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Inside ‘misogynist nut-job HQ’: in bed with Michael Smith

Crikey ventured deep into “misogynist grubby nut-job” headquarters last week to meet Michael Smith, the former shock jock leading the crusade against Julia Gillard over her involvement in a fraud scandal.

Michael Smith

I’m sitting on the bed in Michael Smith’s Melbourne hotel room and he has a question for me: ”Do you feel dirty?”

Do I feel “tainted”, he wants to know, by venturing into “misogynist grubby nut-job headquarters”?

Smith is the former talkback host who lost his job at Sydney radio station 2UE last year for trying to pursue a 16-year-old story about a union fraud committed by Julia Gillard’s former boyfriend. Since then, the shock jock in exile has continued to play a pivotal — if almost totally unacknowledged — role in the resurrection of the story. And he’s done it armed with nothing more than an iPhone, an internet connection, a ring binder bulging with documents and a conviction he’s onto one of the greatest scandals in Australian political history.

I’d assumed our interview, arranged 20 minutes beforehand, would take place in the CBD Rydges hotel bar. Over a drink perhaps, given it’s Friday afternoon. But it’s not to be. “Why don’t you come up to the room?” Smith asks as if greeting a life-long friend.

He’s sitting at his desk in an open-necked business shirt, jeans and Blundstone boots. A pair of blue magnetic reading glasses, which detach at the bridge, hang around his neck. Any thoughts this would be a regular interview melt away as he thrusts an iPhone in my face and starts questioning me. He uploads the file straight onto his blog and comments start pinging in from his loyal band of followers (warning: apparently your correspondent is not, according to “Maggie1954”, “the brightest bulb in the room”).

In ratings terms, Smith never made much of an impact — he had a piddling 5.1% of the early-afternoon audience before his departure. But he seems to have found his calling in blogging. Updated with Andrew Bolt-style frequency and attracting around 90,000 page views a day, the site has made Smith something of a cult leader for those obsessed by the AWU affair. Funded by donations and his 2UE payout, it’s trawled daily by politicians and journalists looking for fresh material.

Michael had sniffed the seriousness of this story out before anyone had,” said The Australian’s Hedley Thomas, who has led his paper’s coverage of the AWU saga. ”Michael has done a lot of the work — the digging, interviewing and fact-testing — that the Canberra press gallery and many journalists failed to do.

I’m told that many in the Labor caucus are refreshing their browsers on Smith’s blog every day, and that the PM’s staff are even more avid visitors to michaelsmithnews.com.”

Smith, who declines to call himself a journalist, was a latecomer to the media. A former police constable, army corporal, Telstra executive and symphony orchestra managing director, he got his break at another Fairfax-owned station, Brisbane’s 4BC, in 2007. While critics such as Mark Latham dismiss him as a reactionary blowhard, it was he who cracked the Craig Thomson scandal open last year in an interview with the MP.

According to Thomas, Smith is “well-intentioned”, “forensic” and “highly intelligent”. He’s also big-hearted, unguarded and foul mouthed: every sentence, it seems, is peppered with “prick”, “bastard”, “fuck”, “bullshit” or “dickhead”.

For someone who’s stuck at one story for so long, he seems to have a remarkably short attention span. Getting him to stay on topic is like wrangling a sugar-fuelled child to sit still and eat their vegetables.

A question about his blog leads to a display of photos from his time in Mogadishu as a participant on this year’s Go Back To Where You Came From series on SBS. ”I thought every one of them had a bomb under them,” he says, pointing at a photo of women in burqas. He then gets distracted by a photo of his wife, former concert pianist and current Australian Financial Review life and leisure editor Katarina Kroslakova. Eventually, I manage to steer him to the blog.

If I had 30 hours in the day I’d spend 30 hours a day on it,” he says. “It’s just my bloody obsessive personality. I just want it to be so right and it’s never enough and I’m always feeling guilty I haven’t done more work. I’m sitting here with you right now and I’m thinking: how many more comments have come in? I can’t help it.”

