Issue 87

GERARD HENDERSON’S MEDIA WATCH DOG – ISSUE NO. 87

18 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

“Before going further can you write to confirm that these email are private correspondence and not for publication”

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

Stop Press: On Julian Assange, David Hicks and Ross (“I can speak English”) Garnaut

● Alison Carabine on Tony “Rabbit”

● Bruce Guthrie and The Age Link Hitler to Messrs Clinton and Howard

● Nancy’s Pick-of-the-Week: Michaela Whitbourn’s Yagoona Lapse

● Fawnication Update: Jane Cowan Fawns Over US President But Whinges About Her Work and Conditions

● The Guardian-on-the-Yarra’s Religious Editor Needs Catholicism Update

● Five Paws Award: Step Forward Virginia Trioli

● Prophet Ellis and the NSW Election (continued)

● David McKnight’s Tea-Party Conspiracy Theory

● Nancy’s Old Bones: David McKnight’s One-Time Denial of Khmer Rouge Murders

● Correspondence Section: Mark Scott On Why Sneering Abuse is But Part of the Public Broadcaster’s “Conversation”

STOP  PRESS

● Julian Assange Gets The (ABC) Nod

For eons, Nancy has declared that the ABC is bipartisan in that the public broadcaster tends to attack both the Coalition and Labor – but only from the left.  And so it came to pass, last Monday, that the Prime Minister was subjected to a “gotcha moment” on Q&A from Julian Assange, who accused her of “treason” and declared that she could be charged with treason by “the Australian people”. No one asked Mr Assange how “the Australian people” could charge the prime minister with any offence – least of all treason.  Ms Gillard was being attacked from the left, so everything was okay.

Last year David Hicks, who took early retirement from the lending-material-support-to-terrorism profession, was allowed to ask former prime minister John Howard a question on Q&A – despite the fact that Mr Hicks was not answering questions from the media about his own book at the time.  No one asked Mr Hicks about his one-time claim (which was not contradicted in his autobiography) that he attempted to kill individuals on the Indian side of the Kashmir line of control while firing on them from the Pakistan side of the line of control. It was all okay, because David Hicks was attacking Mr Howard from the left.

● Government Adviser Gets Asked About The Opposition

Last night on Lateline it was the fashionable Ross Garnaut who was receiving the soft questions from Lateline presenter Tony Jones.  Nancy was quite taken by Professor Garnaut’s explanation for his position which was as follows: “I can read English.”  Well, that settles the matter then. Certainly Mr Jones seemed to think so.

And on Mornings with Deborah Cameron on 702 this morning, Ms Cameron continued to proselytise that Opposition leader Tony Abbott should agree with the Gillard Government on carbon tax in particular and climate change in general.  During her interview with Ross Garnaut, she focused her questions on what Professor Garnaut believes should be Tony Abbott’s policy. The problem here is that Ross Garnaut is a paid adviser to the Labor government – not to the Coalition Opposition – and should be questioned about his recommendations to the Gillard Government.  There is no evidence that Professor Garnaut has even spoken to Mr Abbott about the Opposition’s policy on climate change.

ALISON CARABINE’S RABBIT MOMENT

In the 2004 Federal election campaign, Labor had a controversial candidate named Ivan Molloy.  The team travelling with Labor’s then leader Mark Latham was wont to refer to Ivan Molloy as Ivan Milat (you know, the serial murderer currently in Goulburn Prison).  It was a joke – which went spectacularly wrong when, during a media conference, Mr Latham referred to Ivan Milat when he meant Ivan Molloy.

What’s the point of the story?  [Good question. – Ed].  Well, Nancy believes that in some media circles Tony Abbott is referred to in private – among consenting adults, of course – as “Tony Rabbit”.

In any event, when interviewed by Fran Kelly on the Radio National Breakfast program last Monday, Alison Carabine spoke as follows:

….we are at least two and a half years away from the next election.  And there is some upside in these numbers for Julia Gillard.  Her rival, Tony Rabbit – Tony Abbott excuse me, Tony Abbott – his own approval rating is down, his disapproval rating is up and he remains behind Julia Gillard as preferred prime minister.

