GERARD HENDERSON’S MEDIA WATCH DOG

ISSUE – NO. 677

19 April 2024

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  • THE MENTAL HEALTH/TERRORISM DEBATE DUMBED DOWN ON ABC RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST

On the evening of Thursday 18 April 2024, NSW Police announced that “a 16-year old boy has been charged with a terrorism offence… following an investigation by the Joint Counter Terrorism Team Sydney into an alleged stabbing at a Sydney church”.

On ABC Radio National Breakfast on 18 April, presenter Patricia Karvelas interviewed Dr Jamal Rifi – a medical doctor who is a leader in the Muslim community in Australia.

It is understandable that Dr Rifi would see fit to defend the Australian Muslim community and to suggest that the knife attack on an Assyrian Christian bishop was the result of mental illness rather than motivated by terrorism.

But there is no excuse for Ms Karvelas going soft on a Muslim – or any other – community leader.  Ms Karvelas failed to put it to Dr Rifi that the alleged attacker had allegedly said words to this effect immediately after the incident: “If he [Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel] didn’t swear at my Prophet I wouldn’t be here.  If he didn’t involve himself in my religion I wouldn’t be here.”

Like any accused person, the 16-year-old is entitled to a fair trial along with a presumption of innocence.  However, Patricia Karvelas should be expected to put challenging, but polite, questions to the likes of Dr Rifi.  It didn’t happen on the morning of 18 April on RN Breakfast, where the impression was given that this was not a terrorist incident. NSW Police hold a different view.

  • A TALE OF SARAH FERGUSON INTERVIEWS – SOFT ON THE GOVERNMENT BUT TOUGH ON THE OPPOSITION

Media Watch Dog followers have heard about the saga of ABC TV’s “Tale of Two Interviews”. Here’s an update – let’s call it “The Tale of Four Interviews”.

On Thursday 18 April, ABC 7.30 presenter Sarah Ferguson interviewed Treasurer Jim Chalmers in Washington DC.  The Treasurer did well. But Ms Ferguson’s questions were soft and interruption-free. There was even a soft Dorothy Dixer (as the saying goes). Here it is:

Sarah Ferguson: I want to talk about your industrial policy briefly because obviously you’re there or most of the other major economies have already launched big industrial policies. There is criticism of that policy. The IMF is issuing its own warnings. Here in Australia the inaugural Productivity Commission Chairman Gary Banks said it’s essentially a fool’s errand, particularly he said when competitive fundamentals are lacking. The question is, to the IMF and to Gary Banks, how do you avoid making the mistakes of the past?

It was an easy question. Needless to say, an articulate performer like Jim Chalmers had no trouble dismissing the “likes of Gary Banks or other contributors to this really important debate”.

Then it was a matter of Sarah Ferguson saying: “Treasurer we wish you good luck in your long and busy day – but we’re glad to start it with you”.  And that was it.  Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also received a soft interview from Sarah Ferguson on 7.30.  The date was 11 April 2024.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton and Opposition spokesperson Ted O’Brien had a different experience on 7 February and 12 March respectively. Both were treated by Sarah Ferguson with hostile questions along with plenty of interruptions. The Dutton interview was analysed in Media Watch Dog on 9 February 2024.  The O’Brien interview was much the same – only somewhat more unprofessional. This was analysed by Gerard Henderson in The Weekend Australian on 16 March 2024.

MWD understands that Sarah Ferguson is of the view that an incumbent prime minister deserves softer treatment than an incumbent opposition leader.  We will see if such a standard applies if Mr Dutton becomes prime minister.

  • NINE’S DAVID CROWE RUNS ANTI-MORRISON GOVERNMENT LINE ON SEXUAL ASSAULT IN PARLIAMENT HOUSE IN THE EARLY HOURS OF SATURDAY MORNING

David Crowe, chief political correspondent of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, was a constant critic of Scott Morrison’s Coalition government and is a critic of current Liberal Party leader Peter Dutton.  Oh yes, your man Crowe was also a fervent supporter of the establishment of a National Anti-Corruption Commission which came into operation on 1 July last year.

The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on 19 April carried an article by David Crowe titled “Relentless pursuit should end now”.   In spite of being an NACC fan, Crowe does not believe that it should investigate the payment of $2.4 million to Ms Higgins consequent upon her sexual assault in Parliament House in 2019 by Bruce Lehrmann.

