11 MARCH 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

  • Vale David Broder
  • Checking Out The Prophet Of Palm Beach
  • Maurice Newman Segment : Insiders and Geoff Gallop vs The People
  • A Deborah Cameron Moment: On Flowers and Milk and Tony Abbott’s Credibility
  • Nancy’s Picks-of-the-Week: Peter FitzSimons & Alex Mitchell
  • History Corner: Fran Kelly Fudges Saint Gough’s Opposition to Vietnamese Refugees
  • Correspondence: Gerard Henderson & Marius Benson on David Williamson & Don Parties On


MWD regrets the death of Washington Post journalist David Broder.  He was a fine, and at times controversial, journalist who reported American national politics in a fair and balanced way.  On a visit to Australia in February 2005, Mr Broder addressed a Sydney Institute function, organised at short notice.  It was a memorable occasion. He will be missed.


There are just 15 electioneering days to go before the New South Wales State election.

On  26 March 2011 the (electoral) prediction of the (False) Prophet of Palm Beach will be tested at the ballot box.  On 3 January 2011, Bob Ellis wrote in The Drum Unleashed – under the title “How Labor can win in New South Wales” – the following words:

I alone in all of Australia think Labor will hold government, in a perhaps hung parliament, in New South Wales on March 24 [sic].

MWD does not make predictions – since the resultant tension invariably makes Nancy’s co-owner feel a little [sic].  But there is considerable interest in how the contemporary embodiment of Nostradamus goes on 26 March.


This increasingly popular segment is devoted to analysing ABC chairman’s Maurice Newman’s suggestion that there is a “group-think” ethos extant in the public broadcaster – and the ABC Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes’ refutation of any such claim.  See MWD passim.

Insiders Helps Out In A [Relatively] Quiet Week

Normally the ABC TV Insiders program provides a diverse set of opinions on a range of issues and, consequently, does not provide material for MWD’s “Maurice Newman Segment”. However, last Sunday Insiders did the right thing and helped Nancy’s co-owner to fill this valuable space today.

The key topics for discussion turned on Julia Gillard’s proposal to introduce a carbon tax (leading, in time, to the creation of an emissions trading scheme) and the Gillard government’s proposal to make it possible for only the Commonwealth Parliament (and not the executive) to overturn legislation of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory legislatures.  There was concern that this proposal, now delayed, might make it possible the implementation of same-sex marriages in the ACT – contrary to the current policy of both Labor and the Coalition.  The latter topic involved an assessment on Insiders of the power of Senator Bob Brown and the Greens over government policy.

And so it turned out that both Insiders panelists on the couch and Insiders presenter Barrie Cassidy went into their olden Canberra Press Gallery mode.  Lenore Taylor (Sydney Morning Herald) essentially agreed with Brian Toohey (Australian Financial Review) who essentially agreed with Dennis Atkins (Courier Mail) who essentially agreed with Barrie Cassidy who essentially agreed with Lenore Taylor that (i) a carbon tax was a good idea, (ii) the Greens were not pushing Labor into adopting bad policy on climate change, (iii) the ACT and the Northern Territories should be able to legislate on social matters as if they were States and (iv) the Greens were not forcing Labor into bad policy.

And so it went on.  If you had just flown into Australia as a visitor from overseas and turned on Insiders, you would have got the impression that the Gillard Government was on top of the issues.  In which case you would have been surprised when there was a significant fall in Labor’s support in last Tuesday’s Newspoll inThe Australian.

Nancy was most touched by Brian Toohey’s warning near the end of the program that the fact that some people did not agree with him on agreed facts foretold the end of the Enlightenment. [Isn’t that a bar on George Street? – Ed].  Let’s go to the audio tape:

Brian Toohey: I mean, there are a lot of things that are factually wrong, I mean, these days on blogs and that.  I mean, you almost think that the end of the Enlightenment’s here because no one cares about facts any more.  They just say anything.

According to Nancy, declaring that “No one cares about facts anymore” is a bit like saying “Everyone generalises now”. Dennis Atkins concluded proceedings on the couch with a reference to “Young Liberal Jihadists” while criticising conservatives who exaggerate. It was that kind of Sunday morning.

