Crikey and SMH webdiarist Margo Kingston had a fun debate on Lateline during the Friday forum and we’re interested if you feel that we deserved a mild spray from Margo.

The full transcript of the Lateline debate is available here

This is how the spat started with a posting Margo published on the SMH website on Wednesday this week:

“The debate about whether Laurie – or any of us – should have published earlier overlooks the fact that no-one had evidence. No responsible media group would publish on rumour, and no-one did when Laurie referred to Cheryl’s big secret in The Bulletin. Only rushed to reveal the secret before Laurie produced his evidence on Nine’s 6 o’clock news. (Crikey’s editor Stephen Mayne can wax lyrical about the purity of his motives all he likes, but he did it for commercial reasons – to get noticed and get more subscribers. The emergence of such sites, which specialise in anonymous pieces alleging scurrilous activities, will make it harder in future to observe the privacy convention.)”

This was my brief response in Thursday’s sealed section to subscribers:

CRIKEY: I was actually worried about losing subscribers, getting bad publicity and getting sued not sure what is commercial about that. I also did not send a tasty lure to the 3300 registered freeloading Alertees who we try to cajole into becoming subscribers. And we did not make any reference to the actual affair on the site until after Oakes had confirmed it on the news. Journalists who rang before 6pm were told I was reluctant and did not want to be seen to be cashing in on this story so there would be no further comment and no radio interviews. And we had less subscriptions in the Oakes week than the week before when we broke the Meg Lees letters story. But, as life members were told yesterday, it was a record week for traffic and we did bank about $2000 more than average so it has not damaged Crikey commercially.

Launching The Outsiders

Lateline host Tony Jones came up with the idea of calling Margo and Crikey “The Outsiders” in an occasional Friday night debate like Christopher Pyne and Mark Latham have.

I was expecting a good spray and gathered up some material on Margo but couldn’t bring myself to get into a slanging match with her. Still, it was a good fun debate which is healthy and entertaining.

But it was a bit rich of Margot to go after me about the lack of evidence on Laurie and Cheryl when she has become obsessed about SIEV X and has convinced herself the government was responsible for killing 300 asylum seekers. Margot is telling people at the SMH this story will be “Australia’s Watergate” but she’s nowhere near having the evidence to support such a claim.

And Margot does tend to get a little bit confused. She was praising Crikey on Triple J recently for publishing a list of journalists who had mislaid their superannuation when it fact it was a list of people owed money for copyright.

Even her Lateline assault made a minor blunder when she said that Crikey had become an anonymous Bulletin board for people on both sides of the Democrats debate. No, it was the Victorian ALP factional bunfight where this happened, the Democrats story was just a case of publishing leaked letters between Meg Lees and Federal President Liz Oss-emer.

Better grounds for attack over Wayne Swan email

Margo had better grounds for attacking Crikey for publishing the following email to subscribers on Tuesday this week speculating about who leaked the private Kernot emails to Laurie Oakes. But Lateline cut this bit of the pre-record out, even though it didn’t name Swan.


A Labor insider calling themselves “Sarah Ferguson” has provided this interesting piece fingering Wayne Swan for the leak of those emails to the Sphere of Influence. We have no evidence so at this point it is just unconfirmed anonymous speculation, but the argument is interesting to say the least:

“What a cracker of a character assasination. And no blood anywhere near the mastermind. Laurie Oakes is even heard to mutter words that don’t sound authentic, like doing it for Beazley and the truth. Queensland MP, former ALP State Secretary and master intriguer Wayne Swan can count his blessings that the media ratpack aren’t smart or diligent enough to ask basic forensic questions.

Like “who benefits?” “How did Oakes happen upon those emails?” – to take two basic ones.

The Canberra gallery are so enthralled to Oakes “credibility”, that they’ve run with his story, bolting into the distance about what really happened between Cheryl and Gareth and the so-called high issues involved. No-one seems to have paused about how the whole story got leaked – and why.

Let’s imagine the thinking of the MP for Lilley. He hated Kernot with a passion. Swan knew how hard it is to win and hold a seat in Queensland. He lost his in the 1996 Howard landslide. Swan resisted Kernot getting a Queensland lower House seat, demanding that the most she could expect was a marginal seat. He was a rival. Swannie was then a senior staffer on the office of the Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley and wanted to return to the Parliament. He witnessed first hand the Kernot defection, the euphoria, the debacle of the 1998 ALP Hobart Conference and argued with anyone who would listen that Kernot’s defection was no gift, rather a disaster waiting to unwrap. And he demanded that the Queensland ALP (ie, he) pick Kernot’s staff, should she win a seat. He got his way with lovable Beazley agreeing.