Listen to it Alison Carabine – Tony Abbott.  Ho, hum.

READ ALL ABOUT IT

GUARDIAN-ON-THE-YARRA LINKS JOHN HOWARD AND BILL CLINTON TO ADOLF HITLER

What a stunning piece in The Sunday Age last weekend by Bruce Guthrie, who is described at the bottom of his weekly column as “a former editor of The Age, The Sunday Age, and the Herald-Sun”.  [Did he ever edit the Holy Name Monthly? – Ed].  Titled “Lies and damned lies”, the former editor asked the question “What is the greatest political lie ever told?”

Mr Guthrie considered the case for George Bush Snr, Bill Clinton and John Howard before awarding the gong to, wait for it, Adolf Hitler.  Opined Bruce Guthrie:

Actually, in my view…the greatest political lie ever told was Hitler’s pledge to British prime minister Neville Chamberlain in 1938: ”I have no more territorial ambitions in Europe.” Yeah, right. Based on that little lot, Julia Gillard and Ted Baillieu would vie for the Abe Lincoln award for political honesty. Yet they each find themselves under attack for breaking campaign promises.

So there you have it. Actually. Mr Guthrie has located a “little lot” of political liars – the democratically elected George Bush Snr, Bill Clinton and John Howard and the Nazi totalitarian dictator Hitler.  Also Mr Guthrie reckons that changing your mind on tax – or fibbing about an embarrassing moment with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office – is equivalent to invading Poland from the west, after doing a deal with the communist totalitarian dictator Josef Stalin for the Soviet Union to invade Poland from the east. [I’m glad that you managed to give the Nazi-Soviet Pact another mention. – Ed]

In any event, Gay Alcorn – editor of The-Observer-on-the-Yarra – was apparently so delighted by the intellectual weight of Bruce Guthrie’s effort that she sanctioned the accompanying cartoon by Matt Davidson.  Here it is – there’s Adolf Hitler and Bill and John and Ted and Julia. Liars all, according to The Sunday Age. Talk about giving moral equivalence a bad name.

NANCY’S PICK-OF-THE-WEEK

MS WHITBOURN’S SNOBBERY

Nancy is still trying to get over the hurt from reading Michaela Whitbourn’s article in last Friday’s Australian Financial Review.  So much so that, in terms of modern psychological jargon, she would like to talk about her pain.

This is what Ms Whitbourn wrote, with respect to the forthcoming State election in New South Wales:

One member of the Coalition has also avoided a high profile: leader Barry O’Farrell.  Unlike many opposition leaders, Mr O’Farrell hasn’t been trying hard to get lots of coverage on television and on the front page of newspapers.

This week he attended an infrastructure forum in Parramatta to outline a plan for the region.  Unusually for an election campaign, he didn’t invite journalists. As Premier Kristina Keneally took her campaign bus to western Sydney yesterday, Mr O’Farrell was visiting three suburbs so small many Sydney residents have never heard of them: Smeaton Grange, Ruse and Yagoona.

It’s not clear precisely what Michaela Whitbourn knows about Western Sydney.  But Yagoona is not an unheard of suburb. Unless, of course, you belong to the inner-city sandalista set – in which case Ultimo is on Sydney’s western border.  In fact, Yagoona – in Sydney’s south-west – is a major suburb situated close to the Hume Highway.  Also it contains the RSPCA Sydney (Yagoona) Shelter. This just happens to be Nancy’s former abode.  Nancy may have voted with her paws and taken the road from Yagoona. But she is no snob and acknowledges having heard of Yagoona – which is quite a feat for a deaf mongrel.

