11 FEBRUARY 2011

“Media Watch Dog on Fridays…is a sort of popular read in the Crikey office”

Crikey’s Andrew Crook on ABC 2 News Breakfast, 24 September 2010.

“Gerard Henderson is big enough to take care of himself, but that doesn’t stop us worrying about him from time to time.  Lately it’s Hendo’s tendency to self-harm that has us losing sleep. For example, peruse the correspondence he’s published in his latest Media Watch Dog blog…..There’s a part of us that just wants to ask: “Hendo, are you OK?”

– James Jeffrey’s “Strewth!” column, The Australian, 8 November 2010.

“I realise this makes me practically retarded, but until five minutes ago I thought Nancy was Gerard Henderson’s wife, not his dog.”

– Byronbache via Twitter, Monday 7 February 2011

  • Stop Press – Tony Jones & Fran Kelly Ignore Climate Czar Tim Flannery’s Failed Prophecy

  • MWD Exclusive: Read All About Mark Riley’s Defence of Mark Riley (And Assess If It’s Credible)

  • Two Deborah Cameron Moments – On the Opposition Leader & Australia Day

  • Nancy’s Pick-of-the Week: Alan Ramsey Wins Misogynist Gong

  • Catherine Deveny’s Undocumented On-Air Howler

  • Correction – On Julian Morrow, The Stalinist Philby, Espionage Parties And All That

  • Bob Ellis’ Failed Punditry – A Decade of Creditor’s Pursuit Comes To An End


Did you see Tony Jones’ oh-so-soft interview with Timothy Fridtjof Flannery on Lateline last night?  [Is this the very same T.F. whose self-submitted entry in Who’s Who in Australia is about the longest in the book – taking up almost an entire page? – Ed].

Dr Flannery has just been appointed to chair the Commonwealth Government’s Climate Commission – yet another government-funded gig for Australia’s best known palaeontologist.

Tony Jones allowed Tim Flannery to talk at length about climate science and listened with attention when he predicted greater extreme weather events due to human- induced global warming without pointing out that Dr Flannery is not a climate scientist.

Also, Mr Jones did not talk about Dr Flannery’s past failed prophecies – including the predictions that Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney would run out of water (see MWD passim). Nor, when the professor referred to the recent extreme weather conditions Down Under of the past decade, did the Lateline presenter ask for an explanation of, say, the confluence of the Tasmanian bushfires of 1967, the Brisbane floods of 1974 and Cyclone Tracy in 1974 – all occurring within less than a decade.

After all, it was not that kind of interview.  Nor was today’s soft interview of Professor Flannery by Fran Kelly on Radio National Breakfast this morning. What’s the problem with a few false predictions when you are dealing with a real prophet?


There has been lotsa media focus on how Tony Abbott responded to Mark Riley when the 7 News political editor confronted the Opposition leader with comments he had made in Afghanistan concerning the death of an Australian soldier some months ago.

MWD is more interested in how 7 News presented the story in the first instance. And why, in particular, Mark Riley provided sub-titles to illustrate the comments made by the American Colonel James L Creighton and Tony Abbott – but not those made by the Australian Major-General John Cantwell.

So MWD emailed Mark Riley asking the essential question.  The following correspondence which is printed in full – apart from editing out some personal material unrelated to the subject matter – demonstrates how some journalists who demand that politicians answer their questions do not like answering the questions put to them by others. The exchange is published sure in the knowledge that Mark Riley is committed to freedom of information – including, presumably, his own information:

Email From Gerard Henderson To Mark Riley – 9 February 2011


I refer to your story on 7 News last night.  Quite a scoop, to be sure.

In view of the interest which the story raised, why did you choose to edit out from the footage the comment made by the Australian Major-General John Cantwell?

I put together the full dialogue, which is as follows:

Colonel James L. Creighton: Was it tragic? Absolutely. But we’re all – we’re all in the knowledge that all the stuff [i.e. military equipment] you see here and more was available on the day.

Tony Abbott: Nah, it’s pretty obvious that um – well, sometimes shit happens. Doesn’t it?

Major-General John Cantwell: It certainly does.

