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Aug 16, 2012

Smith v Murdoch, others -- an excess of vanity publishing

Launching: Dick Smith’s Magazine of Forbidden Ideas That You Won’t Read About in the Mainstream Media. Even in today’s depressed print market it's a curious offering, writes David Salter.

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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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