08 APRIL 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

“Before going further can you write to confirm that these emails are private correspondence and not for publication”

– ABC News Radio’s Marius Benson, 11 March 2011. He did go further – see MWD Issue 86.

Media Watch Dog – “disgraceful”, “sick” – Professor Robert Manne, April Fool’s Day 2011

● Stop Press: Lateline’s Stuff-Up

Nancy’s Pick-of-the-Week: Dick Smith’s Murdochphobia

● Can You Bear It?  Jane Caro on Paul Keating’s (alleged) Sex Life

● The Sydney Writers’ Festival Channels Aunty: Tax Payer Funds Fashionable Intellectual Love-In

● Nancy’s Writers’ Festival: Channels Sydney Writers’ Festival

● Clarification: Michaela Whitbourn

● Nancy’s Old Bones: What Lee Rhiannon (nee Brown) Did in 1972

● Correspondence: Jonathan Cheng Writes to MWD On Syria



How memories fade.  And how quickly. On Lateline last night, Tom Iggulden reported on Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s bike ride from the Gold Coast to Sydney.  Filing from a pub in Gloucester in the electorate of Lyne, Mr Iggulden told viewers:

Tom Iggulden: Nestled in prime agricultural land about 100 kilometres off the coast, Gloucester’s classic Nationals country.  But the electorate of Lyne, which includes Gloucester, was part of the groundswell that voted out John Howard in 2008, installing Independent Rob Oakeshott.

And now for some facts.  John Howard led the Coalition to defeat in 2007 (not 2008). Moreover, Independent MP Rob Oakeshott was not installed by the electorate in 2007 when John Howard was voted out. He won Lyne, following Mark Vaile’s resignation, at a by-election in September 2008.

Mr Iggulden also claimed that Tony Abbott’s “negotiating skills let him down” after the August 2010 election and “former Liberal Mr Oakeshott sided with Labor”. Rob Oakeshott is not a former Liberal – he is former National Party member. Moreover, Tom Iggulden also seems to believe that such a deal with Tony Abbott was possible. This overlooks Mr Oakeshott’s long-term hostility to the National Party and his personal warning, issued as early as December 2006, concerning Mr Abbott’s Catholicism. That’s quite a lot of errors in a short piece to camera.  [Doesn’t nice Mr Scott give Lateline enough money to employ a fact-checker? – Ed].



What a stunning performance by business entrepreneur Dick Smith on the Richard Glover ABC 702 Drive program last Monday.  Mr Smith went into full rave mode – alleging that the Prince of Darkness controls not only the world but also, wait for it, the ABC.  Let’s go to the audio tape:

Dick Smith :  I’ve called the Murdoch empire an “evil empire” – and I really mean that. It controls Australia and Australian thought. And what they do if someone has a different view – the basic the [sic] idea is to make you out as a ratbag or an extremist to try and discredit you. That’s what they’ve tried to do. They’ve infiltrated everyone, including the ABC. And let me tell you this one. There’s a huge furore about these statements in the [Daily] Telegraph. So Madonna King’s producer rings me up

Richard Glover : She’s the Brisbane Mornings Show presenter .

Dick Smith : Absolutely. And she puts me on. And just about before I’m supposed to go on to air, the producer comes on air [sic] and says “Oh Dick, you’re not to mention any newspaper”. And I said: “What, I’m not gonna be censored.” Finally I get clicked on. So, of course, I mention it. Now I’ll tell you what that’s about. Madonna King’s husband is the editor of the Courier Mail. The Courier Mail with this lying headline: “Dick Smith calls for two children limit”. She is not game because she knows that if I criticise Murdoch on her channel, her husband’s likely to get the sack. That might sound ridiculous but that’s how it happens.

Sounds barking mad to Nancy.  Yet there is certain madness to Dick’s method.  According to Mr Smith, Rupert Murdoch favours a larger population for Australia.  So he has instructed his reporters to misquote our man Dick in the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere.  And the Prophet of Darkness is so malicious that he will sack the spouse of any ABC reporter who allows Dick Smith to criticise on-air a News Limited paper or Mr Murdoch’s views on population.