The blog, however, is only the start of his involvement in the story. A crucial reason police never charged anyone over the fraud was the absence of a complainant. That changed when Smith went to Victorian police commissioner Ken Lay in October and lodged a complaint about the alleged creation of false documents.

This set the stage for the arrival of former AWU bagman Ralph Blewitt to finally give a statement to police. Smith has become a confidant of the self-confessed fraudster, posts regular interviews with him on his blog and has served as a conduit between him and police. The pair — whose connection is, in part, explained by both being ex-army men — recently shared a hotel room with two single beds. In TV interviews with Blewitt last week, it was Smith hovering over his shoulder like a nervous media adviser.

While Gillard derides Blewitt as a “s-xist pig”, “crook” and “imbecile”, Smith insists “he’s a decent man at his heart”.

I’ve seen nothing in his recent behaviour or statements to me to contradict the proposition that the bloke is genuinely remorseful and speaking the truth now,” Smith says of the Vietnam vet. “Last night he came in with tears streaming down his face, holding his phone, shaking, saying the boys serving in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan had been on the phone to say, ‘good on you Ralph’. That’s what drives him I think.” Smith’s eyes are watering and his voice is quivering.

Michael Smith and Harry Nowicki in their Melbourne hotel headquarters

Suddenly there’s a knock on the door. It’s personal injury lawyer turned amateur historian Harry Nowicki — the man who tracked down Blewitt in Malaysia and is financing his trip down under. Nowicki, who boasts a booming voice, launches into an unprompted monologue detailing why the AWU story is a matter of national importance.

F-ck me you would have been a good [police] partner mate,” says Smith to Nowicki. ”I would have been the good cop and you could be the angry bastard.” The two are in full flight, feeding off each other’s outrage, delighting in the left-wing perception they are “right-wing misogynist nut-job conspiracy theorists swirling on the internet in their web of intrigue”.

It’s a scandal, it’s a cover-up, it’s an immensely important insight into the installation of someone into a position of authority,” Smith hollers.

So is he after vindication? Surely he wants to prove he was right and his 2UE bosses were wrong. ”I couldn’t give a fuck, mate,” he says. “I’m telling the truth and that’s what counts.”

As I head into the elevator I can still hear the two men debating the significance of a document they’ve uncovered. I don’t feel tainted, but I’m definitely exhausted. It’s time for that drink.

27
  • 1
    paddy
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Matthew, pardon if I appear a little dense.
    But is there an actual point to this article?
    It reads like a pretty lame puff piece on a couple of “colourful” characters as it is.
    The MSM is currently in a fairly silly frenzy over not very much right now. I’d hoped for a bit more depth from Crikey.

  • 2
    Holden Back
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    One little wrinkle you missed:

    http://www.couriermail.com.au/ipad/shock-jocks-wedding-belle/story-fn6cc53j-1226219034521

  • 3
    zut alors
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Smith and Blewitt are fortunate to have found each other. Incredibly, they’re now tugging at the electorate’s heartstrings by rattling the ADF’s chain, cue the violins. Can’t wait for their next trick.

    In the interests of accuracy please refrain from attributing the “s-xist pig”, “crook” and “imbecile” terminology to the PM. She was quoting others, the words were not hers. ABCTV also take note, please.

  • 4
    klewso
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    But what if he’s wrong?

  • 5
    klewso
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Abbott torpedoed Hanson - Smith wants to “do an Abbott” on Gillard.

  • 6
    Paddy Forsayeth
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    If we’re going to see the birth of the biggest political scandal in Aust history the labour is certainly long and drawn out. I have my doubts that Gillard could have got as far as she has if she was involved in the AWU fraud. But stranger things have happened. Agree with Paddy…Matthew what is the point of your article?

  • 7
    zut alors
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Holden, priceless! How curious this gem isn’t on a link to Smith’s blog.

  • 8
    TheFamousEccles
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m with paddy and Paddy - what was this article about? It seems that the author didn’t get what he went for from the “shock jock”, apart from a load of expletives, peppered with some half-formed ideas of the Greatest Political Conspiracy In The Nations’ History. Surprise, surprise, I guess.

