The Murdoch press has never much like Mark Latham but relations between the embattled Labor leader and The Australian are now getting very personal.

Murdoch lovers punch on with Iron Mark and his Labor mate

Crikey email – 3 December

Open warfare has broken out between Labor and The Australian over the conduct of journalist Christine Jackman, the new partner of The Australian’s editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell.

The Australian carried this brief report about the fight this morning but there is much more detail from The Agetoday courtesy of AAP. To see how it all started, check out this story in The Weekend Australian by Jackman and Cameron Stewart.

Latham supporter John Murphy first hit back with this speech in Parliament on Tuesday night which attacked The Australian for this claim in the Saturday feature:

After a long and haphazard campaign, the main event on Mark Latham’s daily itinerary was a barbecue for families in western Sydney, where campaign veterans hoped the leader would get back on track, hammering home Labor’s key campaign message: “Families under financial pressure – ease the squeeze.”

Like most campaign stunts, the barbecue at a park in Parramatta would appear casual and light-hearted despite being the result of hours of meticulous planning. Sausages, salads and bread rolls had been ordered for about 100 people – mainly young families – who had been invited after careful vetting by the NSW branch of the Labor Party. Although campaign security meant they could not be told about Latham’s scheduled appearance, about 80 had RSVPed by Friday.

But the sausages never made it on to the barbie and the salads stayed in the Esky.

According to sources travelling with the leader and at Labor’s campaign HQ, Latham woke that morning and decided he did not want to attend a barbecue, regardless of how many supporters had been invited. Nor did he want to speak about families or easing the squeeze.

After dwelling on this relatively ho hum question, Murphy then flirted with the controversial issue of Jackman’s relationship with her boss in these two paragraphs:

In other words, a simple check of the public record would have prevented the mistake made by the journalists involved in last Saturday’s article. And yet, operating in complete denial, The Australian today carries an editor’s note still insisting that Mr Latham ditched the plan and failed to participate as scheduled. When a newspaper, presented with clear and publicly available evidence, cannot acknowledge that it has made a mistake, it demonstrates arrogance and a cavalier attitude to the need to uphold the basic standards of journalism. An even more remarkable demonstration of the quality of journalism involved in last Saturday’s article is the fact that the Australian’s editor-in-chief contacted at least one person — that I am aware of — asking them to speak with Ms Jackman.

So I ask the House tonight: do editors now act as booking agents? If Ms Jackman cannot secure interviews on her own, and produces slaphappy journalism that is riddled with errors and light on facts, how does she hold down her job? What on earth is going on at The Australian? One thing is certain: further concentration of media ownership will not help. Australians deserve to have a wider choice and broader competition. That is in the public interest, and it is good for our democracy.

The obviously infuriated Jackman then separately called Murphy and a senior Latham staffer yesterday in what were clearly full and frank exchanges because Murphy then went back into the chamber and made this speech. His leader backed him up even more strongly with this speech just before Question Time yesterday, the key lines being as follows:

Yesterday a senior member of my staff received a threatening telephone call from Ms Christine Jackman, a journalist with TheAustralian newspaper. She issued a number of threats in an attempt to unreasonably influence my conduct as a member of parliament, trying to force me to take action against one of my parliamentary colleagues, the member for Lowe. I regard the suggested action as totally unnecessary and improper. As per House of Representatives Practice, page 711, I believe that privilege has been breached with regard to myself and my colleague.

The Australian has undoubtedly been the toughest Murdoch paper on Mark Latham so you get the impression there is a bit of revenge going on here. Chris Mitchell is left in the invidious position where he is being publically accused of giving special assistance or protection to the reporter he is sleeping with.

It is a good example of why editors should avoid such liaisons wherever possible. We are not surprised that Jackman is in this spot of bother as she can play things aggressively. When Mitchell left his wife and became openly involved with Jackman earlier this year, we decided to report the story as a fairly obvious piece of media gossip.

They naturally didn’t want this to happen and Jackman even went so far as to say she’d heard unsavoury stories from Crikey’s bucks turn back in 2000. Not true, of course, but it was an interesting tactic to try in the fruitless negotiation to keep the story out of the sealed section.

Our attitude was simply that no Murdoch editor can request any sort of special protection or favours when you consider the sorts of things they routinely publish about the private lives of others.

It will be very interesting to see if the rest of the media include some of these facts in their coverage of this on-going saga.

Christine Jackman saga rolls on

Crikey email – 6 December

The saga of Christine Jackman and her boyfriend boss at The Australian, Chris Mitchell, rolls on with new twists and turns every other day. News Ltd loyalist David Pemberthy leapt into print on Friday with a short opinion piece in The Daily Telegraph, the key points being as follows:

Creampuff Mark leads with glass chin

Mark Latham – knockabout, sleeves-up, Green Valley tough guy – looks like a little dobber who’s run to the headmaster. Having spent the past few weeks – to the real fury of many in the Labor Party – blaming premiers, unions, business, inanimate objects for his crushing defeat, he’s turned his attention to the media over a story which documented his inattention as leader during the campaign.

That article, published in The Weekend Australian last Saturday, may have contained errors, which Mr Latham is free to pursue through the courts for defamation. But because of comments to one of his MPs, John Murphy, by Australian reporter Christine Jackman, Mr Latham has opted to crush a walnut with a sledgehammer by running off to Parliament’s privileges committee. This is because Latham claims Jackman made threats to his staff, “in an attempt to unreasonably influence my conduct as [an MP]”.

This is serious stuff, the penalty for which is jail time. It’s a sanction which the Parliament saves for national secrets during wartime. Mark Latham has done it because he no longer has the skill to act rationally – and despite his self-styled image as a brawler, has the most brittle glass jaw going around.

Showing the opposite of courage, John Murphy used the shield of privilege to hint gratuitously and cruelly at the personal relationship between Jackman and Australian editor Chris Mitchell, in the most defamatory way, drawing a link between their relationship and her performance as a journalist. This brave soul is, of course, protected from legal action for his nudge-nudge, wink-wink insinuations.

But Latham, precious soul, believes that Jackman’s subsequent comments to his staff – where she relayed her disgust at Murphy’s slur, demanded Latham force the MP to withdraw, and said she had more information on the Labor Leader which she’d publish (scary stuff!) – are so sinister as to merit her possible incarceration.

Well, John Murphy has just cranked things up another notch by going back into the House this afternoon and declaring that he was completely unaware of the relationship between Jackman and Mitchell when he made his comments. Hmmm, will The Tele publish a retraction? We doubt it.

Jackman projected all things innocent this morning when appearing alongside Andrew Bolt on Channel Nine’s Today Show political panel. “How could such a sweet little thing threaten a big boofhead like Mark Latham?” was the message viewers were left with.

Of course, media power has nothing to with physical threats and everything to do with the power of the printed word in mass market outlets. No media company in the world has abused those powers more than News Corporation over the years so it is perfectly reasonable for a politician to complain about being threatened with negative publicity if a colleague is not forced to withdraw comments made in Parliament.

Andrew Bolt has experience when it comes to making threats against Labor MPs as you can see from this package on the site:

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Peter Fray
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