, it seems.  Look at it this way. The CPA was formed in Australia in 1920 on the direct orders of Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks in Moscow.

The CPA carried out the orders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1920 until it split with Moscow following the  Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 – almost half a century later.  Members of the CPA who remained loyal to the Soviet Union then formed the Socialist Party of Australia which, financed by Moscow, remained extant until the end of the Cold War three decades ago.

Between 1920 and 1968, CPA members supported (i) the dictatorships of Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev, (ii) the forced famine in the Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union), (iii) the show trials and purges of 1930s, (iv) the Nazi Soviet Pact of mid-1939 to mid-1941, (v) the gulags, (vi) the Soviet Union’s crushing of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 and more besides.  Perhaps it’s understandable why Andrew Irving, the general secretary of the contemporary CPA, supports the Communist Party of old. But it’s not clear why AM’s executive producer reckons it’s a you-beaut idea for the ABC to mark the occasion – or to interview Comrade Irving.  Here’s a glimpse of the Greene/Irving exchange:

Andrew Greene: Andrew Irving is the general secretary of the Australian Communist Party and says his organisation maintains close relations with comrades across the globe, including in Beijing.

Andrew Irving: We have a very good relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. We quite often have discussions with the Communist Party, and we exchange information.

Andrew Greene: Given that Beijing is accused of human rights atrocities, is this an issue that the Australian Communist Party struggles with?

Andrew Irving: We take most of that with a grain of salt. There’s a big propaganda machine that’s used against China and what the Chinese get up to. The bottom line of that is, that they just don’t like China competing with their own economies.

Andrew Greene: This evening, Communist Party members across Australia will join an online celebration. But Andrew Irving hopes the occasion will also spur a revival.

Andrew Irving: We’re looking at this celebration as stepping forward, not stepping back. So, we’re very excited and we’ve got a lot of new young members, and we think that the hundredth anniversary will be a launching pad to build our party and build a communist movement in Australia.

Yeah. Wouldn’t it be great for the CPA to breed a whole new lot of little Lenins and little Stalins  How exciting can you get?  Is it April Fool’s Day?  And so on.


Thanks to the avid reader who followed ABC political reporter Andrew Probyn’s report on ABC TV prior to the commencement of Question Time yesterday viz:

Andrew Probyn: The politics of climate change have been awful for the Coalition for the past decade.

You don’t say? – as the saying goes (or went).  According to MWD’s memory, the Coalition forced the Gillard Labor government into minority government following the 2010 election. Then the Coalition defeated Labor in 2013, 2016 and again in 2019.  The proper response to climate change was an issue in all four campaigns.  So climate change cannot have been too “awful” for the Coalition over the past decade.  Perhaps Comrade Probyn misspoke and meant Labor instead.  Who knows?  Who cares?



It’s a feature of many public sector organisations that much time is spent developing plans and having meetings (in these pandemic times increasingly by Zoom) without much impact. This is likely to be the fate of the ABC’s most recent editorial strategy titled More Relevant to More Australians.

In the Nine Newspapers last Sunday (Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age), Michael Koziol had an “exclusive”. He obtained leaks from three ABC staff who were present when Gaven Morris ( ABC Director News, Analysis & Investigations) gave briefings about the taxpayer funded public broadcaster’s very latest editorial strategy.  Koziol wrote:

In remarks made during staff briefings last week Mr Morris warned it would not bode well for the ABC’s funding “if we’re seen to be representing inner city elite interests”, according to three people who were present. The sources said Mr Morris disparaged “inner city left-wing elites” numerous times, telling staff he would be “happier if we spent less time on the concerns of the inner city elites and more time on the things that matter to central Queensland”.

Koziol spoke to Gaven Morris about his story and reported:

Mr Morris told The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age his remarks referred to the public’s perception of the ABC and it was wrong for anyone to infer that he was suggesting government funding could be under threat if news coverage did not change.

“It’s a value proposition back to taxpayers, back to Australians,” he said. “If there is a perception in the community that we are more interested in the concerns and lives of inner city elites, then we need to work harder to make sure we are as relevant to people in central Queensland as we are to people in inner Sydney.”

Needless to say, Mr Morris’ views soon caused outrage among the inner-city Sandalista Set, the Friends of the ABC and so on.  On Monday, Nine Newspapers ran a story by Karl Quinn headed “ABC’s ‘left-wing elites’ swing a right hook”.   Peter van Onselen, who co-presents The Project on Network Ten and is a panellist on ABC TV’s Insiders, was interviewed and declared:

These are extraordinary comments.  Not only are they plain wrong … they also echo partisan attacks on the ABC you see from maverick MPs with an ideological agenda.