Unlike Nine newspapers’ political editor, MWD does not propose to tell the NACC what it should do. However, it is appropriate that MWD should point out that Comrade Crowe is running the line against the Liberal Party government that its most strident critics ran in the lead-up to the 2022 election. This is Crowe’s view:

She [Higgins] was raped in a minister’s suite, a short walk from the prime minister’s office, in one of the most secure buildings in the country.  Now that this has been established as fact in a civil trial, it is very hard to dismiss the need for commonwealth responsibility and legal liability.

Crowe’s comment implies that the fact that the rape took place a short walk from the Prime Minister’s Office is of some relevance.  This should not be the case – since the incident occurred at around 2 am on a Saturday morning when Parliament House was all but deserted and neither Bruce Lehrmann nor Brittany Higgins had authority to be in the Defence Minister’s Office.

It would seem that David Crowe is reluctant to accept that in Lehrmann v Network Ten Pty Ltd, Justice Michael Lee dismissed any suggestions that the Morrison government was involved in a cover-up with respect to the rape.  The relevant point here is that the Defence Minister and her chief of staff effectively were not allowed to take part in the mediation by Commonwealth lawyers before the $2.4 million settlement with Brittany Higgins concerning the Morrison government’s behaviour in the handling of the Higgins Case.

As indicated, MWD will leave any future inquiries to the relevant authorities. David Crowe, on the other hand, wants to shut down any investigation as to how the Labor government reacted to the issue after it came to office.


  • LECH BLAINE’S QUARTERLY ESSAY (BLACK INC) – REPLETE WITH ABUSE DIRECTED AT PETER DUTTON

There was enormous interest in last week’s Media Watch Dog concerning Lech Blaine’s “Bad Cop: Peter Dutton’s Strongman Politics” which is published in Issue No 93 of Quarterly Essay (editor-in-chief Erik Jensen, editor Chris Feik).

MWD drew attention to a howler in the work and promised to put together some of the abuse directed at Liberal Party leader Peter Dutton by the Blaine/Jensen/Feik leftist trio for this issue. Here we go:

  • Peter Dutton’s “eyes…see evil so that the weak can be blind” [Clever to be sure. But what does it mean? MWD Editor.]
  • Peter Dutton “views the world with the pessimism of a Russian novelist”.
  • According to Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Dutton “is not the sharpest tool in the shed”. [As I recall, Donald Trump said much the same about Kevin Rudd. That’s the problem with clichés. – MWD Editor.]
  • Peter Dutton is “a tough guy with a loud mouth and a small stick”.
  • Peter Dutton is “Australia’s budget Donald Trump”.
  • “Like a pyromaniac, he [Dutton] pours petrol into the bonfire of anxiety”.
  • Peter Dutton’s “track-record of bastardry”.
  • If Peter Dutton were to succeed “it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that an anxious nation wet the bed about the Labor Party and embraced a garden-variety hardman [i.e. Dutton] to clean the sheets”. [Perhaps Comrades Jensen and Feik could have advised Comrade Blaine that bed-wetting can be a medical condition and should not be used as a mocking weapon in debate. – MWD Editor.]
  • “[Peter] Dutton is a scarecrow grasping for a straw man argument.”
  • “This is Peter Dutton. Tall and strong at first glance. But when you watch him for a long time, you can see the man is small and scared.”

That’s all folks.  Except for Page 115 – where Lech Blaine takes sides with ABC TV 7.30 presenter Sarah Ferguson against Peter Dutton.  The author refers to “Dutton’s paranoid style” and claims that he avoids “true scrutiny, like a vampire shying away from sunlight”. In the argument between Dutton and Ferguson, Blaine refers to the ABC as “the impartial broadcaster”. So, when it comes to the Liberal Party leader,  the ABC is “impartial” – according to Comrade Blaine.  Which raises the question: Can You Bear It?

  • PAUL BARRY’S STRONG (FALSE) CRITICISM OF SKY NEWS’ LAURA JAYES FOLLOWED BY A VERY WEAK APOLOGY

ABC TV’s Media Watch program – which commenced in 1989 – after Gerard Henderson’s own “Media Watch”  section in The Sydney Institute Quarterly  publication – has always had a left-of-centre or leftist presenter.  As befits the taxpayer funded public broadcaster – which is a Conservative Free Zone without one conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent programs.

