ISSUE – NO. 639

16 June 2023

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Here is Media Watch Dog’s advice to avid readers who happen to be employed by the ABC – don’t do anything that can be assessed as a “fantastic” performance.

MWD just loves it when ABC journalists interview ABC management – that is, their bosses – about the taxpayer funded public broadcaster.  This is what occurred yesterday when ABC Radio Melbourne Drive presenter Raf Epstein interviewed Justin Stevens – the ABC’s Director of News, Analysis and Investigations.  The topic was the ABC’s decision to make redundant some 120 employees – including Canberra-based ABC political editor Andrew Probyn.

In response to questions, Justin Stevens told Raf Epstein that it was a “really sad day for a number of people across the organisation” but added that the taxpayer funded broadcaster had to make “some very tough decisions”. Stevens described Probyn, among unnamed others, as individuals who had made a “fantastic and important contribution” to the ABC.  He went on to refer to Andrew Probyn as “a fantastic journalist” who has done “fantastic work for the ABC”.  But apparently not fantastic enough to hold his job.

It is true that the ABC political editor upset some political conservatives on 10 October 2017 when he called Tony Abbott “already the most destructive politician of his generation”. However, as a rule, Probyn did not mix opinion with his news reporting.  Moreover, his appearances on the ABC TV Insiders program were invariably empirical and considered.

In any event, Probyn has been shown the exit door.  Meanwhile, Laura Tingle, ABC TV’s 7.30 political correspondent, reported last Tuesday on the allegation of rape in Parliament House during the prime ministership of the Coalition’s Scott Morrison.  Tingle once described the Morrison government as replete with “ideological bastardy”.  This blatant barracking has not diminished Tingle’s role at the ABC. Perhaps she is Fantastic Plus.

On Wednesday 14 June, Gerard Henderson addressed The Sydney Institute on the topic “The ABC in Crisis?”.  He referred to the recent announcement that the ABC had undertaken a five-year plan aimed at adopting a digital-first approach in a bid to engage a younger audience.  It is this plan which has led to the restructuring announced yesterday along with Probyn’s retrenchment.

Henderson’s point was that this was the wrong solution to the public broadcaster’s challenge.  The ABC has never been of great appeal to the young – as distinct from children.  Whilst it is true that the ABC’s ratings among young Australians have fallen – it is unlikely that this age cohort can readily be converted to ABC followers, whether on digital or linear platforms.

The ABC’s essential problem is that it has lost many of its traditional middle-aged plus viewers/listeners due to the fact that it is a Conservative Free Zone which lacks political diversity across television, radio and online outlets.

Rather than address this issue, ABC management has attempted to solve the problem of falling ratings by seeking a younger audience rather than winning back its many traditional conservative listeners/viewers.  Namely, political and social conservatives who junked the ABC for Sky News subscription television and Sky News Regional.  These are just some of the options available in recent years for one-time ABC types who have voted with their ears and eyeballs and walked away from the public broadcaster.

Yesterday’s announcement about ABC restructuring in general and the retrenchment of Andrew Probyn in particular is unlikely to win new listeners/viewers or regain lost ones. It is likely that the ABC’s proposed five-year plan has turned out to be a five- minute disappointment.

Can You Bear It?


It was Gin & Tonic Time on Saturday 10 June on the King’s Birthday Holiday weekend when the Media Watch Dog czar happened the visit the Twitterverse.  And, lo and behold, he noticed that Christopher Joye – the (usually) mild-mannered, if somewhat boring, Australian Financial Review  columnist – who writes the paper’s “The Maverick” column – had tweeted about the topic he knows best. Namely, HIMSELF.

To be honest, Gerard Henderson has never read a Twitter rant quite like this before.  Noting that your man Joye’s tweet had been sent out at 5.27 pm (aka Gin & Tonic Time), Hendo decided to have another G&T before reading what your man Joye described as his 1400-word “stream of consciousness”.

