The other big issue that this whole sordid episode throws up is “how far can journos go in reporting on pollies’ private lives”? Here is an incredibly wide ranging diversity of opinion from Crikey’s readers.

I don’t care about the personal arrangements between politicians; I can judge them on their political actions, their programs, what they support and what they oppose. I do care about what drives the behaviour of journalists as they are the filters through which all information must pass. So I like to know the political leanings of commentators to judge the bias in a story.

All this episode has done is to shake my confidence in Laurie Oakes’s journalism skills. Next time Laurie questions Natasha or Simon or Anderson, is he really making a valid criticism or has he an axe to grind?

Yes, it has increased my cynicism, not of pollies, but of journos.

– – – – – – – – –

While no fan of Cheryl Kernot, her name doesn’t raise the hackles here as it seems to for so many people. The disclosure is a tough one to answer though, not the least because it does attack the “tour rules” that appear to have prevailed until now in Canberra.

Good on her for deciding that she could make more of a difference in one of the two major political parties rather than spending life “running interference”. As other readers have pointed out, she could have brought so much more to the ALP, however in the end I guess you can read the book to find out what she thinks happened.

Unfortunately in the cold light of day, it does appear a little naive to say that even if she had an affair with a senior Labor party figure it didn’t affect her decision to move across to the ALP (in particular the timing). It would then follow that this is newsworthy in explaining the motives at the time.

Still, perhaps one should assume that she was professional enough to make that decision despite having a relationship. Lord knows that it’s normally us men who think with their trousers. Following on from that, imagine how things would have played out if the sexes had been reversed and a male Democrats leader (they did exist long ago!) had been “seduced” across by a female ALP politician.

– – – – – – – – –

Crikey,

I am no fan of CK but find the double standards on this issue of Olympic proportions. Big deal if the book wasn’t totally honest – it would be consigned to the bargain bins and Kernot’s reputation as a writer so tarnished. Fair enough if the media name names and admit to doing so for a bit of titillation (at least have the ticker to admit your gutter antics) but to rant and rave about “honesty” and “public interest” is specious crap.

If this indeed was the case, are we now to see the naming of MPs who turn up pissed to vote in parliament on important issues of the day, or who’s private life makes them a target for blackmailers and a threat to national security or who beat their wives and then lecture us on any number of social ills in a bid to enhance their political appeal? I don’t think so, do you?

Truly appalling.

– – – – – – – – –

Dear Crikey,

If Oakes revealed this in the public interest, surely he had a duty to reveal it when both Kernot and Evans were in Parliament, rather than in response to a book.

But now that Laurie’s established the principal, I look forward to his revelations on the defection of “late” Mal Colston (remember – he couldn’t stand trial because he’d be dead in three months). We need to be assured that he was not doing the business with any Coalition members at the time.

Or Meg Lees’s deal on the GST. After all, she screwed most of Australia with that one.

– – – – – – – – –

Crikey,

Don’t you just love how the Australian media can reduce a strong story or a complex one down to a pithy little comment that means nothing to anybody other than a Canberra bureau tosser. “How does it feel to be a Demo-rat?”…must have been itching to say that for years.

Forget about the story at hand. And forget the fact the Dems get bagged six ways to Sunday by commentators claiming they are irrelevant and yet if one of them makes the move to a “real” party they are seen as rats.

Macho man!

– – – – – – – – –

It’s totally depressing to see the standard of political journalism drop waaay below the belt again, especially when such a purportedly reputable reporter is the instigator of such irrelevant muckraking.

Kernot’s and Evans’s relationship bears no strong relevance to her political decisions. It’s just a bit of titillating, well-timed gossip that works to further demean the political field.

Pity you were part of it, Crikey. I thought you knew which lines didn’t need crossing.

– – – – – – – – –

Hi Stephen

The unwritten rule in Canberra seems to be that sexual conduct isn’t reported unless it has a bearing on what people do publicly, and that seems fair enough (and thoughts of pots and kettles spring to mind here).

