The Murdochs and the Packers have done another cosy deal, this time ganging up on Fairfax for daring to write some unpleasant things about the Packer split. Our resident tabloid reader Hillary Bray explains.

Boys! They can be a real nuisance, losing millions of their dads’ money in telcos but the end of the day we love them, really. Particularly when they help us deal with embarrassing problems and sell a stack more newspapers.

James Packer obviously didn’t like the Sun-Herald’s report on his recent split with wife Jodhi a week ago or its claims that the marriage broke down because of a reluctance to risk losing Packer family funds in her Tigerlily clothing label after his misadventures with One-Tel.

So what did he do? Well, he and his daddy clearly appear to have talked to his friend Lachlan and his daddy who seemed to have put News Limited at their disposal.

And on Sunday there it was, a white on black full front page of the Sunday Telegraph: “Exclusive. My love for Jodhi. James Packer breaks his silence, revealing the truth about his marriage separation, why Jodhi remains his soulmate and his dream that they will reconcile.”

Then there were two full pages inside not two pages written by just any hack, but two pages by Jeni Cooper, bylined as the Smellie’s editor. It was the same in Melbourne the front page of Herald-Sun and two full pages six and seven this time (it’s a Sydney yarn, after all) and without any attention being drawn to the exalted position Cooper holds. The story also warranted a teaser at the very least on the front pages of all the other News Limited Sundays, with the brave exception of the Sunday Territorian.

A picture is worth a thousand spin-doctors

And where to start on the content of those two pages. We’re spoilt for choice but let’s start with the photos. There was the portrait of James at his desk, sporting his new crop much nicer than the picture in the Sun-Herald that highlighted a growing paunch as much as it showed off his new do.

Then there was the pictured that showed how Kerry cares Big Kez enjoying a coffee down at Double Bay with his daughter in law. In the Telegraph, though, it was published in black and white, all fuzzy and with a tighter view as if it was a paparazzi shot. In the Herald-Sun it was nice and clear and in full colour. It wasn’t gasp set up, was it?

Friends of Fairfax

If the photo’s were set up and manipulative, then that’s nothing compared to the text. Here’s what the Smelly had to say:

“Mr Packer was highly critical of the Fairfax newspaper the Sun-Herald, which last Sunday published an article claiming Jodhi’s passion for her fashion label, Tigerlily, had contributed to her split from Australia’s richest family.

“The Sun-Herald claimed Kerry Packer personally ordered James to cut his ties with the Tigerlily brand, a decision the newspaper said Jodhi struggled to accept.

“However, Mr Packer jnr told the Sunday Telegraph the article was ‘complete nonsense’, which was ‘fairly typical for that organisation’.

” ‘Fairfax claims to have the papers of record, whereas they are actually the papers of uninformed gossip . . . they’ve become ill-informed rags,’ he said.”

This was what was run in Melbourne:

“The Age and Sydney’s Sun-Herald claimed Kerry Packer personally ordered James to cut his ties with the Tigerlily brand, a decision the newspapers said Jodhi struggled to accept.

“However, Mr Packer jnr said the article was ‘complete nonsense’, which was ‘fairly typical for that organisation’.

” ‘Fairfax claims to have the papers of record, whereas they are actually the papers of uninformed gossip . . . they’ve become ill-informed rags,” he said.

” ‘That claim was a complete lie, a complete fabrication. It’s another fictional Fairfax fact. The Sun-Herald is typical of all of their other publications.

“(In Melbourne, Fairfax publishes The Age and Sunday Age.)”

Note the oh so subtle changes? And that was only the start! The breakout story is headed “No problems with my father”, and it’s a touching tale of how James loves Kerry and Kerry loves James. What gets in the way here?

” ‘The Fairfax press, however, have continually said my father and I aren’t close and we’ve had fallouts. Nothing could be further from the truth.'”

But wait It gets better:

“He says he also admires Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, which publishes (INSERT NAME OF SUNDAY NEWSPAPER IN THAT STATE HERE); Lachlan Murdoch, the News Corporation deputy chief operating officer; Microsoft founder Bill Gates; Westfield chairman Frank Lowy; and Visy Industries chairman Richard Pratt.

“Mr Packer said he and his father believed ‘what Rupert Murdoch has achieved is, without doubt, the mist impressive business career that any Australian has ever had’.

“Asked who he least admired, he said the Fairfax organisation.

” ‘I think that Fairfax is the worst run company in Australia,’ he said. ‘It’s share price is lower than it was 10 years ago. They have shown no strategy and my belief is that their shares are going to hit $2.50 before they hit $4.’

“However, Mr Packer said he felt ‘betrayed by former One-Tel managing director Jodee Rich and his failure to tell him the truth about the company’s financial position, describing Rich as ‘charismatic, a great salesman, a visionary, an eternal optimist and, when push came to shove, a liar.’

“He criticised how Fairfax reported the collapse of One-Tel, while failing to ‘accurately report the progress of PBL’ and downplaying significant failures by the Ten and Seven Networks and Fairfax’s own F2 venture.”

So that’s all fixed then. Fairfax is sledged, Kerry and James get some good PR, Jodee Rich wears the blame for One-Tel and Rupert and Lachlan sell more papers.

Not quite. Lachlan Murdoch has helped James out before and this time the Packers really had to grovel. Nothing like making them admit that PBL is small beer compared to News Limited.

And James really needs a bit more coaching. What does the line “my intention is to throw myself into work, my intention is not to have any serious relationships”. In other words, he reserves the right to bonk around in the best Packer male style. It sort of gives the whole game away.

Fred strikes back

On Monday, Fairfax boss Fred Hilmer sought to comfort his distraught staff:

“MEMORANDUM

“TO: All Fairfax Staff

FROM: Frederick G. Hilmer

DATE: 1 July 2002

“Dear colleagues:

“You will no doubt have read or heard about the interview given by James Packer in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph (and which is posted on Fairfax Today). It is no coincidence that such an attack on Fairfax — the company and our reporting — comes at this time, and it is a direct result of the independence and integrity of our journalism.

“The fact is that we are well placed going forward. Due in large part to all your efforts in this difficult media market we have been able to continue improving and investing in our mastheads and supporting infrastructure. We are well positioned for growth as the media market strengthens.

“I take great pride in what we do, and how we do it, both in managing the company and in our journalism. All of which constitutes a good message for the commencement of the new financial year.

“Regards, Fred”

And what will turn up in the Sun-Herald next Sunday?

A Crikey subscriber has also pointed out the ultimate contradition in the Packer break-up coverage. James is quoted saying that “Jodie/hi/ee is the classiest women and the best woman with the best values that I’ve ever had the good fortune to be with.”

But he then goes on to say that he can’t watch Six Feet Under because Jodie/hi/ee wants to watch Jerry Springer. Real class. But don’t expect to read this in the sycophantic Murdoch press.

And what about the irony of the way James gave Fairfax as a company an absolute thumping but then praised Westfield chairman Frank Lowy. So what does James think of the three directors Westfield and Fairfax have in common, namely Dean Wills, David Gonski and Fairfax CEO Fred Hilmer, who is Lowy’s deputy chairman? Clearly he is confusing the company/manangement/board with the editors and journalists, something a media proprietor should understand.

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Peter Fray

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