The question is:  Why did you and 7 News delete Major-General Cantwell’s comment supporting Tony Abbott’s statement – especially since the comment ran for just one second and, consequently, did not need to be edited out for timing reasons?

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

Email From Mark Riley To Gerard Henderson – 9 February 2011


Thanks for your email. My apologies for the delay in replying. I’m still wading through today’s email deluge….

Now, your question: Major General Cantwell did say that. You can hear him say it as I’m showing Mr Abbott the vision on the laptop. I’m not suggesting that viewers would have necessarily heard it clearly. Indeed, they probably wouldn’t have, but Mr Abbott would have.

I can only assure you there was nothing sinister in it not running in a more audible form last night. It was the final shot of my package, but the audio was lost when we switched at the end to a live cross (that is, a discussion between myself and anchor Chris Bath).

I am told that the audio of General Cantwell’s comment was clear at the end of the rerun of my package on Sky News. It is the same package. Sky has rights to run our stories in full once they have gone to air. It would have been audible on their service, our technical people tell me, because Sky did not need to switch away at the end.

We have run the audio a half a dozen times in stories and crosses today, including in the lead story on the 6pm news. On one occasion today, I was asked to comment live on Channel Seven about General Cantwell’s remark.

Thanks again for the opportunity to explain.

I hope this satisfies your Inquiry.


Mark Riley

Email From Gerard Henderson To Mark Riley – 10 February 2011


Thanks for your prompt reply.  I know how busy you are – so this was appreciated.

The only problem with your response is that you did not answer the question.

My question was straight-forward.  Namely, why did 7 News run both footage and sub-titles for the comments made by Colonel Creighton and Tony Abbott – but did not run sub-titles for Major-General Cantwell’s comment?  Especially since the Major-General’s comment only ran for three words and would have taken just around a second to put to air.

In view of the fact that 7 News used Freedom of Information access to obtain the Creighton/Abbott/Cantwell tape, my request for the information requested above seems reasonable – and it does not require any taxpayer funded expenditure.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

Email From Mark Riley To Gerard Henderson – 10 February 2011

Hi Gerard,

The sequence including General Cantwell appears twice in the story.

The vision was cut in the first instance at Mr Abbott’s comment because it flowed directly onto the following sequence, which was his explanation.

However, General Cantwell’s comment was clearly audible on the raw version of that sequence of vision, which I showed Mr Abbott.

In the second instance, at the bottom of the story, his comment was not audible on the Sydney 6pm version because we switched to a live cross.

I’m told it was audible, however, on other versions around the network and that which went to air on Sky.

I hope that proves there was no sinister editing.

As I’ve detailed, we ran the comment clearly and subtitled on six separate occasions the following day, including during a live cross with me in which I was directly asked to comment.



Email From Gerard Henderson To Mark Riley – 11 February 2011


Thanks for your reply.  The problem is that, once again, you have failed to answer my straight-forward question.

The question is this.  Why did 7 News provide sub-titles for the hard-to-hear comments made by Colonel Creighton and Mr Abbott but did not provide sub-titles for the hard-to-hear comment made by General Cantwell?  Especially since General Cantwell’s important comment consisted of a mere three words and took up about one second – consequently it could have been run and sub-titled without taking up any significant time in the 7 News Bulletin.

As I understand it, the footage you showed Tony Abbott was similar to that which went to air on the 7 News on Tuesday. In other words, Mr Abbott saw the sub-titles to Colonel Creighton’s comments and his own response but could not see a sub-title for General Cantwell’s comment (which supported the Opposition leader).

This seems like selective editing to me. The record shows that, on two occasions so far, you have failed to answer the question as to why General Cantwell’s “It certainly does” comment was not sub-titled by 7 News in its Tuesday bulletin.

Your refusal to answer my question leads me to the conclusion that you did not run the General Cantwell sub-title because this was not consistent with your thesis – namely, that Tony Abbott had been insensitive while talking to the military on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

Best wishes


Email From Mark Riley To Gerard Henderson – 11 February 2011


I am not being intentionally evasive.

General Cantwell’s remarks were not selectively edited.

Not everything can be run.

