Saturday, September 03, 2011

The statements of fact in Ewin Hannan's report about Gillard, Hartigan and Mitchell

... and making a cameo appearance for added rhetorical flourish, Andrew Bolt

The following is a presentation of the facts reported by Ewin Hannan's article in September 3 edition of the Australian: "8am call that put Julia Gillard's old news on front page".

The presentation here is given in the dry chronological order of the events as they occurred, rather than in an order better suited to The Australian's rhetorical purposes.

Hannan's article does include several assertions by Mitchell about Gillard being "apoplectic" and "furious".

It also contains a denial by Andrew Bolt that he had any contact with Glenn Milne and his assertion that there "is no vast right-wing conspiracy against the Prime Minister". Interestingly, on the same day this article was published, Bolt claimed -- with zero evidence -- that the ABC's dropping of Glenn Milne from this week's "The Insiders" was evidence of a conspiracy to "protect Gillard".. He also stated in that article that this conspiracy was so "sinister and shameful" that there "should be a riot". To which I say: #nochaffbags.

The rhetorical point of The Australian's article -- from its title through to its conclusion --seems to be that Gillard has only her self to blame that "old" allegations "hit the front page". Presumably, in News Limited's universe Prime Ministers are not entitled to seek to protect themselves from libel.

These elements are not further discussed here; the interested reader is referred to the original article.

In the remainder of this presentation, I have tried to refrain from making any statements of my own opinion. Perhaps that is not how one is meant to present facts. But then what would I know about journalism? I am merely a software developer.

On Saturday, September 3, The Australian published an account by Ewin Hannan of conversations between the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the chief executive of News Limited John Hartigan and The Australian's editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell that took place on Monday 29th August. The report also referred to earlier conversations that took place between Gillard and Hartigan two days earlier, on Saturday 27th of August.

According to Hannan, Gillard rang Hartigan on Saturday. Hartigan stated that:

"She brought to my notice that she had information that Andrew Bolt or Steve Price or both were likely to publish assertions that were first made public in 2007 and she was very concerned by this because she said, when they were raised at that time, they were wrong and inaccurate and damaging,"

Hartigan made inquiries of Price and Bolt and then called Gillard back. Hannan reported:

"I gave her an assurance that, were something to be published, we would give her an opportunity to respond before it was published", he said.

Hartigan had made inquiries at the Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph. He made no inquiries to The Australian because he said Gillard had not nominated the newspaper.

On Monday, August 29, The Australian published an opinion piece by Glenn Milne in which Milne stated: "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.". Note that Hannan's report of September 3 did not include full text of this statement, presumably in deferrence to accepted journalistic practice &/or an understanding between News Limited and Gillard. Hannan's report states "The unproven allegations, in political terms, are ancient, and have been rehashed numerous times by critics of Labor and Gillard over the past 16 years." and outlines the circumstances in which the allegations had been raised publicly in the past.

As a consequence of this publication, Gillard rang Hartigan around 8am on Monday. According to Hartigan, Gillard said on Monday: "This has broken the deal we had.". Hannan reports that "Hartigan rejected the claim, insisting The Australian did not cover his original undertaking. (sic)"

When Gillard called Hartigan on Monday morning, Hannan reports:

According to Hartigan, Gillard put a series of demands that she wanted addressed in 15 minutes. The deadline was later pushed back to 9am.

As well as a public apology and the Milne article being taken offline, she wanted a commitment that the allegations never be repeated again in The Australian. This demand was later extended to all News Limited newspapers and their websites.

"She said they were very damaging accusations," Hartigan said. "She wanted some action and she wanted it quickly."

Hartigan told Gillard he would speak to Chris Mitchell, The Australian's editor-in chief.

Hannan reports that Mitchell then rang Gillard but does not report the substance of any conversation between the two. He then reports:
Asked yesterday for comment regarding the accounts given by Hartigan and Mitchell, a spokesman for the Prime Minister released a one-paragraph statement last night that read: "Those accounts of the conversations are false and inaccurate. Considering what The Australian has already published this week, that's hardly surprising."

According to Hartigan and Mitchell, for an hour on Monday morning there was a flurry of phone calls, emails and texts between them, Gillard and lawyers, including News Limited's chief general counsel, Ian Philip.

Hartigan said he had six conversations with Gillard during this period, as well as exchanges of text messages and emails.

Hannan also reports that:

Mitchell, who was not working on the Sunday, said the column was not sent to lawyers before publication.

He said the column should have been legalled, particularly given it contained the above-mentioned paragraph.

Given this admission by the editor-in-chief, it is perhaps not surprising that:

By 9am on Monday, Mitchell had emailed a suggested form of apology to the Prime Minister, which Gillard agreed upon. Her demand that the allegations never be repeated in any News Limited publication was rejected.

Milne's column was removed from The Australian's website and replaced with an apology.

"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."


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