In fact, Gaven Morris’ reported comments were reasonable and warrant consideration rather than dismissal.  Andrea Carson, an associate professor at La Trobe University and a regular ABC commentator, did not throw the switch to denial – but she did hit the rationalisation button. As Comrade Quinn put it:

Andrea Carson, an associate professor in the department of politics, media and philosophy at La Trobe University, said the national broadcaster may be “vulnerable” to charges that it serves inner city elites by covering issues such as marriage equality, the plight of asylum seekers in Australia, and issues of gender. But, she said, its coverage needs to be assessed in a whole-of-media context. “These topics might be more evident on the ABC because of the absence of these news items on the commercial bulletins,” said Carson.

Unlike van Onselen, Carson acknowledged the validity of Morris’ critique.  But she ran the common defence that the ABC has to focus on certain topics because these issues (allegedly) are not covered sufficiently on the commercial media.  This is self-justification. More seriously, Dr Carson’s view is inconsistent with the ABC’s charter which requires that the public broadcaster provide Australia with comprehensive broadcasting services of high standard.

Nine Newspapers could not let Karl Quinn’s news report stand alone without a comment piece next to it by Jacqueline Maley who opined:

It is not clear which areas of ABC coverage might need roughing up. Many ABC employees probably do live in the inner urban areas, which would be typical of many journalists.

Whether or not they qualify as “elite” is another thing; the average ABC salary is about $81,000, according to job site Indeed, which is higher than the national average but about average for Sydney. They are probably likely to be university graduates and come from the middle class, I would guess.

Morris’ implicit criticism, coming straight from the horse’s mouth, will be music to the ears of some federal politicians who enjoy the strategic deployment of culture war tropes.

Like many Sydney Morning Herald/Age journalists, Maley is close to the ABC and appears regularly on ABC programs.  She declined to assess Morris’ comments on their merits – arguing instead that his views “will be music to the ears of some Federal [aka Coalition] politicians who enjoy the strategic deployment of cultural war tropes”. In fact, Maley likes the word “trope” so much that she used it twice in a 600 word article.  Her comment piece concluded as follows:

Brexit and the election of Trump have both been attributed to the disconnection between the upper middle politico-media class and ordinary people who face threats from economic forces the elites blithely wave off. Woke culture, where one social group is seen to regard itself as more righteous than another, is strongly connected to this phenomenon.

The national broadcaster is reflecting this global conversation, and thinking about its own part in the dynamic. That’s as it should be. But politicians wishing to take advantage of this reporting should remember that most Australians love the ABC, whereas they only tolerate politicians.

It’s not the role of the ABC to reflect on a “global conversation” – whatever that might mean.  The essential role of the ABC, when it comes to news and current affairs, is to cover issues accurately and with balance.  This is not the case at the moment since the ABC is a Conservative Free Zone without one conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent television, radio or online outlets.

As to Jacqueline Maley’s claim that “most Australians love the ABC” – well, if this is the case it would rate first among free-to-air TV channels.  It doesn’t – coming in around equal third with Network Ten – but behind both Seven and Nine Network. The ABC boasts that it is Australia’s most trusted news service.  Which raises the question as to why so many Australians watch a TV news bulletin which they trust less than the ABC.

If readers turned to Alan Sunderland’s article on the Nine Newspapers’ Opinion Page on Monday, they would know that he disagreed with Ms Maley.  Mr Sunderland wrote:

In my 23 years at the ABC, I saw lots of audience data. Much of it highlighted a generally understood challenge – ABC radio and television rated highly in the inner city (both traditionally progressive AND traditionally wealthy and conservative suburbs) and it rated highly in rural and regional areas, but more poorly in outer suburbs.

I have no reason to believe this is not as true now as it was then. Anyone who thinks this isn’t an issue that needs to be tackled doesn’t understand what public broadcasting is. All Australians pay for the ABC out of their own pockets, and they are entitled to a service that is relevant to them. They are entitled to fair, accurate and impartial news about the issues that are important to them in their lives, as well as to entertainment, drama, comedy, children’s content, music and so much more.

Alan Sunderland was the ABC’s editorial director from 2013 to 2019. There is no evidence to indicate that he made a mark on the ABC in attempting to implement then what he advocates now.  It’s unlikely that the public broadcaster’s latest plan, as spruiked by Gaven Morris, will have any different fate.