My focus was what Mr Abbott had said.

In retrospect, it would have been better if General Cantwell’s response had been run as you suggested.

We did that many times the following morning, afternoon and night.

At that time, as you’d recall, I was defending on radio the untrue allegation from Liberal Party members that I had “ambushed” Mr Abbott. I had given him two and a half hours notice; I had outlined precisely what was in the story, including his remarks: and his office had nominated a time and place to conduct the interview.

I hope this answers your question,



Email from Gerard Henderson To Mark Riley – 11 February 2011


Your response is appreciated – as is your (belated) acknowledgement that “it would have been better if General Cantwell’s response had been run” with a sub-title in the Tuesday 6 pm news bulletin.

However, your latest reply is also disingenuous.  The point is that if you had run General Cantwell, with an appropriate sub-title, you would not have been able to criticise Tony Abbott for what you described as his “reaction” to Colonel Creighton’s comment on the Afghan battlefield.  This for the obvious reason that – if it was evident that the Australian General Cantwell agreed with the content and language of Mr Abbott’s comment in Afghanistan – you would not have had a story.

I do not believe that Tony Abbott and his office handled this situation well. They should have insisted that all the audio which you put to air had sub-titles which Mr Abbott and 7 News viewers could read – not just some of it. As you are aware, the entire discussion was all but inaudible and there was reason to provide sub-titles for all the comments.

However, this does not excuse your lack of professionalism in this instance.  By not giving General Cantwell’s “It certainly does” comment a sub-title, you were able to take the Tony Abbott response out of context and make him appear to be unreasonable and insensitive.

Best wishes



It came as no surprise that, on Wednesday morning, “Mornings with Deborah Cameron” – sometimes known as ABC Metropolitan Radio 702’s “Green Left Daily” program – latched on to Mark Riley’s attempted gotcha moment with Tony Abbott. MWD’s recording has gone missing, and this transcript is taken from the report of Ms Cameron’s comment in The Australian’s “Cut & Paste” section on Wednesday:

This morning the real Tony, and arguably the worst day of his political life, caught on camera. It makes you wonder about Mr Abbott’s emotional side. First of all the way he reacted in Afghanistan and then yesterday what seemed to be a white hot rage at the reporter, even though Mr Abbott has apparently characterised it as a dignified silence.

Time will tell whether last Tuesday was the worst day of Tony Abbott’s political life. Certainly Ms Cameron seemed surprised when a majority of callers to her “Green Left Daily” gig supported the Opposition leader.  And psychiatrists will tell whether Ms Cameron and her sandalista mates are entitled to wonder about Mr Abbott’s “emotional side”.  In Nancy’s view, it’s all a shit-storm in a working dog’s drinking cup.

MWD is much, much more interested in Deborah Cameron’s emotional side.  Consider, for example, Green-Left-Daily’s response to Australia Day 2011.  Then, next week, MWD will look at Ms Cameron and her guests’ response to Cyclone Yasi.

This is how “Mornings with Deborah Cameron” commenced on 25 January 2011, the day before Australia Day.

Deborah Cameron:   Well, who actually owns Australia Day in your mind? Who has come to believe that they own it? I wonder if you wear the flag. Have you wondered how brewers have come to somehow get a grip on your heart? Bring a tear to your eye with some of their jingles? Make us believe that if we’re not toasting the country by the slab then you just don’t love it?  Now, do we need to tone it down a bit? And if we did would it be any less of a national day? Are Australians actually capable of quiet as well as noisy reflection in the sun?

And so Green-Left-Daily went on. And on.  Ms Cameron expressed concern about Australia’s national symbols and opined: “The trouble is that in all honesty Australia Day can and still does feel quite exclusive at times – so  it’s about us not them.”  Alas, she did not say precisely who the “them” are. Deborah Cameron went on to opine that some Australians adopted national symbols only to protect themselves from nationalistic bullies.  Let’s go to the audiotape:

Deborah Cameron: But I suppose if a big culture bullies other people into walking around with the flags that they just simply see as a sort of protection – a kind of bit of armour plate that you need to walk around on a day like Australia Day – that’s not exactly kind of encouraging people to have a sort of a spiritual sort of thoughtful day either.  That’s just bullying people into loving Australia.