    About the only thing I got in terms of info was that Blewitt’s re-emergence was sponsored by the Lawyer..

  • 9
    Merve
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Reminds of an ABC series years ago called “I can’t stop now”. It was about people with irrational obsessions, such as trying to make a hill a mountain, or find the HMAS Sydney. Smith is exactly the same. Can’t believe so many people have been caught up in his whirlpool of insanity.

  • 10
    Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Yep I’m with Paddy, I really can’t see the point.
    I’m also wondering why serving in the Army (or the police) makes some blokes think that it makes them a better human being than anyone else, to the point where they HAVE to continually mention it. I don’t think serving in the army or police force automatically disqualifies one from being an idiot.
    I’d be more interested if you questioned Smith on what he’s done for that kid in the refugee camp he was crying over on SBS. I suspect he’s done absolutely nothing.

  • 11
    dazza
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    People like this have a permission to walk the streets of Melbourne??
    Imo, these characters are definitely not fit for the general public to take notice of. BTW, why did Smith leave Brisbanes 4bc?

  • 12
    michael r james
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Paddy at 1:11 pm and TheFamousEccles at 4:21 pm: what was this article about?

    You’re joking, right? Like they say in all the police/coutroom procedurals: its goes to character. Having seen several of these people on 7.30 etc (and the far-out and barely-watchable M Smith on that SBS show) I thank Matthew Knott for this further insight into what they are really like. And Julie Bishop has met with Blewitt and still pursues this nonsense. WTF?

    The two (Smith & Nowicki) are in full flight, feeding off each other’s outrage, delighting in the left-wing perception they are “right-wing misogynist nut-job conspiracy theorists swirling on the internet in their web of intrigue”.

    That is a great line and quote.

  • 13
    michael r james
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Paddy at 1:11 pm and Eccles at 4:21 pm: what was this article about?

    You’re joking, right? Like they say in all the police/coutroom procedurals: its goes to character. The Coalition and News Ltd are on about this all the time: that this history tells us that Julia Gillard is somehow not fit to be PM. They claim her character is tainted.

    Having seen several of these people on 7.30 etc (and the far-out and barely-watchable M Smith on that SBS show) I thank Matthew Knott for this further insight into what they are really like. And Julie Bishop has met with Blewitt and still pursues this nonsense!

    The two (Smith & Nowicki) are in full flight, feeding off each other’s outrage, delighting in the left-wing perception they are “right-wing misogynist nut-job conspiracy theorists swirling on the internet in their web of intrigue”.

    That is a great line and quote.

  • 14
    michael r james
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Paddy at 1:11 pm and Eccles at 4:21 pm: what was this article about?

    You’re joking, right? Like they say in all the pol ice/coutroom procedurals: its goes to character. The Coal ition and News Ltd are on about this all the time: that this history tells us that Jul ia Gillard is somehow not fit to be PM. They claim her character is tainted.

    Having seen several of these people on 7.30 etc (and the far-out and barely-watchable M Smith on that SBS show) I thank Matthew Knott for this further insight into what they are really like. And Julie Bishop has met with Blewitt and still pursues this nonsense!

    The two (Smith & Nowicki) are in full flight, feeding off each other’s outrage, delighting in the left-wing perception they are “right-wing misogynist nut-job conspiracy theorists swirling on the internet in their web of intrigue”.

    That is a great line and quote.

  • 15
    michael r james
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    This (below) just posted by Katherine Murphy of Fairfax. Is this why Smith invited Knott up to his hotel room — so Blewitt’s rendezvous with Ms Bishop in the hotel’s bar would go unnoticed?