The point is not that the ABC appeals to inner-city elites. Rather, it appeals to the Green-Left Australians with tertiary education who support fashionable left-wing causes.  Some are wealthy, some are not.  But all reflect a position which is not shared by the majority of Australians who live primarily in middle-income suburbs and towns.

If Australians followed what so many ABC journalists preach, Australia would have had a Green Left government for years.  However, Labor (even with the possible support of the Greens) has only had a majority in the House of Representatives for three years over the past decade –  and the next election is scheduled for mid-2022. That’s a long time in the political wilderness.

Gaven Morris is no conservative.  But at least he appears to understand the problem that an unreformed ABC faces.  Moreover his reported comments on taxpayer funding makes sense.  As the ABC’s lack of political diversity increasingly annoys Liberal Party and Nationals MPs, so the support for the ABC within the Coalition Joint Party room declines.

It is known that many one-time ABC TV viewers have walked away from the public broadcaster and gone to Sky News or other Pay TV outlets plus social media – as well as to commercial media.

The three (anonymous) journalists who leaked the Gaven Morris story to Michael Koziol do not appear to understand how government works and why it helps to have as many friends as possible when governments prioritise limited financial resources.

The essential problem with the More Relevant to More Australians editorial strategy is that it does not address the central problem facing the ABC – namely the lack of political diversity.  The editorial strategy effectively directs ABC staff to be not so obsessed with climate change.  Fair enough.  But then it says this:

When we grow our relevance to a broader cross-section of the community, we become even more central to the lives of Australians. We can be more culturally, socio-economically and gender diverse. And we can grow audiences at a time when it’s assumed the mainstream media is inevitably shrinking.

What’s missing, once again, is any commitment by the ABC to political diversity – as distinct from cultural, socio-economic and gender diversity.  For all his good intentions, Gaven Morris’ More Relevant to More Australians is unlikely to have much appeal in, say, central Queensland.

Can You Bear It?


It seems that Gaven Morris’ plea for the ABC to focus more on the good people of central Queensland and less on inner-city types (or the Sandalista Set in MWD’s terminology) has had no immediate impact.

Your man Morris’ views were reported in the Sunday press.  The following day, 7.30 and Four Corners covered the 2020 United States presidential election. Here’s how

The 7.30 piece was titled “Will America sign up to Donald Trump for four more years?”  To find out, 7.30 interviewed five commentators – one Democratic Party supporter and three Republican Party supporters along with one other.  It’s just that all were Never- Trumpers or Trump-Haters.  Namely Chuck Hagel (R), Anthony Scaramucci (R), Jim Messina (D), Richard Armitage (R) and American journalist Anita Kumar (Politico).  All are Trump critics to a greater or lesser extent. That’s “balance” – ABC style.

The “star” of the Trump-Haters was your man Scaramucci, who lasted just eleven days at the Trump White House before he got a “You’re Fired” notice.  He described President Trump’s “conduct” as “a combination of, like, the American Mussolini meets Dr Frankenstein”.  This was a pre-recorded interview.  Clearly 7.30 executive producer Justin Stevens made a conscious decision to include Scaramucci’s hyperbolic rant in the final cut.  Soon after, Mr Armitage impressed by hinting that if Trump is re-elected he will seek refuge in Australia. Along with Bruce Springsteen, it seems.

In case ABC viewers (if viewers there were) did not get the message, 7.30 presenter Leigh Sales weighed in telling viewers about Donald Trump’s “compulsive lying and recklessness” and his “appalling behaviour”. It would appear that Comrade Sales believes that 7.30 viewers needed “educating” if they did not get the program’s anti-Trump message.

Then at 8.30 pm Four Corners went to air.  It interviewed three Australian-based commentators – Simon Jackman (United States Studies Centre), American Republican Kim Hoggard and American Democrat Bruce Wolpe. All three got the 2016 election outcome wrong and all three are opposed to President Trump. Only one Trump supporter got a run – Matt Schlapp (chairman of the American Conservative Union). Four Corners  could not – read did not – find one Australian based commentator who was favourable to Trump.

Like Leigh Sales before, Four Corners presenter Michael Brissenden weighed into the anti-Trump chorus. This is how Four Corners’ one-sided report ended:

Reporter: Four years of the Trump presidency has left America reeling. It is more divided and fractious than ever. The COVID epidemic is still ripping through the country and the economic costs will be a burden for a generation. Whatever happens on November 3rd, this country will take a long time to heal.

