GERARD HENDERSON’S MEDIA WATCH DOG
ISSUE – NO. 568
19 November 2021
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QUELLE SURPRISE! ANOTHER DAVID MARR RANT AGAINST CHRISTIANITY
It was Hangover Time this morning when Jackie’s (male) co-owner opened his computer and read David Marr’s most recent rant in The Guardian titled “The church has always been in the business of shame – now it wants a law to protect its nastiness”.
Your man Marr banged on about the Morrison government’s proposed religious discrimination bill, which is due to be debated in the Parliament over the next couple of weeks. Details of the proposed legislation have yet to be released. Without having glanced at the legislation, Marr reckons that the legislation will provide what “the churches want”. Namely, that the law protects them from Australia.
It’s difficult to work out how Australian churches can protect themselves from Australia. In any event, what churches does Comrade Marr have in mind? His piece in the leftist Guardian was illustrated by a pic of an Anglican or Catholic cathedral – accompanied by the caption “Shame is the business of these churches. Shame and forgiveness. But first there has to be shame.”
Clearly Marr has Christianity in mind. But his Guardian rant failed to recognise that, on social matters, many religions are as conservative as large parts of Christianity. For example, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and areas of Judaism. But they were spared the Marr scorn.
David Marr’s early morning rant is bereft of evidence. The only names named are the Sydney diocese of the Anglican Church and Israel Folau. That’s all. Except for unflattering references to God with a capital “g”.
David Marr refers to “the rivers of money that flow to church organisations from government”. But he makes no reference whatsoever to the huge financial contribution made by religious organisations over the centuries to the creation of schools, hospitals, aged homes and the like.
The British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge (who once worked for the Manchester Guardian) wrote that in India he had seen many a centre for lepers funded by a Christian church – but never one funded by, say , the Fabian Society.
But, to David Marr, Christian churches preach only the message of “shame” and being “nasty”. That’s the Epistle of Secular Saint Marr as told to the Guardianistas this very morning. Amen.
GEORGE MEGALOGENIS FORGETS ABOUT THE ECONOMY UNDER THE WHITLAM GOVERNMENT ALONG WITH THE NAME OF THE PAST EDITOR
What a stunning performance by George Megalogenis, who presented as an author and journalist, on ABC TV’s Q&A last night. Highlights of Comrade Megalogenis’s performance included:
- Early on, GM looked back in happiness on what Gough Whitlam and his Labor government did for equal pay between December 1972 and November 1975. This overlooked the fact that many men and women became equally unemployed due to the disastrous performance of the Whitlam government – which essentially lost control of the economy in mid-1974. To many Australians the Whitlam government was a time of high inflation, high interest rates and high unemployment. George Megalogenis was born in 1964.
- Then Comrade Megalogenis had this to say, albeit in a confusing manner:
George Megalogenis: I don’t wanna reregulate the labour market, by the way, I’ve gotta remember I’m an economist at one point. I don’t want to re – probably re regulate. I wouldn’t trust politicians with the, with the rules that they put in place. … Again, I’m going to reference my old job – not necessarily going to reference any particular editor. But there was a time and a place, I remember, in the media where the editor wanted to see all the staff just there like firemen – and women – [GM sat to attention here] ready to answer the call. And you spent half the – half the day in the office pretending to do stuff. You couldn’t pick up a phone –
David Speers: [interjecting] Now I’m curious who this editor is, George.
George Megalogenis: [everyone laughing] I don’t know which one it was now.
David Speers: Jane, let me ask you –
George Megalogenis: [interjecting] By the way, remember, I left in 2012.
So there you have it. Your man Megalogenis reckons that, when he was a journalist, an editor wanted all his journalists to sit for half a day in the office waiting for something to happen. Moreover, during this time they could not “even pick up a phone”.
Sounds like a tall tale to MWD. But we will never know who this editor was – since apparently George Megalogenis cannot remember who it (allegedly) was. Convenient, eh?