FAWNICATION UPDATE

JANE COWAN OBAMA ZONE-OUT

The Fawn Again award for this week goes to the ABC’s North American Correspondent Jane Cowan [Just how many correspondents does the ABC have in the United States? – Ed]. Last Sunday, on the Radio National Correspondent’s Report program, Ms Cowan reported on the thrill of Julia Gillard meeting with Barack Obama – for all concerned.  Herself included. Here we go:

The Oval Office meeting with Barack Obama wasn’t just a highlight for the Prime Minister. Whatever your politics, when the first African American leader of the most powerful country in the world looks you in the eye, it’s a thrill. More than one journalist admitted to briefly zoning out in the awe of the moment.

So there you have it.  All these cynical Aussie journalists gathered together at the White House. And all “zoning out in the awe of the moment” – in the presence of the president of the most powerful country in the world. What a thrill.  And what (presidential) eye contact.

Talk about a zone-out.  MWD almost broke down as – President Obama eye moments aside – Jane spoke about her hard life as the ABC’s North American correspondent on the taxpayer payroll.  There were references to “sleep deprivation”, “long waits in cold places”, “endless security checks”, Alsatians sticking “their heads into your backpack”, the cost of room service, having little time to notice the glittering “New York City skyline” and so on.  On her public broadcaster pay and conditions Ms Cowan seems blissfully unaware that many Australians cannot afford overseas travel and would delight in having their backpack sniffed by an Alsatian at, say, Dulles Airport.

CAN YOU BEAR IT?

BARNEY ZWARTZ MISSES THE (CATHOLIC) BUS

Meet Barney Zwartz, The Age’s religion editor.  You would expect The-Guardian-on-the-Yarra’s religion editor to know something about the religion of Catholicism.  Alas.

On 4 March 2011 The Age ran on Page one a story by Mr Zwartz headed: “Jews in the clear on death of Christ”.  The point of the story was that, in his recently released book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week – from the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Pope Benedict XVI had declared – in Zwartz’s words – that “the Jews bear no collective responsibility for the death of Christ”.

Talk about a beat-up. As Mr Zwartz conceded later in his story, the view that the Jews were responsible for the death of Christ “was formally rebutted by the 1960s Vatican Council”. That’s half a century ago – which is delayed reportage on matters Catholicism, even for The-Guardian-on-the-Yarra.  The Vatican Council’s decree Nostra Aetate – which was issued in October 1965 – declared that “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures”.  However, Mr Zwartz in his report made no reference to Nostra Aetate.

Then, on 5 March 2011, Barney Zwartz wrote a piece for The Age titled “Catholic priest shortfall an ‘imminent disaster’” which commenced:

Wednesday morning Mass at St Aloysius in north Caulfield, and barely a dozen of the faithful are scattered through the handsome old Catholic church built to house 1000, as Father Gerard Diamond celebrates the sacrament.

What a load of tripe.  Sure, Catholic Church attendances are dropping.  But places like St Aloysius Church were not built to accommodate congregations on a weekday morning (when attendance was voluntary) but rather on a Sunday (when attendance was obligatory). Mr Zwartz should know this.

Can you bear it?

FIVE PAWS AWARD: WELL DONE MS TRIOLI

This week’s (prestigious) gong goes to ABC News Breakfast presenter Virginia Trioli.

On 8 March 2011 (International Women’s Day), after Julie McKay of UNIFEM banged on about the treatment of women in Australia, Ms Trioli commented:

Virginia Trioli : I think it’s interesting. It probably reveals, doesn’t it, in a sense just how good a life we do get to enjoy here in Australia when these are the pressing issues for women – access to childcare, access to a good job, a flexible work/ life balance and the like. When we know that women around the globe are having to deal with sexual violence against them and their female children in war-torn countries – where oppression and prejudice against them is so extreme as to result in physical punishment and sometimes even death. When we put it in that perspective, it’s not too bad is it?

Ms McKay was none too convinced – especially since she had gone on for a while about the plight of women without focusing on the plight of women in parts of Africa and the Middle East.  But MWD was impressed.

MWD was also impressed with Virginia Trioli’s defence of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s address to the US Congress last week – when Crikey’s Andrew Crook discussed Hugh White’s Sydney Morning Herald criticism of the PM during the newspapers segment on News Breakfast on 11 March.  Let’s go to the tape:

Virginia Trioli : Let’s look…at the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald.  Hugh White has done a bit of analysis on Julia Gillard’s speech. In fact, there’s a number of pieces of analyses in the papers this morning –  not all of them kind. What’s Hugh White had to say?