Jim Margolis, Fmr. Campaign Advisor To President Obama: It has to start with just us turning down the temperature. We can’t have the chaos, we can’t have the tweets, we can’t have the pitting one against the other as a political strategy that is executed every day out of the White House briefing room. Out of the White House rose garden. You got to start there –  and then hope as time goes on, and it won’t be immediate, that people can get to a place where we can talk again.

Kim Hoggard, Fmr. Senior Republican White House Staffer: He’s [President Trump] left a ballooning debt and deficit. He’s left a hollowed-out government with positions unfilled, diplomatic core that’s lost morale and intelligence agency that has been torn apart with how it can advise the president. He’s left a wake of destruction behind him. That is his legacy.

As MWD’s avid readers will know, the US election takes place next Tuesday (US time). So it’s too early to say what Trump’s legacy is – or will be.  Except to the anti-Trump barrackers led by Michael Brissenden.  The inner-city Green Left would have loved Four Corners last Monday.  But not so much the good people of Central Queensland. The Sales/Brissenden Tag Team – 3. Gaven Morris – Zip. Can You Bear It?


It’s just what the ABC TV Insiders program (executive producer  Sam Clark) needed. Yet another leftist Guardian panellist.  So wasn’t it great to see Jan Fran, who currently does “The Frant” video series for The Guardian, on the (virtual) Insiders couch on Sunday?  And didn’t Comrade Fran make a terrific start? – exhibiting a special insight into, wait for it, watches. [Query: Is the name of this series “The Frant” or “The Rant”? – MWD Editor.]

Presenter David Speers raised the issue of the decision of the government-owned Australia Post to give a Cartier watch each – to the total value of around $20,000 – to four executives as a form of bonus payment.  Let’s go to the transcript as the discussion on this issue commenced:

David Speers: Let’s start on this issue, the Cartier watches – we now know it was worth $20,000 not $12,000. There are now questions, too, about corporate card spending by Christine Holgate and others at Australia Post. Jan Fran, to you first on this. Is the Prime Minister’s outrage that we witnessed – is that understandable?

Jan Fran: You know David, look, I was kicked out of a Tag Heuer store once because I asked the sales assistant whether or not they had watches under $300 and she thought I was taking the piss and asked me to leave. And I wasn’t taking the piss, I was being very serious. But that’s the extent to which luxury watches do not feature in my orbit at all.

In short, Ms Fran answered the question by focusing on the area which she knows best. To wit, HERSELF.  To be fair to Comrade Fran – it’s possible that all Insiders’ viewers really wanted to know around Hang-Over Time last Sunday turned on Jan Fran’s inaugural appearance in a Tag Heuer shop some time ago – rather than her afterthoughts on Australia Post at a time of pandemic.

Sensing the moment, fellow panellist Patricia Karvelas declared: “I don’t have a watch at all actually – it made me think I need a watch – but I just look at my phone for the time.”  How frightfully interesting, to be sure.  And then David (“Call me Speersy”) Speers thought it was timely to come out about his wrist-wear:

David Speers: I’m a watch guy. But it’s –

Patricia Karvelas: You’re a watch guy.

David Speers: But it’s certainly not in the thousands of dollars.

Apparently, Insiders is of the view that the attitude to watches of Insiders’ panellists is need-to-know information. Can You Bear It?

[Er no, not now that you’ve drawn attention to this.  But I was also interested in Jan Fran’s final comment on Insiders  last Sunday:

Jan Fran: I want to talk about the US debate very quickly. I’m not going to predict a winner, because I know not to do that after 2016 – we’ve all got PTSD from it. But I am going to predict that I’m going to be very stressed in a week and half’s time, clutching a stress ball, maybe drinking some wine at 10 o’clock in the morning, watching the election go down.

MWD understands why Jan Fran is likely to reach for a  wine bottle next Wednesday morning – and might join her, virtually, of course.  After all, the election result could become known between Hang Over Time and Pre-Lunch Drinks. But as to Comrade Fran’s claim that “we’ve all got” Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to the fact that Donald J. Trump won the 2016 US presidential election – “all” of us apparently.  What A Load Of Absolute Tosh.  And what a star leftist addition to the Insiders team. – MWD Editor.]