Mornings With Deborah Cameron Assists As Well

Sydney Morning Herald media editor Tim Dick argued in a perceptive article in the Guide on 28 February 2011, that “Deborah Cameron, on ABC 702, clearly has an opinion and hers would be a poorer show without it.”  This is an accurate assessment – but Mr Dick overlooked the fact that, according to the existing ABC guidelines, programs like Mornings with Deborah Cameron are not meant to be vehicles for presenters to proclaim their own opinions.

Deb & Geoff vs The People

In any event, Ms Cameron was banging on in her usual “Green-Left-Daily” style yesterday.  She commenced the program railing against “Big Carbon””, “Big Pokies” and “Big Meat”.  And she asked former Western Australia Labor premier Geoff Gallop – now the esteemed Professor Gallop – on to Mornings with Deborah Cameron so that he might agree with her.  And, of course, he did. However, MWD just loved the end of the Cameron-Gallop “Green-Left-Daily” style love-in when the learned professor – who receives a university salary and is a recipient of taxpayer subsidised parliamentary superannuation – warned about that dangerous entity called THE PEOPLE who stop the good work done by change-agents like himself.  Let’s go to the audio tape:

Professor Geoff Gallop : Public opinion is very important in this process and those opposing change know only too well that we’re in an era that’s more populist than earlier times.  People are nervous.  The balance of power in the world is shifting.  There’s uncertainty about issues. And, you know, it’s very hard for change-agents in the type of world we live in. And that’s why these particular campaigners try to go to this category called The People and what they represent against The Government.  So it’s very populist.

In fact, I think, quite dangerous for the long-term needs of our country where we do need change in the environment, we do need change in our society and we do need to build our productivity.  And, of course, they’re the sorts of issues that are not addressed by more and more people gambling and not addressed by failure to deal with climate change and not addressed by doing [sic] economic reform.

Deborah Cameron:  Thank you very much for your thoughts this morning, Professor Gallop. Thank you.  Professor Geoff Gallop, Director of the Graduate School of Government at the University of Sydney.

Thank you Professor.  So Geoff Gallop essentially agreed with Deborah Cameron who essentially agreed with Geoff Gallop that we have to be wary of “this category called The People” lest they do not go along with what The Government has in mind for them.

Thanks to a late own-goal from the “Green-Left-Daily” team, the score for this increasingly popular segment is:

Maurice Newman: 2

Jonathan Holmes: Zip

While on the topic of Deborah Cameron it’s time for:


Monday – On Flowers

This week’s biggest media beat-up was Samantha Maiden’s report in the News Limited Sunday papers that the Governor-General Quentin Bryce has “splashed out $110,000 of taxpayers’ money on bouquets of roses, lilies and white orchids to decorate her residence” over the past two-and-a-half years. Later in Ms Maiden’s report, it was revealed that expenditure in flowers at Government House in Canberra and Admiralty House in Sydney has been reduced by 25 per cent since the financial year 2009-2009.

Nevertheless, on Mornings with Deborah Cameron on Monday, Ms Cameron was on to this really big issue.  She suggested that the G-G should grow flowers for use in the official residences. Deborah Cameron spoke to Dr Tim Entwisle of the Botanic Gardens Trust – but he said that flowers were needed in gardens. Oh dear.  Then Lynn phoned in to advise that the number of gardeners at the official residences had been cut back and to grow more flowers would require more gardeners which would cost more money than purchasing flowers.  Shucks. Then it all faded away – like flowers wilting in a vase.  Oh well, there’s always tomorrow.  By the way, Nancy says, what’s wrong with commercial florists?

Tuesday – On the 65 Cents Gesture

Nancy was so impressed by Deborah Cameron’s declaration last Tuesday that she has taken a stand for dairy farmers and small businesses by declining to purchase her two litres of milk last week – which can be purchased from her Coles or Woolworths supermarket for close to $1 a litre. Believe it or not, this cost the professional inner-city two-income Cameron family a whole 65 cents extra.  Yes,  a whole 65  cents.  But what’s 65 cents when it’s time to take a stand against “Big Retail”?  Here’s how Ms Cameron explained her Big Decision.

Deborah Cameron: Every week when I do the shopping – I usually buy 2 litres of Coles brand milk. And I’ve always done it. It sort of underwrites the expensive price of milk throughout the rest of the week. It was always cheap, $2.35. This week I did the grocery shopping and I thought : ‘Aw, don’t know how I feel about this”.  And so I went past the Coles-brand milk and bought the regular brand. I just bought the labelled, Dairy Farmers, whatever it was brand.