If, as Laurie asserts, this all had a bearing on Cheryl’s – and, presumably, by extension Gareth’s – political career and position, then why didn’t he, or anyone else, report it at the time? If it was OK to respect their privacy then, why not now, when they’re both out of the political picture?

I don’t think Laurie can have it both ways – either it’s important enough to report when the event happens, or it’s private and it stays private (or as private as it can be when apparently everyone in Canberra knew!)

– – – – – – – – –

I wonder if any of the above protagonists paused long enough to consider the devastating effect revelations of this kind might have on the offspring of those on the receiving end of such salacious muckraking – or if their own egos are deemed to override such considerations.

I don’t know who has how many children, or the ages of these children, but I don’t envy any of them who are still at school, college – or even a university, having to face down the alienation, taunts and whisperings from other schoolchildren. They are SO defenceless.

Meanwhile, keep up the good work at Crikey.com [CRIKEY: Don’t forget the “.au”!]

– – – – – – – – –

Stephen,

Apropos of the “further revelations” that were in my email to you today, and which you judiciously edited out, I should point out that all of them are now in the public domain via the press: I wasn’t trying to throw up more scandal, but just cite those published stories that the media has only chosen to cover in its own sweet time. If I didn’t name names it’s probably because I’ve forgotten them… But there was nothing new there.

I also think that Hillary is being exceedingly unfair about Laurie Oakes. Even if he was doing it for commercial purposes in league with the Packer Empire that’s hardly unknown in journalism. I suspect it’s more likely that he was dipping his toe in the water to see how people might react – many journos are nauseatingly moralising when someone else gets an ethically challenging scoop.

As for whether he was getting his own back, who knows? Plenty of people question your motives in writing about Kennett (or Blunden) but that shouldn’t detract from the actual claims you make. Shooting the messenger is the prime example that someone has misunderstood what’s going on. And frankly, Oakes wouldn’t have had a story at all if Cheryl had been upfront in the first place. More power to the rotund scoop-meister, I say.

Regards,

– – – – – – – – –

Perhaps we should call it “White Wednesday”, because that seems to be the colour of the faces of the political journalists talking to this matter on the box.

If indeed – as they seem to be falling over themselves to claim – this affair was an open secret in Canberra (to everyone it seems except the Labor leadership), then why did nobody report it as being obviously material to Ms. Kernot’s sensational party switch?

Either they knew and it was corrupt reporting, or they didn’t and it was inadequate journalism – this applies equally to Mr. Oakes.

But I must say I find the whole moral tone of the “Canberra Club” (with Parliament Question Time its crowning glory), including the Press Gallery, is typified by the permanent sneers worn on the faces of its chief actors: Crean, Howard, Costello, Abbot, Hill et al, (Kernot and Evans haven’t lost theirs, either), while the journos acquire a sort of poker-faced disingenuously earnest innocence.

It really is of very low standard and grubbily petty all round.

– – – – – – – – –

Crikey

It has surprised and somewhat saddened me, that the people of Australia would take such an avid interest in what can only be described as guttural mud-slinging on the part of Laurie Oakes.

When the Clinton affair came out Australians felt that that was his business and that the Americans were far too nosey to even care what the man did, and he was the President of the most powerful nation on earth!

So why then are we so concerned about Cheryl Kernot? Even if she had an affair that is her personal business that should remain her personal business and that of her family’s.

What this on-going saga highlights is the ever-continuing downward spiral of journalism in Australia, and the level to which even somewhat of Laurie Oakes’ stature will sink in order to discredit a politician.

Say what you will about them, and say what you will about Ms Kernot, we need to face facts–Journalism in this country (and most others) stinks!

Is “objectivity” such a dirty word? Is it necessary to foster this preconception that all politicians are scrupulous, ambivalent ratbags? Well Laurie Oakes certainly thinks so. However, we must also look at what repercussions this will have on Mr Oakes’ career.

He has elevated himself to a position of an “untouchable” and is perhaps the most widely respected political commentator as your article clearly outlines. He has told us through his manner and interviewing techniques that he is above the sort of dirty muck-raking that goes on amongst “lower journalists”, but this latest outburst is sure to cost him a few points with the public in regard to his integrity.