Did anyone see the Tweet put out at 9.39 am last Monday by Sun-Herald columnist and author of 148 or so  piss-poor books –  Peter (“Look at me”) FitzSimons? In case you missed it, here’s what The Red Bandannaed One had to say:

Fitz, you see, is a fan of Victoria’s socialist left Labor premier Daniel Andrews.  So much so that he’s a member of “I stand with Dan” Fan Club.  Your man FitzSimons is a millionaire who lives in a grand house in Sydney’s Lower North Shore not far from the harbour.  So it came as no surprise that Fitz supported the Andrews government’s Stage 4 lockdown when the good folk of Melbourne were locked in their houses, flats and rooms for 23 hours a day for over a hundred days.  All because COVID-19 escaped from hotel quarantine on Mr Andrews’ watch. It would seem that Fitz lives in a different universe from Melbourne’s struggling masses.

In support of The Red Bandannaed One’s commitment to the use of exclamation marks, MWD has a warning!  It’s unwise to celebrate too soon!!  Sure, there were no new COVID-19 cases in Victoria on Monday – or, indeed, Tuesday. But there were two on Wednesday, three on Thursday and four today!!!  So it is not clear that Victoria has got on top of its coronavirus catastrophe!!!!

It seems that COVID-19 may not be behaving in a way that Fitz’s prophecy of last Monday will be fulfilled!!!!!.  Can You Bear It?

[I note that Daniel Andrews’ strong leadership did not stop Victoria from having around 95 per cent of all COVID-19 related deaths in Australia – but who should doubt The Red Bandannaed One?  By the way, here’s hoping that Fitz’s prophecy is fulfilled  – from MWD’s Melbourne-born team. – MWD Editor.]


It’s around a month since The Australian reported that several Italian newspapers were carrying the story that a substantial sum of money had been sent by Cardinal Pell’s enemies in the Vatican to Australia with a view to somehow facilitating the charges laid against Pell for alleged historical child sexual abuse.

On 22 October 2020, Dennis Shanahan reported in The Australian that AUSTRAC had passed information concerning this matter to the Australian Federal Police and Victoria Police – and that the AFP had referred aspects of the matter to the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (commonly known as IBAC).

Despite its long time interest in George Pell, the ABC did not even report this international story until last Saturday – following enquires it initiated last Friday (23 October) three weeks after the news broke.  This is the story run by ABC TV News on the evening of Saturday 24 October:

Jeremy Fernandez: Victoria Police have confirmed they’re not currently investigating allegations of money being transferred from the Vatican to Australia in relation to the trial of Cardinal George Pell. An Italian newspaper published allegations earlier this month, claiming that a senior Catholic was suspected of paying a witness in the child sexual abuse case. In a statement, Victoria Police said Australia’s financial crimes regulator AUSTRAC has made them aware of the transfer of money from the Vatican over a period of time to Australia. However, it hasn’t been told of any suspicious activity relating to the transactions, so it’s not conducting any further investigations at this stage.

How about that?   The ABC eventually covered this international story – by reporting that the Victoria Police had decided not to investigate the matter.  This is the same Victoria Police that laid 26 charges against Pell with respect to nine complainants – all of which charges were either withdrawn by the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions or quashed by the High Court of Australia.  And the ABC only reported the story once Victoria Police stated that it would not be investigating.  Can You Bear It?

[No, but I’m not surprised.  I note that this matter is referred to in today’s “Correspondence” segment.  It’s great to see the segment return. – MWD Editor.]


Avid readers will remember MWD’s coverage of Paul Barry’s cringeworthy performance on his web series Media Bites [see Issue 518]. For those uninitiated, Media Bites is the shorter cousin of the already quite short Media Watch. So has the show improved at all since? Check out this clip from October 22 instalment in which Comrade Barry is forced to quickly transition from his wacky Media Bites persona to his usual lecturing Media Watch mode. See if you can catch the exact moment serious Barry returns:


David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. Your man Crowe believes that Victorian Labor premier Daniel Andrews is an astute political operative who enjoys considerable support within the Labor Party and poses a medium-term threat to Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Or does Comrade Crowe hold another view?

  • David Crowe on why Daniel Andrews is Labor’s great hope

…if Labor needs someone to muscle up to Morrison in a few years’ time, the candidate is obvious. Andrews has won two elections in a row and is now the country’s strongest Labor leader running a government. He has a fervent support base and a national profile, thanks to his clashes with Canberra.

No premier has become prime minister since Joe Lyons in 1932, so the odds are against him. Fate may be against him, too. Everything depends on which leader emerges safe from the pandemic and the recession.