So how did those emails come Oakes way? It’s dead obvious. Straight to Oakes via Swan’s plants in the Kernot office.

The only person sitting on these sticks of dynamite all this time was Swan. He held the adjoining seat. Both Swan and Kernot won Brisbane based seats in the 1998 federal elections. Whilst Kernot ticked politically alive next door, Swannie wouldn’t throw the dynamite around willy nilly. He didn’t want to be part of the carnage.

With the release of the Kernot book, Speaking For Myself Again, which promised to be an attack on the Queensland ALP, Swan decided to take pre-emptive action. Who better to talk to than his old mate Laurie Oakes, who he has come to know well and meet regularly since they both met as commentators on Federal election results on Channel 9.

(Crikey: And Swannie is the man that Kerry Packer has long lobbied to be Labor’s next Communicatiosn Minister. We all know that Kerry likes to get the right man in the job. He even hired Graham Richardson after he served him so well.)

Swan felt indignant that a light weight blow in could be considered a potential leader. He knew about the love affair. He made sure of that. He got the evidence years ago. With Kernot out of Parliament and with her book a likely bucket job on him and his colleagues in the ALP, Swan didn’t hesitate. He decided to blow Kernot to smithereens and bugger the consequences. It’s even likely that in his fury he felt justified out of his high regard for Kimbo, Kim Beazley; that he believed he was doing it for truth and the ex Leader, like Oakes said.

Forget about the idea that Oakes sat on anything for very long at all. He got the evidence a few weeks ago, listened to Swan and believed his motives. Mates are like that.

The sad thing about all this is how damaging to all concerned this email leaking and reputation missile firing has been. Did Evans and Kernot’s families deserve all this? The damage to the ALP is immense. You even have to wonder if the bovver boys of the Queensland ALP deserve the drubbing delicate and inadequate Kernot meant to throw at them. Her book was no more than a sponge pudding thrown at them. They hit back with a tanker full of cement to bury Kernot once and for all. This is crazy stuff. The fact that Swannie felt justified in causing so much vicious damage is another indication of the dictum that politics drives some people nuts… So many victims, one of which will be Swan. He’ll be called to account. Now he’ll never be leader. The biggest secret in Kernot’s demise is now out. Yes, she caused most of the grief that befell her. Yet the hatred and undermining of Kernot by her many enemies meant she did it tough. She didn’t adapt well to Labor. Apart from Gareth, there wasn’t much help or interest. Labor squandered the opportunity. Even her staffers worked against her. One tried to win preselection off her. The story of the past week casts matters differently. It would cause a lot of people to view her defection and demise in a different light. To use a line from Oakes’ ‘Bulletin’ article, “it helps explain some of her erratic behaviour”.


CRIKEY: Now it is absolutely true that I have no evidence to support this and if Wayne Swan wants to respond I’ll more than happily publish what he’s got to say. But the argument is interesting and some of the facts stack up. When did Laurie get delivered the emails? This is what he wrote the following day in his Bulletin column:

“I was unaware of an affair or any suggestion of it at the time of the defection. I was not convinced there was a relationship until the second half of 1999, and I did not have the email proof two months ago.”

So “Sarah Ferguson’s” timing on the email was right, what about the relationship between Swan and Oakes? Are they close as Sarah Ferguson alleges? I defer to page 204 of Kernot’s book and her explanation about being invited to attend tactics meetings when Parliament was sitting:

“Joan Kirner advised me to do what others like Wayne Swan and Stephen Smith who were not officially part of the tactics committee did: just turn up at tactics discussions and wait to be evicted. So I did, although I couldn’t bring myself to do so daily, and it seemed to be a visual reminder to Kim of our conversations. I was actually present one day when Wayne Swan came in a few minutes after the meeting had already begun to discuss the subject and order of that day’s questions. I had been allocated one. Swan asserted, in a manner which presumed there would be no disagreement, that he had to have a couple of the first questions because he had promised Laurie Oakes a follow-up question from the previous day’s, which would be newsworthy for inclusion in tha night’s TV coverage. I recall remarking wryly on my new understanding of the purpose of Labor’s Question Time tactics meetings. Swan got two high-priority questions. (To his retort that I could still have a question further down, I replied that I was not interested in receiving his leftover questions, I would decide what I thought was important for me to ask.)”

CRIKEY: Hmmm, Wayne Swan is even asking questions for Laurie. That’s pretty cosy. Margot is right at one level in her attack as it is unfair to state definitively that Wayne Swan was Laurie Oakes’ source for the emails based on all of that. But there is certainly speculation to that affect, but he is only one of several people who are being mentioned in political circles. If someone sends through an anonymous email with a plausible speculative theory as to who else it could have been, I’ll happily publish and give that person the right to respond in full if they do so choose.