ITA BUTTROSE’S “WE WARN THE KAISER” MOMENT ABOUT A PROPOSED SENATE COMMITTEE – THAT’S ALL FOLKS
As avid Media Watch Dog readers are well aware, Jackie’s (male) co-owner just loves it when ABC journalists interview ABC journalists or ABC management about the ABC. It’s a bit like a Collingwood or South Sydney barracker interviewing the Collingwood or South Sydney captain about their respective clubs.
On Sunday, ABC chair Ita Buttrose put out a “we warn the Kaiser” style statement objecting to the fact that Liberal Party Senator Andrew Bragg, chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications, intends to set up an inquiry into the ABC’s complaints procedure. This followed a decision by the ABC board to conduct an independent inquiry into the ABC’s complaints handling – to be undertaken by former Commonwealth and NSW ombudsman Professor John McMillan and former TV executive John Carroll.
Chair Buttrose was none too pleased with Senator Bragg’s decision and issued a statement on Sunday which said, in part:
Once again, an elected representative has chosen to threaten the ABC’s independence at the expense of the integrity of this irreplaceable public service. Any incursion of this kind into the ABC’s independence should be seen by Australians for what it is: an attempt to weaken the community’s trust in the public broadcaster.
This is an act of political interference designed to intimidate the ABC and mute its role as this country’s most trusted source of public interest journalism. If politicians determine the operation of the national broadcaster’s complaints system, they can influence what is reported by the ABC.
It was not long before the ABC Chair was being interviewed by the ABC’s Fran (“I’m an activist”) Kelly on ABC Radio National Breakfast and declaring:
Ita Buttrose: I’m advised that it’s highly unusual for a government to use a legislative committee to specifically investigate one of its agencies. I’m told that it is so rare that, when it does occur, it’s usually on a bipartisan basis.
So, normally matters would be referred to a references committee, which requires a vote of the whole Senate. But on this occasion, using the Senate standing orders 25, Senator Bragg has chosen to use the device of the legislation committee, where the government has a majority to force an inquiry into the ABC’s complaints handling. So, that’s unlike the references committee which requires approval by the Senate.
The government doesn’t control the numbers there. So, what we have here, really, is a partisan political exercise, under the guise of using its Senate legislation committee, for government senators to undermine the ABC’s independence. There’s no other way I can take this. I’m reliably informed that Labor’s senators oppose this action. And the Greens weren’t present because their senators were in Glasgow.
Now, it’s not clear where Ita Buttrose gets her legal advice from. Presumably the 20 plus strong ABC internal legal department – which, by the way, sends quite a few defamation cases involving the ABC to commercial lawyers resulting in taxpayers picking up the tab.
The point is that, when talking to Comrade Kelly on Monday, Ms Buttrose seemed unaware that there is a difference between the executive arm of government and the Parliament. It’s called the separation of powers. The fact is that Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his cabinet colleagues do not control the Parliament, including the Senate.
In view of this, the backbencher Andrew Bragg is entitled to set up a Senate inquiry into whatever he likes – provided he has the support of the majority of his Senate colleagues. This may or may not be the case in this particular instance – we shall see when the Senate reconvenes next week.
Ita Buttose told Fran Kelly that it’s “the legal responsibility of the ABC board to investigate these things [the ABC’s complaints procedures] and that’s exactly what we’re doing”. Fair enough – even if the board has not held such an investigation for over a decade. However, this overlooks the fact that it is the Senate’s responsibility to investigate what it wants to investigate.
Ita Buttrose went on to suggest that the Coalition is attempting to meddle in and dictate to the national broadcaster about policy content. But she provided no evidence whatsoever to support the allegation that there is a causal relationship between ABC content and how the ABC handles complaints. The ABC chair went on to suggest that the relationship between the Morrison government and the ABC is “strained” – and implied that this is all the fault of the government. She concluded:
Ita Buttrose: I think it would be better if the government, and the national broadcaster had a better relationship. We are not the enemy; we are easily accessible. I’ve said to politicians many times: “I’m approachable, please pick up the phone if you’ve got a complaint, if you’ve got a problem with the ABC; I’m here to talk to you. Don’t hesitate to call”. So, why didn’t Senator Bragg give me a call if he has a problem with the ABC? If he has a problem with the way our inquiry is being granted? That’s what most people do; they ring the boss. So, they either ring me as the chair or they ring David Anderson as the managing director. Both of us are very approachable and we are prepared to listen to anyone who wants to talk to us.