So what happened?  Answer – zip.  Dick Smith did his rant on the Mornings with Madonna King program.  And – surprise, surprise – Madonna King’s husband is still editing the Courier Mail.


Jane Caro – Self Appointed Agony Aunt To Paul Keating

On ABC News 24 The Drum program recently (30 March 2011) this is what Jane Caro had to say about former Labor prime minister Paul Keating – in response to Mr Keating’s quite sensible comments on Labor’s disastrous showing in the NSW State election.

Jane Caro: I just feel Paul Keating doesn’t do himself any favours anymore. He’s a bit grim. He’s turned into a grumpy old misanthrope, I think. And he used to be so attractive. I want him to, I don’t know, drink more. I don’t know, get laid more often. Whatever it is he isn’t getting, I want him to get a lot more of it. He should get jollier and wiser instead of more and more miserable. I just, I didn’t find it an attractive performance. I just thought:  “Oh, shut up Paul, you’re not helping.”

Can you bear it?  The fact is that Jane Caro has no knowledge of Paul Keating’s personal life.  Nor does she know if he is miserable.  It is Ms Caro who should take her own advice and JUST SHUT UP.

THE SYDNEY WRITERS FESTIVAL – Where (Almost) Everyone Agrees With (Almost) Everyone Else – As The Tax Payer Picks Up The Tab

It’s just 37 sleeps to the commencement of the Sydney Writers’ Festival – which runs from Monday 16 May to Sunday 22 May. [I just can’t wait – Ed].  Last Saturday Nancy was awakened when a copy of the Sydney Morning Herald, carrying  the Sydney Writers’ Festival 2011 Official Guide, was thrown over the fence and landed on her head.

The SWF provides yet another example of your taxes at work.  This year the SWF’s “Core Funders” are Communities Arts NSW (read New South Wales taxpayers), the City of Sydney (read Sydney City Council ratepayers – primarily businesses), the Australian Government (read the Australian taxpayer) and the Australia Council for the Arts (ditto).

Nancy has always had the view that literary festivals Down Under provide an occasion for inner-city sandal-wearing lefties to get hold of lotsa public money and invite their leftie sandal-wearing mates, from near and far, to come on down and agree with each other.  A couple of conservatives are usually invited to give the impression of “balance”.  The evidence suggests that the SWF 2011’s Official Guide has been done so that Nancy’s prophecy may be fulfilled (once again). Well done SWF.

The 2011 SWF Official Guide contains a “Welcome” from the festival’s artistic director Chip Rolley.  Mr Rolley commences by advising readers:

We live in a world that is ultimately understood only through language. It is the writer who has the power to name, create and shape our world – to give us the words we live by.

Well, that’s certainly good news for writers – like Mr Rolley and his literary mates.  It turns out that the concept of “power” is the SWF’s “unifying theme” this year. Chip Rolley demonstrated his insight into the subject when he opined:

As Milan Kundera wrote in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”.

Well, that settles that then.  The problem is that literary power does not always deliver results.  The SWF artistic director reflects that “since our 2010 emergency Town Hall meeting on climate change, things have only got worse”. Shocking.  Quite shocking.  A group of leftie-luvvies attended a SWF emergency meeting on climate change last year and no one took any notice – even though they held an emergency meeting at the Sydney Town Hall.  How disrespectful can you get to the sandal-wearing class?

Fear not.  There will be more of the (taxpayer funded) same in 2011.  As Chip Rolley put it:

Naomi Oreskes, who unmasks the dark forces that manufacture climate-change scepticism, is joined by paleoclimatologist Curt Stager and environmental strategist Paul Gilding in “You’ve Been Warned” at Sydney Town Hall.

What fun.  Certainly this function will appeal to those ABC fans who are used to forums where everyone agrees with everyone else and who have no time for “dark forces”. You’ve been warned.

