The Australian insists its gallery gun Dennis Shanahan had “scooped the pack” two years ago in describing Kevin Rudd’s downfall. But it didn’t tell the whole story.
As far as gloating paeans to your own masthead’s beneficence go, nothing could top Peter Van Onselen’s extraordinary effort in The Weekend Australian sledging Fairfax for falsely treating revelations from Maxine McKew’s Tales from the Political Trenches as news. The Oz — and specifically Canberra politics analyst Dennis Shanahan — had “scooped the pack” two years ago in describing Rudd’s downfall while the competition dithered.
As PVO wrote:
“McKew’s insights can’t be classified as revelations because the events were reported at the time by this newspaper.
“While readers of the Fairfax press might have been shocked at the sudden removal of a prime minister in his first term in the middle of an uncompromising standoff over a new mining tax, readers of The Australian were treated to blow-by-blow accounts of the backroom manoeuvring against Rudd, and the attempts at compromise regarding the mining tax. For months our political bureau reported on those developments.”
The online version, packaged as “premium content”, even contained a helpful series of links — “How Dennis Shanahan scooped the media pack.”
Van Onselen and The Oz seemed to be smarting because it was Fairfax that had secured the exclusive extracts from McKew’s book. But completely missing from the analysis was any admission that on the morning of the Gillard coup — June 23, 2010 — Shanahan had got it completely wrong.
As Crikey explained in July last year, he and colleague Patricia Karvelas had indeed written a piece for The Weekend Oz on June 19 entitled “Poll key as mutineers circle Kevin Rudd”. If the polls continued to head in the wrong direction, they said, Rudd was damned.
Then, on Monday June 21, came Newspoll. Inconveniently, Labor had extended its lead over the Coalition to 52-48 on a two-party preferred basis. Shanahan focused instead on the preferred PM rating, writing: “Tony Abbott has narrowed the gap on Rudd as the preferred national leader.”
On the morning of the knifing, the gallery veteran wrote unequivocally that Rudd was “safe” from a challenge. Under the headline “PM’s position is secure, party’s is not”, he reported that “the school of thought that it would be suicide to engineer a leadership change has prevailed”:
“Julia Gillard would not move against the Prime Minister. Rudd seems safe to lead Labor through to the election, whether parliament resumes in August or not and whether the election is in September or October.”
Shanahan and The Oz had missed the story — that morning’s Sydney Morning Herald carried revelations that Rudd had despatched Alister Jordan to test the waters in caucus. The yarn was poison for Gillard supporters who immediately ratcheted up their internal calls for Rudd’s head. The challenge itself was broken later that day by ABC TV in its 7pm national bulletin.
Amazingly, Shanahan was off-beam again the next day, despite Rudd being effectively dead and buried. He wrote there was still hope for the member for Griffith and that a “win” was possible. But the “leadership ballot” he referred to didn’t happen and Gillard and Wayne Swan were elevated unopposed.
Those two Shanahan efforts were neither linked to nor mentioned by Van Onselen on Saturday.
It’s true The Oz did a good job reporting tensions over the resource super profit tax in 2010 despite the fact of the tax having been first mentioned by Fairfax’s Peter Martin months beforehand. But on Saturday Van Onselen went further, accusing Fairfax of constructing a “false narrative” and sledging journalists who had “missed” the yarn. Sadly for PVO, those journos included himself and Shanahan.