So there you have it. Ita Buttrose does not believe that politicians should interfere with the ABC. But she seems to think that it is okay for the ABC to tell senators whether they should or should not set up an inquiry.
There is another problem. Neither the ABC chair Ita Buttrose nor the ABC board (excluding managing director David Anderson) has any control over the content that appears on ABC platforms. David Anderson is a member of the ABC board in his capacity as ABC managing director and editor-in-chief. However, like his predecessor Mark Scott, David Anderson rarely acts in his capacity as editor-in-chief.
Indeed, when Mr Anderson receives serious complaints about ABC content he invariably flicks the matter to ABC bureaucrats in Canberra who head up ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs. Such matters are rarely resolved quickly. Moreover, the ABC’s complaints department within the ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs dismisses virtually all matters it looks into.
Now the ABC has set up an inquiry to examine that part of the ABC which considers complaints – sometimes including complaints made directly to David Anderson in his capacity as editor-in-chief. That’s fine. But there is no compelling reason why the Senate should refrain from setting up its own inquiry. There’s room for two.
PETER FITZSIMONS REGRETS THAT TWIGGY FORREST DIDN’T INVITE HIM TO A FANCY (CARBON EMITTING) RESTAURANT
As Media Watch Dog readers are aware, Jackie’s (male) co-owner, being a well brought up kind of guy, avoids talking about money. His own – and other people’s. Not so Peter (“I used to wear a red rag until it got lost at the laundry after a decade on my head”) FitzSimons, the millionaire eco-catastrophist who appears to enjoy asking billionaire eco-catastrophists about their moolah.
As readers will recall, in his piss-poor “5 minutes with Fitz” column in Nine’s Sun-Herald on 31 October 2021, Fitz (aka the Red Bandannaed One of recent memory) spoke to Atlassian founder Michael Cannon-Brookes about his $40 billion (or so) wealth. He of what Paul Keating used to call the Hyphenated-Name-Set, assured a fawning Fitz that he had a small environmental footprint. Oh yeah?
Your man Fitz was at it again last Sunday – where his literary sludge was headed “Forrest can see the wood for the trees on climate change”. Fitz put it to Andrew (“Call me Twiggy”) Forrest – who was at the COP26 in Glasgow – that he should say “out loud that the PM and the Coalition’s action on climate change has been hopeless and their latest proposals are sham”.
Your man Forrest did not think that this was a particularly good idea since he has to “work with any government elected by the people”. He added that as “an Australian overseas” he was “not going down the path of other politicians who have criticised our country from overseas”. Fair enough. Perhaps for a moment, Fitz thought he was talking to the millionaire Malcolm Turnbull – maybe this will occur next Sunday.
Having commented to the chairman of the Fortescue Metals Group, who made his fortune digging up stuff, that he’s “$30 billion to the good now”, Fitz asked why he “bothered making more”. The somewhat naïve Fitz accepted that Andrew Forrest wants to spend his time now saving the planet, or some such, by replacing diesel oil and coal with green hydrogen which is fully commercial. Rather than ask how soon such an ambitious plan might be achieved, Comrade FitzSimons asked about his environmental footprint question:
Fitz: Did you fly to Glasgow commercial or private jet?
AF: I am not answering that inane question, mate. I got here the most practical way I could when you’ve got to visit fifty countries.
Fitz: One last thing. You’ve been in Sydney recently, duchessing journalists in fancy restaurants. Why weren’t you duchessing me?
AF: Because I know if I go to you, I’m preaching to the converted.
How about that? Instead of pushing back and suggesting that it was not inane to suggest that the likes of Forrest should practise what they preach – and querying whether in late 2021 it was really necessary to visit 50 countries by private plane – Fitz asked Twiggy why he hadn’t duchessed him – a really and truly inane question. Can You Bear It?