So, once again, in 2011, eco-catastrophists will be well catered for.  Likewise the sneering-secularists set.  As Mr Rolley explains:

Britain’s most widely read philosopher, A C Grayling, takes on the power of religion with his opus, The Good Book, an alternative to the Bible that sets out a secular path towards the good life.

So, when it comes to matters of religious faith, there is not even a pretence at debate.  A.C. Grayling will profess his atheism at the SWF and sneer at Christians (but certainly not Muslims) at the stand-alone function. Literary festival types invariably don’t do sneers at Islam.  Remember Salman Rushdie and all that.

Then there is politics.  Chip Rolley’s “Welcome” tells us all that contemporary politics “have left many of us feeling powerless”. [Could this be because lower income groups and less educated types, who tend to live in the suburbs and regional centres, don’t give a toss about the opinions of the Literary Festival Set? – Ed].  Mr Rolley says that the 2011 SWF will address the issue of “why a good leader is so hard to find”. Get it?  SWF attendees will not be asked their opinion on whether a good leader is hard to find.  No, no, no.  The question is : why a good leader is hard to find.  That’s the SWF line.

Then there is the role of former prime minister John Howard – who seems to be one of the token conservatives at the 2011 SWF.  As Chip Rolley puts it:

September 11 was a turning point in the lives of two other Festival guests.  The former prime minister John Howard, who was in Washington when the planes hit, will talk about his political memoirs, while former Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks will make his first public appearance since the publication of his account of what happened.

So there you have it.  John Howard, who led the Coalition to four election victories, will be there.  He is “balanced” by David Hicks, who pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorism and who, so far, has refused to respond to any media queries about the content of his book Guantanamo: My Journey.

So, will Mr Hicks come out at the SWF and answer queries from the audience?  Probably not.  Try this for balance.

John Howard will discuss his book Lazarus Rising in conversation with ABC Radio National Breakfast presenter Fran Kelly. No problems here. These days Ms Kelly comes across as a supporter of the Greens but Mr Howard is well used to talking to media types who do not agree with him on a range of foreign policy, economic and social issues.

David Hicks will discuss his book – in conversation with Donna Mulhearn.  Ms Mulhearn is a long-time leftist activist who offered herself as a “human shield” during the Second Gulf War.  Guess what?  The United States and British forces bombed Baghdad in spite of Ms Mulhearn’s presence.  She evacuated the city shortly before US ground forces arrived.  Ms Mulhearn is certainly human but did not provide much of a shield.

So John Howard will be quizzed by an inner-city leftie type.  And David Hicks will also be quizzed by an inner-city leftie type. Not much balance here. Mr Howard is always willing to engage in questions/discussion with his audiences.  What about David Hicks? Chip Rolley will not say.  He advised Gerard Henderson last night that no decision has been made as to whether audience members will be able to ask questions of – or direct comments to – David Hicks.  We’ll keep you posted.

MWD has a modest proposal.  Assuming Mr Hicks will not answer questions from the audience – why not put him in conversation with Leigh Sales and/or Sally Neighbour.  Neither are right-wing types – but both have expressed concern about the evident rationalisations , contradictions and omissions in the David Hicks memoir.

As would be expected, some fine writers – Australian and non-Australians alike – will attend the 2011 SWF.  The problem turns on the lack of balance in areas of public debate – such as climate change and Christianity and politics.  Some examples illustrate the point.

▪ Believe it or not, there are no fewer than four sessions on Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks controversy.  Speakers include Barbara Gunnell, Julianne Schultz, Andrew Fowler, Guy Rundle, Robert Manne, Suelette Dreyfus, Cameron Stewart, Christopher Warren and Jeff Sparrow.  Not one is critical of Mr Assange and the WikiLeaks phenomenon from a conservative perspective.

▪ The session on Australian politics titled “A Good Leader Is Hard To Find” will hear from Lenore Taylor, Bob Ellis, George Megalogenis, Bob Carr and Barrie Cassidy.  Kerry O’Brien will chair this session.