In fact, what The Maverick delivered was a stream of unconsciousness – which commenced with a job description of his other role as a portfolio manager with Coolabah Capital.  Here we go:

I’m often asked how much time/effort it takes to write an AFR column. It’s funny because traders on the street know that on Friday mornings, I will be buried in one. Last Friday was a normal day for us: we did about $450m of trades, and I actively directed $300m of them. A trader will chat me and say something like, “Hey CJ, I know you might be busy writing, but I could buy $50m of ABC”…

And so it went on and on. CJ – as he apparently likes to be called – told his Twitter followers (if followers there were in addition to this one who was looking for copy to put in MWD) – that he can write his AFR column in one hour – two at max.  The Maverick continued:

While I’ve been writing newspaper columns and op-eds for 20yrs now, the process is ultimately gratifying. It forces you to really challenge your hypotheses/beliefs/ideas. You have to put your own views out there in black-and-white to be judged by the world for all eternity. It is humbling when you make mistakes, and others notice. And it normally helps you evolve your thinking about the way things work. I used to enjoy the actual writing more. Nowadays, I am so ridiculously pressed for time, I am always jamming out the column as quickly as possible and can never do justice to the writing itself. The funny thing is that the quickest and most carefree columns are often the most well received.

[Interesting. If your man Joye is so pressed for time, why does he bother to tweet at Gin & Tonic Time on a Saturday afternoon?  Just a thought. – MWD Editor.]

Having read all this, the MWD czar refreshed his Gin & Tonic and wondered about The Maverick’s maverick-like view that his columns will be judged by the world for all eternity.  It’s a big call when you think about it – or even if you don’t.  Which raises the question: Can You Bear It?


While on the issue of someone – like AFR’s The Maverick – being humbled, MWD notes that former New Zealand Labour prime minister Jacinda Ardern told the Across-the-Ditch media that she was “incredibly humbled” to have been gonged by the New Zealand Labour government in the King’s Birthday honours list.

It was a matter of the avowed republican and one-time president of the International Union of Socialist Youth, Comrade Ardern, metamorphosing into Dame Jacinda – Dame Grand Champion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

[Interesting. If Dame Jacinda is so humble, why did she accept this Royal gong on the King’s (official) Birthday?  Why not remain as humble Ms Ardern? – MWD Editor.]

It appears that the Humbling of Dame Jacinda has led to the silencing of her Australian Fan Club.  Just imagine if, say, Tony Abbott’s Coalition government had gonged John Howard on the Queen’s Birthday in 2014.  The sneering leftists in our midst would surely have mocked the concept of “Sir John – Knight of the Order of Australia”. This in spite of the fact that both Tony Abbott and John Howard are monarchists.

However, when the republican Comrade Ardern becomes a Dame (with a capital “D”) per courtesy of the New Zealand Labour government, the comrades in Australia say nothing.  MWD has not heard a word of mockery from the likes of Mike Carlton, Paul Bongiorno, Peter FitzSimons and Anne Summers.  Talk about double standards.  Can You Bear It?


There was enormous interest in MWD’s analysis – published on 9 June in the Documentation segment titled “Tucker Carlson embraces the Paranoid Style in American Politics”.

So, lotsa thanks to the avid Culburra Beach reader – who appears to watch Sky News Regional on the NSW South Coast – who drew MWD’s attention to the rant by Sky News’ The Late Debate co-presenter Liz Storer – who “did a Tucker” on 7 June.

Let’s go to the transcript – which has been somewhat altered to make Ms Storer’s comments more coherent:

Liz Storer: We shouldn’t be involved in the [Russia/Ukraine] war, period. This is NATO’s war, NATO started it, they poked the bear, they pulled the lever, they knew exactly what China… Russia would do in response. They did it anyway. Let the US bankrupt itself as it’s very effectively done funding this war because we all know its own motives, own reasons for doing what it’s doing. Putin has always said he wanted to restore the boundary of the original USSR.

James Macpherson: I know.

