Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pantomime of the oppressed, starring Andrew Bolt

On Friday 26th August, 2UE presenter Michael Smith read out on air parts of a statutory declaration sent to him by Bob Kernohan, a former state AWU president.

On Saturday, 27th August in a blog post timestamped 09:46am (since removed), Andrew Bolt included excerpts of this statutory declaration that had already "been read out or paraphrased" by Smith.

According to Bolt, Gillard rang John Hartigan on Saturday "to check whether I or another News Limited journalist would be pursuing the story." Bolt states that "after calls were made to me and papers I write for, she was assured I was not."

Bolt does not say whether or not Gillard was given any assurances about whether any journalist from any other News Limited publication would be writing such a story. However, given that Gillard asked a News Limited executive about News Limited journalists in general, it is unclear why such an executive would attempt to evade such a direct question from a Prime Minister by responding with a half truth.

In any case, on Monday 29th of August, the Australian did publish a copy of an article by Glenn Milne which contained the words:

"What the lawyers would not allow to be reported was the fact that Gillard shared a home in Fitzroy bought by Wilson using the embezzled funds. There is or was no suggestion Gillard knew about the origin of the money."

As quoted by: Tony Wright, The Age, August 30.

Some time on Monday morning, Bolt reports that Gillard went "ballistic", called both Hartigan and the Australian editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell with "multiple" calls (emphasis Bolt's) and "demanded an immediate retraction".

Again, according to Tony Wright of the Age:

"Shortly after 9.30am, Milne's column disappeared from The Australian's website and was replaced by a short and sharp apology, headlined ''Correction''.

"''The Australian published today an opinion piece by Glenn Milne which includes assertions about the conduct of the Prime Minister,'' it read. ''The Australian acknowledges these assertions are untrue. The Australian also acknowledges no attempt was made by anyone employed by, or associated with, The Australian to contact the Prime Minister in relation to this matter. The Australian unreservedly apologises to the Prime Minister and to its readers for the publication of these claims.''"

Tony Wright goes on to state:

"The Age understands Ms Gillard was furious not only because the column included a false claim, but because she had been led to believe by Mr Hartigan that News Ltd newspapers were not intending to pursue the decades-old story of her former conman lover."

Over on Andrew Bolt's blog, in an update to a new post originally dated Monday 29th August, 05:44 am Bolt had quoted extensively from Milne's article, including Milne's assertion of fact about Gillard sharing a house with Bruce Morton Wilson. The quotation was accompanied by Bolt's own rider which stated that:

"(I am not sure that Gillard did share a home with Wilson. My own understanding is that she maintained her own house.)"

This post remained published on Bolt's blog until after 7pm Monday. Neither News Limited or Bolt appeared to be in any hurry to remove the post even though it quoted extensively from the very article that The Australian had already retracted and issued an apology for.

On first glance this failure to remove Bolt's post, given the real threat of legal action (or, if you believe Bolt, worse) might seem strange. Yet, on second glance, not. Bolt, unlike Milne, was not asserting the truth of the allegation merely reporting the allegation that Milne had made. This is no different to the quotes of Milne's allegation that Tony Wright included in his Age and SMH reports about the furore, reports that remain published to this day.

It is not clear when Bolt's blog posts of Saturday 27th and Monday 29th were removed from the Herald Sun website although the Monday post was still available as of 7pm Monday. Neither Bolt, nor News Limited have explained why these posts were removed. News Limited has not apologised for these posts nor has it issued any statement to indicate that these posts were removed at Gillard's behest. Neither Bolt nor News Limited have explained the timing of the removal of Bolt's blog posts, particularly the long delay between the removal of the Australian article and the removal of Bolt's extensive quotations from the same article.

It seems unlikely that the posts were removed at "Gillard's insistence" since if she objected to the posts she would have requested that these posts be removed on Saturday when she first learnt of their existence or at the very latest Monday morning at the same time she contacted both Mitchell and Hartigan about the article in The Australian. The fact that at least some of Bolt's posts were not removed until late on Monday night indicates that no such request was made. That being the case, and in absence of evidence to the contrary, one is entitled to assume that the decision to remove Bolt's posts was an internal decision made by News Limited for their own reasons. Until and unless these reasons are explained, we can only speculate what they might be.

Bolt himself only claims that the retraction of The Australian article was at "Gillard's insistence". He does not claim that Gillard insisted that his own blog posts be removed, although he does state that he believes that the fact that they were was an "overreaction", presumably by News Limited management.

