With Catholic Archbishop George Pell occupying plenty of news space, we at Crikey have cranked up our media monitoring service and it’s fair to say that the media hasn’t covered itself in glory on this one. And we’ve only just started scratching the surface.
Recently it was Hefferlump (gone), before him, the GG (dangling by a thread), before them Reithy and Ruddock over kids overboard.
This time, Catholic Church archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, is in the firing line after a “stunning” expose on 60 Minutes.
The first casualty – the facts
Is it “Risdale” or “Ridsdale”?
You’d think that on a major issue like this the media could get something like the key players’ names right. In this case it happens to be the surname of both the victim and the perpetrator.
On the 60 Minutes transcript of the story, “Risdale” is used.
But back at the ranch in the news section of Ninemsn.com.au, it’s “Ridsdale”.
So which one is it, folks?
And is it “Gerald” or “George” Ridsdale?
Well, at least 99% of the media seem to have this one right.
But not the most important (just ask him) one percent – The Golden Tonsils.
On 2UE on Tuesday morning, we heard a station promo for the Lawsy program where Lawsy says “it’s grubs like George Ridsdale – he should be run out of the church at the first hint of trouble…”
Sorry, Tonsils, can’t help you out with George, but Gerald is currently punching licence plates as a guest of Her Majesty.
And 2UE were running this in a station promo for the Golden Tonsils?
No-one at Crikey has ever suggested that Lawsy is a Rhodes Scholar, but really, he should be put out to pasture and 2UE get someone behind the Golden Microphone with at least a passing interest in current events or they’ll get creamed in the 9am to noon slot too.
Worse still, in his regular 8:45 fireside natter with the Golden Tonsils, Pricey twice referred to the offender as “Gerald”. Lawsy correctly parroted him once (no pun intended), but later fell into his old ways of referring to “George Ridsdale”.
As always, Pricey didn’t dare correct “the Great Man”.
It’s time Pricey started asserting himself when Lawsy commits clangers like this, otherwise Pricey will be guilty of buffoonery by association.
But pulling the press up over a few incorrect names is nitpicking, really. Let’s turn our focus to the original piece on 60 Minutes by investigative journalist extraordinaire, Richard Carleton.
With Tricky Dicky clogging up the ACT court system with his defo case, we’ll have to watch what we say lest he joins the ever-expanding queue to send to the cleaners a backyard internet site read by about the same number of people as there are literate 60 Minutes viewers.
Suffice to say, we were not impressed.
Crullers will have to fess up that he wasn’t watching 60 Minutes on Sunday night, instead opting to watch the final instalment of the excellent “Walk on by” on Aunty. But I’ve since repented and gone over the transcript with a fine toothed comb and here’s what we don’t like.
In fact, it only takes us to get to the third sentence of the transcript for Tricky Dicky to launch his first beat-up:
“Now, the accusation is simply this — that 10 years ago, Dr George Pell attempted to bribe a distressed young man who had been sexually assaulted by a priest, and that Dr Pell did this to cover up a potential scandal to protect his church.”
Well, hang on Dicky. If you asked George Pell, they were paying “compensation”, not a “bribe”. In fact, “compensation” was the precise word Pell used – a point completely ignored by Tricky Dicky.
“RICHARD CARLETON: Can you pull a number, I mean, out of the air, on the number of Catholic clergy who have been convicted of these sort of crimes, say, over the last 10 years?
GEORGE PELL: No, I can’t. I can give you Melbourne figures, though. During my time in Melbourne we paid compensation to 100 victims and 15 or 20 priests were stood down.”
Later, Tricky Dicky went on the attack and produced his trump card, the interview with the victim, David Ridsdale, who asserted that Pell had paid the money to shut him up:
[The transcripts are direct from the 60 Minutes site, but we won’t infuriate readers by inserting (sic) every time the name “Risdale” is used.]
DAVID RISDALE: Then all of a sudden I just stopped and went, “George, I’m totally lost. Can you please tell me what you were trying to say here?” And his response to that was, “I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet.”
RICHARD CARLETON: Are there any doubts in your mind that those were the specific words that he used?
DAVID RISDALE: I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet. None at all.