They are in order Stuart Littlemore, Richard Ackland, Paul Barry, David Marr, the late Liz Jackson, Monica Attard, Jonathan Holmes and Paul Barry (again).  The program’s current executive producer is Timothy (“I used to be called Tim”) Latham.

Like all previous presenters (including himself), your man Barry uses the Media Watch program to perform like a religious preacher of old. In short, he delivers a weekly sermon in which he lays down “the truth” concerning which there is no right-of-reply.

This is in stark contrast to Fox News’ weekly Media Buzz program in the United States.  Its presenter Howard Kurtz expresses his opinion – but his guests – including conservatives and liberals (in the North American terminology) – sometimes challenge his voice and invariably debate with each other.

In view of the fact that Paul Barry has a platform from which he can lecture others – he and Mr Latham have a special obligation to act professionally and to correct any error as prominently as possible.  This is not always the case.

The tragic knife attacks at Sydney’s Bondi Junction Westfield – which led to six deaths and many injuries – occurred on the afternoon of Saturday 13 April.  It was the lead Media Watch story on Monday 15 April.  Paul Barry concluded this segment as follows:

Paul Barry: Well, most of the media did a terrific job.  But when tragedy strikes there will always be people who want to use it for political advantage. And there will always be some in the media who aren’t smart enough or decent enough to report it responsibly.

Earlier, Barry’s Media Watch Sermon on the (taxpayer-funded) Mount made the following comments about the events of 13 April.

Paul Barry: The media were leading with the tragic story of the Sydney woman whose baby had been stabbed in her pram, with Sky’s Laura Jayes setting reporters on the trail:

Laura Jayes : … there’s one victim I do know about and it’s just so cruel …She was an incredible athlete. She was so smart, so beautiful and she was just so excited to be a new mother. And all of that was ripped away in seconds here this afternoon.

Paul Barry: Ashlee Good had died in hospital. Doctors were fighting for the baby’s life. And the media were soon mining her Instagram page and flashing up photos of her and her daughter, with personal details galore.

This was clearly criticism by Paul Barry of Sky News reporter Laura Jayes, among others.  Any reasonable person who watched Sky News on the afternoon of 13 April and into the evening would know that Ms Jayes’ reporting of Ms Good’s murder was totally professional – and she did not rush to identify the victim.

In short, Paul Barry and his executive producer Timothy Latham got it hopelessly wrong.  At 11.11 am Tuesday 16 April – Barry put out this tweet:

And that was it.  At the time MWD was posted, Barry’s false and unprofessional comment concerning the Sky News reporter on Media Watch had not been corrected in the program’s official transcript.  Nor was it removed from the ABC iview video.  It remains to be seen whether the Barry/Latham duo will do an on-air correction next Monday with respect to Laura Jayes.

It’s easy to make mistakes.  However, with a total staff of around ten for a 15-minute weekly program, Media Watch should be able to do better than this.  It’s called fact-checking. After all, Barry had some 48 hours to check his claims about Laura Jayes. Instead, he made a rush to judgment and did not even bother to check with Ms Jayes.

And yet Barry, in preacher mode, no doubt will give us all another sermon about journalistic standards next Monday.  All this funded by taxpayers.  Which raises the question: Can You Bear It?

[No, not really – now that you ask. I note the bloke Barry has presented Media Watch  for some 15 years. Perhaps the ABC should give a sheila like Janine Perrett, (who has done well recently as a fill-in presenter in the past) a decent go.  Just a thought. – MWD Editor.]

  • DANIEL ZIFFER SEES ART IN LOCK-OUTS

Media Watch Dog looks forward to appearances by ABC Melbourne-based business reporter Daniel Ziffer doing the “Newspapers” segment on ABC TV’s News Breakfast.

On 10 April, Comrade Ziffer rocked up on News Breakfast and described the decision of MONA (the Museum of New and Old Art), in trendy Hobart, to ban males from its Ladies Lounge as a controversial “work of art”. This was a reference to the fact that males were not allowed to enter the MONA Ladies Lounge (which contains some major works of art). As it turned out, a bloke took successful legal action against his exclusion from viewing the artwork.  Let’s go to the transcript:

Daniel Ziffer: …He [the applicant] took a case about the fact that he couldn’t go in.  The fact that he couldn’t go in was the art.  [Emphasis added]. The fact – his restriction from being able to go to this place was part of the overall art.  But he clearly didn’t get it.  Anyway, he won the case, and now they – well, they have to let him.