[Er, no. Not now that you ask. I note that the Sun-Herald dropped the joke segment of “5 minutes with Fitz” last weekend. Perhaps Nine has finally realised that the whole column is a joke. – MWD Editor.]
SHANE WRIGHT’S CANDLESTICKS/COAL CONFUSION
While on the topic of Glasgow, COP26 and all that, how is Shane Wright’s prediction that “coal is like candlesticks” going? As MWD readers will recall, appearing on ABC TV’s Insiders program on 11 June 2017, Wright declared: “Coal is like candlesticks”. The senior correspondent for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald mocked the suggestion that coal would be an energy source for at least some decades to come, and stated that the Candle Makers Union of old used to say: “These light bulbs, they’ll never catch on.”
Fancy that. One of Nine Newspapers’ most senior economics writers expressed the view only a few years ago that coal circa 2020 was like candlesticks circa 1850 in so far as energy was concerned. How ignorant can an Age/SMH economics correspondent get? It would seem that Comrade Wright is totally ignorant of the energy needs of China, India, Indonesia and more besides.
And so it came to pass that, apparently on the insistence of India and China, the final communique of the Glasgow COP meeting proclaimed that coal production should be phased down rather than phased out. Fancy that. Could it be that the leaders of China, India, Indonesia and the like do not read the economic predictions of the Nine scribbler Comrade Wright?
And what has the Nine senior economics correspondent have to say about the COP 26’s resolution to coal? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Can You Bear It?
THE ABC/GUARDIAN AUSTRALIA AXIS ON INSIDERS APPEARS TO FACILITATE BAD LANGUAGE ON A SUNDAY MORNING
The ABC TV’s Insiders was something of a disappointment this week – coming, as it did, after the previous week which was great for MWD.
For example, on 7 November there was almost a full consummation of the ABC/Guardian Australia Axis. David Speers (ABC) was the presenter and the panel comprised Phil Coorey (Australian Financial Review), Andrew Probyn (ABC) and Lenore Taylor (Guardian Australia). In the “Talking Pictures” segment, host Mike Bowers (Guardian) interviewed Sammy J (ABC). So 5 out of 6 of the Insiders talent was from the ABC/Guardian Axis. That’s a whopping 83 per cent. Well done.
The highlight of the show was when Comrade Probyn accused Finance Minister Simon Birmingham of talking “bloody nonsense” about his criticism of how some journalists reported French president Emmanuel Macron’s comments about Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The ABC’s political editor also accused the Prime Minister’s Office of being “shallow and vindictive”. Professional, dispassionate reporting – don’t you think?
It seems that Comrade Probyn’s apparent view that abuse is a higher form of argument, had an impact on last Sunday’s Insiders. Highlights of a somewhat boringly predictable program occurred when the ABC’s Shalailah Medhora proclaimed that the Prime Minister’s policy on global emissions was a “half-arsed measure”. [Well, at least it wasn’t a full-arsed measure. – MWD Editor]. And then Karen Middleton – of The [Boring] Saturday Paper – said that Scott Morrison’s past position on electric vehicles was “complete rubbish”.
Now such language might be suitable for a publication like MWD – which comes out at around Gin & Tonic Time. But surely the likes of Comrades Probyn and Medhora should be expected to refrain from using such words as “bloody” and “arse” so early on a Sunday morning. But apparently not. Can You Bear It?
IS JUSTIN SMITH’S BAD LANGUAGE AN INDICATION THAT HE’S AFTER A GIG ON THE INSIDERS COUCH?
In view of the fact that verbal abuse seems to work on Insiders, could it be that Melbourne radio jock and Herald-Sun columnist Justin Smith is aiming to attract the attention of Insiders’ executive producer Samuel Clark and get a gig on the Insiders panel?
Your man Smith appeared to put in a bid for this during Sky News’ The Kenny Report on successive Wednesdays during what is called “The Wednesday Wrangle” between Justin Smith and Liz Storer.
On 10 November 2021, Comrade Smith said that Scott Morrison was “full of crap” and expounded “garbage”. Then last Wednesday, confusing abuse with argument, Justin Smith described Scott Morrison as a “dodgy used car salesman”. It would seem that Comrade Smith favours abuse of the cliché kind. In any event, what’s wrong with used car salesmen? More importantly, Can You Bear It?