RICHARD CARLETON: And you then said what?
DAVID RISDALE: You’ll probably have to beep it. I said, “Fuck you and fuck everything you stand for,” and I hung up.
RICHARD CARLETON: Archbishop, those words there are terrible. Did you use those words, “I want to know what it would take to keep you quiet”?
GEORGE PELL: No, I didn’t. I’ve got a recollection that I spoke to David a number of times, that he phoned me a number of times on this, on this incident. I think by that stage Risdale was in jail.”
So Carleton’s case is based entirely on the evidence of one victim from a conversation he had had with Pell some 10 years ago.
And that’s one victim, not the 100 or so that Pell had admitted that the Catholic church had paid compensation to.
And the key to Carleton’s case is that Pell had said the precise words “I want to know what it would take to keep you quiet”.
Yet that was after the victim had told Tricky Dicky “at that point, I can categorically say I don’t remember everything he said because it was overwhelming, it was very confusing and I started to get a sense he was insinuating things and I felt like I’d done something wrong.”
Carleton did paid lip service to putting the victim through the ringer though, just to make sure he was absolutely certain of what Pell had said to him:
“RICHARD CARLETON: Are there any doubts in your mind that those were the specific words that he used?
DAVID RISDALE: “I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet”. None at all. Not those last two phrases, no, because it triggered…
RICHARD CARLETON: Ten years after the event, how can you be so sure?
DAVID RISDALE: Because of what it triggered in me. It changed everything — all of a sudden the priorities got into place. My fear of my grandma had to be put aside, despite the fact that to this day I still believe that by becoming open with it, it actually did kill her. She became very ill not long after it came out and was soon bedridden and died.”
So, after an obviously distressed (at the time of the original conversation) victim admits that he couldn’t “remember everything he [Pell] said”, his memory does become crystal clear on one key phrase.
The key phrase that Dicky’s whole case is based upon.
To back this up, Tricky Dicky introduces a lovely piece of hearsay into the mix:
“RICHARD CARLETON: Okay. I would like to play you now, sir, a tape of David Risdale’s two sisters, who have been interviewed for this program.
David told me that after he had told George about the abuse, George asked him what it would take to keep him silent. In fact, David’s words to me were, “The bastard tried to offer me a bribe.”
RICHARD CARLETON: Having heard the sisters, sir, do you have anything you’d like to add?
GEORGE PELL: They were misinformed. I mean, it’s a very, it’s a very distressing sort of situation.”
So, to prove that Pell had asked the victim “what would it take to keep you quiet?”, Tricky Dicky gets the victim’s sisters to repeat what the victim had said to them in the heat of this incredibly distressing situation – 10 years ago.
Compelling evidence, Mr Carleton, QC.
Next, Tricky Dicky brought up the case of two daughters who had been abused and whose parents thought that Pell could have done more to prevent the abuse.
Dicky’s line of questioning here is as objectionable as it gets, even by Carleton’s standards:
“RICHARD CARLETON: Their daughters were abused by Father Kevin O’Donnell from 1987 to 1992, and the family is of the opinion if you had done your job their daughters would not have been abused.
GEORGE PELL: Oh well, that’s completely mistaken.
RICHARD CARLETON: Would you like to see what they’ve said, sir?
GEORGE PELL: Yes, yes.
“GARY”: We showed Pell a photo of him presenting our daughter with a confirmation certificate at her confirmation. His response was, “That’s a very nice photo.” We then showed him a photo of our daughter just after she had cut her wrists, with blood coming out of them, and his only comment, with absolutely no change in attitude, in facial expression, was, “Oh, she’s changed, hasn’t she?”
RICHARD CARLETON: Not a very happy family, are they, Archbishop?
GEORGE PELL: No, no, they’ve suffered a lot.
RICHARD CARLETON: Here are those photos that he’s talking about.
GEORGE PELL: I’ve … I’ve … Which is the…
RICHARD CARLETON: That’s the one, I think, of you confirming the lass.
GEORGE PELL: Yes.
RICHARD CARLETON: And the other one is the later…
GEORGE PELL: I’ve never seen the photo…
RICHARD CARLETON: … with the slashed wrists?