The Green-Left-Daily presenter went on to propose “less flag waving” on Australia Day and declared:

So the question, I suppose, is how do you actually calm down some of the um sort of um – I return to the world “fervour” – of the Southern Cross?

Well, um. Sort of, um.  This is a really good question. So Ms Cameron asked another one. Namely:

Deborah Cameron: Now, what about the sort of more noisy end of the spectrum I suppose. I wondered out loud before…whether or not it’s, why is it that politicians or no one really talks about quieter celebrations? Everybody drums up the fervour, drums up the patriotic sort of spirit of it without perhaps also acknowledging that, that unleashed can be a bad thing. And that they’re fuelling it.

Good point, don’t you think?  Nancy was out of her kennel on Australia Day and designed a day of celebrations which might please Deborah Cameron on her day out and about in inner-city Sydney on 26 January. It goes like this:

Arise after listening to Phillip Adams before sleep and Fran Kelly on awakening.  Camomile tea for breakfast and some organic poached eggs.  Put on sandals and kaftan.  Check out the closest inner-city op-shop for a bargain.  Have a soya latte at the local inner-city coffee shop for morning tea.  Read Green Left Weekly on-line (to save paper, of course). Buy an Australian Flag – take it home and put it in the compost. Frown upon everyone who seems to be enjoying themselves – especially migrants and younger types who should know better.

Truly, a Deborah Cameron Moment – of which there will be more next week.


MWD is currently ploughing through Alan Ramsey’s latest collected works – this one titled The Way They Were: The View From The Hill Of The 25 years That Remade Australia (New South, 2011). More of this in future issues.

But, for now, let’s acknowledge Alan Ramsey’s misogyny. In his Prologue to The Way They Were, Alan Ramsey refers to Julia Gillard as looking and sounding like “Mrs Stringbag from a West Footscray council by-election”.  [What’s wrong with West Footscray? – Ed]. There are several other references to the Prime Minister as “Mrs Stringbag”, one of which reads as follows:

Which leaves just Mrs Stringbag, even though this book is about The Way They Were, not The Way They Are. Julia Gillard is very much of the Are, and, for now, the Are still has a way to go before they Were.  Yet how far Gillard gets before she Was, I don’t know. I do know she’ll need to be a far better Prime Minister than she was an election campaigner or the Are will consume her just as unsentimentally as it did the bloke she replaced.  Though Gillard was ten years in Parliament before I quit journalism, I never could take her seriously…

What is Alan Ramsey on about here? [Perhaps you should ask what is he on. – Ed].  Later on the author described Labor’s Jenny Macklin as “Mrs Handbag”.

Arise Alan Ramsey, MWD’s Misogynist of the Week.


On Q&A last Monday, Melbourne-based stand-up comedian Catherine Deveny did her well-rehearsed rant against Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular.  Ms Deveny made it clear that she is not in the business of criticising Islam since she is “just flat out on the Catholic Church”.  [Interesting rationalisation. Did she mention that in Europe some vocal critics of Islam have had their throats cut? – Ed].

Early on, Ms Deveny was challenged to provide evidence in support of her assertion that there “is $30 billion right there” in the Federal budget which can be obtained by “taking the tax exempt stance off religion”. She replied: “I’ll have it on my website first thing in the morning”. The Deveny point was that such money could be used to fund recovery efforts from extreme weather events in Queensland and Victoria.

In fact, there is currently nothing on Ms Deveny’s website to support this specific claim.  However, last Wednesday, “Cut & Paste” in The Australian reported that the following comment had appeared briefly on Ms Deveny Twitter late on Tuesday, viz:

Statistics can be easily massaged – $30 billion is in theory possible – but $500 million plus is more likely.

What’s $29.5 billion among Q&A viewers? Sure, Catherine Deveny said that there is $30 billion “right there” in the budget which can be acquired by junking the (alleged) “tax exempt status” of religion.  But it might be $500 million. Who cares?