Roll on, Tuesday. In a post timestamped, 12:01am Tuesday 30th of August, Bolt stated mysteriously:

No politics until further notice. Principles to weigh up. Faith to keep. Sorry.

Bolt then went on 2GB radio and stated:

"I'd like people to check what was said before and what the prime minister responded to. It would be nice if they could check with what was said now and has been withdrawn completely and see what difference there is, but you can't do that. There is to be no debate and maybe that's fantastic, maybe that's great and what people want."

In this statement, Bolt claims that people cannot "check ... what the prime minister responded to".

This is a very strange claim to make. After all, Bolt's own readers had been able to read the text of the retracted allegation on Bolt's own blog for the whole of Monday, August 29 - a period of at least 11 hours after News Limited retracted and apologised for the original article. Everyone else could read the "startling" claim in Milne's article simply by reading the Fairfax reports about the article that remain published to this day.

If anyone is to blame for the inability of Bolt's readers to "check ... what the Prime Minister responded to", then it is News Limited.

In any case, if there is any doubt about exactly who said what, when, Stephen Mayne has provided a handy little compendium.

One really can't help but wonder if the removal of Bolt's blog posts, his subsequent dummy spit, and then his groveling thank you to News Limited management on August 31 that - "I thank News Limited for defying the Prime Minister and letting me write as I have above." - was part of an elaborate pantomine to make it appear that Gillard "pulled strings ... to shutdown a debate".

The facts seem clear.

On Saturday, Gillard sought from and was apparently given assurance by News Limited that it was not planning to pursue the story further. On Monday, contradicting this assurance, The Australian published an assertion of fact that Gillard believed was clearly false. Gillard, as is her right, demanded a retraction. News Limited promptly retracted the article and issued an apology in which it acknowledged that some of Milne's assertions were untrue. At some much later time, News Limited decided to remove Bolt's blog posts and he apparently spat the dummy and went on strike for a day. After claiming News Limited's own, apparently unprompted, removal of his own blog posts as evidence of the "Prime Minister's" desire to "shutdown debate" he put pen to paper again to write up his version of his brave and troubled struggle for our freedom.

Pantomime. Pure pantomime.

Update: 10:04 31/8 - Sorry, forgot what month we are in, so amended June -> August. I can't be certain that Michael Smith read parts of the statutory declaration on air Friday, August 26. However, if what Bolt wrote is accurate, Smith must have done so at some point before Bolt updated the 8/27 09:46 post. Again, it is not clear when that was.

11:43 31/8 - Clarified, by adding context, that Tony Wright's article quoted a contentious line from the Milne piece.

23:37 31/8 It appears I was overly cautious in my 10:04 update. It appears that Michael Smith did read from the statutory declaration on Friday August 26 as stated above. This is confirmed in numerous places, not least of which was Bolt's article of 31/8.

Readers of this article may be amused/bemused/confused to learn that the full text of Milne's article was rescued from the weak knees and trembling hands of News Limited management by one John Winston Howard. Apparently he has been displaying it, unedited and unannotated, since 12pm on Monday 29th August on his facebook page.

Readers will note that there is not a single controversial assertion or allegation in the full article that has not been highly visible in the public domain since Monday.

This fact continues to make a mockery of Bolt's claim that the intent of Gillard's demands was to "shutdown debate". There is nothing else in the retracted article that is contentious.

It seems clear as day to this author that Gillard's primary intent was, as she stated, to demand the repudiation, by The Australian, of a single allegation that she has long insisted was false.

To let it stand unchallenged would have been to concede its truth. And why should she do that?

3 Sep, 11:58 The Australian has now published an account of the conversations that occurred between Gillard, Hartigan and Milne on Saturday last week and Monday this week. I may write a separate post about this at some point.

In the meantime, and since comments on the "The Drum" copy of this article are now closed, feel free to comment here if you believe there are any significant errors of fact or speculation in this post.

Please keep it calm. Stick to the facts and critique my statements and speculations, if you must. Attack me personally and you will be ignored for being a #truckwit. I don't expect I will have to remove any comments, but if I do, I will document the nature of the comments that I remove and why. I reserve the right to alter this moderation policy if circumstances warrant it. If I do that, I will explain why.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike Smith's original audio has been pulled from the 2UE Website

However a cached version is still available:

31 August 2011 at 14:17  

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