Andrew Crook : Well, I think the gloss is rubbing off a little bit. You know, you can cry about the moon landing…as we saw. I didn’t understand why you would cry about the moon landing – but, anyway, I think it was probably the culmination of emotion there towards the end of her speech. Hugh White’s looking at the actual raw strategic value here. You know, what’s Australia’s interest in regard to China? What’s Australia’s interest with regard to free trade agreements? Previous addresses to Congress – from Bob Hawke, for example – have walked a harder line on things like sugar and the US Farm Bill and that kind of thing. Nothing like that in Julia Gillard’s speech. So a bit of a reality check there from Hugh White. Well worth reading.

Virginia Trioli : Although Hugh White’s not the one giving the speech in Congress, is he? All very well for him to say – stand there talking about sugar.

Quite so.  Just imagine how many standing ovations the Prime Minister would have received if she had lectured the Congress on sugar.  Or, indeed, spice.  Dr White is an academic.

Five Paws to Ms Trioli.

SPECIAL FEATURE: (STILL) COUNTING DOWN THE FALSE PROPHET

There are just eight electioneering days to go to the NSW State election.  On 3 January 2011 – writing as a paid contributor on the ABC website The Drum Unleashed – Bob Ellis declared:

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

Nancy’s co-owner is no prophet and, consequently, does not make predictions – except to predict that the election will be held on Saturday 26 March. All MWD is  saying is that, if Barry O’Farrell and the Coalition Opposition win on Saturday 26 March, it is unlikely that the NSW Government will continue to employ Bob Ellis as a latter-day Court Jester around the Premier’s office in Governor Macquarie Tower.

In his taxpayer funded piece in The Drum Unleashed, the Sage of Palm Beach used the occasion to chuck some abuse at the Liberals.  Bob Ellis (i) described former Liberal leader John Brogden as “a suicide”, (ii) referred to Barry O’Farrell as “a serial fatty with an Irish name” and (iii) described NSW Liberal deputy leader Jillian Skinner as resembling “a long-detested nagging landlady with four dead husbands and hairy shoulders”.

Believe it or not, ABC managing director and editor-in-chief Mark Scott, in correspondence with Gerard Henderson, defended The Drum’s decision to run Bob Ellis’s sneering abuse in an unedited form.  This is documented in the Correspondence Section below. [You forgot to mention that you have only published this material because the ABC signed up to the Right to Know Coalition – Ed.]

UNSW PROFESSOR DAVID MCKNIGHT’S EVIDENCE-FREE POLEMIC

David McKnight has come a long way from his position as a young Communist Party hack working for the revolution on the Communist Party weekly newspaper Tribune in the 1970s – to his current position as Associate Professor, Journalism and Media Research Centre, University of New South Wales.  It’s good to see that, in middle age, Dr McKnight – for a learned doctor he is – enjoys a comfortable lifestyle per courtesy of the Australian taxpayer.

It was in this (learned) capacity that Professor McKnight contributed an article titled “Abbott’s Tea Party on climate fears” to The Drum Unleashed last Friday. David McKnight commenced his (taxpayer funded) article as follows:

Tony Abbott’s decision to fight the next election in Tea Party mode is taking the Liberal Party – and Australia – towards a new kind of politics.
It’s been a long while since a campaign of fear-driven street demonstrations has been used to propel someone into office. His call for a “people’s revolt” will see a series of protest demonstrations, starting in Canberra next week.

Abbott wants to mimic the rise of the powerful “Tea Party” movement in the US which has helped undermine the presidency of Barack Obama. The Tea Party phenomenon had a big impact in recent US elections and it has spawned extremist fervour one consequence of which was the attempted assassination of the US Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. In Australia, this new politics also involves anonymous death threats and enormous personal pressure on the two independent MPs whose support is crucial for Labor.