Liz Storer: That’s why NATO knew what they were doing. The point of the matter is, Australia is not a member state of NATO. Neither should we be….Our entire lifetimes, our Australian military has never gone and fought proper wars. What it does is behave as the US’s sidekick. Why are we in Afghanistan? Oh, because the Americans are in Afghanistan? Why are the Americans in Afghanistan? Oh, protecting its own interests and benefiting greatly? I think a lot of everyday people on the street who haven’t just completely drunk the very simple Kool-Aid of “Russia bad everyone must up arms”, for goodness sake, before people started waving around the Ukrainian flag, we all knew it was one of the most corrupt countries on the face of God’s green earth –

Certainly, co-presenters James Macpherson and Caleb Bond pushed back on Ms Storer’s rant – a rant which would have made leftist journalist John Pilger proud.  All that leftist stuff about Australians fighting other people’s wars along with blaming NATO for Russia invading another country.

Advised that Russian leader Vladimir Putin wants to conquer Ukraine before channelling Soviet Union dictator Josef Stalin and conquering all of Eastern Europe including Poland and the Baltic States – Liz Storer’s response would be: “Give it to Putin”. MWD’s response is Can You Bear It?


There has been some controversy of late concerning the ABC spending literally millions of taxpayer dollars on promoting ABC programs.  According to Clarissa Bye’s report in The Daily Telegraph on 7 June, in the four-month period from December 2022 to March 2023, the taxpayer funded public broadcaster spent $4.9 million on advertising, promotions and audience research.

This expenditure by the ABC on the ABC has been criticised by, among others, the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. Its view is that the ABC – which has two major TV channels, around 60 radio stations and an online newspaper – should be able to promote itself.  Assuming, that is, that there are viewers/listeners/readers.

However, Media Watch Dog is of the view that such advertising could be necessary in view of the ABC’s own failures when it comes to self-promotion. Look at it this way: the current promotion on ABC Radio National for the RN programs Saturday Extra (presenter Geraldine Doogue) and Sunday Extra (presenter Julian Morrow – he of The Chaser Boys, average age 481/2) demonstrates the point.

The promotion commences with a (fake) phone conversation in which Mr Morrow invites Ms Doogue to breakfast on a Saturday morning.  Comrade Morrow gets a knock-back when Geraldine Doogue advises that she presents her program on a Saturday morning at breakfast time.  Then Geraldine Doogue asks The Chaser Boy (average age 481/2)  whether he could have breakfast with her on a Sunday morning.  You’ve guessed it.  Your man Morrow advises that he presents a Sunday morning program at breakfast time.

Fancy that. The powers that be at the ABC are advertising its Radio National weekend breakfast programs by telling listeners that Geraldine Doogue doesn’t listen to Sunday Extra and Julian Morrow doesn’t listen to Saturday Extra. And they expect us mere mortals to listen to both. Can You Bear It?


Media Watch Dog has never been a Donald Trump conservative – but does understand his appeal in the United States which led to him narrowly winning the 2016 presidential election and narrowly losing the vote in 2020.

One of the reasons for President Donald Trump’s continuing support turns on the fact that many Americans believe that he has been treated unfairly by the Department of Justice and prosecutors.  This view was expressed by the high profile United States lawyer Alan Dershowitz on Talk TV’s Piers Morgan Uncensored – which ran on Sky News in Australia on Tuesday 13 June. Let’s go to the transcript:

Alan Dershowitz: I wrote a whole book on why there has been a campaign to get Donald Trump. Look, I’m not a Trump supporter. I voted against him twice. I have a constitutional right to vote against him a third time and I intend to. But I don’t want a bunch of prosecutors to prevent Americans from voting for him or against him.

Penn Jillette: Well, they won’t.

Alan Dershowitz: He shouldn’t be compared – he shouldn’t be compared to every ordinary person. But he should be compared to Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Vice-President Pence, Sandy Berger; others who have allegedly committed comparable crimes. And if what we’re seeing is an attempt to target him uniquely by the Democratic administration because he is the chief Republican who’s going to be running against the incumbent Democrat. It better be a very strong case –

Penn Jillette: [interjecting] But he’s not being stopped from running.

