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Smith v Murdoch, others — an excess of vanity publishing

Dick Smith likes to remind everyone that he was “hopeless” at school. It’s a claim few would dispute. But the unspoken message behind his boast is that education — and, by inference, educated people — can’t really know much because he quickly went on to become a millionaire.

It’s this anti-intellectual streak that seems to motivate much of Smith’s current scattershot campaign against over-population, foreign ownership, and — without a hint of self-knowledge — what he calls “the widening gap between rich and poor”. What is it about wealthy, middle-aged, self-made men that makes them think (once they’ve made their pile), that they know what’s wrong with the world and how to fix it?

And they’re never reluctant to use their money as a megaphone. Today’s Sydney Morning Herald, Age and Fin included a glossy, full-colour, 28-page insert titled Dick Smith’s Magazine of Forbidden Ideas That You Won’t Read About in the Mainstream Media. Even in today’s depressed print market, this curious offering must have cost a small fortune in production and insert charges.

The magazine itself is a bizarre excess of vanity publishing. There are 29 images of Dick Smith from age three to the present day. Blind to irony, he features himself on the cover with a galah perched on his left hand. His signature is reproduced six times and Smith is apparently the author of all 10 articles the insert contains. We say “apparently” because while most of the copy is written in the first person, only the page three letter to readers carries his byline.

Like most egomaniacs who style themselves as prophets in the wilderness, Smith asserts that there’s been a media conspiracy to suppress his views. (The inherent contradiction that he constantly uses the same media to promote that claim seems to have escaped his unschooled mind.) Smith is particularly savage on Rupert Murdoch for taking US citizenship, and complains that “the Murdoch press attacks Dick Smith Foods for daring to link Australian ownership with patriotism”. Not surprisingly, News Limited declined to carry the insert.

None of this is new, so laying aside all his wounded nationalism and Malthusian bluster, what’s the real impetus behind this silly Dick Smith publication?

Money. The whole thing is a strident spruik for the protracted re-launch of his ailing eponymous food licensing business. Among the “forbidden ideas” are 13 pages of advertising for Dick Smith’s Foods products, including yet another announcement of his $30,000 cash giveaway stunt first featured on A Current Affair three months ago.

To freshen up the product range, there’s also a double-page spread advertising a new line of gift hampers named after great Australians. The first of these (yours for a mere $120 plus delivery), is titled the “Dame Nelly Melba Hamper”. Clearly, little Dick wasn’t at school the day they learnt how to spell “Nellie”.

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  • 1
    wyane
    Posted Thursday, 16 August 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    True story: Like any other regular Thursday morning, just after breakky I took the Business/Sport section of my SMH to the bogger with me (admittedly to the read the sport).
    My first thought when this wee rag feel onto my slippers was, “Oh bummer, Dick, you’ve used glossy paper.” So I reached for a new roll. Made in China from non-plantation paper. Crap all over however you look at it really.

  • 2
    zut alors
    Posted Thursday, 16 August 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    David, I’m giving him the benefit of doubt in suggesting the ‘Nelly’ mis-spelling was to get around copyright.

    If Dick Smith chooses to inject $$$ into a languishing publishing industry good on him.

  • 3
    Nightingale John
    Posted Thursday, 16 August 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Having shared a classroom with Dick for five years at North Sydney Tech High I can vouch for his ‘hopeless at school’ claim, but it wasn’t for lack of brains, just lack of belief that it was worthwhile spending the effort - there were better things to do as far as he was concerned. While he did ruin my crystal set trying to turn it into a trannie, his mind was razor sharp on what he did think important.
    But while a few people can prosper on that sort of smartness, not everyone can. The intellect is required, obviously, to provide the basis on which the entrepreneurs and tinkerers can work. He must know that without the PhDs and Nobel prize winners, the advance of knowledge comes to a halt and entrepreneurs are left with nothing to make money about. But I’m getting a sneaking feeling that Mr Dick is going a bit balmy in his middle age…

  • 4
    Robert Pullan
    Posted Thursday, 16 August 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    David Salter says Dick Smith’s message behind his ‘boast’ of being hopeless at school is that ‘education and by inference educated people can’t really know much.’
    Smith didn’t say that. Salter made it up.
    When you report people saying things they have in fact not said, David, you degrade standards.
    Aren’t standards what you are on about?

  • 5
    David R
    Posted Thursday, 16 August 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    I find Dick Smith a somewhat curious figure and agree with the main sentiments of this article. However, some important background missing from the article is that News Limited refused to insert Dick’s magazine into its newspapers and commercial television refused to air an ad for Dick Smith Foods.

  • 6
    Posted Friday, 17 August 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    But Salter didn’t write that. He wrote: ‘the unspoken message behind his boast is that education …’ - the ‘unspoken’ bit is crucial. More correct would be a criticism of Salter’s poor construction of the sentence.

  • 7
    daveb
    Posted Sunday, 19 August 2012 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    This article sounded like sour grapes and tall poppy syndrome. Sure most of the magazine was obviously trying to sell his re-launched Dick Smith Foods. But Why state the obvious? Perhaps you should try attacking Dick’s arguments and ideas, rather than attacking the man himself. Here is one of Australia’s most philanthropic millionaires, who has noble intentions and is passionate about the long-term environmental sustainability of Australia. He cares deeply about the environment and the two biggest crises facing it - overpopulation and the related anthropogenic climate change - and here you are being snide about it all. Why not focus on those disgraces Gina, Twiggy and Clive, who put their own billions and self interest ahead of the environment.

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