And so it came to pass that, last weekend, Deborah spent an extra 65 cents for two litres of milk. [If DC can make big decisions like this, perhaps she should take over from Mark Scott. There is a precedent.  “Red” Kerry O’Brien once applied to be the ABC’s managing director. – Ed].

Thursday – On Tony Abbott’s (Alleged) Credibility

During her “Spin Doctors” spot on Thursday, Deborah Cameron ran her own spin on Tony Abbott:

Deborah Cameron:  Mr Abbott’s negativism is also costing him, um, marks in his credibility with voters, too.  It’s also quite low.

And now for some facts.  In the latest Newspoll, published in The Australian on 8 March 2011, the Coalition’s primary vote increased from 41 per cent in late February to 45 per cent in early March.  The Coalition’s two-party-preferred increased from 50 per cent to 54 per cent during the same period.  Mr Abbott’s satisfaction rating increased by one point while his dissatisfaction rating increased by two points. However, Tony Abbott lowered Julia Gillard’s lead in the “Better PM” category from 22 per cent to 9 per cent – a very significant percentage change.

Yet Ms Cameron believes that Mr Abbott’s alleged negativism is also costing him “marks in his credibility with voters”. This in spite of the fact that Tony Abbott has a satisfaction rating of 39 per cent, which is quite high for an Opposition leader, and some 36 per cent of voters believe that he would make a better prime minister than Julia Gillard – compared with 45 per cent of voters who prefer Ms Gillard over Mr Abbott.

Truly, A Deborah Cameron Moment – or three.



▪ Fitz’s Gough Fawn

MWD is a dedicated reader of the Sun-Herald. However in recent weeks it has been difficult to bear the likes of the bandanna-topped Peter FitzSimons and the superannuated Trotskyite Alex Mitchell.

This is what PF wrote in The Fitz Files in his Sun-Herald column last Sunday:

Gough said it… Oh, All right. Just one more Gough story.

It comes from Fitzphile Geoff Mooney, of Kiama, who in 1980 was the editor of a few weekly newspapers on the south coast of NSW including the Bay Post at Batemans Bay. He was in his office when someone from the pub next door ran in to inform him that the great man was having lunch there.

A newsman to his core, he grabs his camera and notebook, and bolts. Sure enough, there is Gough Whitlam with a female assistant. Mooney introduces himself, mutters a few words about being a long-time admirer and tells our former PM he would love a photo for the paper to inform the locals of his visit. Gough refuses.  Mooney persists, Gough still refuses. So Mooney asks him if he would tell him what he was doing in the area.

No.  “Who about a quote?” he asks. Gough sighs. “You’d like a quote? OK, just one.” Mooney whips out his notebook and readies himself.  Here it comes. Words from the mouth of the great man himself. Gough beckons him to move closer to the table. “Closer,” he insists. Mooney leans even closer, eager not to miss a syllable. “F— off,” says Gough.

It is impossible to imagine Fitz passing such a “joke” if, say, Liberal Party founder Sir Robert Menzies had been reported as being appalling rude to a rural journalist.  Can you bear it?

Comrade Alex’s Sectarian Burst

This is what Alex Mitchell wrote about Greg Donnelly (who is running as a Labor candidate in the NSW election) and Joe de Bruyn (who heads the influential Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association) in the Sun-Herald on 27 February 2011:

The “shoppies” are led nationally by hard-right powerbroker Joe de Bruyn, who is the foremost Labor opponent of legalised gay marriage and women’s right to abortion. Donnelly shares De Bruyn’s views on gays, abortion and stem-cell research, which aligns them with a monastic order somewhere in the 17th century.

Can you imagine Comrade Mitchell depicting a Muslim trade union official who opposes gay marriage and a woman’s right to abortion in such terms?  Not on your nelly.   But Comrade Alex believes it’s quite okay to mock conservative Catholics and Catholicism – they’re an easy target.


Fran Kelly Denies Gough Whitlam’s Hostility To Indo-Chinese Refugees

The inner-city left just loves Gough Whitlam, the Labor prime minister between December 1972 and November 1975.  Mr Whitlam presided over one of Australia’s most incompetent governments but this has not prevented him from being hero-worshipped among inner-city, tertiary educated, professional types. Indeed they prefer the man they invariably refer to as Gough to Labor’s most successful prime minister, Bob Hawke.