Alan Dershowitz: – as it was for Richard Nixon. Maybe it is a strong case…

Piers Morgan: [interjecting] I mean, I’ve got to say, I saw… [the panel goes on to discuss strength of case]

What occurred on Piers Morgan Uncensored was a genuine debate on President Trump’s current predicament in which different views were heard.

Not so on Australia’s Conservative Free Zone.  On ABC Radio’s The World Today on 13 June, Nas Campanella interviewed Rick Wilson – a former Republican Party strategist who is vehemently anti-Trump and a member of the Lincoln Project.  Then on ABC TV’s 7.30 that same night Sarah Ferguson interviewed Jill Wine-Banks who was also hostile to Donald J. Trump. No other view was heard.

So viewers of Sky News heard divergent views on President Trump.  But ABC listeners/viewers heard only the case for the Trump prosecution.

Due to overwhelming popular demand, the Flann O’Brien Gong returns again this week. As avid Media Watch Dog readers will be aware, this occasional segment is inspired by the Irish humourist Brian O’Nolan (1911-1966) – nom de plume Flann O’Brien – and, in particular, his critique of the sometimes incoherent poet Ezra Pound. By the way, your man O’Brien also had the good sense not to take seriously Eamon de Valera (1882-1975), the Fianna Fail politician and dreadful bore who was prime minister and later president of Ireland for far too long.

The Flann O’Brien Gong for Literary or Verbal Sludge is devoted to outing bad writing or incomprehensible prose or incoherent verbal expression or the use of pretentious words.


Lotsa thanks to the avid Werribee reader in Victoria who drew Media Watch Dog’s attention to the issue of ABC Radio National’s The Minefield which aired on 21 May at 10 am.  The episode was titled “Is Stan Grant’s decision the result of a broken media?” – and focused on the ABC presenter’s decision to step down from media commitments for a while due to the racial abuse he had received on social media following ABC TV’s coverage of the early part of the Coronation.

The Minefield presenters are academic and author Waleed Aly and philosopher and theologian Scott Stephens – and the guest was the journalist, writer and academic Margaret Simons – she of the oddly titled Centre for Advancing Journalism at Melbourne University.  Now, The Minefield must be one of the most pretentious and boring programs on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster – in a tightly contested field.  So much so that The Minefield has won MWD’s Flann O’Brien’s gong on previous occasions.

Early on in the program, Dr Simons (for a doctor she is) asked a version of the eternal questions – namely “Why am I here?” and “What is the meaning of life?”.   Here’s what the learned doctor had to say:

Margaret Simons: ….one of the points of engaging in discussion, including at this very moment and on this very show, one of the points is to find out where you’re wrong. Or to find out –

Waleed Aly: I wish that were one of the points, Margaret, I just see so little evidence of it.

Margaret Simons: Why else, why else are we doing this right here and right now? You know, small show, small audience, etc. But what is the point of doing this exercise precisely because you or I, or one of our listeners may change their mind. Maybe not fundamentally, maybe only around the edges, or at least you know, think about something that they haven’t done before. Now you and I must both believe that that happens, or why are we wasting our time?

Good point, don’t you think?  Comrade Simons acknowledged that The Minefield is a “small show” with a “small audience” but it is worth going on the program because a listener (if a listener there was) might change his or her mind – after hearing the thoughts of an Aly or a Stephens or a Simons.  Maybe or maybe not.  However, it’s unlikely that listeners would even know what was being discussed if they had listened to Comrade Stephens’ initial comment. Here it is:

Scott Stephens: …One of the frustrations that I have, in one of my jobs with the ABC, is a lot of public platforms become spaces where people who don’t want to have conversations with other people have conversations by publishing monologues effectively…So “I don’t want to talk to this other person – therefore, I’m going to have effectively a one-way address”.

Waleed Aly: Yep.