    Today we’ve had getaway cars, bank robbers, a bit of court room drama in the House: now here’s a drive-by scene from The Pulse Live Virtual Google-mobile.
    .
    This is the Melbourne hotel where Ms Bishop rendezvoused for ten minutes (plus hot beverage) with Ralph “bag-man” Blewitt last Friday. (The chap described by the Prime Minister yesterday as an imbecile, idiot, stooge, se_ist pig, l_iar, crook, and rotten to the core.)
    .
    We are told no documents were exchanged.
    .
    Sadly none of our protagonists were lurking curb-side when the Google-mobile crawled by.
    .
    No Julie Bishop. No bag man. No former radio shock jock. No minister of the Crown. No enterprising, profile-writing News Limited journalist.

  • 16
    tonyfunnywalker
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    He will cost Julie Bishop her job on any front bench in the future. His association and sponsorship with Blewitt speaks volumes. How much did he charge 730 report. This guy is toxic and 2 UE were right to get rid of him.

  • 17
    iggy648
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Bugger, I got really excited. I misread the title. I thought it was “misogynist nut-job HO’

  • 18
    AR
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Surely you shuld have answered ‘yes’, twice if necessary, made your excuses and split? It would have saved all the electrons wasted on this … wot to call it… expose, puff piece..?

  • 19
    tonyfunnywalker
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Just watched Bruce Wilson on 730 report, here come the defamation claims starting with Julie Bishop and Michael Smith will be high on the clains list.

  • 20
    michael r james
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Further to my (in moderation) post of 6.00 pm:

    Yes! On 7.30 Julie Bishop has just explained that it was a “chance meeting” though an odd definition of chance: Michael Smith telephoned her to tell her that Blewitt was at Rydges and would be willing to meet her. She claims she was nearby so …

  • 21
    Tom Jones
    Posted Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    I had wondered who was funding Blewett so that is an interesting point. I thought that the reason Blewett was singing so sweetly was because there was an inducement to do so; someone of his alleged character is predictable in the way that they operate.

    Is Nowicki a member of the Liberal Party? That is the question I would like answered.

  • 22
    captain
    Posted Wednesday, 28 November 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    The guy even looks like Glen Beck,

  • 23
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 28 November 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    What was that “hotel” she just happened to enter?

    You can go on the word of a PM (with this having been done to death and no smoking gun found - and being revived by those playing the politics, including a politicised lump in our viewsmedia) or the word of a cabal that revolves around a “fellowship of the ring” of the calibre of Smith, Blewett and Nowicki with their “motivation”?
    Any wonder climate change gets such short shrift from the party that chose the latter?

  • 24
    anton conner
    Posted Wednesday, 28 November 2012 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Michael R. James.

    Mike Smith was *supposed* to have agreed to an interview. One would have thought he would have *heaps* to say. Instead he acts like a superior lounge lizard and paranoid android, recording the conversation and then uploading it onto his blog, so he can display how persecuted that he is.

  • 25
    iggy648
    Posted Thursday, 29 November 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Nick, Tony, Christopher, George, Michael and Julie. Try 131444. They’ll take your evidence of criminal behaviour. Somebody help me out. I’m old and confused. Nick Styant-Browne has evidence of a crime and he took it to the Weekend Australian and not the Police? What’s going on?

  • 26
    Dogs breakfast
    Posted Thursday, 29 November 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Well, I’m not sure whether it was worth the trouble of writing or not, but I have known very little about Smith up to now so found it informative. Hyperactive, possibly intelligent and obsessive, without the rational synapses to be able to abort a pointless exercise. Well, that is what defines obsessive isn’t it.

    Amazing the forensic detail that goes on about a peripheral involvement of an alleged fraud committed by someone else.

    Hey guys, the previous coalition PM took us to a war on the basis of manufactured evidence, a war that has cost billions. During that time a quasi-government agency sold wheat to the value of hundreds of millions to the very people we were at war with, against sanctions imposed and agreed by the said government.

    Oh, sorry, that’s right, you guys were all over the detail of that.

    It must be 12 or more months this has been going on, all with the end product of proving that Gillard, as a lawyer, pretty much did what the majority of lawyers do every day, Viz; help their clients skirt the letter and the intent of the laws fo the land.

    Well blow me down!

  • 27
    Richard Forde
    Posted Saturday, 1 December 2012 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    Loved the picture of Smith and Senator Joyce

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