The media is not looking too flash after the Mark Latham video rumour affair so let’s look back on the sequence of events which finished with Crikey and several other outlets and journalists getting a good flogging at the hands of Media Watch on Monday night.
Last night was the first time we’ve had a decent slap on the wrist from Media Watch since David Marr took the chair. It was fair enough too so we’ve just got to cop the medicine as it was a good Media Watch effort and part of the accountability mechanism for Crikey and everyone else mentioned.
The entire program was dedicated to the Mark Latham rumours but they’ve broken it up into five segments on the Media Watch website. The two in which Crikey is sprayed are the passing mention here and the big spray here.
Overpaid, low-rating 2UE shock jock Steve Price came out of it the worst and SMH political correspondent Louise Dodson must be feeling more than a little bruised after her editor Robert Whitehead told Media Watch “we were wrong to use the phrase ‘reports of a raunchy video’ when this was a reference to a gossip website.”
Indeed, the Crikey editor made that decision without any reference to anyone else after we received this fanciful email to offtherecord @crikey.com.au which is edited to protect the source who knows her politics well but:
“Deeply off the record, a news director at a certain high-profile Sydney commercial radio station reckons there’s a rumour doing the rounds of Canberra that a video tape exists of Latham screwing a ho*ker at his bucks party ahead of his last wedding. The sh*t is starting to fly!”
(As we all now know, this is a load of bollocks. Latham didn’t even have a bucks night before his second wedding and the first bucks night was “tame enough”. Yes, we are repeating the allegation to fully explain the sequence of events but please be assured we accept there is absolutely no basis to the rumour.)
Given that John Laws had just asked Latham whether he had an active sex life between marriages, we assumed this was the same issue and therefore merely reported the existence of the rumour without suggesting it was true. This was our line in the 2.59pm edition on the afternoon of Friday, July 2: “there are rumours of a potentially embarrassing videotape of Latham’s bucks party ahead of his last wedding.”
We didn’t mentions strippers or hookers and we were correct to say the rumours existed. Glenn Milne was also thoroughly done over by Media Watch for his performance on Lateline and his defence is looking thin indeed.
Alan Ramsey gave Glenn Milne and even fellow SMH reporter Louise Dodson a spray in his SMH column on Saturday:
Too busy posing questions to listen
Ramsey wrote of Dodson: “Then there was this newspaper’s front page last Saturday, where Louise Dodson reported, in part: ‘And [Latham] has yet to respond to other revelations – reports of a raunchy video taken at his buck’s night before his second marriage.’ Pardon. What revelations? What twaddle! The ‘raunchy video’ is a fiction, from God knows where.”
While Crikey thought Marr did a good job, some viewers were clearly appalled by the program with one reader writing to us as follows:
“After watching your interview on Media Watch, I am disgusted that I ever gave any credibility to Crikey.com. You are leading the charge towards dragging Aussie journalism down into the same sewers of the Pom Gutter Press. You disgust me.
Although we are sorry Robert feels this way, it is possible he doesn’t really understand the philosophy behind Crikey. After all, we didn’t publish the rumour on our public website and we didn’t sent it to our 10,000 freeloading alertees.
It only went to the 4900 paying subscribers and many of them are political and media insiders who already knew of the rumours anyway. Crikey often reflects the jungle beat of the political and media insiders and this sets us apart from the mass-market, mainstream media.
From the second sealed section on July 12
A News Ltd journalist called Crikey this afternoon to say that the SMH had relied heavily on the first Mrs Latham and that the public attacks by Iron Mark on the two SMH reporters, Deborah Snow and Damian Murphy, has not seen them take a backward step in using claims by “the first wife” Gabrielle Gwyther to underpin much of their pieces.
The SMH has certainly raised the bar considerably, although if you read the two-part series in total, it is actually the most substantial piece on Latham the man that has been published. Whilst the News Ltd Sundays were just flailing away using the first wife like a blunt axe, the totallity of the SMH offering is more balanced but still contains some very dark imputations.
Was Latham really involved in a contest with Laborites to bed Liberals? Was that how he got with then Liberal staffer Janine Lacy? Did he really organise a dirty video to be shown in from his then wife’s family?
The SMH has crossed the line in some respects with the tale about Latham dating some anonymous woman 20 years ago and then taking her up to the Gough Whitlam office in the Westfield Towers and making a move which was rejected. Gee, if we open up the pandoras box which is exotically located journalistic conquests – let alone failed advances – we’d have something to rival Bill Clinton’s memoirs in length.
And despite all these warnings about the bucks night video, the SMH persisited with their line of inquiry and reported that a stripper attended. Let’s hope Crikey’s risque but not unusual bucks night never gets done over in the national press. Given that bucks nights are not organised by the buck it is a little tough of the SMH to rake over these coals.
Latham’s press conference last Monday now takes on a different light with the revelation that he had received a long list of written questions from Snow and Murphy four days earlier. Whilst the failure of the mainstream media to this week latch onto some of the more salacious allegations is perhaps a triumph in strategy, the SMH pieces were powerful and damaging and Latham would be disappointed his full frontal pre-emptive strike didn’t take more of the edge off them.
There is a residual issue as to whether Latham lies about his past and the most obvious is the question of when his liaison with Janine Lacy started. The SMH asserts there was a one year overlap and from everything that has been written it looks like Latham and “the second wife” have proffered a terminological inexactitude on this score.
We’d be interested in running a dedicated yoursay on this topic so read both those SMH pieces in full and then drop letters @crikey.com.au a line.
Meanwhile, Mike Carlton also weighed into the Latham dirt debate in his Saturday SMH column here.
Just finished reading your Media Watch review concerning Crikey’s mentioning of the Latham rumours. I was very impressed with the mature way you have handled the criticism, as some more prominent Journalists in the mainstream media have lashed out at the ABC and David Marr for bias and fudging the facts after being featured in the program, or worse, not responded at all. They would do well to emulate you.
Keep up the good work!
Regarding this whole affair that has occurred, I think you guys (and girls) should be congratulated for how you have dealt with this. You made a call, acknowledged it was probably wrong and took your medicine with grace. Bravo! It’s why I still subscribe to Crikey.
Just wanted to add my voice to the support column for what you do.
Good editions lately, Media Watch was great television last night: Crikey credited with leading the national political agenda on the infamous Latham buck’s night video. Keep up the good work maintaining the independent medium! Kemp resigns, watch out for Tony Abbott is my tip.
This really won’t do, you know. It won’t do at all. So it’s “the philosophy” (there’s grand) of Crikey that distributing a dirty, highly damaging, hurtful, unfounded, uncorroborated and unsourced rumour about the sex life of a public figure is OK because it’s done to 4,900 paying subscribers, some of whom had already heard the rumour. Which bit of that makes it alright – the fact there aren’t many of them, that they pay, or that they would be apparently having confirmed in print what they’d heard around the watercooler? Nope, you’ve lost me there. Would it cease to be OK if there were more readers, or they were getting it free, or hadn’t heard the rumour in the first place? Some philosophy.
Publishing the Latham video rumour was grossly improper, no matter what spin you put on it, but Robert McDonald’s charge that Crikey is standard bearer for the declining standards of journalism in this country doesn’t really hold water.
Crikey has fired the odd shot without proper trial, but always has the mettle to account for the mistake – a fine example to the mainstream where, as a matter of routine, such flubs go unacknowledged.