Catherine Murphy: The court didn’t get it either.

Daniel Ziffer: No, the court didn’t get it either –  showing, amazingly, that the court doesn’t have a sense of humour or understand art….

So, there you have it. When males are excluded from viewing works of art in a museum which charges for entry – this is a work of art in itself since, presumably, it balances up the occasions when females were excluded from male species in the past.  But, that is a matter of rights – not art.

Then, on 17 April, your man Ziffer was asked on ABC TV News Breakfast  about the threat from Greens Senator Nick McKim to imprison a CEO who was not responding to the senator’s questions at Senate Estimates in a way that the senator deemed to be appropriate. The transcript is as follows:

Lisa Millar:… we saw a situation where the chair of the committee, Senator Nick McKim, threatened Mr Banducci with jail time for not being more transparent about profits and equity.

Dan Ziffer: He [Banducci] wouldn’t, he wouldn’t answer a certain number, which is a thing called return on equity, which is a number he most certainly knows.  And if he doesn’t, he should, because it’s a way that companies are valued….

What a load of absolute tosh. Senator McKim may believe that he is empowered to put a business leader behind bars.  But this is delusional.  The Senate has never done this. Moreover, to bring about such a situation, Nick McKim would have to obtain the support of either the Labor Party or the Coalition in the Senate.  A most unlikely outcome.  Yet Comrade Ziffer took the threat seriously.  And he’s a business reporter. Can You Bear It?

  • THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH – TOPS FOR COLUMNIST POST-NOMINALS

As avid readers will be well aware, MWD has a special interest in the use of post-nominals. So much so that Ellie’s (male) co-owner has given one to himself – as in Gerard Henderson AC (aka Always Courteous). This was attested after Hendo graduated from Nancy’s Courtesy Classes – re this see past issues of MWD.

Media Watch Dog is invariably amused when sneering irreverent types like Mike (“I used to pour the gin”) Carlton AM and Richard (“I just love mocking the law”) Ackland AM rock-up to Government House to receive their medals – along with a cup of lukewarm tea.  And then there is Phillip (“Have I ever told you I was a teenage – or was it a young adult? – communist”) Adams AO, AM, Hon DUniv (Griffith), Hon DLitt (ECU), Hon DUniv (SA), DLitt [sic] (Syd), Hon. DUniv (Macquarie), FRSA, Hon FAHA.

Now Cassandra Goldie, the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Services, is not an irreverent type and does not spend a portion of time ridiculing others. In other words, she is perfectly entitled to accept an award in the Order of Australia.  However, MWD was surprised by the pic that accompanied her article in the Sunday Telegraph of 14 April titled “Albo, give money to those out of work”.   Here it is:

Dr Cassandra Goldie AO – impressive, eh?  So much so that MWD is approaching Ellie’s (male) co-owner to see if Ellie would do an occasional article for MWD under the by-line “Dr Ellie AB (aka Always Barking). We will keep you posted.  In the meantime, Can You Bear It?

[I thought that Ellie was merely a Bachelor of Catastrophic Studies at the Canberra Bubble Institute and also a junk professor at the same learned institution. I’m impressed that she now has a doctorate.  Please supply full details in next week’s issue. – MWD Editor.]


A ROBERT MANNE MOMENT

  • THE LA TROBE UNIVERSITY EMERITUS PROFESSOR TO WRITE ABOUT FRANK KNOPFELMACHER – BUT NEEDS SOME HELP

Early this year, the Sydney Morning Herald made the following announcement in its “New Books” segment.

Two political commentators who feature in these pages have new books with Black Inc. Peter Hartcher examines Australia’s place in the new Cold War (September), and Robert Manne has a political memoir (December)….

For its part, Media Watch Dog can barely wait.  A political memoir by lifetime academic Mr Robert Manne (for a doctor he is not) should be something to behold.

As avid readers know, Emeritus Professor Manne has adopted numerous political positions over the decades – as indicated in his 2005 book of essays titled Left, Right, Left (Black Inc). [I expect that an updated edition might be titled “Left, Right, Left and Now Green Left” – MWD Editor.]