Scott Stephens: I’m not sure that that’s either democratic or deliberative. I worry constantly about – can I just put it this way – the media being part of the problem when it comes to real democratic conversation. I don’t say democratic deliberation, I think democratic deliberation is a different thing. But I think the rigours, the demands of democratic conversation, where a human being is fully, wholly, morally present to another human being. That is the condition of possibility of democratic life. It’s a condition of possibility, I would say of the moral life generally. And insofar as democracies have some claim to being morally grounded or having moral principles at its foundation, I think there have to be practices of rigorous conversation. I worry then when, what should be conversation makes its way into the ether, which you and I are talking in now. Whether that doesn’t in fact do more harm than good.

How about that? – whatever it was. What was your man Scott on about?  Or, perhaps, what was he on?  No wonder – as Margaret Simons was to concede – The Minefield has a small audience.  Why would anyone, who is neither drunk nor drugged, want to listen to such verbal sludge early on a Sunday morning?  Could it be that The Minefield’s co-presenter really wanted to win the prestigious Flann O’Brien gong?  You be the judge.

By Flann O’Brien
of Ezra Pound

My grasp of what he wrote and meant
Was only five or six %
The rest was only words and sound —
My reference is to Ezra £


Inspired by your man O’Brien, this is the late Jackie’s literary effort for today (per courtesy of the American psyche John Edward of Crossing Over fame:

Literary Criticism
By Jackie
of Scott Stephens

My grasp of what Scott said and meant

Was  only four or five per cent

My God this bloke can talk a lot

The reference is to Comrade Scott

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

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


As avid readers know only too well, Media Watch Dog maintains that the ABC is a Conservative Free Zone without one conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent television, radio or online outlets.  This has been contested by ABC management and some ABC journalists – but no one has been able to name one such ABC conservative. Fancy that.

It so happened that the (male) co-owner of the recently deceased Jackie (RIP) was listening to the oh-so-pretentious The Minefield on ABC Radio National when one of the co-presenters said something that made sense.  Step forward Waleed Aly, Monash University academic and author who co-presents Network Ten’s The Project along with ABC’s The Minefield.  Now Dr Aly (for a doctor he is) is in no sense a political conservative.  Which gives all the more legitimacy to this comment he made on The Minefield. The date was Sunday 21 May 2023:

I used to get so frustrated about “no conservatives at the ABC and it’s so left-leaning” – and all that sort of stuff – get very frustrated with all that – you know, “inner city lefties” while I lived out in the suburbs. For all that frustration, it’s not untrue in a certain way. And the unrepresentative nature of the ABC is not nearly one that is of demographics. It is one that has certain ideological bents.

Quite so.

Waleed Aly: Five Paws.



Avid readers will recall the July 2018 tweeted attack by Hannah Gadsby directed towards Barry Humphries, who died in April of this year. At the time of the tweet Gadsby was enjoying a rapid rise to international fame after the premiere of the Netflix comedy performance Nanette in June 2018. Gadsby was apparently unhappy with Humphries’ description of transgender identity as a “fashion” and gender reassignment surgery as “self-mutilation”. In 2018 Gadsby was still identifying as a lesbian woman but has since reidentified as “genderqueer” and prefers to be known as a they or them.

Gadsby who, to use a Humphries’ line, identifies as a comedian, described Humphries as someone who “loves those who hold power, hates vulnerable minorities and has completely lost the ability to read the room” and as an “irrelevant, inhumane dick biscuit”. For his part, the late Barry is quoted by Rowan Dean as saying “Hannah Gadsby’s about as funny as an orphanage on fire”.

In 2019 the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which Humphries helped found, stripped his name from their most prestigious award. Gadsby, who won the Barry Award in 2017, had advocated for this cancellation, as had the 2016 winner Zoe Coombs Marr.

It would now seem that Hannah Gadsby is themself at risk of being left “irrelevant” and unable to “read the room”.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Pablo Picasso, and, as such, art galleries and museums around the world are holding exhibitions of his work. The Brooklyn Museum located in New York, apparently decided it was a good idea to invite Hannah Gadsby to co-curate their Picasso exhibition. Gadsby, it seems, also identifies as an art historian, having earned a Bachelor’s Degree in art history and curatorship from ANU.