Mr Carr is a former Labor premier of NSW. Messrs Cassidy and O’Brien once worked for Bob Hawke and Gough Whitlam respectively.  Bob Ellis is a former speech writer for Labor politicians – he was the only commentator to predict an ALP victory in last month’s NSW State election.  Lenore Taylor and George Megalogenis are fine journalists but neither has been accused of being close to the conservative side of politics.  Apart from Bob Ellis – the False Prophet of Palm Beach (See Issue 88) – none of the participants are leftists.  However, there is an oversupply of social democrats and a complete absence of conservatives.

▪ The session on asylum seekers titled “For Those Who’ve Come Across The Sea” consists of Robert Manne, Waleed Ali and George Megalogenis.  According to the Official Guide, they will “canvass alternative options” to the Gillard Government’s policies. The SWF will not hear from one speaker who supports the current policy of Julia Gillard – let alone Tony Abbott.

▪ AWU national secretary  Paul Howes will talk about his book Confessions of a Faceless Man with former Labor operative Graham Richardson. Superannuated Howard-hater Alan Ramsey will talk about his book The Way They Were with Labor senator John Faulkner.  How frightfully chummy.

▪ The “Australia On The Couch” session will hear from Australia’s “most esteemed political and cultural analysts” – Robert Manne and Hugh Mackay, no less – who will discuss “our new complacency”. The problem is that they essentially agree with each other. It would seem that there are no such “most esteemed analysts” among political conservatives in Australia – or certainly no one that the SWF can make contact with.

▪ The session “Online Journalism” should be re-classified as “Online Left-Wing Journalism”. Two panellists are from leftist publications – Jeff Sparrow (Overland) and Marni Cordell (New Matilda). The remaining panellists are also men-of-the-left. Namely, Guy Rundle (a former editor of the Marxist journal Arena) and Antony Loewenstein. Once again, SWF staff could not locate an online conservative journalist – despite the fact that there are quite a few.

▪ And then, of course, there is the session “The Israel Question”. Here Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish will be interviewed by anti-Israel political activist Antony Loewenstein.  Enough said.


Nancy is a smart dog.  She knows how to run a literary festival.  Get a lot of taxpayers’ money and invite several bus and plane loads of leftists – with a couple of conservatives to provide “balance”.

MWD proudly releases the “2011 Unofficial Guide to Nancy’s Writers’ Festival”.  Here is a sample of some so-exciting events which Nancy has planned – in the tradition of the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

The End of the World is Nigh

Hear leading eco-catastrophists discuss the world’s cooking – as in the cooking of the world.  Panellists are Robert Manne and Tim Flannery (who will fly in from somewhere) and Sting (who will fly in from anywhere) and Al (“I’ve Only Got Five Luxury Homes” ) Gore. Compered by Tony (“I’ll Take That As A Burning Comment”) Jones.  Bring your own candle.

Christians Are Dickheads. Really.

A.C. Grayling will sneer at Christ, Christianity, Christendom and Christians.  A mind-blowing critique of some (but not all) believers  – since Mr Grayling rather likes his throat and would not want it severed by an angry radical Islamist.  Phillip Adams is in the (atheistic) chair and, as usual, will take any opportunity available to speak about HIMSELF.

Why Are Social Fascists Like Julia Gillard – And Real Fascists Like Tony Abbott – So Awfully Fascistic?

This big issue of our time is addressed by a panel of Australia’s most esteemed commentators – living or dead.  Hear the views of Manning Clark and Susannah (“Wasn’t Joe Stalin Just Great”) Pritchard and Antony Loewenstein and David Hicks and Bob Ellis. Compered by Catherine Deveny and Marieke (“My Uncle Frank Was a Really Nice Stalinist circa 1950”) Hardy.

How Brilliant/Wise/Compassionate is John Pilger?