In his forthcoming political memoir will your man Manne reveal, for example, that in October 1991 at the National Gallery of Victoria, he led the speakers – who included (then) Archbishop George Pell – in praising the 50th birthday of Bob Santamaria’s Movement (aka the National Civic Council)?  There is a photo of this occasion in Gerard Henderson’s Santamaria: A Most Unusual Man (MUP, 2015).

And then there is the fact that the emeritus professor had a bad memory – to the extent, on occasions, of having clear “recollections” of events that never happened.  One instance of this fact is documented in Gerard Henderson’s Cardinal Pell, The Media Pile-On & Collective Guilt (Connor Court) – see Page 398. And then there is Manne’s fact-free account of his “recollections” of academic life at La Trobe University in the 1970s in the edited collection From the Paddock to the Agora: Fifty years of La Trobe University (Black Inc, 2017). Re which see Gerard Henderson’s article in The Sydney Institute Review Online on 19 November 2018.

Lotsa thanks to the Melbourne reader who drew MWD’s attention to the fact that Robert Manne is also about to write a book about the late Dr Frank Knopfelmacher.  This is Black Inc’s call-out on behalf of its author:

Do you remember Dr. Knopfelmacher? For his forthcoming book, Dr. Knopfelmacher’s Long Cold War, Robert Manne is seeking reminiscences of Knopfelmacher. Frank Knopfelmacher was the most politically prominent and colourful academic at the University of Melbourne from the 1960s through to the 1980s.

Throwing the switch to cliché, Black Inc advises that “Robert now encourages those who knew him [Knopfelmacher] personally or professionally to reach out” to him.

Here’s why MWD can be of assistance – with the “Reaching-Out” process:

  • On Tuesday 30 April 2024, The Hon Peter Costello AC is launching Frank Knopfelmacher: Selected Writings (Connor Court), which is edited by Andrew Knopfelmacher, in Melbourne.
  • Then on Tuesday 7 May 2024, former Labor Party MP Michael Danby and Gerard Henderson will be talking on the topic Remembering Frank Knopfelmacher at The Sydney Institute.

Now here’s a modest proposal.  Perhaps Mr Manne should “reach out” himself to Peter Costello, Michael Danby and Gerard Henderson – all of whom knew Franta (as his friends called him) very well – and rock up at the functions in Melbourne and Sydney to hear some Knopfelmacher reminiscences. Just a thought.

In 2017, Manne wrote that as a left-wing undergraduate at Melbourne University he was “initially hostile to Knopfelmacher” but changed his mind circa 1968.  Manne also claimed that Knopfelmacher fell out terminally “with almost everyone” – presumably including Manne himself.  This overlooks the fact that Manne fell out with almost everyone on the conservative side of politics – including Dr K.

But now, the learned emeritus professor claims – according to the Black Inc blurb – that Frank Knopfelmacher was his “personal mentor”.  In spite of the fact that he started off hostile to Franta and ended up falling out with him.

Verily, A Robert Manne Moment.

The cover of Frank Knopfelmacher: Selected Writings (edited by Andrew Knopfelmacher) – which will be launched by Peter Costello in Melbourne on 30 April.


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 humorist 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 oral expression or the use of pretentious words – or a combination of all of the above.

  • SMH’s ECONOMICS EDITOR ROSS (“THE BRILLIANT”) GITTINS GETS LOST IN HIS OWN (INCOHERENT) CLOUD

There was enormous interest in the Media Watch Dog issue of 5 April where it was revealed that Ross Gittins – the Sydney Morning Herald’s economics editor – had to persuade the University of Newcastle to give him a pass degree in economics.  How did Ellie’s (male) co-owner find this out? – MWD hears avid readers cry.  Easy really – he read the SMH extract of your man Gittins’ speech to the University of Sydney function which was held to honour his 50th year at the Sydney Morning Herald. Gittins writes for the SMH on two issues – economics and, yes, Gittins.

As avid readers know, on 7 February 2024 the SMH ran about ten pages and a score of illustrations about what it called the “Ross Gittins brilliance”.   It was the day when the Sydney Morning Herald became the “Sydney Morning Gittins”.