Even before it opened, the exhibition was already attracting controversy. Apart from Gadsby, the other curators of the event are Brooklyn Museum staff members Catherine Morris and Lisa Small. Morris has the title of “Sackler Senior Curator” of the museum’s “Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art”, seemingly making her a good fit for Gadsby, who still identifies as a feminist despite no longer identifying as a woman. The controversy arises from the inclusion of the name Sackler.

The Sacklers are a once-famous, now infamous, wealthy American family. In 1952 brothers Arthur, Raymond and Mortimer Sackler, all doctors, purchased the pharmaceutical company named Purdue Pharma. Purdue grew to become a multi-billion-dollar company and made the Sacklers one of America’s wealthiest families. The Sacklers were known to be especially generous patrons of the arts and gave donations to many galleries and museums (and in return had the family name placed on many a museum wing).

In recent times the Sacklers have experienced one of the most remarkable falls from grace in American history. In 1996 Purdue introduced an opiate pain medication known as OxyContin. Purdue aggressively marketed the drug as less addictive than other opiates and as a miracle cure for chronic pain. This is now seen as the primary cause of the United States’ “opioid epidemic” which has seen a dramatic increase in the rates of opioid addiction and overdose. Purdue Pharma went into bankruptcy in 2019 due to owing billions in fines and legal settlements. Many museums and galleries have since removed the Sackler name.

After Gadsby’s involvement with the Brooklyn Museum’s Sackler Center was criticised, they (meaning Gadsby) told Variety that:

There’s one Sackler on the board. We vetted this. Apparently, they’ve separated their earning streams from the problematic one. I mean, take that with a grain of salt.

Perhaps if one of the Sacklers had said something politically incorrect about trans people Gadsby would be less forgiving.

And so, the Brooklyn Museum opened its newest exhibition titled It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso according to Hannah Gadsby. On 1 June the New York Times published a review by art critic Jason Farago, here is part of his verdict on Gadsby & Co’s feminist takedown of Picasso:

That Picasso, probably the most written about painter in history, was both a great artist and a not-so-great guy is so far from being news as to qualify as climate. What matters is what you do with that friction, and “It’s Pablo-matic” does not do much.

Quite so. He continues:

Unsigned texts in each gallery provide basic invocations of gender discrimination in art museums, or the colonial legacy of European modern art, while next to individual works Gadsby offers signed banter. These labels function a bit like bathroom graffiti, or maybe Instagram captions. Beside one classicizing print of Picasso and his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter: “I’m so virile my chest hair just exploded.” Beside a reclining nude: “Is she actually reclining? Or has she just been dropped from a great height?”

There’s a fixation, throughout, on genitals and bodily functions. Each sphincter, each phallus, is called out with adolescent excitement; with adolescent vocabulary, too. What jokes there are (“Meta? Hardly know her!”) remain juvenile enough to leave Picasso unscathed.

The review concludes:

“My story has value,” Gadsby said in “Nanette”; and then, “I will not allow my story to be destroyed”; and then, “Stories hold our cure.” But Howardena Pindell, on view here, is much more than a storyteller; Cindy Sherman, on view here, is much more than a storyteller. They are artists who, like Picasso before them, put ideas and images into productive tension, with no reassurance of closure or comfort. The function of a public museum (or at least it should be) is to present to all of us these women’s full aesthetic achievements; there is also room for story hour, in the children’s wing.

Another early review by Alex Greenberger for ARTnews was no more kind:

Gadsby notes that Picasso was a “monumentally misogynistic and abusive domestic authoritarian dictator,” and that he “takes up too much space.” To further underscore the point, perhaps in homage to Hughes, Gadsby lends Picasso the nickname “PP.” You can do the work figuring out that very unsubtle pun.

“Picasso is not my muse of choice,” Gadsby later says of organizing the show. “I regret this.” They should.

On 8 June the Sydney Morning Herald joined in, with a review by Tara Kenny:

Ostensibly, the purpose of this irksomely titled show is to highlight the sexist lens through which Picasso depicted women and remind audiences that there are many artists of merit who are, in fact, women. Unfortunately, Gadsby does neither effectively.