Mr Hawke led Labor to victory in 1983, 1984, 1987 and 1990 and presided – with Paul Keating – over the reform of the Australian economy.  Mr Whitlam, on the other hand, lost control of the economy in 1973 and 1974 – a factor which contributed to Labor’s crushing defeat to the Coalition, led by Malcolm Fraser, in the December 1975 election. Even so, it’s Gough who is more loved by the leftist luvvies in our midst.

On The Drum (ABC News 24) on Tuesday 1 March 2011, discussion turned on the issue of asylum seekers – with particular reference to what was depicted as the Coalition’s hard-line approach –  led by Opposition leader Tony Abbott and his immigration shadow minister Scott Morrison.  Over to Fran Kelly, presenter of the ABC Radio National Breakfast program, who made the following comment:

Fran Kelly : I think if you had the two national leaders working together from the same song-sheet it would make a difference. As I understand, you know, Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser did with the boat people – you know, the Vietnamese boat people, at that time.  It makes a real difference.

Yes – it does.  But, no – they didn’t.

Fran Kelly’s attempt to get Gough Whitlam off the hook concerning Indo-Chinese refugees just won’t wash.  It is simply ahistorical – and someone of Ms Kelly’s age and experience should know this.

The full story is told in Gerard Henderson’s Sydney Morning Herald columns of 18 April 2006 (see here) and 13 July 2010 (see here) – which were written after examining the Cabinet Papers for 1975 in the Canberra office of the Australian Archives along with the Whitlam Papers contained in Australian Archives’ Sydney office. Gough Whitlam’s own position is documented in his correspondence with Gerard Henderson – which was published in Issue 19, March 2003, of The Sydney Institute Quarterly (see Extract SIQ 19).  The facts are summarised below.

▪ South Vietnam fell to communist North Vietnam forces on 30 April 1975.  Gough Whitlam was prime minister at the time and Don Willesee was minister for foreign affairs.  It is widely acknowledged that Mr Whitlam ran Australian foreign policy from the prime minister’s office.

▪ On 21 April 1975, when the fall of Saigon was imminent, Cabinet discussed how Australia should respond to South Vietnamese asylum seekers fleeing communist forces.  Writing about this meeting in his 1980 book China, Communism and Coca-Cola, (Hill of Content), Clyde Cameron recalled that Mr Whitlam told Cabinet that he was “not having hundreds of fucking Vietnamese Balts coming into this country with their religious and political hatreds”.  The reference to “Balts” meant anti-communists. This quote has never challenged by Gough Whitlam. For the record, at the time Clyde Cameron supported Gough Whitlam’s hostility to Vietnamese refugees – while Don Willesee opposed the then prime minister on this issue.

▪ Writing in her 1984 book The Long Journey: Vietnamese Migration and Settlement in Australia, Nancy Viviani (who worked on Willesee’s staff in 1974 and 1975) suggested that the Whitlam Government’s hostility to Vietnamese refugees was partly motivated by “a care for the attitudes of Hanoi”. Mr Whitlam was concerned about the feelings of the communist dictators in Hanoi – he had no interest in the fate of anti-communist Vietnamese who were attempting to flee the communist dictatorship.

Professor Viviani’s theory was confirmed by the release of the Cabinet Papers for 1975. For example, in 1975 a message was sent from Canberra to the Australian embassy in Hanoi instructing the Australian ambassador there to advise the North Vietnamese government that Australia “would be very sorry to see the refugee question affect” relations between Cambodia and Hanoi.  Hanoi was also advised that “Australia has not been engaged in mass evacuations from Vietnam” and that, apart from the special case of orphans, “fewer than 80 Vietnamese were flown out of Vietnam by Australians”.

▪ Shortly before the collapse of the anti-communist regime in South Vietnam, the Australian embassy in Saigon was sent the following message from Canberra: “Locally engaged Embassy staff are not to be regarded as endangered by their Australian Embassy associations and should not, repeat not, be granted entry to Australia.”  In other words, Whitlam decided not to accept as refugees any South Vietnamese working in the Australian Embassy in Saigon.

▪ Those few South Vietnamese who obtained entry to Australia – less than a hundred in number – were required by the Whitlam Government to sign an undertaking, as a condition of their entry, that they would not engage in political activity in Australia.  This direction was given so that the communist dictators in Vietnam would not be upset by criticism of them made by any anti-communist Vietnamese refugees who arrived in Australia.