Meanwhile, let us know what you thought about the Margo attack. Does Crikey need to pull its head in on some of these things or has she just been smoking something again.

Yoursay: What point was Margo making

Dear Crikey,

I struggled to see what point Margo was attempting to make.

Double check your sources? I gather she publishes correspondence from one and all on her site – as part of the robust debate to which the interviewer alluded. Does she seek independent corroboration of everything said there before it is posted?

Don’t publish personal information? It was hardly personal information any longer- the cat was well and truly out of the bag. All you did was to read out the name around its neck.

Don’t bother publishing personal information that is now history? Hard to know when history is no longer relevant. Sunk boats sound pretty final. So do past treachery and scandal – but it is still relevant, as long as any of the players concerned are still in public life. The public needs to understand how decisions are made that affect our lives. If there is systemic breakdown, it is the post mortem that brings the matter to light. That’s why we have the HIH inquiry.

I loved the repeated assurance that Margo ‘Loves what you are doing…but…” Somehow it sounded like those who say ‘ I mean, some of my best friends are black/ gay / accountants …(pick your prejudice) BUT…….”

Bottom line is, the rules limiting journalistic comment about individuals are very restrictive in Australia – the risk was not that the facts were wrong, but that the messenger would be slaughtered if they were.

In summary, it was a confusing debate of questionable relevance. Margo appeared to be expressing fear within mainstream media.

What I want to understand is – fear of what?

Keep up the good work.

Cheers, Richard

What a crap debate

In a nutshell!

The debate between you and Margot was crap!

Her reasoning – was all over the shop and hard to follow – which seems to be the norm for her at the moment.

You came across as if you were a bit up yourself. If you want the job of being the enfant terrible of the media just get on with it! There are more important and current arseholes to screw in Canberra than Kernot & Evans.

Regards, Jim

Margo doesn’t allow a broad church

Margo Kingston’s self righteous indignation that Crikey disclosed the substance of Oakes “big secret” so as to increase his readership and subscribers, is rank hypocrisy.

For what purpose does Kingston imagine that she is employed by Fairfax? Is she suggesting that she is paid to provide a community service? Kingston is employed to write stories which will encourage readers to contribute to the revenue and profits or her employer; nothing less and nothing more.

The real difference between Mayne and Kingston is that Mayne, whatever may be his personal politics, allows a broad expression of opinion on his site. Equally, those who are criticised or reported on unkindly, are invariably offered equal space to respond.

Kingston on the other hand, uses the credibility and respectability of the Sydney Morning Herald to prosecute her unstated strong left wing bias, whether reporting on political or social issues. In particular, Kingston has never hesitated to personally attack those to whom she has taken a personal dislike.

In spite of his subsequent protestations to the contrary, Oakes was clearly milking the Evans/Kernot affair for every thing it was worth. His subsequent claim that he was giving Kernot a chance to come clean is simply fatuous. Even Kingston on Lateline acknowledged Oakes original story was a teaser for a follow up.

Kingston is apparently indignant that rather than the Canberra press gallery breaking the real story, they were beaten by Crikey. Her response then was to defend Oakes motives in publishing and to condemn Crikey for his. Oakes was commended for having the proof and Crikey was criticised for knowing that he had it and breaking the story.

Kingston’s piece in which she claims that “sites which specialise in anonymous pieces alleging scurrilous activities, will make it harder in future to observe the privacy convention” is breathtaking in its audacity. Kingston is notorious for personal attacks on people.

Her titillating excursion on Lateline into what she claims were Kernot’s motives and the reasons for Kernot’s behaviour was typical Kingston journalism.

Name Withheld

Crikey bells the cat

Crikey is now the one who ‘bells the cat’. The media jump in with feeding frenzy, while saying hypocritically ‘it is a level to which I would not descend’. You are right to expose such a crucial relationship; people should be open about relationships where public policy is involved.

To give Margo her due, she is the only one who has attempted to answer ‘why would Kernot be so stupid to dump on everybody and not expect the affair to be revealed?’ The explanation offered was that exposure would get revenge on Evans, while being squeaky clean herself on not mentioing it. Hell has no fury like a woman scorned.

However to my mind Evans is the really despicable player in this sordid affair. An Attorney General, Leader in the Senate, he deceived his ALP colleagues, lied to Parliament against her advice, spat the dummy when the ALP lost, dumped Cheryl and then got himself a cushy overseas post. This is where the media is sexist, concentrating on Cheryl, not on Svengali.

Name withheld

Crikey a lowlife gutter dweller

Having read the transcript of Lateline, I’d say Margo Kingston has hit the nail on the head.

“Victim of savagery”? You must be kidding.