MWD does not identify as an art critic, but Hannah Gadsby’s art career may be over before it really began.

It would seem that Gadsby may have “completely lost the ability to read the room”. Indeed, some would say that by agreeing to participate in a show associated with the Sacklers, Gadsby has shown that they (meaning Gadsby) “loves those who hold power”. Worst of all the critical panning of the exhibition may indicate that Gadsby has been left “irrelevant”.



Did anyone hear Sally Young, the author of Media Monsters: The Transformation of Australia’s Newspaper Empires (UNSW Press, 2023) on Radio National’s Late Night Live program on Tuesday 13 June? Phillip Adams was in the presenter’s chair and spoke positively of Dr Young (for a doctor she is) who is Professor of Political Science at the University of Melbourne.

It was a soft interview and Phillip (“Have I told you that I was a teenage communist?”) Adams did not query his guest’s analysis. After listening to the interview, MWD came to the view that Sally Young may know a lot about media empires, but somewhat less about the news in the publications of those empires.

Take the defection of Vladimir Petrov from the Embassy of the Soviet Union in Canberra in April 1954, for example. Petrov was the third secretary in the embassy and his wife Evdokia Petrov, who defected soon after, was a code breaker.

It has been one of the Australian left’s fave conspiracy theories that the Petrov defection was engineered by Coalition Prime Minister Robert Menzies with a view to discrediting the Labor Party and its leader Bert Evatt in the lead-up to the 1954 election. This is absolute tosh – but comrades Young and Adams seemed to be unaware of the fact. Let’s go to the transcript.

Phillip Adams: Now, what role did the papers play in the Petrov Affair? And perhaps we should set this up by reminding the listener what the Petrov Affair was.

Sally Young: So, in 1954, it was presumed that Labor was looking pretty good in the upcoming election. What happened was that a Soviet diplomat, Vladimir Petrov, defected. And press photographs were taken on 19th of April – and this is close to when the election is going to be held, as it turns out –showing Petrov’s wife being escorted forcibly by two armed KGB agents. So, they’re sort of dragging her across the tarmac to this waiting plane that’s going to go from Sydney to Darwin, and then on to Moscow. … It becomes this very big visual image of what communism in the Cold War is about.

Phillip Adams: Sally, I can remember those images as if it was yesterday.

Sally Young: Yeah, they’re very powerful, and even looking at them today. … And because of those images, and how powerful they were, the issue of communism comes to really dominate the election campaign, and it really recasts what this is about. … So obviously, the Coalition wins the election and communism has seemed to be a very big part of that victory.

This is complete nonsense – as is documented by Anne Henderson in her forthcoming book Menzies Versus Evatt – The Great Rivalry of Australian Politics (Connor Court, 2023).

The Petrev Affair was barely mentioned in the 1954 election campaign and the issue of communism was not a feature of the campaign. The 29 May 1954 election was held shortly after the Royal Tour of Australia – which was a real morale boost. Also, the Australian economy was in recovery mode and the August 1953 Budget had proved to be popular.

If Sally Young has read the 1954 newspapers, she would know that the central issue in the election campaign turned on the economy. The Labor Party’s essential problem did not turn on its relationship with communism but, rather, on the failure of Bert Evatt to cost Labor’s big spending election promises.

It’s pure mythology for Young to run the old left-wing view of Australian history that Evatt was robbed of winning the 1954 election because Menzies used the Petrov Affair to discredit Labor. The Petrov defection became a problem for Evatt and Labor – but only sometime after the 1954 election and into 1955 when the Labor Party split, partly due to its attitude to communism.

[I note that Comrade Young suspects that the photographers who photographed Mrs Petrov at Sydney Airport were tipped off by someone in, or close to, the Menzies government. She seems unaware that there were hundreds of anti-communist demonstrators at the airport. The attempted deportation of Evdokia Petrov was no secret. MWD Editor.]



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Until Next Time.

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