▪ Gough Whitlam’s files for 1975 contain the following hand-written note: “Do not accept that a person claiming to be a refugee…is entitled to claim residence in Australia.”  In other words, Mr Whitlam effectively instructed Australian officials in Vietnam not to accept that any asylum seeker was a refugee.

The Cabinet Records for 1975 support the claims made at the time by Professor Nancy Viviani, the Australia journalist Denis Warner and by bipartisan Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence.  In its 1976 report, titled Australia and the Refugee Problem, the committee found that the Whitlam Government engendered a “deliberate delay in order to minimise the number of [Vietnamese] refugees with which Australia would have to concern itself” and that it deliberately drew narrow guidelines in order that “very few refugees would qualify for entry to Australia”.

▪ The Whitlam Government was dismissed on 11 November 1975 and Malcolm Fraser became prime minister of a caretaker government.  After the election, the Fraser Government was sworn in on 22 December 1975.  Mr Fraser and his immigration minister Michael Mackellar set about relaxing the Whitlam Government’s hostile approach to Vietnamese refugees who were fleeing, or had fled, the new communist regime in Saigon.

Fran Kelly’s claim that Australia’s national leaders in 1975, 1976 and 1977 – the only years when Mr Whitlam and Mr Fraser led their political parties at the same time – sang from “the same song sheet” on “boat people”” is pure mythology. The statistics for boat arrivals in Australia are readily available. They reveal that the number of people who arrived in an unauthorised way by boat was as follows:

1975: Nil

1976: 111

1977: 868

Indeed the total number of unauthorised boat arrivals in the period from May 1975 to March 1983, when Fraser lost office, was 2059 – in other words an average of around 295 a year over seven years. The highest number in any one year during the period of the Howard Government was 5316 (in 2001). The highest number during the period of the Rudd/Gillard Government was around 6850 (in 2010).

In November 1977, on the eve of the Federal election, Bob Hawke (then ALP national president) opposed the unauthorised arrival of the boat Song BE 12 containing Vietnamese refugees in Darwin and declared: “Any sovereign country has the right to determine how it will exercise its compassion and how it will increase its population”. Gough Whitlam, who was Opposition leader at the time, did not seek to stop Mr Hawke from using the Vietnamese boat people issue against the Fraser Government.

Gough Whitlam stepped down as Labor leader after the 1977 election and was replaced by Bill Hayden. It was only then that there was a bipartisan approach to Indo-Chinese refugees who sought to settle in Australia.  There was a total of 1080 unauthorised boat arrivals between the beginning of 1978 and the end of 1983.

Of the 70,000 Indo-Chinese refugees who settled in Australia between 1975 and 1983, less than 3 per cent could be classified as boat people.  Some 68,000 refugees were processed off-shore and entered Australia by air with valid visas. Malcolm Fraser never experienced the high number of unauthorised boat arrivals which John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have had to deal with.

* * * * *

In short, Fran Kelly’s comment on The Drum on 1 March 2011 was complete bunk and should be corrected.  The fact is that no incumbent prime minister was as hostile to asylum seekers arriving in Australia as Gough Whitlam.  It is simply ahistorical for Ms Kelly to allege that Gough Whitlam worked with Malcolm Fraser to accommodate asylum seekers.

Indeed as late as September 1978 Gough Whitlam maintained that it was arguable whether asylum seekers from Vietnam were refugees.  He also queried whether there were refugees from Pol Pot’s Cambodia.  Gough Whitlam was never sympathetic to refugees from communist dictatorships in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.


In MWD reported exclusively last year, ABC managing director Mark Scott has advised ABC staff not to be so precious – to acknowledge errors and to be less sensitive to criticism.  See MWD Issue 33.  How’s Mr Scott’s campaign going?  Not very well, it seems, as the correspondence printed below reveals.  Here is ABC News Radio presenter Marius Benson refusing to acknowledge errors in an article he wrote on the ABC website. It’s called (taxpayer funded) denial:

Email from Gerard Henderson to Marius Benson – 9 March 2011


As you will recall, in The Drum on Friday 25 February 2011 you wrote – with reference to David Williamson’s play Don Parties On.

…. it’s just not accurate to say that the conservative “Cooley” character is just “a dickhead” either as presented or as seen by the other characters.