This increasingly popular segment of MWD is inspired by the Anglo Irish satirist Dr Jonathan Swift’s proposal to relieve the plight of the Irish under British control by certain suggestions which he proffered in his writings. Most notably “A Modest Proposal – For preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick”. As a consequence of such irreverence, your clergyman Swift (1667-1745) never attained his due rank within the Church of Ireland (i.e. the Anglican Church in Ireland). But that’s another story – and he was a great writer.
A MODEST PROPOSAL – FOR PREVENTING MEDICAL BLOKES (LIKE NORMAN SWAN) CROWDING OUT MEDICAL SHEILAS IN COVID-19 MEDIA COMMENTARY
Did anyone hear the interview on ABC Radio National Breakfast yesterday? – between Fran (“I’m an activist”) Kelly and Jenna Price, the Nine Newspaper columnist who is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University. For the record, Dr Price (for a doctor she is) is an MWD fave – for what it’s worth. [Not much at all, I suspect. – MWD Editor.]
In case you missed it, Comrade Kelly interviewed Comrade Price in her capacity as the co-author of the 2021 Women for Media report. Let’s go to the transcript, towards the end of the 9 minute long interview, where discussion turned on the coverage of female medical experts at a time of pandemic:
Fran Kelly: …Your survey finds men are quoted 73 per cent of the time in articles about the Coronavirus – which does seem surprising given that a lot of our public health experts and certainly our most high-profile epidemiologists, for instance, are women. How do you account for that disparity?
Jenna Price: Well, it’s really fascinating to me. So, it was 20, only 27 per cent of experts quoted in those 60,000 stories were women. And when I think about the women that I listened to, it’s obviously Raina MacIntyre and Mary-Louise McLaws. Then we’ve got all those [female] chief medical officers. And I am wondering whether it’s just that we go to our tried-and-true people. If you’re choosing between one epidemiologist over another – and it’s the most, you’ve got the most prominent one – you might go to the one you’ve always spoken to….
Turn it up. You’ve heard the cliché about “The Elephant in the Room”. Well, what about the, er, “The Swan in the Room”? – which, neither Comrade Price nor Comrade Kelly wanted to acknowledge yesterday. To wit, Norman (“I’m Australia’s most trusted doctor”) Swan.
The likes of Dr MacIntyre and Dr McLaws are epidemiologists. Not so Dr Swan – who is not a specialist in the area of disease and infection control and has not practised medicine for four decades. Yet the ABC consistently used your man Swan as the ABC’s “Doctor in the COVID-19 House” crowding out the likes of Dr MacIntyre and Dr McLaws and more besides.
There is Norman Swan’s Coronavirus podcast. And there was his constant appearances on such ABC programs as News Breakfast, ABC TV News, 7.30, The Drum, Q&A, AM, The World Today, PM, The Health Report and much more besides. Including, alas, RN Breakfast. In short, Norman Swan dominated COVID-19 commentary on the ABC and was also seen and heard on the commercial media.
So here’s Jackie’s Modest Proposal. If the likes of Comrades Price and Kelly want fewer blokes talking about COVID-19 and hogging the media space – tell Norman Swan to go away on a (very long) well-earned break and replace him with some well qualified medical sheilas.
A Modest Proposal from Jackie – but guaranteed to alleviate Dr Price’s problems.
ABC LIFE BORN AGAIN AS ABC EVERYDAY
Avid readers will remember fondly the days when MWD would cover the ABC’s lifestyle and clickbait website ABC Life. After news that ABC Life would be rebranded in 2020, MWD lost interest and forgot about it – until it was back in the news recently when James Morrow took aim at its frequent coverage of polyamory in the News Corp dailies such as the Herald Sun and the Daily Telegraph.
The site was rebranded from ABC Life to ABC Everyday in December 2020 – and according to an article in the SMH at the time the scope would be expanded, with “reporters from the ABC’s rural and regional bureaus encouraged to file more stories”. MWD had a browse at what else ABC Everyday has on offer aside from polyamory tips and it seems it is indistinguishable from the old ABC Life.