Featuring leftist journalist John Pilger in conversation with John Pilger – with the assistance of a vanity mirror, a truck load of fake tan and several buckets of peroxide dye.

Was Trotsky Really Greater Than Lenin?

Superannuated Trotskyite Alex Mitchell rationalises the suppression of the Kronsdtat Uprising with semi-retired Marxist Guy Rundle.  Chaired by John Pilger. Expect a guest appearance by Jack (“Lang Is Greater Than Lenin”) Lang. Channelled by Paul Keating per courtesy of John Edward.

Western Materialism – A Critique

A devastating critique of the West’s corruption, by Osama bin Laden – per courtesy of a Skype camera on active service in a cave on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.  In discussion with David Hicks (Taliban, Retd).

John Howard Re-Assessed

John Howard, Australia’s most fascistic prime minister, will discuss his new book Lazarus and the Australian Club in conversation with Fran Kelly.  A brown-paper-bag luncheon function. Please re-cycle any left-over fruit by throwing same at Mr Howard, Australia’s most…. [That’s enough – Ed].


MWD Issue 87 carried an item titled “Ms Whitbourn’s Snobbery”. The reference was to a report in the Australian Financial Review (11 March 2011), under Michaela Whitbourn’s by-line, that (then) NSW Opposition leader Barry O’Farrell had visited a number of suburbs, including Yagoona.  Yagoona et al were described as “suburbs so small many Sydney residents have never heard of them”.

This upset Nancy, who was adopted from the RSPCA Sydney (Yagoona) Shelter.  The issue was taken up by Nancy’s co-owner who understands that Yagoona – in Sydney’s south west, is one of the city’s best known suburbs.  He described Ms Whitbourn as a snob.  Unfairly – because she did not write the reference to Yagoona in her story.

So, who did?  Well, the AFR is not saying.  [Gee, Nancy’s got some clout. – Ed].  All that is known is a male editor was involved.  Ms Whitbourne is in the clear.  MWD thought that readers would just like to know this.  The item in Issue 87 will be amended when time permits.

NANCY’S OLD BONES – In Which Nancy Digs Up Evidence Disputing Lee Rhiannon’s Claims That Her Parents Were Not Stalinists And She Did Not Support The Invasion Of Czechoslovakia In 1968.

In his book The Family Five (Black Inc 2010), Mark Aarons wrote that he and Lee Brown (who changed her name to Lee Rhiannon), were “red-diaper babies”.  Mark is the son of the Communist Party of Australia functionary Laurie Aarons and Carol Aarons.  Lee is the daughter of two prominent CPA members – W.J. (Bill) Brown and Freda Brown.  Both Mark Aarons and Lee Brown were born in 1951. Brian Aarons, who was born in 1945, is Mark’s older brother.

In The Family File, the term “red-diaper babies” is defined as “how many CPA members affectionately referred to the children of communists destined to inherit their parents’ political genes”.  As Mark Aarons points out, for many years, “the Aarons and Browns shared friendship as well as ideological commitment”. The friendship was severed, however, by the Soviet Union’s crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968.

Put simply, the Aarons family opposed Moscow’s decision to send Soviet tanks into Czechoslovakia and the Brown family supported Moscow.  As it turned out, Laurie Aarons took the CPA with him.  So Bill and Freda Brown – along with Lee Brown – formed the pro-Moscow Socialist Party of Australia.  Lee Rhiannon (nee Brown) remained a member of the SPA until the eve of the collapse of Soviet communism in the late 1980s.  In 1991, Lee Rhiannon joined the Greens.

In The Family File, Mark Aarons documented that the Browns (Bill, Freda and Lee) supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. He also referred to correspondence – published in the UNSW student newspaper Tharunka in 1972 – where Lee Brown declined to take up Brian Aarons’ challenge that she should condemn the shooting of Polish workers by Poland’s communist regime and the invasion of Czechoslovakia.  In a letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 28 July 2010, Lee Rhiannon rejected the claim that her parents were Stalinists and that she had supported the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

The Family File is still in print.  However, the Lee Brown/Mark Aarons 1972 correspondence is difficult to locate.  It is published here – in the public interest, of course.