MWD does.  The facts are as follows.  It is true that there are tax expenditures in the budget of around $500 million – over four years – which cover (i) fringe benefits tax exemptions for certain employees of churches and (ii) eligibility of churches to pay GST. In any one year, this would amount to around, say, $125 million.  This is a long way south of $30 billion.  There are no direct government subsidies to religion.

Essentially this tax expenditure makes it possible for church organisations to employ staff who work for bodies like the Salvation Army or the St Vincent de Paul Society in administering to the poor and the down-and-out.  Is Ms Deveny seriously suggesting that church organisations and the like should cease assisting the victims of drug dependency, the homeless and so on?  And, if they do, who does Ms Deveny think will take over such essential tasks.

By the way, MWD is not aware of the Atheist Society or the Secularist Action Front doing good works for the poor and the oppressed. [Don’t be too tough. Perhaps they provide complimentary tickets to the Melbourne Comedy Festival. – Ed].


In Media Watch Dog Issue 80 (see “Julian Morrow Falls for Kim Philby”), reference was made to the oh-so-cool “Espionage” party held in Sydney on 29 January and organised by Julian Morrow – one of “The Chaser Boys” (average age 37) and friends.

Contrary to the claim in MWD Issue 81, the Espionage party was not a fund-raiser for the Labor left in New South Wales – although some ALP left-of-centre types did attend.  Rather, it seems that the gig was no more than a get-together of like minded souls. Mea culpa.

By the way, MWD has still not been able to find out the identity of the sheila (photographed by the Daily Telegraph) who forgot to put on her skirt for the Friends-of-Philby gig.  Mea maxima culpa.


Good news from James Jeffrey in The Australian last Wednesday.  The “Strewth!” columnist has been in touch with the (False) Prophet Bob Ellis about his long-standing unpaid bet with Nancy’s co-owner.  As Bob Ellis told James Jeffrey:

The “failed punditry” Gerard speaks of my bet with him that John Howard would lose his seat in 2001.  I lost and sent him a $500 cheque. He didn’t cash it for a year.  When he did, at Christmas, it bounced.  I’m sending another this week….

All true, except for the facts.  The facts are as follows:

  1. There was not one bet – but two.  Both were wagered in 2000 – over a decade ago – in order to stop Bob Ellis from giving false prophecy to the visiting Canadian John Ralston Saul.
  2. The first bet – to the value of $500 – initiated by the Prophet Ellis, turned on Ellis’ prediction that John Howard would lose his seat of Bennelong at the 2001 election. This bet was payable on 11 November 2001.  It was paid in two parts – $250 in September 2002 and $ 250 in November 2007.
  3. The second bet – to the value of $500 – also initiated by the Prophet Ellis, turned on Ellis’ claim that Australia would be a republic by May 2003.  It fell due in May 2003.  Two cheques, to the value of $250 each, were forwarded in May 2009 and June 2009.  They were banked – and dishonoured – in March 2010, which was some time after Christmas. [Which Christmas might that be? – Ed].
  4. Gerard Henderson offered on several occasions to wipe the debt – provided the request came from Bob Ellis rather than from his wife (with whom Henderson had no disagreement and by whom he was not owed any money). Bob Ellis has never communicated direct with Gerard Henderson – in any form – about the debt, despite many approaches.
  5. Gerard Henderson refused to enter into any discussion with Bob Ellis concerning his challenge for a public debate until the debt was resolved.  This was a convenient ploy – since, as Henderson advised Ellis, he doubted whether anyone would be interested in sponsoring, or attending, such a gig. Consequently, the matter remained unresolved.
  6. The $500 was paid in full to the Australian Jesuit Mission in India.  A second payment, will go to Anne Henderson’s Lower North Shore Sanctuary Movement which provides airfares for refugees entitled to enter Australia under the refugee and humanitarian program – in this instance a Sudanese family currently in Uganda.

We’ll keep you posted.  Late news.  The final cheque has arrived by post today.  Good news for a couple of Sudanese in Uganda.  Bad news, however, for Nancy’s co-owner who has been deprived of a long-term obsessive interest.

* * * *

Until next week when, wait for it, MWD’s very special Maurice Newman Segment returns.  Hooray and so on.