But MWD digresses. In his Sydney University speech, Gittins praised economic theory while, at the same time, advising journalists not to try and “impress people with big words”.  Consider, then, his article in the SMH on 30 March titled “The digital revolution may be returning us to hi-tech serfdom”.  It was a paean of praise for the Marxist economist Yanis Varoufakis – who was brought to  Australia earlier this year by the leftist Australia Institute. Indeed, the SMH devoted half a page to a pic of Comrade Varoufakis lecturing someone or other about something or other.

As MWD readers know (see Issue 674) Varoufakis – who was briefly Greece’s finance minister – polled under 3 per cent in the recent Greek election and his party is no longer represented in Greece’s parliament.  A failed politician, he’s now telling elected politicians what to do.

Gittins commenced his article by stating “on the longest of our long weekends, it’s good to have something different to think about”.  He was referring to the Easter holidays, by the way.  It was a matter of: “Please don’t mention Easter.”  Or Marxism – since Ross referred to Yanis as an “economist politician” rather than a Marxist economist.  In any event, Yanis is no longer a politician – but he’s still a Marxist.

Among the big words/terms used by the SMH’s “brilliant” economics editor in his column were “feudalism”, “dystopian”, “techno feudalism”, “cloudalists”, “cloud rent”, “fief”, “cloud serfs”, “cloud proles” and “vassal”.   Reading through Ross’ literary sludge, it appears that Yanis reckons that the digital revolution is leading to a situation where the likes of Mark Zuckerberg are “turning capitalism into technofeudalism” due to their control of “the cloud” of information. Here is Hendo’s fave quote from the economics editor of the “Sydney Morning Gittins” as published in the SMH on 30 March:

So cloud rent is payments made by “cloud serfs” to cloudalists for the use of digital platforms and services. This rent is a form of income for cloudalists, derived from their control over these digital assets, rather than from the production or sale of conventional goods and services. Thus, whereas capitalists seek to make a profit by selling goods and services, cloudalists seek extract rents from cloud serfs – the users and businesses that depend on the digital platforms and apps the cloudalists control. Cloud serfs are akin to the serfs in feudal times, bound to the platforms and subject to their terms, often contributing their personal data or content while having limited autonomy and receiving fewer benefits. Get that?

Ask a silly question and MWD will provide a direct answer – NO. MWD does not get it. All that MWD understood about Ross’ article on Yanis was a reference to Taylor Swift – who somehow got a mention in his column.

Literary  Criticism

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 £

 

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Inspired by your man O’Brien, here is MWD’s response – with a little help from the late Jackie (Dip Wellness, The Gunnedah Institute) along with the American psychic John Edward who gets on well with the dead but not so much with the living:

Literary Criticism

By Jackie

of Ross Gittins

My grasp of what he wrote or meant

Was only four or five per cent

As to Yanis – who gives a toss?

Apart from the Herald’s Comrade Ross

 

The late Jackie (Dip.Wellness) graduated from the RSPCA’s Gunnedah Institute in 2017. Her comments are forwarded to MWD with a little help from the American psychic John Edward


DOCUMENTATION

  • LISA WILKINSON DEEP IN DENIAL RE THE MANY CRITICISMS OF HER IN THE LEHRMANN DEFAMATION JUDGMENT

On Monday 15 April, shortly after the decision in Lehrmann v Network Ten Pty Ltd was handed down, Lisa Wilkinson told the waiting media throng that “Today the Federal Court has found that I published a true story about a rape in a federal minister’s office in March 2019. I sincerely hope this judgment gives strength to all women around the country”.

Ms Wilkinson had nothing to say about Justice Michael Lee’s many criticisms of her and Angus Llewellyn – the former producer of Network Ten’s The Project. For the record, here are some of Justice Lee’s critiques:

  • Regarding Ms Wilkinson’s Logies speech which caused a delay in the Lehrmann criminal trial: “If she had of thought matters through as an experienced journalist, and less as a champion for Ms Higgins, she ought to have known the speech was fraught with danger and recognised that lauding a complainant on the eve of a rape trial in the terms she did would be apt to undermine the due administration of justice”.
  • Regarding her testimony, Justice Lee noted “a tendency of Ms Wilkinson to try to avoid making concessions, even an obvious one” and “an allied tendency to make assertions that she thought supported her case but lacked a factual foundation”.
  • Justice Lee points out that during this trial Ms Wilkinson sought to deemphasise her own importance in the production of her interview with Brittany Higgins. According to the judge “this picture is hard to reconcile” with Ms Wilkinson’s Logies speech in which she said, “this interview and this story is by far the most important work I have ever done”.

