Mark Latham’s colourful background has kept the media very busy over
the last few days and Crikey has been watching the whole sorry affair
from the safety of our bunker. See how drama unfolded in the
subscriber only emails here:

Iron Mark chokes back tears

Subscriber email – 5 July

Despite having defamed more people than anyone else in the
Federal Parliament, Mark Latham was today playing the victim, holding
“an emotional press conference” (ie there were longish pauses as he
fought back the tears) to deny various rumors being put around about

We all thought that Andrew Bartlett’s “I am depressed” press
conference was unprecedented, but surely a Federal major party leader
has never held a press conference quite like what Mark Latham turned on
this morning. It was so extraordinary that Sky News replayed the
40-minute press conference in full at 12.20pm this afternoon. We
haven’t had such a free-style rave from Latham since he became
opposition leader last December and now everyone is grappling with the
many angles of the story.

Lo and behold, Labor has now decided to trot out Simon Crean and Bob
McMullan to announce someting Labor’s costings at 2.45pm this
afternoon. Is this an attempt to distract attention away from the
Latham rumors or bury the costings beneath an avalanche of coverage
about Latham’s amazing display this morning? When you’re having a bad
day you may as well maximise the bad news all at once.

But back to the Latham presser. Firstly, Latham put this bucks night
video issue to bed by revealing that he didn’t even have a buck’s turn
before marrying former Liberal staffer Janine Lacy five years ago. His
first one 13 years ago, which was organised by others, was “a tame
enough affair” and “one was enough”.

He said there were three groups responsible for the dirt – first
wife Gabrielle Gwyther, disaffected opponents from Liverpool and a
government dirt unit – and he said all three had a hand in the video
rumors getting out of control.

Latham also claimed that a senior journalist rang him in 1998
(anyone got a name?) and claimed he had voluntarily gone to the
backbench because he was facing sexual harrassment charges.

“Never true at any stage,” Latham fulminated. When quizzed later he was even stronger, “No name, no detail, no incident.”

The government will be on the back foot after Latham named Kevin
Andrews staffer and former Peter Reith press secretary Ian Hanke as
head of a dirt unit, claimed Tony Abbott’s staff have been trawling
through Liverpool for eight years and said a government minister
alleged last week that he had broken the collar bone of a campaign

Latham was asked about his attack on Tony Abbott for having a child
out of wedlock and this is where he started to get on thin ice as he
claimed the Mad Monk’s attacks on Labor political dynasties warranted
such a move. Hmmm, saying that Labor politicians are in-bred is
different from attacking someone for having a child who has nothing to
do with politics.

Overall, we thought that Latham played the victim quite well and
both sides of politics and the media will be most reluctant to go any
further down this personal attack track. However, it was interesting
that Latham was prepared to deny specific rumors such as the bucks
night video but when asked twice about being faithful to his first
wife, he simply said this had been dealt with before and was not
prepared to go through the pain of his marriage break-up again.

There is literally so much material in this Latham presser that
people will be referring back to it for months. For instance, when
discussing this marriage, he said “there were things that you just
wouldn’t believe”.

Jeepers, what could that be?

Latham also expressed regret about a few things. He regretted part
of the attack on Abbott and he regretted the way he treated political
opponents in Liverpool and for not being more inclusive.

However, he also demolished this so-called gang of five mainly Labor
Party figures who put out a statement yesterday claiming he’d ruined
the Liverpool Council finances by pointing out that all of them had
long left the ALP and were simply still bitter at having lost to the
man who now wants the keys to The Lodge.

Has the Press Gallery ever stooped so low?

By an angry Labor staffer

The past week has been without doubt, the most disgraceful week in
the history of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. The entire gallery was
so scared of others getting the jump on them they were prepared to
engage in a week of baseless speculation driven by rumour and innuendo
about Mark Latham, rather than facts. They completely suspended the
requirement that only stories that are proven by the facts be run.

So on Saturday we had Louise Dodson
telling SMH readers “the Labor leader is yet to respond to other
revelations – reports of a raunchy video taken at his bucks’ night
before his second marriage.” So why should he Louise? If I start a
rumour the Prime Minister is a child molester does he have to respond
to that as well?

The Sun-Heraldalso
couldn’t resist smear and rumor rather than facts, “Speculation has
focused on a bucks’ night in 1991, before Mr Latham’s marriage, at
which a stripper was a surprise guest”.