Syria’s Assad – A Moderate or Autocrat or Both?

MWD Issue 89 criticised Jonathan Cheng’s article in The Australian on 1 April 2011, which was an apologia for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Jonathan Cheng subsequently wrote to MWD.  His email is published in full – along with Gerard Henderson’s response.

Jonathan Cheng to Gerard Henderson – 4 April 2011

Good morning Gerard,

A colleague linked me to your comments about my article in The Australian in the 1 April 2011 Media Watch Dog. Just thought I would make a few clarifying points:

1)   My main point argues that Assad will have the capacity to see through this crisis in his country, regardless of whether I think it is a good thing or not. I would, of course, prefer to see a more liberal regime in the country, but not if this would lead to a civil conflict in the country entailing the heavy loss of life.

2)   There are still a lot of question marks surrounding the assassination of Hariri. To use this one (overused example) in order to counter the idea that Bashar is developing warmer ties with neighbours is counterproductive. Since his ascension, Jordanian-Syrian ties have become warmer, and Syria and Turkey have nominally become allies (even a joint military exercise). The deterioration in Lebanese-Syrian relations in 2004/5 has reversed today.

3)   The Syrian political elite is fragmented. The one big difference between Middle Eastern politics and Australian politics is “losing” over there might also mean you’re dead. No surprise Assad moves cautiously.

Personally, I do believe Bashar wants to liberalise his country. At the same time, he is pragmatic. These “unnamed backroom handlers” you say that I mention very much do exist, one only needs to look deeper into some of Bashar’s relatives and serving officers of the “older guard”. I’m not arguing that Bashar would relinquish power and push for a democracy if he had a chance (he is an autocrat after all), but that he isn’t close to or as bad as many of the other options in the country right now.

Best wishes,


Gerard Henderson to Jonathan Cheng – 8 April 2011


I refer to your email of 4 April 2011 concerning my comments in last Friday’s Media Watch Dog. Apologies for the delay in replying but life has been very busy of late.  My responses are as follows:

1.   In your article in The Australian on 1 April 2011, and in your subsequent email, you focused on Syria’s foreign policy under President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. This diverts from the key issue at the moment – which turns on the internal situation in Syria.  So far you have refused to criticise Assad and you have declined to support Syrian citizens who are demonstrators in favour of reforms.

2.   In your article in The Australian on Friday you claimed that, Assad, “stands as a moderate, if not liberal” within Syrian politics. Yet, in your email on Monday, you wrote that Assad is an “autocrat”.  These positions are contradictory.  What do you believe?

3.   The clear implication in both your article and your letter is that you are an expert on the inner machinations of the Assad regime.  In view of this, you may choose to give those of us – who are not academics at the ANU’s Centre for Arab & Islamic Studies – your insight into contemporary Syria.  Are the recent killings of street demonstrators in Syria the fortuitous work of unknown groups (as the Assad regime maintains) or the work of private militias close to the Assad family, the Mukhabarat secret police and the Syrian state apparatus (as many in the West, including Syrian defectors, believe)? Over to you.

4.    I note that your analysis of Syria is very black and white.  As you put it in your email, “losing” in Syria “might also mean you’re dead”.  You rationalise Assad’s actions – claiming that “Assad moves cautiously” because if he loses the struggle he will die.  However, this overlooks a third option along the lines we have seen in Tunisia and Egypt – whereby a sensible negotiation between government and opposition leads to a new power-sharing arrangement which may be autocratic or democratic.  But at least this option entails the relatively peaceful removal of the dictator. You have not mentioned the Tunisia/Egypt option with respect to Syria.  According to your email, the only choice in Syria is between autocracy or “a civil conflict in the country entailing the heavy loss of life”.  What is your evidence to support this conclusion?

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

+ + + +

Until next time when maybe Alan Ramsey, just may be, discussed.