Since David McKnight contributed to The Drum Unleashed in his capacity as an academic – rather than an old-fashioned polemicist – it is reasonable to assume that he has some evidence to support his thesis.  On 16 March 2011 Gerard Henderson emailed Professor McKnight and asked him to provide evidence for his assertion that “one consequence” of the (alleged) “extremist fervour” generated by the Tea Party was “the attempted assassination” of Ms Giffords.  In his moving speech in Tucson on 12 January 2011 Barack Obama did not seek to score political points from the tragedy. Rather President Obama warned against the “discourse” of those who “are too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do”.

Professor McKnight did not reply to the request that he support his assertion on The Drum website with evidence.  [That’s clever. He must realise that MWD would publish any response as a contribution to the public’s right to know. – Ed].

The academic’s silence was no doubt influenced by the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever to support his assertion that Jared Lee Loughner – who is accused of shooting Ms Giffords and murdering six others – had any connection of any kind with the Tea Party.  What evidence there is suggests that Loughner is paranoid.  His You Tube posts indicate that he was worried about government brainwashing citizens “by controlling grammar” and supported the view the US dollar should be backed by the gold standard.  Loughner listed his favourite books as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto.

Professor McKnight never should have written that Loughner’s murderous assault is Tucson on 8 January 2011 was a “consequence” of the Tea Party’s political advocacy – unless he was able to stump up evidence to support his assertion.  And Jonathan Green, The Drum’s editor, should not have published such an undocumented assertion – unless Dr McKnight’s thesis was supported by evidence.

Before being appointed editor of The Drum by Mark Scott last year, Jonathan Green edited the Crikey newsletter – apparently without a fact-checker.  So readers know what to expect from The Drum.

But what about the University of New South Wales?  Is NSW Vice-Chancellor Professor Fred Hilmer happy that Professor McKnight teaches journalism to students when he makes assertions – using his UNSW job title – without evidence?  In other words, what kind of journalism is being taught at UNSW?

Annoyed that David McKnight had not replied to the correspondence of her co-owner, Nancy went digging into her files to see just what David McKnight wrote in his communist youth.  See “Nancy’s Old Bones” for Mr McKnight’s denial in 1976 that the murderous communist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia was into murder.

NANCY’S OLD BONES – IN WHICH (CIRCA 1976) DAVID MCKNIGHT CLEARS THE KHMER ROUGE OF MASS MURDER

Here is David McKnight, writing in the Communist Party’s Tribune newspaper on 1 December 1976, when the Cambodia Killing Fields were drenched in blood.  Comrade McKnight – as he then was – denied that mass killings had occurred in Cambodia due to the policy of Pol Pot and his comrades.  This is the text of his comments, in full.

“CAMBODIA: Where are the massacres?”

by DAVID McKNIGHT

David McKnight looks at new evidence on the alleged massacres in Cambodia.

“Where are the supporters of the Vietnam Moratorium now?”. “What about a Cambodia Moratorium?” These questions have been repeated in press advertisements, and in poster and leaflets produced by extreme right-wing groups. The same people who supported the years of slaughter in Indochina.

But that is not sufficient argument against the continual reports of massacres and forced labor coming from Cambodian refugees now in Thailand. The bosses’ papers have, of course, played up every report fed to them either by “reputable” newsagencies or from US intelligence services. So far none in the Australian left have challenged these stories. After all, how can the testimonies of “thousands of refugees” be denied?

But many of the assumptions made about the “massacres” in Cambodia and the press reaction in Australian are challenged by a university tutor Ben Kiernan. His revealing article appeared in the Melbourne Journal of Politics published by the Political Science Department, Melbourne University.

Refugee interviews

Ben Kiernan spent time interviewing refugees in two camps in Thailand from December 1975 to February 1976. He divides the 10,000 refugees into three categories: soldiers of the old regime; city dwellers evacuated from the towns; and peasants from Cambodia’s north-west. Each of these groups have, in their own way, reasons for being afraid.