I refer you to the screenplay of Don Parties On, which is readily available since it has been published by the Melbourne Theatre Company.

Early in Act Two (see Page 41) the following exchange takes place:

Helen: She [Julia Gillard] should show more courage.  Most of those boat people are absolutely desperate.

Cooley: Let them join the queue.

Jenny: [ferociously] In Afghanistan?  There isn’t a bloody queue, you insufferable dickhead.  Their only crime is that they’re Muslim.

Helen: I can’t believe that there are so many Australians who are just plain intolerant.

So, contrary to your claim in The Drum, it is accurate to say that the character Cooley is seen as “a dickhead” by at least one of the other characters – i.e. Jenny.

Shortly after this exchange, the following dialogue takes place (Page 42):

Kath : [putting her arm around Helen] Let’s go and watch in the other room. I’m sick of having to listen to these loudmouths.

Cooley:  Speak your opinion and you’re an insufferable dickhead.

So, contrary to your claim in The Drum, the character Cooley believes that other characters in Don Parties On regard him as an “insufferable dickhead”.

I note that, before writing your piece in The Drum, you did not bother to check with me as to the source of my reference to Cooley in my Sydney Morning Herald column on 22 February.  Nor, obviously, did you bother to check the screenplay of Don Parties On.

In short, you just concocted your allegation.  My question is – will  you correct this error and when should I expect the correction?

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

cc: Jonathan Green

Email from Marius Benson to Gerard Henderson – 10 March 2011

Hi Gerard,

Thanks for referring me to the screenplay of Don Parties On – I went to see the play rather than read it. You’re missing out if you only read it Gerard.

As you correctly note I wrote “…. it’s just not accurate to say that the conservative “Cooley” character is just “a dickhead” either as presented or as seen by the other characters.

I should underline the word “just”.

Jenny describing him as a dickhead doesn’t invalidate that observation.  You are right to cite that as evidence that “at least one of the characters” sees him as a dickhead on this occasion. But my point is that he’s not just a dickhead. He’s also a caricature in part, but not just a caricature.

Likewise with Cooley’s own remark he is objecting to being dismissed a dickhead, but that doesn’t mean he is simply viewed that way by others. The presentation of him and the assessments from other characters like his wife provide an entirely different, more complex, rounded view of his character.

I would like to quote chapter and verse, but I’m relying on my memory of a good night in the theatre rather than a written text in front of me.

The play that I saw showed people from the right and left politically without suggesting all sense or virtue in life lay with one side. There are successes and failures across the political spectrum as the Party characters look back on their lives.

The play is not a triumphalist polemic on the correctness of the left and the emptiness of the right.  It is a group of people in late, late middle age, mainly lefties, reviewing their lives and not finding evidence that they were always correct.

They are all dickheads in their own assessment and that of others. But, like Cooley, not just dickheads and not all the time.

As to checking with you – you wrote your view of Cooley, I said I took a different view of the character as presented. What was I meant to check? I assumed your view was based on knowledge of the play. And no I didn’t rely on the screenplay, just my viewing of the play.

All the best


Email from Gerard Henderson to Marius Benson – 10 March 2010


I refer to your email of 10 March 2011. It was a disingenuous response – even for you. I will deal with your false claims in order.

▪ Your (False) Implication That I Did Not See Don Parties On Before Writing About It

In your article “Making a drama out of a production” – published on the ABC’s taxpayer funded blog The Drum on 25 February 2011 – you wrote:

I presume Gerard Henderson saw the play [Don Parties On] before writing that column…

You then went on to criticise the brief reference to the play in my column in the Sydney Morning Herald on 22 February 2011 titled: “Don won’t but the Libs can stop left”. The clear implication in your article was that I had written about David Williamson’s latest play without seeing it.  For the record, I saw Don Parties On twice before writing my column – once in Melbourne on 4 February and once on 18 February when I was guest of MGM Management at the opening of the play’s Sydney season.

In your email dated 10 March 2011 you repeated the implied allegation, when you wrote:

Thanks for referring me to the screenplay of Don Parties On – I went to see the play rather than read it.  You’re missing out if you only read it Gerard.

As a senior journalist at the ABC, you are under an obligation to check facts.  And, as editor of The Drum, Jonathan Green should be required to engage in fact-checking before publishing authors, like you, who are too lazy to check facts for themselves.