Firstly, I find it rather offensive that you dump on her for pursuing the matter of the SIEV X. After all, that was the death of hundreds of people. Cheryl and Gareth hardly matter by comparison. Does Kingston have less evidence on SIEV X than you had for Cheryl and Gareth?! If the opinions of senior journos rate as evidence these days, I could tell you about the long chat I had with a senior Canberra press gallery member who is absolutely convinced that the government chose to turn a blind eye while hundreds of people died a terrible death. In fact, I’d say that’s a damn sight more important than who shagged whom in the house on the hill.

Secondly, you pan Kingston for supposedly getting her wires crossed between the Dems and the Victorian ALP. She was quite correct to say that the Dems have used Crikey as a bulletin board for their bunfights. The Victorian ALP have too. C’mon Steven, you surely realise that’s exactly what the Dems have done, so why try to take the mick out of Kingston? Besides, I hardly think you’re in a position to get high and mightly about accuracy, given your own admission that you don’t check stories before you run them.

And thirdly, the logic of publishing unsubstantiated rumour with the justification that the subjects get a right of reply is hardly the stuff great journalism is made of. It’s right up there with, “have you stopped beating your wife?”.

I seriously considered ending my subscription when you ran that “newflash” on Cheryl and Gareth. I decided not to, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because I’m a subscriber I support your claims to being an ethical journalist. You publish gutter rumours and muck, and that ain’t journalism. Get over it.


Margo all over the place

Hi Stephen

I watched the debate and thought you came across very well. Your finest moment was when Margo stated that you had no good reason to cover the story and you responded with a string of excellent reasons (possible ALP leadership implications was most relevant, I thought). We were laughing at Margo’s response as her points went all over the shop – a moment when it would have been better for her to swallow her pride and admit you had made some very insightful points! You kept your cool, too. All in all, I think you’ve made it harder for The AntiCrikey Brigade to dismiss you as an internet hysteric – well done.

Cheers, Dean Galloway

Wrong to publish without evidence

As a long-time journo, Steve seems to have summed it all up in his own column when he says he was “going with a story without evidence and [others are] still making a big deal about it even though it has proved to be correct”.

Unless things have changed since I studied journalism (and granted that was 20 years ago), having a source, facts and attribution were basic requirements for a story.

A guess, regardless of how accurate it was ultimately proved, is just an educated punt and therefore something to place a bet on – not something to potentially destroy someone’s career/life if you’re wrong.

As a people, we desperately need and its peers to help keep the bastards honest when no one else will, but to make such a guess in the hope that it will be correct (or worse to have sat on the facts then condemned another for withholding them) isn’t journalism, isn’t professional, and isn’t even particularly attractive in a human being.

All, of course, in my humble opinion.

Regards, David Donohue

Use your ammunition Crikey

It’s a pity you didn’t chuck the SIEV-X stuff at her on Lateline. You had enough opportunities. The trouble is Stephen, she is a yeller and you are a bit too nice for that lot; it must be very intimidating to have to front two against one like that. How typical of the ABC! Evenhanded they ain’t. You might recall Tony Jones’ position on the Wednesday night that the affair never happened, a position he maintained until Gareth cut the ground under from him a few days later by confessing.

Don Stead

Margo over the top and mistake-ridden

Hi Stephen,

I thought Margo was a bit over the top and I noticed the factual errors that she made, along with those on the Js. Margo loves to mention that she’s a subscriber so you’d think she’d get simple facts about your stories right. I do think that her question about whose interest is being served by chasing the sphere was a fair one though. In all honesty, the rumour and scuttlebutt on crikey is some of the best reading. I think you and Margo deliver very different viewpoints on what’s news, that’s important because if everyone agreed on how news should be presented we’d end up with a very bland media.

Cheers, Dave

CRIKEY: Now you realise that all of this is a conspiracy by Margo to reach Crikey’s fantastic demographic through this debate and increase subscriptions to the SMH. This crass commercialism by Margo is just not on in Crikey’s view.

Margo just looking for more readers

Dear Crikey,

The irony, Margo Kingston accusing Crikey of using the “Kernot/Evans affair” to further other ends.

After having focused on a single issue for the past 6 months (The children overboard affair), Ms Kingston would see her web diary as being a font of democratic wisdom, despite being a single issue site.

Ms Kingston is no stranger to using current events to further her own political whinings, with a current piece on the rules of Netball being turned more into a diatribe about hetrosexual women than about sport itself.

This same journalist has beaten up the issue of swearing on the netball court as a way of creating publicity and interest in her own sorry site.

Unfortunately, the more publicity she gains from tying herself to Crikeys’ coat-tails, the more readers to her own column she may pick up. This surely would not be her intention? Would it…. ?

Nicholas Puiu, Hong Kong