GEORGE PELL: … with the slashed wrists.
RICHARD CARLETON: The mother and father say they gave it to you.
GEORGE PELL: I don’t believe I’ve seen that. I have no recollection of that. I mean it’s an awful … I don’t believe I ever saw that.”
George Pell has surely done many things wrong over this whole affair, but to suggest that he’s seen a photo of a young girl with blood flowing from slashed wrists and not reacted is beyond belief.
Pell would have to be the world’s most callous, heartless, bastard to not react to being shown such a photograph.
And even if he was the world’s most callous, heartless, bastard who truly didn’t give a damn, is he that stupid that he wouldn’t feign distress?
There is just something not right about that accusation. Tricky Dicky has some explaining to do on that one.
Finally, Tricky Dicky played the last of his cards, pulling out the letter from our good friends at the esteemed legal firm of Corrs Chambers Westgarth.
“RICHARD CARLETON: And you offered them $50,000. (how ironic, the same figure Corrs got out of Crikey for Steve Price)
GEORGE PELL: I offered them nothing. They were free to go into a process which is run by an independent panel.
RICHARD CARLETON: I have a letter here.
GEORGE PELL: That’s from the lawyers after they’d been through the process which they were free to enter.
RICHARD CARLETON: You’re exactly right, sir. It is from the lawyers – Corrs Chambers Westgarth.
GEORGE PELL: That’s right.
RICHARD CARLETON: “Dear Mr and Mrs” — I won’t mention the family name — “as you know, we act for Archbishop Pell.” You offered them 50 grand to be quiet.
GEORGE PELL: I offered them 50 grand in compensation according to the publicly acknowledged procedures.
RICHARD CARLETON: And to be quiet.
GEORGE PELL: And they chose not to accept that.
RICHARD CARLETON: The words, if words have meaning, sir, you bought their silence or you sought to buy their silence – “a realistic alternative to litigation that will otherwise be strenuously defended”.
GEORGE PELL: Yes, if they want to go law, we will use the law to defend ourselves. And they are free to do so.
RICHARD CARLETON: And you swear them to secrecy.
GEORGE PELL: We ask them to…
RICHARD CARLETON: You swear them. You don’t ask them, you swear them.
GEORGE PELL: There is a requirement that they don’t talk about it. Most of them are happy not to. And if they don’t want to use that, they can do something else.
RICHARD CARLETON: They can go to the courts.
GEORGE PELL: Yes.
RICHARD CARLETON: Why do you impose this condition, sir?
GEORGE PELL: Because many of them don’t want to be subjected to publicity and of course it’s shameful for the Church.”
Our first question here – why didn’t Dicky reveal the entire contents of the letter from Corrs?
Obviously that would have taken up too much time and just cluttered 60 Minutes’ viewers with unnecessary facts – but given that the story was light on for facts anyway, that might have been a good thing.
And they couldn’t put on the back burner their puff piece with athlete Louise Sauvage, could they?
Instead of showing the viewers exactly what this letter says, Tricky Dicky plays editor, tries to argue that the words “a realistic alternative to litigation that will otherwise be strenuously defended” implies buying silence and then badgers Pell about “swearing” people to secrecy.
Interestingly, the ABC reported online on Tuesday that “there is no confidentiality clause on the deed of release form but victims are continuing to argue they believe payment required their silence”.
If there is no confidentiality clause, why didn’t Tricky Dicky tell us this?
In summary, Tricky Dicky’s entire case is this – George Pell bought the silence of victims of sexual abuse.
How does he prove this?
By the evidence of one victim out of 100 to whom the church had paid compensation, who was so distressed at the time of the original conversation with Pell that he admits “at that point, I can categorically say I don’t remember everything he said”.
Carleton supports his case by using hearsay from the sisters of David Ridsdale, who also said Pell had offered their brother money to stay quiet.
How did they know? Because they’d spoken to their brother on the day he’d had the offending phone conversation with Pell – the same conversation where he admitted “at that point, I can categorically say I don’t remember everything he said”.
Carleton then gets evidence from another family that Pell had shown no reaction when shown a photograph of a girl with blood streaming from slashed wrists.