Now, how could you have found out that I did see Don Parties On before writing about it?  Well, you could have contacted me and asked me direct.  Alternatively, a Google search would have revealed what I said on Q&A on 7 February 2011 – where I was on the panel with David Williamson – namely, that I had seen, and enjoyed, Don Parties On.

Question 1: When do you propose to correct the erroneous implication in your piece on The Drum that I wrote about Don Parties On without seeing it?

▪ Your False (Assertion) That I Misrepresented The Content Of David Williamson’s Latest Play

In your article in The Drum on 25 February 2011 you wrote:

I presume Gerard Henderson saw the play before writing that column, but it’s just not accurate to say that the conservative “Cooley” character is just “a dickhead” either as presented or as seen by the other characters. Sure he’s a caricature in part – gasping out abuse at his lefty mates until his emphysema forces him to re-apply his oxygen mask.  But he is not just a pinata strung up to be whacked by the characters closer to the author’s heart….

In my email of 9 March 2011, I drew your attention to the fact that one character, Jenny had referred to Cooley as a “dickhead”, that Jenny’s view was supported by Helen and that Cooley himself acknowledged that he had been presented by his fellow characters as a “dickhead”.

In your email you have refused to correct your blatant error with respect to me.  Instead you seek to deny your error by placing a jesuitical interpretation on the word “just”. This is intellectual garbage.

Your original comment would have had exactly the same meaning whether or not you used the word “just”. For the record, the word “just” did not appear in my Sydney Morning Herald column. You should be able to do better than this.

I note your (somewhat lame) excuse for not being able to back up your assertions with evidence – which is as follows:

I would like to quote chapter and verse, but I’m relying on my memory of a good night in the theatre rather than a written text in front of me.

In The Drum you confidently alleged that no character in Don Parties On had presented Cooley as a “dickhead”.  Now you concede that, when making this claim, you relied on your “memory of a good night in the theatre”. Memory is no substitute for fact-checking. And you could have readily checked the facts had you bothered to read the screenplay which, as you should be aware, has been published by Currency Press for the Melbourne Theatre Company.  I bought my copy when I saw Don Parties On.

Question 2 : When do you propose to correct the erroneous assertion in your piece on The Drum that I was wrong to claim that Cooley was presented in Don Parties On as a “dickhead”?

▪ Your (False) Claim That I Engaged In A “Vitriolic” Attack On David Williamson

The fact is that your whole assessment of this issue has been flawed.  In your article in The Drum you accused me – along with Crikey – of engaging in “a pretty [this has been changed] vitriolic argument” about Don Parties On.  This is true about Crikey – but completely false about me.  This is all I wrote about Don Parties On in my Sydney Morning Herald column on 22 February 2011:

Many of the characters in David Williamson’s Don Parties On, which premiered in Sydney on Friday, have become supporters of the Greens or fatalistic eco-catastrophists. The play, based in the Melbourne suburb of Lower Plenty on election night last year, has but one character who supported Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party and he is, by consensus, a dickhead. The rest are Greens of varying degrees of intensity who have abandoned, or never embraced, Labor.

There is a lot to be said for the Williamson genre. The playwright is entertaining and witty, the audience stay awake and return after the interval and most have a good time. What’s more, Williamson’s work is commercially successful and does not require the support of taxpayers.  It is true that there has been a move to the Greens in inner-city areas of the capital cities….

This hardly constitutes what you claim was part of a “vitriolic” attack on Don Parties On. Certainly David Williamson did not think so. On 25 February 2011 I received the following email from the playwright:

Gerard, thanks so much for the positive reference to my work in your column the other day.  Very best David Williamson

I believe it is fair to assume that David Williamson knows more about Don Parties On than you do.

Question 3 : When will you correct your assertion that I was involved in “a pretty [this has been changed] vitriolic argument” about Don Parties On?

* * * *

In conclusion I suggest that you should approach Mark Scott (in his capacity as the ABC’s editor-in-chief) with a view to the public broadcaster allocating some of its taxpayer funds to the important task of fact-checking. You certainly need a fact-checker.

I look forward to your responses to my three specific questions.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

Email from Marius Benson to Gerard Henderson – 11 March 2011

Heavens Gerard, I certainly have got my place in a national argument.

Before going further can you write to confirm that these e-mails are private correspondence and not for publication.