The site includes recipes and cooking tips such as “’That is just wrong’: Stop rinsing rice after cooking plus 5 other common rice no-nos” and “Why you might want to rethink storing your raspberries in their punnet”. Thanks for that. But that’s not all. There’s also articles like “Celebrities are revealing they don’t shower much. So how often should you?” and “Is it too early to start playing songs by the Queen of Christmas [Mariah Carey]?”. If you have every wondered how often actor Jake Gyllenhaal takes a shower or pondered what time of year you should be listening to Mariah Carey, ABC Everyday has you covered.
None of this is particularly offensive – the real issue is, why are taxpayers funding it? Everything available on ABC Everyday is available elsewhere. There are already endless recipe websites and lifestyle blogs online. Critics of ABC Life/Everyday like to point out a few worthwhile stories ABC Life/Everyday has produced over the years – but these are few and far between and would fit in with the ABC’s regular online content.
As Free TV Australia’s chief executive Bridget Fair said prior to the ABC Life rebrand, “Lifestyle would have to be one of the most comprehensively covered market segments in Australian media. It’s very hard to see how this new service fits with the ABC charter.”
The ABC has complained about budget cuts and has over the years cut many legitimate news and current affairs programs. Lateline, the 7.45am radio news program, Olympics coverage and the Northern Territory shortwave radio service have all been dropped in recent years, while other programs such as The World Today have been halved.
It is not just the ABC Everyday, but the regular headlines and news coverage that have gone the way of clickbait on ABC News.
Take this recent article on Tasmanian Labor’s state conference. An ABC News article likens it to “Squid Game” – an extremely popular series on the streaming platform Netflix. For those out of the loop, Squid Game is a South Korean series about a group of heavily indebted Koreans who fight to the death in violent versions of children’s games devised to entertain a group of wealthy gamblers. See the similarities? As reporter Emily Baker says, the Tasmanian Labor Party conference “had the potential to give the series a run for its money”.
Now, it is understandable a reporter might want to liven up coverage of a state political conference – but this is supposedly “analysis” by an investigative reporter. The ABC is funded by the taxpayer, which should mean it doesn’t have to capitalise on trends in pop culture to get people to read its news.
The ABC has the luxury of more than $1 billion a year in government funding and does not have the pressure of generating clicks for advertising dollars. But looking at ABC Online you wouldn’t be able to tell.
As avid readers are well aware, Media Watch Dog has always had an interest in memory – including the fallibility of memory. Sure, some people are untruthful while others have a good recall of events. But many individuals have false memories – this applies to even highly intelligent and learned types. That’s why it makes sense to check what anyone says. Some journalists believe what people tell them based on their demeanour as to their recollections. This is a deeply flawed practice – since it frequently leads to journalists believing what they want to believe. For its part, MWD believes in fact-checking what people claim. Here we go.
HELEN GARNER’S FALSE MEMORY ABOUT THE SYDNEY INSTITUTE’S 1995 ANNUAL LECTURE
Thanks to the avid Melbourne reader who drew MWD’s attention to Helen Garner’s How To End A Story: Diaries Volume III 1995-1998 (Text Publishing, 2021) which has recently been released. This third volume of Ms Garner’s diaries continues the familiar tale of life in her particular Vale of Tears. The trials and tribulations which confront the Melbourne-based writer are never more evident than, when early in her latest tome, she confronts a difficult pencil-seller in a street market. Go to Page 4 of How To End A Story and feel Comrade Garner’s pain:
At the street market I bargain with a tough-looking bloke for a bunch of battered pencils in a rubber band. He wants five bucks. “Whaaaat? It’s only some dirty old pencils.” He draws one out, reads the legend on its side, and says, in a strong accent, “Zese pencils come from America.”
“So? Three bucks.” He looks at the pencils, hits me with his hard Eastern European gaze: “No. Five.” I shrug and walk away, defeated.