Steve Lewis disgracefully ran the following allegation in The Australian on Saturday: “One Government minister told The Australian the
Liberal Party was pursuing allegations that Mr Latham was involved in
an incident during an earlier election that led to an unknown person
breaking a collarbone.”

So, now it’s official. If the government makes up an allegation and tells The Australian then
Rupert Murdoch’s so-called quality broadsheet will publish it,
regardless of the fact the reporter has absolutely no facts whatsoever
to back it up. Ok Steve, I am now investigating whether Tony Abbott is
a closet homosexual. I have no facts to back this up, but I am
investigating it. Are you going to publish it? Thought not.

Most disgracefully of all, Glenn Milne, who himself has experience
of a broken marriage and some pretty saucy rumours about his behaviour
on overseas trips, repeated the allegations by Latham’s wife, and also
declared the rumor and innuendo a fact.

“And over the past 48 hours there’s been fevered speculation in
Canberra about the existence of a raunchy buck’s night video involving
Latham – and whether that was the smoking gun about to be fired by Sunday.
Frankly, this was always going to happen. It was just a matter of time.
Political insiders have always been aware of several stories – untested
it has to be emphasised – about Latham’s attitude to women.”

Lincoln Wright deserves a special dishonourable mention for the News Ltd attempt to trump Sunday by again digging into the failed marriage and running one side of a marriage break up as though it were new, and a fact.

Given this new willingness to purse the formerly off-limits area of
politicians personal lives I assume the front page next week then will
be about the Liberal “family man” and front bencher who rams his
personal morals and religion down everyone’s throat in Parliament and
in his electorate, yet has been carrying on a long term affair with a
staffer. If not why not?

This has been without doubt the saddest and sorriest week in the history of the Press Gallery.

CRIKEY: Wow, what a spray naming and shaming the big offenders. How
on earth will the papers deal with complaints like this going forward?
We bet they won’t publish letters like this one but Crikey is more than
happy to facilitiate the debate so send your feedback to [email protected] and don’t be afraid to have a go at us if you reckon we’ve overstepped the mark as well.

Latham’s teary tactics

Subscriber email – 6 July

For those who thought Mark Latham’s news conference in Canberra
yesterday would put an end to the rumors which had been dogging the
opposition leader, they must have been surprised when Latham himself
continued to give oxygen to the story today.

In an interview on ABC radio in Brisbane, Latham elaborated on
rumours he alluded to yesterday concerning his sisters, mother and
father. Despite the fact that few commentators (Crikey included) had
heard of the family rumors, Latham repeated them on air, naming the
journalists who first quizzed him on them, Deborah Snow and Damian
Murphy, both of the SMH.

Overall commentators were surprised, if not perplexed, by Latham’s sudden change in demeanour:

The Age’s Michelle Grattan
turned to Dick Morris, the US political guru whose maxims Mark Latham
often follows to shed some light on Latham’s behaviour, probing his
answers for inconsistencies in a thorough and thoughtful analysis.

At The Oz Dennis Shanahan
was critical of Latham stated intention of “clearing the air” claiming
his comments merely served to muddy the waters. He noted the contrast
between yesterday’s teary performance and Friday’s jokey, blokey
approach on the John Laws show.

The Daily Tele’s Malcolm Farr,
who Crikey bumped into in Aussies this morning, also noted the change
in Latham’s demeanour from Friday, and reminded his readers of a
comment Latham made to The Bulletin in 2002 when he said, “Look, this
idea that politics can be too rough and too personal is a bit rich.”

Over at the SMH, Louise Dodson
acknowledged that Latham’s address did seem out of character for
someone who has played his politics tough and rough in the past, but
said the performance was a “canny reading of the electorate”.

Meanwhile the Herald Sun’s
editorial took a more hardline stance, suggesting it was unnecessary
for Latham “to parade his raw emotions before the cameras” and
speculated on whether he fit to handle a real prime ministerial crisis?

The SMH also had an edited transcript of Latham’s press conference you can see here while Matt Price had a very good account of the “soap opera” from the press gallery’s perspective.

It is not surprising that no-one in the media has really come out
swinging against the media for ventillating the bogus video stories.
This is because both Fairfax and News Ltd were in on the giggle and 2UE
shock jock Steve Price has disgraced himself by putting a caller to air
who claimed he’d seen the video of Latham with a stripper. It looks
like he was put up to the gag by his work colleagues and Steve Price
has a lot to answer for.

got closer than anyone to challenging the media performance and Glenn
Milne did look decidedly uncomfortable defending his comments in The Sunday Telegraph,
admitting that his source was the Saturday edition of the SMH. And who
was the SMH following? Probably Crikey’s Friday edition, we suspect.