It is highly likely that in the turmoil of the war’s end, with the Khmer Rouge at the gate of Phnom Penh, old scores were settled by those forces. Such was the case in “civilised” Europe when countries were liberated from fascism and nazism.

The city dwellers who were evacuated to the countryside immediately Phnom Penh fell were unprepared for a life of manual labor. Long Boret, Prime Minister in the Lon Nol regime, said in the New York Times (May 9, ’76) that only eight days’ rice was left when Phnom Penh fell. Starvation and the fear of massive US retaliatory bombing may explain the forced evacuation of the city and the “forced labor”.

The final group of refugees, Kiernan explains, were peasants from the north-west. This area was not regarded as politically or militarily important by the Khmer Rouge. Consequently their forces were weak there. But when the war ended the contradictions between the landless peasants and their landlords, the rich peasants, exploded. The Bangkok Post, a prestigious English language paper, on June 25 last year, claimed that orders from Phnom Penh to halt reprisals were disobeyed.

But what of the claims that anything from 500,000 to 1,500,000 have been murdered? The flexibility of the figures gives cause for suspicion. On April 13 this year, The Australian claimed 500,000 had been killed. A fortnight later the figure increased by a million.

The Herald lied

But the most prevalent and horrific story is promoted, again by Time, that every educated person and anyone connected with the Lon Nol army would be exterminated. As Kiernan points out, no source for this was given, yet it is still repeated today.

But the classic award for dredging up mud must go to the Sydney Morning Herald. Kiernan’s contacts in Asia gave the lie to a front page story by the Herald on April 24 this year. He says:

It featured “exclusive picture of Cambodia under the rule of Khmer Rouge”. These photographs were alleged to be of a Khmer Rouge execution, of people labouring in the fields under Khmer Rouge armed guard, and of a forced wedding in Cambodia. The Herald editors were seemingly unaware of a Bangkok Post article only five days before which seriously questioned the authenticity of the same photographs. And with good reasons.

The Bangkok Post according to Kiernan has a completely different story on the origins of the photos. The photos were offered to the Post which turned them down because their authenticity was in doubt. As Kiernan says: “Perhaps the most interesting conflict of evidence regarding the photos was in one of the captions. The Sydney Morning Herald described one photo of a group of people in a hut as: “A Cambodian wedding: girls, it is said, are selected by the authorities to marry revolution heroes”. The same photograph was described in Bangkok newspapers: as “A group of Cambodian villagers attending a seminar”.

There does seem to be ground for assuming that some reprisals followed the war in Cambodia. But to attribute these to official policy and invoke figures in the range of 500,000 to 1,500,000 show the press is guided more by its vivid imagination and its political bias than by any respect for the facts.

Postscript: It has since been confirmed that the photos of “slave labor” and “forced marriage” used by the Sydney Morning Herald among other, are faked. Le Monde, prestigious French newspaper, reported on September 28 that the photos were taken by Thai intelligence officers.

So there you have it.  Circa 1976, David McKnight referred to the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian as “bosses’ papers” – he later worked for the SMH. The forced evacuation of Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge was all the US’s fault. And Pol Pot’s murders were not really taking place. And so on. In short, the Tribune line.

CORRESPONDENCE SECTION

GERARD HENDERSON AND MARK SCOTT ON WHETHER IT IS PROPER FOR ARTICLES IN THE DRUM TO USE THE WORD “SUICIDE” AND INVOKE SECTARIANISM AS WEAPONS OF ABUSE

Earlier MWD referred to Bob Ellis’ paid contribution to The Drum Unleashed in which he engaged in sneering abuse in attacking several NSW Liberals.  The subsequent correspondence between ABC managing director and editor-in-chief Mark Scott and Gerard Henderson is printed here in the public interest and in recognition of the fact that Mr Scott has signed the ABC up to the Right To Know Coalition.

Email from Gerard Henderson to Mark Scott – 5 January 2011

Dear Mark

I hope you and your family had a great Christmas. All the best for the New Year.