That astonishing accusation was accepted at face value by Carleton.
Finally, Carleton knows silence was bought because the church’s lawyers offered a settlement as “a realistic alternative to litigation that will otherwise be strenuously defended”.
What a watertight case Carleton mounts.
If this is the basis for new calls for Pell to resign, it’s pretty flimsy evidence.
Still, plenty have followed Carleton’s hyperbolic lead.
For whom the Pell polls
Naturally, we couldn’t have a controversy without an opinion poll.
On the Ninemsn website, we have been treated to not one but TWO opinion polls, first on the homepage and then on the 60 Minutes page.
In typical fashion, they achieve diddly squat and are framed in such a way that the vote is assured to go decisively in favour of the line trotted in the original 60 Minutes yarn.
The first poll – requiring a simple “Yes” or “No” answer – asked “is an inquiry into sex abuse claims needed?”
Gee, wonder how the channel 9 viewing audience is going to vote in that one?
When we first lodged our token mischievous protest vote on Monday afternoon the vote was 86% in favour. This had dropped slightly to 84% by Tuesday morning. Had the channel 9 viewing audience started to think the whole 60 Minutes yarn was a beat up?
The second poll on the 60 Minutes website (the same website that doesn’t know how to spell the victim’s surname) asked “has the Catholic church done enough to deal with sexual abuse claims against the clergy?”
The result – the vote was tracking at about 37 / 38% “Yes” and 63 / 62% “No” the two times we checked.
What a surprise.
And what does Ninemsn do with these compelling contributions to the great debate?
Will we see these tabled in Parliament? Will they be presented to the Catholic church – “here’s what Joe Public thinks about you mob! Fix it!”
Ninemsn’s polls are about as worthy a contribution to debate as Ed Anger’s polls in his “My America” column in the “Weekly World News”. At least America’s trashiest tabloid never took itself seriously – and nor did its readers.
Not surprisingly, talkback radio was all over the Pell issue on Monday, with Pricey leading the charge in Sydney.
He thought it was an outrage that the church was paying “hush money” and wouldn’t agree with any argument to the contrary that this was “compensation”, not a “bribe”.
An articulate caller rang on Tuesday morning to take Pricey to task, and Pricey quickly recognised that this bloke was a lawyer. Despite his well-reasoned arguments, Pricey still couldn’t agree with his point of view.
And on Tuesday, Pricey had a curious change of tack. He mentioned how it perturbed him the other day when he was at Cremorne Point taking a walk with his three year old daughter. When she was busting to go, he was in a quandary as to whether he should go into the toilet and look after her or stay outside because that might look a bit suspicious in the current environment?
Pricey took a number of calls from listeners who found themselves in similar quandaries with young or disabled children.
Naturally I had an opinion on this and rang Pricey up, suggesting that it was such a serious issue that perhaps we should have a joint 2UE – 2GB taskforce – there’s a bit of experience on the other side when it comes to dodgy incidents at toilet blocks.
“Yeah, good one – get on with it!”
Speaking of 2GB, its breakfast announcer has been strangely silent, it seems, on the Pell issue.
Crullers’ radio dial is fixed on Pricey in the mornings, but I did flick over during traffic reports and the interview with some two-bit NSW Liberal politician, and never heard the Parrot discussing Pell.
And on Gloriana’s website, not one editorial on Pell over the past two days.
Instead, we’ve had editorials on Silverchair’s Daniel Johns and his debilitating battle with Reiter’s Syndrome, an obituary to match-fixer Hansie Cronje, a spray about interest rates, and a whinge about the Woolahra public school (in one of Sydney’s more affluent suburbs).
So are there any bird watchers out there who can correct us on this, or has the Parrot gone silent on Pell, the biggest news issue of the past two days?
Down south, here’s what we said in Tuesday’s sealed section about the Pell coverage on Melbourne radio:
“MITCHELL, FAINE, RELIGIOUS DISCLOSURE AND PELL
Another anonymous emailer claimed that 3AW’s Neil Mitchell sounded guarded yesterday in his criticisms of players in the “Catholic hush money” affair and that George Pell’s legal advisers were none other than 3AW’s own lawyers Corrs Chambers Westgarth…
“…Meanwhile, Mitchell’s competitor on the ABC, Jon Faine, was getting stuck into Richard Carleton for ambush tactics yesterday morning when the Catholic Church’s spokeswoman Geraldine Capp hung up on him claiming to have been lured onto the program under false pretences.