Andrews will be only 53 in 2025. Morrison will be only 57 – the same age John Howard started as prime minister. Andrews and Morrison could be crossing paths for years to come on this political mountain range. Perhaps neither is safe until the other is stuck in a crevasse.

– David Crowe “Andrews now PM’s biggest threat”, Sydney Morning Herald, 23 October 2020.

  • David Crowe on why many Labor insiders believe that Daniel Andrews is hopelessly wrong and runs a government suffering from paralysis

David Crowe: I think actually – there was a very fierce criticism [of Daniel Andrews] from the federal government yesterday. But what I found really interesting was the criticism within Victoria of Dan Andrews and criticism from his own side. And I think that’s why the Jenny Mikakos statements have been so interesting. The former health minister who says “I was put in charge of this roadmap, this roadmap is my design” and she says, “you can’t delay opening up forever”. Her point was that the state is now below the 14 day average that Daniel Andrews set as the benchmark for opening up. Admittedly, it’s only just below. It’s 4.9 and the benchmark was 5. So on Daniel Andrews own rhetoric in the past, own statements in the past, there should be some opening up. So I think that’s a very powerful criticism from his former health minister. That there’s paralysis here in the state government.

Fran Kelly:  I think we should – it’s the health minister who essentially got, had to step down because the premier lost confidence in her. We should add that rider probably.

David Crowe: Yeah, she’s basically turned on Daniel Andrews. But I found it interesting last week talking to people within Labor who were incredibly critical of him [Daniel Andrews] – within Labor, within Victoria – who think he is now getting it quite wrong.

– David Crowe, ABC Radio National Breakfast, 29 October 2020.

So there you have it.  David Crowe believes that Daniel Andrews is loved by the Labor Party and is a medium-term threat to Prime Minister Scott Morrison (23 October 2020). And David Crowe believes that Labor Party types have turned on Daniel Andrews and is only a threat to himself (29 October 2020). You be the judge.


Lotsa thanks to the avid reader who picked the “deliberate mistake” in last week’s MWD.  It was Bill Hutchison (not Hutchinson) who was vice-captain of Essendon’s 1950 premiership winning side.

As avid readers are only too well aware, Professor Simon Jackman (the head of the United States Studies Centre) said in November 2016 that no one at the USSC expected that Donald J. Trump would defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.  He also ‘fessed up that no one at the USSC supported Donald Trump. David Smith, who suffers from Trump-phobia, is a USSC staff member who appears regularly on ABC Radio in Sydney – especially on the Drive with Richard Glover  program – as the USSC’s “expert” on the US.  In short, the taxpayer funded USSC is close to being a Republican Free Zone replete with Trump-haters and Clinton/Obama admirers and left-of-centre types. Now read on.


On 27 October, Drive guest presenter Andy Park was joined by the USSC’s David Smith for the regular Trump Tuesday segment. The pair opined on early voting, COVID-19, polls and the latest US Supreme Court member – Justice Amy Coney Barrett. As usual, no time was given to discussion of President Trump’s opponent Joe Biden – despite the real possibility the former Vice President could be president-elect by the end of next week. In the event Joe Biden is elected, it will be interesting to see if Drive devotes a regular segment to his exploits as they have done with “Trump Tuesday” – as in “Biden Tuesday”.

At the end of the segment, Andy Park posed a listener’s  question to Dr (for a doctor he is) Smith:

Andy Park: Good text on the text line. I’m not sure if you can do it quickly but um they’re asking: can you explain the Electoral College voting system? I mean, is there a quick way to explain that to people?

David Smith: Yeah so essentially every state gets a certain number of votes roughly based on its population. The winner of each state, in nearly every state it’s winner takes all. The weird quirk of this system is it’s possible the win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote if you win in the right states. So if Joe Biden racks up huge margins in New York and California where Trump is very unpopular he could conceivably win the popular vote by 5 or 10 million but if he loses in Pennsylvania and Florida and Wisconsin Donald Trump will still end with the majority of [electoral college] votes. It’s a system that goes all the way back to the 19th century as it’s practised now and in many ways it’s a very weird and inefficient system but there is no chance they are going to get rid of it anytime soon because it benefits too many people.

The US Electoral College is certainly an interesting feature to the American electoral system. But David Smith is apparently unaware that the possibility of a split between the popular vote and the winner of the election is not a “weird quirk” unique to the US system. It is a possibility in many electoral systems, including parliamentary systems like Australia’s. In fact there have been five Australian Federal House of Representatives elections in which the party believed to have received the larger number of two party preferred votes has won fewer seats and therefore failed to win government.