On the assumption that you are back at work, I have a question. Namely what editorial standards apply at The Drum and The Drum Unleashed? Note, this is not a formal complaint – just a query about a matter of public policy involving the expenditure of taxpayers’ money.

As you may or may not know, on 3 January 2011 The Drum Unleashed posted an article by Bob Ellis titled “How Labor can win in New South Wales”.

In his piece Mr Ellis:

  • described NSW Opposition leader Barry O’Farrell as “wheezy, pudgy, puffy” and alleged that he has a “policy of shortening… the lives of children”.
  • referred to former Liberal Party leader John Brogden as a “a suicide”
  • declared that Mr O’Farrell and his deputy Jillian Skinner “look like Ma and Pa Kettle”
  • asserted (without naming names) that “more and more Liberal preselections have been won by demented, foam-flecked Catholics”
  • depicted Barry O’Farrell as “a serial fatty with an Irish name and a Greenstreet shape and a face like boiled bacon” and
  • concluded by maintaining that Barry O’Farrell “looks like a deflated football, and Jillian Skinner like a long-detested nagging landlady with four dead husbands and hairy shoulders”

My queries are these:

1.    Does the ABC believe that the personal abuse and sectarianism evident in Bob Ellis’s piece in The Drum Unleashed last Monday is compatible with ABC’s editorial standards?

2.    If not, how did it come to pass that The Drum Unleashed published Mr Ellis’s article?

3.    If so, how is it that as ABC editor-in-chief you are prepared to publish personally abusive material which never would have appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald when you were the Herald’s editor-in-chief?

4.    Was Bob Ellis paid by the ABC for his piece “How Labor can win in New South Wales”?

I look forward to hearing from you – or from one of your staff. I am sure that you would agree that taxpayers have a right to know the answers to the above queries – especially since the ABC has signed up to the Right To Know Coalition.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

Email from Mark Scott to Gerard Henderson – 10 January 2011

Dear Gerard

Thank you for your note regarding the Bob Ellis piece. It was written in his own inimitable style, and, as is often the case with Mr Ellis, the writing was colourful, with some observations and descriptions particularly robust. The thesis – that the NSW election result should not be taken for granted – was an interesting one and runs counter to most of the current political commentary.

The piece was published in the Unleashed section of the ABC’s Drum website. It is a forum for a full range of views and opinions and provides an opportunity for our audience to engage and comment. There were more than 800 comments on the Ellis piece in the days following publication. Some readers of the article did not agree with the thesis or the way he expressed it. Some did. Unleashed was created as a forum to allow divergent views to be expressed and the voice of the audience heard.

I suspect few readers of the column would have been unaware of Mr Ellis’ political perspective or that nature of his writing. Much like yourself, he has been a feature of the political landscape for many years. His readers know what to expect and if they don’t like what they read, Unleashed provides an opportunity for them to also join the conversation.

Yours

Mark Scott

ABC Managing Director

Email from Gerard Henderson to Mark Scott – 10 January 2011

Dear Mark

Thank you for your reply – which Michael Millett forwarded to me earlier this afternoon.

I do not intend continuing the argument. If you believe it is appropriate that the ABC pays for – and publishes – comments by Bob Ellis describing -

▪ Barry O’Farrell as “a serial fatty with an Irish name”

▪ John Brogden as “a suicide”  and

▪ Jillian Skinner as “like a long-detested nagging landlady with four dead husbands and hairy shoulders”

then there is nothing I can do about this.

However, I should make one point for the record.  In your reply, it is evident that you misread my email of 5 January 2011.  Contrary to the implication in your email today, I have no problem with Mr Ellis’ “thesis that the NSW election should not be taken for granted.”  Bob Ellis may be correct or wrong with this prophecy – and I have no objection whatsoever to The Drum Unleashed paying for, and running, this opinion.

If you re-read my email you will note that my very clear objection was to the ABC’s decision to publish Mr Ellis’ personal abuse and sectarianism – which  you now rationalise as part of “the conversation”.  Some conversation indeed.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

* * * *

Until next time – when Nancy’s much promised piece on Alan Ramsey may (or may not) be published.

'2012