“Faine then back-pedaled very quickly and apologised when his producer Lorreen (sp) Deale confirmed that she’d only told Geraldine there would be an interview and not a debate with one of the victim’s representatives who had the advantage of being in the studio. Another caller then rang in and said that given Faine’s attacks on the Catholic Church he should disclose that he was Jewish.
“Faine then declared that he was “the most irreligious Jew in Melbourne” and “a great disappointment” to the Jewish community. Other callers rang it to condemn the first caller but Faine sensibly defended the disclosure saying he was “happy to deal with it” if anyone felt it was an issue.”
Come in spinners
Of course, the PR industry has its fingers all over this one, with Royce Communications being on what we believe is (or was) a $20,000 a month retainer. Here’s what we said in Tuesday’s sealed section:
PELL AND 60 MINUTES
George Pell’s longstanding spin-doctoring outfit is Royce Communications out of Melbourne. The account manager is 60-something hard-bitten PR veteran Barry Whalen who had successfully warded off Richard Carleton’s inquiries when he headed to Hong Kong for a holiday.
“Surely Royce MD Peter Mahon didn’t then take a different tack when his veteran account manager was on holiday?
“But did Mahon’s firm provide poor advice for their $20,000 a month?
“A lapsed spin-doctor in Brisbane writes:
“I’d be interested to see what Crikey’s Sole Spinners make of the Pell strategy. Did he give the issue unnecessary extra publicity (Nine would have loved the free plug)? Did he take the heat out of it, so that once the grave allegations were aired, the viewer was left (as this one was) saying, “OK, so, what’s the big deal?”.
“Or did he in fact drive more viewers (like me) to watch what they otherwise would not have watched? And above all, was the pre-emptive strike actually his strategy, or that of the Rolls Royce boys earning their bread (and wine)?
“With media tarts like Pell, it is often the case that the more you are paid for your advice, the less likely it is to be followed. Name withheld.
“CRIKEY: For what it’s worth, Crikey reckons that Pell is on a loser denying these confidentiality clauses as victims are coming out of the woodwork contradicting him. He should simply have said that the church was trying to reach finality with each victim and this would include a clause not to speak publicly about the complaint which is standard legal practice. Pelly has plenty of form when it comes to suppressing expression. Remember how he tried to take out an injunction to stop an exhibition of photographs by Andres Serrano, known as Piss Christ, about 5 years back. Julian Burnside QC ensured he lost that one.”
And now we hear that Pell is stepping back into the ring for more, apparently agreeing to another appearance on 60 Minutes.
Which flack advised him on that one?
After he was supposedly “ambushed” last time, does he think it won’t happen again?
Pell is nothing if not forgiving.
The final word goes to this anonymous Crikey contributor, so Tricky Dicky, send your writ to [email protected], not us:
“Carleton was disgraceful with Pell last night. He has always been a thug and he proved it again on Sunday night. He has so little fear of misrepresentation that he should go into politics. Some of his reports from the Middle East, for instance, have been atrocious.
“As far as I can tell, the only people required to not talk about the offer of compensation were those who refused it in order that later court proceedings (should they occur) would not be prejudiced. If they chose to take the money they were free to talk about it. Strange hush money that.
“He also singled out one family from the approx. 100 paid compensation so far. He never accused Pell of trying to cover up 100 people – just this one family. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit strange?
“Also the so called ‘keep quiet letter’ from the lawyers was a standard letter from the lawyers outlining the compensation process set up by the Church – a process taken up by over 100 families all of whom have presumably been sent the same letter. Assuming that some choose to go via the courts, it has probably been sent to more than that.
“Pell should also take up poker. He has the greatest poker face I have ever seen – no wonder people described him as emotionless.
“Carleton, like the guttersnipe he is, lined Pell up for a shirt front and managed to avoid the facts in his run up.