Although Justice Lee concluded that Bruce Lehrmann did rape Brittany Higgins (to the civil standard of proof) this was not the only allegation made during Brittany Higgins’ interview with Lisa Wilkinson. Much of the program focused on an alleged cover-up of the rape. In the judgment, Justice Lee devotes many pages to discussing this cover-up allegation made by Higgins and her fiancé David Sharaz:

  • Justice Lee notes Ms Wilkinson’s “willingness on affirmation to double down on an allegation that [former chief of staff to Senator Reynolds] Ms Brown and Senator Reynolds were active participants in a systemic cover-up of alleged criminal conduct when, upon any fair review of the available material, the basis for such a grave allegation is infirm”.
  • He also notes that “any suggestion Ms Wilkinson or Mr Llewellyn: (a) conscientiously considered the motives of Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz; or (b) approached the story with disinterested professional scepticism, conflicts with the way they were prepared to assist in the plans of Mr Sharaz and Ms Higgins to use the allegations for immediate political advantage, and the lack of rigour with which Ms Higgins’ account was examined and questioned during the meeting and thereafter”.
  • He goes on to say that “What we know is that insufficient recognition of motive did not only fail to cause increased care, but Mr Llewellyn and Ms Wilkinson expressed a willingness to assist in the political use of the serious charges they were supposedly interrogating and assessing with independent minds”.
  • Regarding Brittany Higgins’ apparent belief that evidence had somehow been remotely wiped off her phone, Justice Lee points out that “it is not obvious Ms Wilkinson, at least initially, thought this prospect of remote deletion was fanciful”. And that regarding an email that would be evidence of a Liberal Party cover-up, she advised Brittany Higgins to “be retrieving that in the next 24 hours”. Which would seem to suggest Lisa Wilkinson took seriously the idea that someone within the government was going to hack and remotely interfere with Ms Higgins’ phone as part of a cover-up.
  • Justice Lee spends a great deal of time discussing the origin of a photograph showing a bruise Ms Higgins allegedly sustained during the rape. Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz gave confused and contradictory information about this photo during their initial interactions with Ms Wilkinson and Mr Llewellyn. Ms Wilkinson noted these inconsistencies to Mr Llewellyn at the time and he responded in part “And my gut feeling is to avoid the topic as it raises unanswerable questions and weakens rather than strengthens her very strong claims by adding in unnecessary doubt where there currently isn’t any”, after which the matter was seemingly dropped. As Justice Lee noted, “why was this regarded as a satisfactory response, clearing up the confusion, by a journalist as experienced as Ms Wilkinson?”.
  • Justice Lee goes on to say “It is tolerably plain what happened. The reason why insufficient scrutiny occurred as to these matters (which should have led to an informed assessment of Ms Higgins’ general credibility) emerges from an objective review of the first meeting. From the get-go, all interactions are premised on the basis that what Ms Higgins was saying was true … Ms Higgins’ allegations were treated by Ms Wilkinson and Mr Llewellyn as a given”.
  • Regarding the alleged cover-up, Justice Lee had this to say: “Ms Wilkinson in submissions surprisingly doubled down on the notion that there was a proper basis for suggesting in the programme that “roadblocks” were put in place to obstruct the investigation … an extraordinarily serious allegation was being made, pregnant with the notion of conscious wrongdoing to secure a perceived advantage. Leaving aside any comfort that could be derived from what Ms Higgins said she felt, there was no real factual basis, let alone a reasonable factual basis, for the allegation.”
  • On the day the story broke Ms Wilkinson texted Mr Llewellyn “Okay. Have you been watching Question Time? Lots of focus on the story. Penny Wong magnificent. Reynolds lying through her teeth”. As Justice Lee says “[Lisa Wilkinson] instinctively believed Ms Higgins must be telling the truth and Senator Reynolds must be lying. Of course, she was perfectly entitled to her view, but it is not redolent of the conduct of a highly experienced journalist dealing with facts, not instincts, and ensuring any belief or commitment did not undermine fairness or independence.”

Despite Lisa Wilkinson’s attempts to frame this decision as an endorsement of her reporting, it is clear that Justice Lee considered her an unreliable witness and a flawed and unobjective journalist.

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Until Next Time

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