Coincidentally there have also been five US presidential elections in which the winning candidate received a smaller share of the vote.

In the 1954, 1961 and 1969 Australian elections the Labor opposition is believed to have received a slight majority of the votes while failing to win a majority of the seats. However, the “popular vote” margins are very close in each election and two-party preferred totals from that era were not calculated exactly.

More recently, in the 1990 election the Andrew Peacock-led opposition received 50.1 per cent of the vote but won only 69 seats to the Hawke government’s 78. The largest split in a Federal election came in 1998 when Kim Beazley’s Labor opposition received just shy of 51 per cent of the “popular vote” while receiving just 67 seats to the Howard Government’s 80.

Apparently, Dr Smith reckons that Joe Biden could win the popular vote by “5 or 10 million” and still lose the election. While this is possible, in theory, it is unlikely. In 2016 Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by around 2.8 million. This amounted to around a 51.1 per cent total of the votes for either Trump or Clinton, or roughly comparable to the “split” seen in the 1998 Australian election. Needless to say, for Joe Biden to receive 5 let alone 10 million more votes and still lose would require a much larger discrepancy.

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

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


In recent times some avid readers have expressed concern that the Correspondence segment is dead – or “passed” in modern parlance.  You’ve heard about the “shy Trump voter”? Well, it seems that there is such a phenomenon as the “shy MWD reader”.  It would seem that some media types who are referred to in MWD are too shy to respond – lest they be published in MWD.  The good news is that ABC Radio National’s Andrew West is not one of this lot but is a Courageous Type.  So Correspondence lives – now read on.

There was enormous interest in last week’s “Documentation” segment titled “ABC runs howlers on George Pell by American journalist Joshua McElwee & British journalist Christopher Lamb without correction”.  The first part was on The Religion and Ethics Report (Joshua McElwee) and the second part on 7.30 (Christopher Lamb).

ABC TV’s 7.30’s executive producer Justin Stevens and presenter Leigh Sales refused to even acknowledge correspondence documenting an uncorrected statement by The Tablet’s  Rome correspondent Christopher Lamb.  Mr Lamb was talking to Ms Sales about the allegation that Cardinal Pell’s enemies in the Vatican associated with his rival Cardinal Becciu sent money to Australia to encourage complainants to make allegations against George Pell.  Mr Lamb discussed the claim – but demonstrated a lack of understanding of the case.

Christopher Lamb said that Victoria Police’s investigations into Pell commenced “many years before these claims that payments were made”. His point was that Victoria Police commenced investigations about Pell before his dispute in the Vatican with Cardinal Becciu over finances.  True. But Lamb was unaware that the complainants against Pell went to Victoria Police after Pell arrived at the Vatican.  Leigh Sales did not correct the error during the interview and 7.30 has not corrected it since.

However, ABC TV’s The Religion and Ethics Report’s  presenter Andrew West did have the intellectual courage – and the courtesy – to engage with Gerard Henderson about his interview with Joshua McElwee – that National Catholic Reporter’s man in Rome. Here we go:

Gerard Henderson to Andrew West – 27 October 2020


Interesting piece in The Guardian on Sunday. I think you got the Francis/Pell relationship correct. The Pope never believed that Pell was guilty.  But, as Pell has recently said, he and the Pope differ on aspects of theology. However, the cardinal does acknowledge that Francis is the current successor to Peter.

You may – or may not – have seen my reference to The Religion and Ethics Report in my Media Watch Dog blog last Friday.  In case you have not seen it and wish to do so – it is attached.

No need to respond to this.

Best wishes



Andrew West to Gerard Henderson – 27 October 2020

Hi, Gerard.

I did see the piece on Friday, as I’m a regular reader.

I did not read Josh McElwee’s review of Melissa Davey’s book but I do read his work, along with many Vatican correspondents, regularly.

I wouldn’t say Josh was hostile to Cardinal Pell or favourable to Cardinal Becciu but, given that the story was very fresh at the time, I think he was being cautious about committing to the details.

We’ve tried to get Edward Pentin on – and he’s been gracious in agreeing in principle – but he has been unavailable on several occasions.

Thanks for your kind comments about the Guardian piece.

Best to you and Anne.



Gerard Henderson to Andrew West – 27 October 2020


It’s good to know that you are a regular MWD reader – if not an avid one.

