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Newspaper editors at war: Crikey mediates Mitchell v Stutch

Chris Mitchell and Michael Stutchbury used to work together. Now their newspapers are at war, and it’s getting personal. Crikey’s media reporter mediates.

This is rather something. In an editorial todayThe Australian calls on Fairfax chief Greg Hywood to “salvage the reputation” of The Australian Financial Review before “it’s completely shredded by the deranged output of senior reporter Neil Chenoweth”, who’s supposedly given free rein under the “the inattentive eye of AFR editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury”.

The missive is prompted by Chenoweth’s reporting of a News Corp tax win that helped blow out the federal budget by the odd billion or so. But it’s Stutch who comes in for the fiercest criticism. The paper intones:

Stutchbury, who was considered incompetent by staff of this newspaper before his removal as editor, and his senior editors should be held to account for publishing Chenoweth’s blatantly dishonest reporting.”

We wondered if Stutchbury might speak to his lawyers. “I don’t believe that editors should take action for defamation other [than] in the most extraordinary instances,” he told us.

Here’s his response to the stoush:

The Australian is perfectly entitled to challenge any story in The Australian Financial Review. But the guts of the yarn remains entirely legitimate: the Australian Tax Office paid $882 million to News Corporation last year. This came after a Federal Court ruled against the ATO’s disallowance of a $2 billion tax deduction claimed from a series paper transactions between the company’s subsidiaries. At the same time the ATO was deciding not to appeal the court decision, News Corp newspapers in Australia were running a vigorous campaign against the then-Labor government. The payout to News Corp, which is one of the largest tax payments made by the ATO, only came to light following the release of the company’s group accounts last week. The issue of multinational tax payments of course is one of the key agenda items on the G20 finance ministers’ meeting to be chaired by Treasurer Joe Hockey this weekend.

While The Australian is entitled to challenge any interpretation of these facts, its personal attacks on the Financial Review’s Walkley Award-winning Neil Chenoweth do not advance its argument. Chenoweth’s long history of investigative reporting, from Rene Rivkin to Eddie Obeid, is unsurpassed in Australian financial journalism. Personally, I am disappointed at The Australian’s personal attack on myself, which its editors know to be incorrect.”

Stutchbury — who served as editor of the Oz under current editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell —  came under fire from other journalists for seemingly burying a ripper yarn about his former employer all the way back on page eight of the Fin. When Crikey interviewed Mitchell and Stutchbury for The Power Index two years ago, they seemed close, even after Stutchbury famously defected to Fairfax in 2011.

What went wrong?

3
  • 1
    Andybob
    Posted Wednesday, 19 February 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Chris Mitchell knows the sound of his master’s voice.

  • 2
    Will
    Posted Wednesday, 19 February 2014 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    The Stutchnury-led plan to dumb down the AFR in order to chase News Corp marketshare through soft treatment and advertorial for big business and the lunatic appeasement like throwing away John Quiggin’s talents, was apparently all for naught. It couldn’t even buy him the conserv-o-cred to avoid a nasty aside. He’s now just another outsider like Guthrie, and everyone else removed from lollypop land, totally expendable and living at sufferance until the next Chris Mitchell tantrum.

    You only have to look at the sad contortions of Crikey alum Christian Kerr to see the palpable toxicity of the place under Mitchell’s leadership.

  • 3
    Liamj
    Posted Wednesday, 19 February 2014 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    To be savaged by News Corp(se) is a badge of honour, hopefully Stutchbury  will further his rehabilitation by giving the ATO some tips on how to nail the yank tax dodger and his local muppets.

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