The seller wanted $5 for a set of American pencils. The writer wanted to pay $3. The seller, with the “hard Eastern European gaze”, refused to drop his price. So the inner-city writer walked away defeated. Can there have been so comprehensive a defeat since Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow circa 1812? – MWD hears readers cry.
But MWD digresses. Here’s Helen Garner’s “recollection” of the occasion when she gave The Sydney Institute’s Annual Lecture on 8 August 1995 – it can be found at Pages 5-6 of How To End A Story:
A stoush breaks out over which newspaper shall run an edited version of the lecture I’m giving at the Sydney Institute. My agent accepted a deal with the Australian weeks ago, and though Fairfax is offering more, “we are women of our word”, as she puts it. But the guy at the Institute wants Fairfax to have it and goes into a frenzy; even his wife calls me: “But Helen! If it goes to the Australian we won’t have any publicity!” I give the lecture. Next morning the Australian runs the short, agreed-on version. Okay – that’s done. Then I pick up the Herald and there I am all over the front page: unable to bully or bribe me, Fairfax sent a reporter to the event with a tape recorder and they’ve run a huge, ragged, clumsy transcript, full of illiterate mishearings: “shake the dust of this from your feet” becomes the “the dust of our self-defeat”; “the dancing force” becomes “the dancing horse”. Thus they’ve shafted the Australian and got what they wanted for nothing. Shell-shocked. I don’t care about the money. A deal’s a deal. In fact I got such colossal coverage that I’m probably going to have to emigrate….
Really. Now here are the facts about Helen Garner’s “recollections” – along with a Dramatis Personae.
- “The guy at the Institute” is Gerard Henderson – aka Jackie’s (male) co-owner.
- “His wife” is Anne Henderson – aka Jackie’s (female) co-owner.
- It is true that Helen Garner’s literary agent accepted a deal to sell the publication rights to her 1995 Sydney Institute Annual Lecture to The Australian. No one at The Sydney Institute had anything to do with this negotiation.
- At the time, Gerard Henderson wrote a weekly column for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. He was advised by The Age’s editor Michael Gawenda that Fairfax (the then owner of The Age and the SMH) wanted to bid for rights to publish Garner’s speech. Henderson passed on this information to Garner’s literary agent – along with advice that The Age was prepared to pay a large amount for the speech. That’s all.
- Gerard Henderson did not care which newspaper published extracts from the 1995 Sydney Institute’s Lecture. The assertion that he went “into a frenzy” is just, well, bollocks. He doesn’t do frenzy. The only concern that the Hendersons had about the Dinner was the attendance – and it was sold-out well in advance of any negotiations between Helen Garner’s literary agent and any newspaper.
- Anne Henderson has never spoken to Helen Garner on a phone – before or after the 1995 Annual Dinner. The claim that Anne told Helen: “But Helen! If it goes to the Australian we won’t have any publicity” is pure mythology. The dinner was already booked out and The Sydney Institute did not need any publicity.
- As Helen Garner and her literary agent were advised, The Sydney Institute’s Annual Dinner is an on-the-record event. How could this not be the case? After all, there were some 650 people at the event on 8 August 1995 – which was held at the (then) The Regent, Sydney.
- The Age’s editor, Michael Gawenda, bought a ticket and attended the event. Unbeknown to The Sydney Institute staff, some Age/SMH staff recorded the Lecture and either dictated or forwarded the speech to The Age. Whereupon, it was reported on the front page of both The Age and the SMH the following morning.
This was unfair to The Australian – but only contributed to the publicity around Helen Garner’s controversial book The First Stone. So, she had no reason to be aggrieved – and she expressed no displeasure at the time.
Until the publication of How To End A Story: Diaries 1995-1998, The Sydney Institute had no idea that Helen Garner was upset with her appearance at The Sydney Institute in 1995. After her talk, she provided a copy of her speech for publication in the Spring 1995 issue of The Sydney Papers. Helen Garner even provided a postscript which was published – it contained a clarification concerning one critic of The First Stone.
Clearly in her Diaries for 1995 – published a quarter of a century after the event – Helen Garner has a clear “recollection” of an occasion that never happened.
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Until next time
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