Since Joshua McElwee clearly agrees with Melissa Davey that Pell was guilty, he is hardly “favourable” to Cardinal Pell. More like hostile, I would say – in view of the High Court’s unanimous decision to acquit Pell.  Also McElwee made a comment about the complainant which demonstrated that he had no first-hand knowledge of the case.  Which raises the question  as to why The Religious and Ethics Report encourages the likes of McElwee to comment – without correction – on a matter of which he knows nothing. But, then, I do not work at the ABC – so what would I know?

Good evening.



Andrew West to Gerard Henderson – 27 October 2020

Hi, Gerard.

Just quickly, at your prompting, I have read Josh McElwee’s review of the Melissa Davey book. (While I follow Josh’s writing, along with that of John Allen and Edward Pentin, I had not read that particular article.)

On a fair reading, I do not think we can say Josh believes that Cardinal Pell is guilty of an offence for which the High Court unanimously acquitted him. He was reviewing the Davey book, which I have not read. Like any astute reviewer, he latched onto a dramatic claim or quote. I don’t see that as endorsing Melissa Davey’s view, if that is her view because, again, I have not read her book.

Surely the point is this: when I contacted Josh, I had not read that particular review. I was looking for a straight, sober assessment of these extraordinary claims about pay-offs. As Chris Mitchell pointed out in the Oz,   I am pursuing the story, as is Josh, but surely we need something more concrete from the police or authorities before we take further steps?

In the many interviews I have conducted with Josh over the years, he has always been measured. Without going back over 5 or 6 years of interviews, the only critical thing I recall his saying about Cardinal Pell was that he had upset the Italians in the Curia with his brusque approach. That’s something that Cardinal Pell’s friends also say, as a sign of his effectiveness in reforming Vatican finances.

As for Josh’s statement about not knowing the identity of Cardinal Pell’s accuser, perhaps that’s because no one outside of a select group is permitted to know. I realise the name was mentioned accidentally in open court but it was quickly suppressed. That’s the law.

Anyway, I hope you’re well and thanks for corresponding.




Gerard Henderson to Andrew West – 28 October 2020

Good afternoon Andrew

As you may or may not know, you are one of my ABC faves.  Primarily because you believe in the clash of ideas and The Religion and Ethics Report  practises what you preach – namely pluralism, a rarity in the ABC these days. However, on this occasion, I believe you are somewhat naïve.

The Guardian’s Melissa Davey believes that Cardinal Pell was guilty.  She made this clear in her book The Trial of George Pell (which was originally to be titled “A Fair Trial” – because the author believed that Pell was guilty – she  had to change the title after the High Court quashed Pell’s convictions). There are also Melissa Davey’s comments at the launch of her book in conversation with Pell antagonist David Marr at Gleebooks via Zoom on 24 September.

If you or your producer had followed Joshua McElwee’s Twitter feed, you would have known that this is how Joshua McElwee advertised his review of Davey’s book:


That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?  Joshua McElwee implied that he agrees with the view of “one lawyer” who queried whether the High Court of Australia got it “right”. In other words, the American McElwee maintains the view of one legal academic is of more moment than that of all seven judges of the High Court.  If McElwee has read George Pell v The Queen, he would know that Pell not only had an alibi but also that neither Pell nor his alleged victim could have been at the scene of the crime when the crime was said by the prosecution and the majority of the Victorian Court of Appeal to have taken place.

Also, it is naïve for McElwee to claim – or for you to accept – that “no one knows the name of the alleged victim in Pell’s case”.   As you know, the name of “A” was inadvertently referred to by the prosecution in the Victorian Court of Appeal.  Also the identity of the complainant is known to (i) his family, (ii) the prosecution and its lawyers, (iii) the accused and his lawyers, (iv) many of A’s former choristers, (v) some journalists, (vi) certain victims’ rights organisations and more besides.  This is much more than the “select group” to which you refer.  Of course, it’s unlawful for anyone to reveal A’s identity.  But this does not mean – contrary to McElwee’s assertion – that “no one knows” A’s identity.

I am not aware whether funds were forwarded by Pell’s opponents in the Vatican to Australia. Nor is McElwee.  It’s just that Joshua McElwee should not make claims about an Australian legal case concerning which – judged by his own writings – he knows little.

Keep Morale High.



Andrew West to Gerard Henderson – 28 October 2020


Your points are well argued but I still disagree about Josh!

Please feel free to use our email discussion if you think it suitable.

Cheers as I prep for air.



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Until next time.

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