Crikey helped set the hares running about the hard-hitting Sunday profile on Mark Latham last week, so this is how it all unfolded in our sealed sections right up until July 4.


Assessing the Sunday Latham profile

First sealed section July 4

After all that hoopla (partly triggered by Crikey’s first Thursday sealed section), Ross Coulthart’s 40-minute profile of Mark Latham on Sunday was excellent, balanced and insightful – but not particularly damaging. Read the summary and full transcript here.

We have no idea where the bucks video rumor originated but suspect Crikey was first to run with it on Friday. Laurie Oakes gave it a big run last night as he attacked all those rumors that the Sunday profile would be a sensational hatchet job. Hmmm, did the Sphere of Influence really need to mention that? We’ve heard rumors that profiles about him were going to mention some fanciful S&M fettishes but they never materialised either. Why tell 1.5 million Australians on the 6pm news about something that you now claim was way below anything your flagship program would deal in?

We all know how western Sydney is a hotbed of political intrigue and full of robust political exchanges. Look at the way someone was pistol whipped when the Young Libs called in a Lebanese gang for branch-stacking purposes a few weeks back. Michael Knight’s long history in Campbelltown is not dissimilar from Iron Mark’s experience in nearby Liverpool – ambitious young right wingers on the make are hated for decades by rusted on lefties.

Barry Cassidy was right to point out on Insiders yesterday that the News Ltd stories in the Sunday papers about Latham’s first marriage contained nothing new and were particularly malicious.

The News Ltd editors and proprietors really ought to take a deep breath before going down this path. Crikey pulled an alleged legover story about a News Ltd editor recently because we thought there was enough doubt but continuing to run these sorts of gratuitous, old and dubious Latham marriage stories will really leave them open to personal attack.

The SMH has already reported that News Ltd CEO John Hartigan was quite a ladies man in the past and we all know that Herald Sun editor Peter Blunden was last year convicted of drink driving and earlier took up with his secretary and made her fashion editor. Then you have Rupert Murdoch himself who second wife Anna has alleged was cheating on her with Wendi Deng when they were still married.

Sunday also ran the footage yesterday of Latham alleging in Parliament that Piers Akerman used to enjoy snorting cocaine – something that our own Hillary Bray has now admitted he did in the past (see item two).

Labor front benchers Jenny Macklin and Wayne Swan were busy pushing their dubious “Liberal conspiracy” line yesterday and Barry Cassidy made Workplace Relations minister Kevin Andrews look particularly uncomfortable on Insiders when he raised the dirt-digging activies of his staffer Ian Hanke.

Overall, the Labor response has been quite smart in the circumstances but the episode has still not helped their cause. Firstly, they partly innoculated by sending a free-wheeling Latham onto the John Laws program on Friday, then they blamed it all on dodgy Liberal dirt-digging which we all know all sides of politics do.

Sunday fell short of expectations because we were expecting tales of a Latham king-hit from behind, when it can’t have been much of a punch if the then 58-year-old target claims to have subsequently thrown two punches sending Latham to the ground. The more damaging anecdote was the allegation that Latham so blatantly lied and shafted his mate when doing the numbers on a council tilt.

It was also smart of Labor to deny Sunday access to Gough Whitlam given his proximity to the poisonous local politics and to instead trot out the most successful larrikin Australian politician in history – the all-drinking, dancing, punting and womanising Bob Hawke.

Today’s papers are still pursuing the Sunday profile and Latham put out a statement attacking the credibility of the critics trotted out by Sunday. Glenn Milne summed up events pretty well here and The Australian’s news story provides a good wrap here.

We’ll bring you some analysis of how today’s papers have reacted to the Latham past saga in today’s second edition after 4pm.

Laurie’s Latham lashing falls flat

Second July 2 sealed section

Mark Latham and the Labor Party shouldn’t be too worried after watching the Sphere of Influence’s preview of the Sunday program on the Nine news this evening.

The idea of Latham king-hitting a loyal pensioner and party worker from behind is one thing, but we all know that nutters often walk into political offices and 70-something Don Nelson wasn’t sounding too credible with all this gloating about throwing punches at Latham after ranting about pot plants on the streets of Liverpool.