Latham on Brisbane radio

Speaking on ABC radio in Brisbane this morning, Mark Latham said he had knocked back the offer of appearing on the Nine Sunday program because he had already done it 18 months ago. Er, you weren’t opposition leader then Mark.

“The Sunday program did a profile
on me 18 months ago. It was an excellent one by Helen Dally so I didn’t
see the need to do a second profile again going over basically the same
ground so close together,” he said.

While also admitting he had not
seen the program because he was busy attending to one of his children
being taken for medical treatment for a cut, he said they seemed to be
preoccupied with “flaws in the past”.

“Well there has never been a perfect person in public life and never will be.”

“I think its interesting though that the public rates the media below politicians in trust.”

When asked when he would be
releasing details of his tax policy he replied: “We will release our
tax policy so people can appreciate it and understand it in the lead up
to the election.”

He’s announcing today in
Queensland his housing policy that he said would include an increased
public housing allocation which was of significance in the fastest
expanding state in the Commonwealth where he said there needed to be an
expansion of Government public services and Queensland wasn’t getting a
fair go.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie
defended Latham today by saying that he thought the latest attacks on
his character would work against his detractors.

“I think a lot of decent
Australian’s hearts will go out to Mark Latham because they don’t like
all these insidious rumours, and in the end I think all this will work
positively for him,” Beattie said.

For more on Latham’s Brisbane radio appearance check out Catherine McGrath’s story on the ABC’s World Today.

Yoursay on Mark Latham and those rumours

Those rumours, the Sunday program and Mark Latham’s
numerous media appearances have prompted a stream of letters to Crikey.
Find out what’s gotten under their skin here:

Who’s winning the dirty war?

Subscriber email – 7 July

Day three of the dirt-digging political war and the media’s role as players in this saga is really coming to the fore.

SMH political correspondent Louise Dodson,
who was the first newspaper reporter to mention the bucks night video
last Saturday, had arguably the most balanced analysis of the situation
which is challenging media neutrality in a big way.

Ian Hanke must be feeling punch-drunk this morning as the famous
Howard Government communications discipline has slipped with an
anonymous attack on the bald-headed bar-fly from a “Liberal insider”
speaking to The Australian’s Emma-Kate Symons, although for some reason the piece is not online.

Now it should be pointed out that Symons is the daughter of Greg
Symons, Graham Richardson’s best mate and the man behind the Marshall
Islands affair, making her quite an expert on the NSW Right as well as
being an excellent journalist.

Alan Ramsey opened up a new front with a big attack on Gerry Wheeler
and the Government Members Secretariat – the very outlet which
generated that disgraceful attack on Garry Weaven and industry funds by
loser Senator Grant Chapman a couple of weeks back. Ramsey’s piece is
well worth a read here.

ABC radio’s AM program latched
onto Ramsey’s issue in today’s lead item and even interviewed
Liberal-turned-Democrat Greg Barns who claimed that he’d witnessed
personal dirt digging. The papers also reported his claim to have had a
bogus cocaine habit put around by a government press secretary.

Meanwhile, Iron Mark
has brushed off suggestions that Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer are
using their outlets to get him and even nominated the good run he got
from the Packers on 60 Minutes and Burke’s Backyard.

But as far as the dirt war goes, even political veteran Michelle Grattan
professes she has no idea what Latham’s game plan is, suggesting it’s
now Latham’s turn to back up his bizarre allegations about the
government with some real evidence.

At The Oz Paul Kelly
also indulged in a bit of media bashing, questioning whether the media
should dig too deeply into the background of politicians and the
importance the media places on “character”. Crikey hears that both
Dennis Shanahan and Kelly regret the fact that Steve Lewis pushed the
boundaries last weekend.

Meanwhile, following on from her brief appearance in Latham’s Sunday profile Janet Albrechtsen
has fired up in her column today, but manages to add little to the
debate as she continues to trade off Latham’s outrageous “shanky (sic)
ho” slur.

And finally, Latham gets a rebuke from The Oz editorial
for his part in the saga. The Murdoch press is generally not supporting
his line which is no surprise given they found themselves at the very
bottom of a grubby barrel last Sunday with Glenn Milne’s appalling
column and Lincoln Wright’s disgraceful “friends-based” demolition of
the first Latham marriage.

Peter Fray

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