On your latest, it was good to be described as both disingenuous and jesuitical in the same e-mail. That’s a first for me. Although you describing someone else as jesuitical sounds like a bit like the chasuble calling the cassock black.

Let me respond to your latest point by point.

1. I’m glad you saw the play and enjoyed it. I was not asserting that you had not. I was arguing with your impression of the play not your attendance. The only reason I raised the issue again in my private e-mail to you was because you referred only to reading the play but not to seeing it. Your physical attendance was peripheral, your views were what was under discussion.

2. I am aware that Cooley was called a dickhead by Jenny. This however does not make him a dickhead, or even mean that Jenny thinks that is all he is. And it certainly not mean that Williamson sees him as nothing but that.  It just means a character called him that, and that Cooley accuses others of calling him a dickhead. But my point is that there’s more to him than that. The word “just”  is crucial here and not some jesuitical reasoning.

You know the difference and calling it “intellectual garbage” is just abuse and doesn’t add to your argument.

I thought Cooley was a dickhead, in part, but not “just” a dickhead. I thought everyone in the play was a dickhead, at times. And they’d probably all agree, they all found fault with themselves.

Further, being called a dickhead does not make you a dickhead. It’s the same in life Gerard. If you called me a dickhead, that might be your view, or it might be one aspect of your view of me. But that simple assertion would not make me a dickhead.

3. You’ve confused me by saying: “for the record the word “just” did not appear in my SMH column.” The word was used in my piece not yours, what are you saying here?

4. I have no trouble with my assertion that other characters, particularly his wife, found things to admire in Cooley. My memory is clear, I just don’t have the text in front of me to quote precise words. I was not being apologetic.

5. You state: “In The Drum you confidently alleged that no character in Don Parties On had presented Cooley as a “dickhead.” I did not say this. Is this a reference to the following from my piece: “’s not accurate to say that the conservative Cooley character is just a dickhead, either as presented or as seen by the other characters.”

If it is, your paraphrase has changed the meaning significantly. I am saying no character saw him as just a dickhead. Take that word out and you change my meaning and misrepresent my view.

You are wrong to claim I have made a false allegation and you are wrong to suggest I have said anything that requires a correction.

6. You state that I have accused you and Crikey of engaging in “a petty vitriolic argument.” In fact I said: “a pretty vitriolic argument”. Your inaccuracy changes my tone and meaning. My words were an accurate characterisation of the debate on the play, it is not directed specifically at you, Crikey is the reference that immediately follows it.

7. I’m glad David Williamson was pleased with your reference to his play, but his remarks don’t have any relevance to my response to his play.

To repeat there is no factual error in my piece requiring a correction. I was expressing my response to the play and the debate around it.

all the best


Email from Gerard Henderson to Marius Benson – 11 March 2011


I refer to your email received today.

First up, I can confirm that our email correspondence will be published in my Media Watch Dog blog. You are paid by the taxpayer. Your article was written for the ABC’s taxpayer funded website The Drum.  The ABC has signed up to the Right to Know Coalition. And so on.  Also, I do not know why you would be worried about your emails to me – in defence of yourself – receiving wide circulation. I assume you would want this.

In response, I make a few brief points – since your reply speaks for itself and is an example of what Mark Scott had in mind in October 2009 when he wrote to ABC staff:  “We all need to develop thicker skins, put up with sharper criticism from audiences, admit and correct errors quickly when they occur…”. Clearly you have yet to take note of Mr Scott’s wise counsel.

▪ In my column in the Sydney Morning Herald on 22 February 2011 I made it very clear that I had seen Don Parties On.  It was you who implied, on two occasions, that I had not seen David Williamson’s latest play.  Likewise, it was you who attempted to focus on the word “just”.

▪ The reference to “petty” rather than “pretty” was a typographical error. Apologies.  I have corrected this.  But “petty” or “pretty” does not change the meaning of your assertion that my comments on Don Parties On were “vitriolic”. This is what I objected to in your piece on The Drum.  The fact is that my comments about Don Parties On were not in any sense vitriolic – as David Williamson well understood.

Best wishes.  And many thanks for helping fill out today’s Media Watch Dog.

Haveagoodweekend. Heavens Marius, you deserve no less.


* *  * * *

That’s all. Until next time – when the much awaited MWD assessment of Alan Ramsey will be published. Really and truly.