While I do not support Ms Kernot nor her attitude toward the media as whole, it must be recognised that Mr Oakes plays a dirty game and has pushed his most concerted effort to destroy Ms Kernot when she is most vulnerable.

It is not Mr Oakes’s business (nor is it in his job description) to lash out blatant personal attacks, based on his own callous attitude toward Ms Kernot.

While Crikey should be about objectivity and offering both sides of the story (and I feel they have succeeded in doing so) it is commendable that you have offered a forum for this topic, to let views from all angles be heard.

In conclusion, maybe it is high time the grumpy self-opinionated media identity hands in his badge, and lets a more honest and objective person through. What Australia needs, is a more decent human being who understands that politicians are people too…..something we all seem to have forgotten.

– – – – – – – – –

Dear Crikey,

It’s a tough call on the disclosure issue, but I definitely recall an article written recently, I think in the Sydney Morning Herald, which baldly stated that Gareth Evans was interested in and concerned about what might be written in Cheryl’s book. It wasn’t hard for me to read between the lines on that one, in spite of not having heard anything about it beforehand.

I think Laurie Oakes probably has a reasonable argument to say that he should disclose, but considering the book excerpts relating to Laurie it is very hard to look at him as an independent reporter. It leaves him open to the claim that he is being vengeful and although I respect him as a journalist, there is no way that he could convince me that he did this without malice, it’s just human nature.

Cheryl is a pathetic figure who was shown up to be not up to the hard grind of politics in a real party. Having said that I wish the whole saga was never aired. I think that the best evidence of the civilised nature of Australians is that we don’t report on politicians’ sexual exploits. USA and UK are the leaders in this rubbish and it is one of the defining differences between us. Don’t go down that path.

I wonder when a story will be done about Laurie’s personal relationships? Hopefully never, but it would be just desserts. From what I have heard the little enclave of Canberra political life is awash with infidelity. Who is willing to start that list! Who, apart from John Anderson, would not be on it?

As for Simon Crean trying to look serious about whether Gareth Evans misled the House, honestly, who gives a toss. In my book an answer only need be honest if the question was honest. I can’t see how personal relationships should be questioned in parliament. If Gareth lied to parliament so be it, the prick who asked the question should be sanctioned, not Gareth.

– – – – – – – – –

What amazes me about the whole Kernot/Evans saga is that so many of the gutless wonders who didn’t run with the story are complaining about “invasion of politicians’ private lives”.

If a politician is screwing their secretary or another member of the same party, by all means keep it a private matter. This does not impact their professional lives to any great degree. But when they are senior members of the power structure of 2 competing political parties, this is a gross conflict of interest. What would the reaction be if senior figures in, say, 2 banks were involved in an affair? Both would undoubtedly be ‘seeking other opportunities’.

I was also greatly amused by seeing a po-faced Kernot ‘publicist’ state that she was calling off the publicity drive due to a ‘car chase’. Why was Cheryl running? And, unless there was a Parisian tunnel nearby, what did she have to fear from journalists?

Thoroughly enjoying my subscription.

– – – – – – – – –

Hello again

Just to feed into the universe of emails you are no doubt receiving today. I’ll throw a few more lines into the debate.

Did you see Gerard Henderson on Lateline last night? Then Anne was on ABC radio this morning…the great double act are saying it’s not possible to know that the affair, if true, has a causal link to why Kernot defected to Labor. Who are these people kidding? Having an affair with a political “opponent” and then you defect to that party? How much evidence does one need? It’s certainly enough to meet the public interest test and as I said yesterday the hypocrisy of this is that the media have not reported it before.

And, if there is no causal link, i.e. that Kernot was just sleeping with Gareth for fun and good time and never found heady appreciation through shared ideology and it never influenced her decision to leave the Democrats, then maybe the cover of Women Weekly was appropriate after all!

If all this means that that the lid is lifted on the seamy side of Canberra, let’s open the book! If it’s in the public interest we should report it – if policy, political and journalistic decisions are compromised through things like affairs and relationships it should be exposed.