He’s has his 15 minutes of fame courtesy of every television bulletin running the story before the first ad break tonight.

We’ve packaged up all our recent coverage on the Latham rumors here: http://www.crikey.com.au/politics/2004/07/02-0004.html

But ‘blood sports’ will be on our mind when we’re all watching Channel Nine on Sunday morning to see if the finished product matches the hype and then wondering if it will be enough to make Little Johnnie take the drive Monday to Yarralumla to see HIS GG, the very model of modern Major General.

Of course the other political chat shows will be watching and wondering what Nine will have, but won’t be able to discuss it because of timing differences and competition. But there’ll be lots of talk about elections, maybe!

But there’s a lot of ‘real’ sport to watch this weekend.The AFL’s back, the NRL’s slogging away in the lead up to the third and deciding State of Origin game next Wednesday, there’s the amazing European Cup final early Monday between the minnows, Greece, and the smoothies of Portugal, oodles of tennis from Wimbledon, semi finals, finals galore, with Serena W versus the sharply 17 year old Sharapova, plus some rugby from Adelaide between the Wallabies and the Pacific Islands in their first ever meeting. And then there’s the cricket, which will probably finish sometime tomorrow, if the events of the first two days are any guide.

Who cares about politics with such a line-up.

Latham’s media honeymoon is definitely over

From the first July 2 sealed section

It’s happened. Mark Latham’s dream run with the media has come to a screeching holt and Canberra is awash with feverish expectations about the next 48 hours.

It began with the news of Ross Coulthart’s impending 40-minute Sunday profile on the opposition leader and now there are rumours of a potentially embarrassing videotape of Latham’s bucks party ahead of his last wedding.

Latham is clearly worried about Sunday and spoke to John Laws on 2UE this morning, ignoring the extra publicity his appearance would generate for the show, to head off some of the allegations.

What Sunday is expected to claim was a king-hit from behind, Latham told John Laws was “a bit of crowd control”. However, there were only three people in the room and apparently two of them back-up the king-hit version.

The Latham defence is that no one has ever brought this issue up before and his accusers have been long-time critics with axes to grind.

Laws also asked the rather bizarre question about whether Latham had an active sex life between marriages. Hmmm, is this some how connected to the bucks video? Who knows.

Pot stirrer Margo Kingston has a transcript of the interview in her SMH webdiary (scroll down for the transcript) and it’s also available on the ALP site here.

To make matters worse, the 70-something Don Nelson that Latham is alleged to have king-hit, rang into 2GB today to tell his side of the story.

Nelson told radio 2GB:

“Mark Latham was on my right and out the corner of my eye I saw a fist coming in my direction”

“I threw my head to one side to try and avoid the punch, which … was seen by just about everybody as a king hit.

“Then I feinted with a left and crossed with a right and sat him on his backside.”

See how the AAP reported the news here.

Neil Mitchell was also onto the story when he spoke to John Howard on 3AW this morning, asking Howard if he had ever hit anybody? To which Howard replied:

HOWARD: No. I think I may have lost my temper as a very young child and thrown a punch at one of my older brothers, but I think he probably threw a punch at me too.

MITCHELL: Never as an adult?

HOWARD: No. I’m not a violent person. No. Not as an adult – no.

See the full transcript on the PM’s website here.

Meanwhile, in a timely story Louise Dodson has also charted Latham’s hot and cold attitude towards the media since he became leader of the opposition in February, observing “it is no time to become invisible. He will have to stand up, face the music and explain himself”.

D-day for Latham and political dirt-pushers

Second July 1 sealed section

The political world is abuzz with the Mark Latham king hit story which will be aired on the Sunday program this weekend after a long investigation by legendary investigative reporter Ross Coulthart. The SMH is running this story tonight and the papers will no doubt have some additional snippets tomorrow.

Crikey hears that the Sphere of Influence, Laurie Oakes, is coming in off the long run and will be breaking part of the story on Nine’s 6pm news tomorrow night. Sounds like a case of Jim Waley flak jackets all round.

Crikey also hears that Lateline’s allegation that former Costello press secretary Nikki Savva is part of some Liberal dirt unit is baseless. The same can’t be said of Ian Hanke, a former Peter Reith press secretary, who is still working up big hits pointing out the links between the ALP and nasty unions in his wide-ranging role on the staff of IR minister Kevin Andrews.

And isn’t it interesting that Hanke used to have a close working relationship with Mark Latham’s chief of staff Mike Richards. That said, Hanke has had nothing to do with Coulthart’s Liverpool dig.

The bald-headed bar-fly thrives in his role as the international man of mystery for the Libs and it will be interesting to see how the government plays the Sunday program fallout, which will undoubtedly be substantial.

Labor battens down the hatches for Sunday’s Latham demolition

First July 1 sealed section

Will John Howard visit the GG at 11am on Sunday morning and call an election for August 7? That’s one theory going around if all the talk about Ross Coulthart’s 40-minute profile of Mark Latham for this week’s Sunday program is anything to go by.

Sunday’s ratings have been poor this year so the pre-broadcast publicity is already kicking in as you can see from this item in Amanda Meade’s Oz Media Diary column this morning.

Meade refers to “another violent incident in Latham’s past” and the word doing the rounds is that Coulthart has got to the bottom of the story about Latham king hitting a campaign worker who was then in his 50s and is now in his 70s.

Labor is in damage control over the story and is trying to innoculate Latham against any fallout. Lateline’s Tony Jones last night referred to a Liberal dirt-gathering unit comprising Kevin Andrews staffer Ian Hanke and former Costello press secretary Nikki Savva, who is now a fellow floater nominally with one of the Kemp brothers.

John Faulkner has also been pushing the Liberal dirt unit line through Senate Estimates and Laura Tingle referred to it in the AFR recently.

However, the fact remains that these aspects of Latham’s past will eventually come to the surface, regardless of whether the Liberals have staff dedicated to dirt-digging or not. Ross Coulthart is no Piers Akerman – he is a straight-shooting political neutral and one of the finest investigative journalists in the country.

Getting to the bottom of this Latham profile was no mean feat and Coulthart is apparently telling colleagues it was the hardest story he has ever done. 4 Corners were also chasing the story but apparently gave up when access was denied. Knocking around night after night in the pubs of Green Valley is no easy gig but Latham has enough enemies from his past that eventually the truth comes out.

The Labor machine was able to gag the likes of Gough Whitlam, but the Labor veterans of Green Valley are less easy to manage and even the bloke who introduced Latham to Whitlam is said to have laid the boot into Iron Mark as well.

Meanwhile, what a fascinating combination of damaging Labor stories have emerged simultaneously. Poor old Bob Collins has only just regained consiousness after his car accident and news has leaked that he’s under investigation over alleged sexual assaults on young boys in remote communities. Check out The Advertiser’s coverage here.

And if Latham is king hit by Sunday, anyone pushing the idea of a sudden return to Kim Beazley has to deal with this week’s Bulletin cover story about an alleged security breach. Read the full Paul Daley story here. Lateline gave the Beazley denials the biggest run last night and you can read the transcript here.

Given that The Bulletin and Sunday are the two flagship media brands controlled by Kerry Packer, conspiracy theories will emerge that Australia’s richest man is going after the ALP. And why would he do that? Is Labor’s plan to licence a new entrant to the free-t0-air television market is troubling the man who creams off 40 per cent of the revenue in the lucrative television advertising market?

We don’t buy the theory but the timing is very interesting and if Howard does sprint to the polls on the coat-tails of Sunday, grassy knoll conspiracy theorists will be out in force. Latham certainly had a dream run out of the Packer media empire for the first six months of his leadership, but that has all comes to a screaming end now.

Naturally the PM floats above all of this grubby stuff. This is what he told Lateline on Tuesday night:

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: I’m not interested in personal attacks on anybody. I don’t like them. I think people’s private lives and you know what I mean by that, we all know what we mean by that, I don’t think those things should be dragged into politics. They do get dragged in on occasions but I counsel people not to do that and I hope Mr Latham would counsel people not to do it as well.

Peter Fray

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