– – – – – – – – –

Steve,

According to The Australian, you’re the one who broke the real story.

“Oakes wouldn’t say what the alleged secret was, however. That was left to former political apparatchik, finance journalist and self-styled stirrer Stephen Mayne, operator of the website Crikey.com.au.”

It’s pretty poor form by Laurie to imply something to the mug punters while those in the know can snigger to themselves about it. Maybe Laurie was always going to follow up on the news with the real story, but we’ll never know.

Anyway, once it was out someone would have eventually spilt the beans, but I think it’s a bit sad it ended up being you. Surely you can’t believe any comparison to the No Idea can be a good thing!

Now clearly Cheryl is a bit of a goose (don’t even ask me what my Dickson based father-in-law would say about her – now look what he’s stuck with), but people deserve some semblance of private life, even if we pay their wages.

Let’s face it, biographies are about making money and getting bile off your chest. No one believes they’re based on 100% true events; do they?

And surely Gareth and Cheryl can’t be the only root-rat politicians. Is the press going to hunt them all down now … I’m sure it’s been a hit with the ratings so far.

Cheers,

– – – – – – – – –

My take, for what it’s worth –

– The informal convention that politicians’ sexual deeds be left unreported is a good one. Provided they’re consenting adults, it’s none of our business. Such reportage is also invariably hypocritical. i.e. calling for people to be crucified for acts that take place daily in every suburban street.

– There are parallels with the Clinton/Lewinski saga. In my mind the real wrong is in bringing up such matters publicly in the first place. It’s not surprising that politicians will tell porkies to protect themselves once this has occurred, and in my mind it’s very forgivable.

– There is a gender factor. In Australia, male politicians tend to receive an unqualified ‘get out of jail free’ card for their sexual dalliances.

– While I found CK whiney and irritating over a sustained period of time – and also largely responsible of her own fate – she doesn’t deserve this. Goading someone who is in a position to destroy you is remarkably dumb, however there are boundaries of decent behaviour that should not be crossed, and Laurie crossed one such (enthusiastically aided after the fact by your good self).

It makes me want to see a really good, no holds barred investigative piece on Laurie’s personal life.

Regards

– – – – – – – – –

Dear Crikey

I do not for one minute pretend to defend the former Foreign Affairs minister, however on the question of whether he misled Parliament, it appears at least on my estimation that technically he did not. Of the veiled suggestion that he may have had a close relationship with Cheryl Kernot he said the following in Parliament:

“But let me at least put on the parliamentary record the few simple, and I hope very clear, words that I have already put on the public record, namely just these: what the member for Swan said was totally baseless, beneath contempt and a disgraceful abuse of parliamentary privilege. It takes more than an apology to heal the hurt, particularly to our families, that this sort of performance causes.”

It may very well be semantics to suggest that nowhere in that statement did Gareth Evans deny the affair, but politicians are experts in plying the trade of semantics so the point needs to be made. The closest he comes to a denial is to say that the statement made by the member for Swan was “totally baseless”.

This is not a denial but rather an implication that the allegation was made without any basis (i.e. without concrete evidence). You can accept one of two things – either that Evans’s intention in that statement was to deny the allegation, or that his intention was to not deny the allegations but at the same time leave an impression that he had denied it. If the latter is the case, and accepting that the particulars of his “misleading conduct” are that he denied the affair, then he is not guilty as charged.

– – – – – – – – –

If you’re going to sink the boot into Cheryl and Gareth – both of whom are now out of parliament, and whose relationship can have no further bearing on the health and well-being of the Australian electorate – let’s even the scorecard and have a few revealing articles on the past of Tony Abbott, whose pre-parliamentary actions and views are particularly pertinent to the way he handles his current portfolio. Put the blowtorch on him and do the ordinary people of the nation a favour.

Oh, yes; for Abbott to have the gall to attack Mark Latham (for whom I have no fondness, I might add) over his language and tactics is utterly laughable. He needs to be taken to task over this reprehensible display of hypocrisy.

– – – – – – – – –

Shit! Why don’t they leave them all alone — have they nothing better to do?

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW