Never before in the history of Ian Thorpe biographies has so much hot air been generated by so many people in such a short time as the saga of what appeared and didn’t appear in Inside Sport.

The inside word on Inside Sport’s glowing Thorpe bio review

Subscriber email January 25

Strange goings-on at the so-called bastion of sports journalism, Inside Sport magazine. It is less than 18 months ago that the magazine picked up a Walkley Award and the mag continues to collect gongs for some its articles on subjects that few newspapers touch.

Yet the current on-sale issue presents a compelling conundrum. Inside, the magazine has reviewed Ian Thorpe’s biography, a book written by the magazine’s former editor Greg Hunter.

Nothing wrong with that, you might agree, except that the glowing review is written by a certain Rose Fydler. You mean the wife of ex-Olympic swimmer Chris? Yes. The same woman thanked in the book’s opening credits and – what do you know? – a person who even proof read the manuscript. Oh.

Not that Inside Sport was short of a reviewer for the book. In fact, the editors, including former ACP honcho Brad Boxall already had a review commisioned, written, and set to be laid out on a page.

It was at such a late stage that Inside Sport staff had to contend with publisher (and owner) Peter Horwitz stepping in after lunch one day and volunteering a review of the Thorpe book written by himself.

Cost-cutting? No. Horwitz’s hands on approach was more to do with giving as much support as he could to Greg Hunter’s book, contending the ex-employee, who launched Inside Sport in the early 1990s, needed all the help he could get. Compromise? Of sorts.

While the original, apparently less-than-glowing review was axed, Horwitz agreed not to write his own views on the Thorpe bio if he could find another writer. Step up Rose Fydler.

A gold for publishing. A gold for Australia. And a gold star for Greg Hunter’s biography.

Ross Stapleton on Inside Sport

Subscriber email January 27

Following on from Tuesday’s item on the Thorpe biography review, Crikey sports editor Ross Stapleton, himself a former Inside Sport contributing editor writes:

Peter Hortwitz’s intervention, if correct is very interesting given Greg Hunter quit Inside Sport to edit up another new magazine, but somehow in the interim some promises failed to materialise and he suddenly found himself caught between two stools and in no firm job.

Around the same time ABC Sports Monthly was also being put together in addition to the third party in Hunter’s sights, and they ended up offering Hunter’s former Inside Sport deputy Graem Sims their new editor’s chair. So then Sims, having taken over the Inside Sports reigns on Hunter’s departure, also resigned from Inside Sports to take on editing the ABC linked magazine, only to find six months later he was also out of a job when the magazine folded.

Given both Hunter and Sims had been instrumental in helping turn Inside Sport into a huge publishing success that beat off all comers in its 1990’s prime including a locally published Sports Illustrated, and Murdoch attempts to replicate the Inside Sport formula and sales, Peter Horwitz at the time would have had every right to feel most aggrieved to see his two leading Inside Sport editorial executive team poached for supposedly greener pastures.

The ABC licensed rival to Inside Sport was an illusory venture that later went broke owing journos money, including myself, and tripped Inside Sport of several key assets in the process beyond the defection of Sims.

So for Horwitz to want to help Hunter as reported on Tuesday, – it is nice to see some genuine gratitude shown by a millionaire publisher to his ex-editor who spent more than a decade in the Inside Sport chair, and was himself fiercely committed to strong sports journalism.

From recent conversations with Brad Boxall I am in no doubt Inside Sport is more determined than ever to lead from the front in
quality sports reportage in a market that should be able to sustain at least two or three major glossy sport monthlies. It continues to remain one of life’s great mysteries as far as I’m concerned – why, given our huge sporting culture we can’t do just that?

Greg Hunter on his Inside Sport review

January 28 subscriber email

The man who wrote the book on Ian Thorpe reveals to Crikey the story behind the controversial review in Inside Sport:

The Thorpe biography was originally to be reviewed by an Inside Sport staffer, who was enjoying it immensely, when it was whisked away and placed for review with the only person on the IS mast who had any reason to hold a grudge against me dating back to the time when I was the magazine’s editor. (There are 23 people on the current list of contributing writers, so this was unlikely to be a coincidence – but that’s another story.)

This particular reviewer had previously been a high-level employee at a rival sports mag, long since defunct, and had subsequently made one attempt to contribute a feature article to Inside Sport, only to have his contribution rejected on the grounds that the writing style was too boring. He could not understand why it was boring, and was undoubtedly miffed, even though I arranged to have a more competent writer rework the thing and eventually published it under a dual byline – a means of allowing the initial writer to save face, since the subject was a high-profile sportsman.

But apparently that wasn’t enough to mollify him, because he managed to produce a review of the Thorpe bio that was so toxic – this is the case of a book that has been very well received by those who’ve read it – that it was decided to send it to legals to avoid a possible defamation action. That was unprecedented in Inside Sport‘s history. Hardly surprising, then, that publisher Peter Horwitz, who was reading the book at the time, deemed it inappropriate and commissioned an alternative review – one which was, by the way, in accordance with the three other published reviews on the Thorpe biography. I would of course be happy to produce them for Crikey’s perusal.

Greg Hunter
Author of “Ian Thorpe – The Biography”

Peter Horwitz weighs in on Thorpie bio saga

Millionaire Inside Sport publisher Peter Horwitz has bought in to the saga of the gushing review his organ published of Greg Hunter’s Ian Thorpe biography. He writes:

Dear Crikey,

At the risk of spoiling a very colorful story with a few facts, the following may be of interest.

  • Yes, I had read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • Yes, I did volunteer to write the review myself but I took advice that there were others more qualified than I to do so. Therefore, thinking logically, I thought the review should go to a well regarded authority on swimming and a person whose record at Inside Sport is a very good one. I contacted Rose Fydler.

In all my years in publishing, I cannot comprehend why something as simple as this could end up so grubby and political.

A few more facts:

  • If I got it wrong with Rose Fydler, I’m in good company as the magazine New Idea also commissioned Rose to run a series of extracts from the book.
  • It would appear at least 80% of the other reviewers have got it wrong also.
  • That in the ordinary course of events, the magazine’s swimming correspondent would be asked to review any book on swimming – in the same issue, for instance, the tennis correspondent had reviewed a book on Ilie Nastase.
  • I had not issued any decree after lunch, and Crikey’s wrong suggestion carried an imputation that was derogatory.

Having worked with Greg Hunter for nearly 20 years and having had many healthy mutual disagreements during that time, it never altered my view of the following:

  • that Greg is a master wordsmith and the words “intelligent”, “integrity” and “hard working” have always been a fair and objective
    assessment of him.
  • However, it is also fair to say Greg has occasionally gotten off-side with a few of his peers and perhaps some of them saw an opportunity to “put the sword in”.

Greg Hunter’s highly successful record speaks for itself and I have never, at any stage, thought or commented that Greg Hunter “needed all the help he could get”. However, I do believe he is entitled to a level playing field.

In concluding, I just hope those that have some sort of axe to grind with Greg Hunter, take it up directly with Greg and stop wasting my, the magazine’s and Crikey’s time.


Why the Thorpe biography was dropped by Inside Sport

From the February 1 subscriber email

The ongoing Inside Sport saga over that Ian Thorpe biography drags on. Today, Matthew Hall explains the background to the decision not to publish his review of Greg Hunter’s book:

As the writer of the axed, and apparently controversial, Ian Thorpe review I have a suggestion. Greg Hunter needs to get over himself and realise his biography of Ian Thorpe just isn’t that interesting.

After all, as my Fairfax and Inside Sport colleague Richard Hinds sharply suggested, if Ian Thorpe can’t be bothered reading the book (as he confessed at the launch) then why should we?

Hunter appears to believe the review was inspired by some long-held grudge. He’s wrong. Frankly, I’m too busy to bother with sandpit politics.

I accepted the Thorpe review because a) I am a professional writer b) the magazine called me to ask if I wanted to write it and c) I needed to pay a phone bill that month.

It’s interesting that Hunter claims the review was “whisked away” from another staffer (since you don’t work for the magazine, Greg, how do you know?) and that my review was apparently defamatory (again, Greg, you don’t work there so how do you know?) and had to be legalled.

No one at Inside Sport told me this was the case nor asked if certain parts could be toned down. In fact, seemingly embarrassed editorial staff told me in an email the decision to replace my review came from “upper management” and but that, in their opinion my review was “fair and balanced”.

Where Hunter is right is that I did indeed briefly edit Total Sport magazine when it was owned by Next Media in 1997 (I was a writer for Rolling Stone at the time).

Although I was a freelance and only in the office three days a week, we engaged Inside Sport so well on a budget of 20 cents that we pinched a TV show off them and inspired Inside Sport to borrow some excellent ideas we introduced to the sports magazine market. Imitation truly was flattery.

One reason we didn’t come close to winning any readership war was that we took the bold step – for an Australian sports magazine – of not having large female breasts on the cover. How foolish we must have appeared at the time.

Still, Horwitz must have liked the magazine because the company subsequently employed my deputy at Total Sport to run Inside Sport. That guy has since overseen the magazine as it hauled in a Walkley award – after Greg Hunter left.

I quit Total Sport before Next sold the magazine to Pacific Publications and, in the small world of Australian publishing, ended up as a regular contributor to Inside Sport on football – sorry, Greg, soccer – contributing an exclusive interview with Harry Kewell and subsequent story on Frank Farina.

I have since gone on to work for the Sun Herald, TheSydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Bulletin, and The Guardian, and The Observer in the UK. As well as being a regular contributor to Inside Sport among many other magazines around the world. Maybe that’s another reason they called me to review the book.

I have also written two critically-acclaimed books (acclaimed that is, interestingly, except for a negative review from Hunter’s Inside Sport) so I know a thing or two about how to stitch together 80,000 words.

Under Hunter’s steerage Inside Sport created a reputation for going against the grain. No longer it seems. It’s quite simple. As demonstrated in the book’s acknowledgments, Rose Fydler has a long term and on-going relationship with both Hunter and Inside Sport. An awkward choice as someone to provide an impartial review of the Thorpe bio.

Thorpe biographer puts his side of the story on Inside Sport review

Subscriber email – 7 February

Ian Thorpe’s biographer Greg Hunter adds to the saga that has sent all sorts of reverberations through Australia’s premier sports publication, Inside Sport:

I don’t mind a good literary stoush. After all, this is how people used to amuse themselves before television. But when it becomes as personal, as idiotic, and as downright delusional and self-congratulatory as Matthew Hall’s diatribe, I can only stand in wonder at how many ways a man can distort reality to suit his own emotional needs. But let’s take it from the top, because it deserves a full rundown:

  • It’s true, as Richard Hinds pointed out, that Ian Thorpe didn’t read his own authorised biography. This was not because he believed it wasn’t worth reading, but because he never reads anything about himself. Nor does he watch himself on TV. It’s one of the characteristics that makes him very unusual. It also lends credibility to the book, in my view, since it meant that I was one of the few authorised biographers not to have the subject breathing down his neck to ensure the right spin was placed on every subject. The agreement was simply that he would have right of reply to any criticisms that were raised – there weren’t a great many, but all of them were aired in the book – and he stuck to it.
  • How do I know the book was whisked away from a staffer and placed in Matthew Hall’s hands? Because I’m a journalist and I have sources, which I’ll naturally not divulge. Similarly, that’s how I know it was sent to legals for fear of a defamation action. (If you don’t believe me, Matthew, ring Inside Sport’s editor. He’ll tell you.)
  • Total Sport magazine engaged Inside Sport so well that it registered scarcely a blip on the consciousness of the sporting public, with or without a TV show. It ran third in a field of three, the other mag being Sports Monthly, and even when those two magazines merged to become Total Sports Monthly, the gap to Inside Sport remained a yawning one. From memory, Total Sport kicked off with a nice set of breasts on the cover, but ultimately dropped them, presumably because it could sell no worse than it already was. How Hall can praise himself or his magazine for this development completely eludes me.
  • Inside Sport publisher Peter Horwitz did not employ Hall’s former deputy editor on Total Sport. The recruiting was done by the then editor, Nigel Wall. Nor is it the case that this man now runs Inside Sport. He’s the deputy editor. And in view of all the above, the idea of Peter Horwitz actively chasing a former Total Sport employee is simply laughable. (If you don’t believe that, Matthew, ask Peter and see how loudly he laughs.)
  • It’s true that Inside Sport won a Walkley Award for a story following my tenure as editor, which ended in 2002 – and congratulations to that particular writer. So what? How does this compare to the fact that Inside Sport was the official MPA Magazine Of The Year for 1999 – the most coveted award in the magazine business? And by the way, who gives a damn anyway? What does this have to do with anything?
  • The fact remains, as I’ve pointed out, that Matthew Hall made one attempt at an Inside Sport feature story, and it was rejected and subsequently reworked by another journalist. (The Farina piece was not a feature.) I haven’t made the automatic assumption that this must be the reason for Hall’s negative review of the Thorpe book; I merely note that it is a dissenting view, by comparison with the three other published reviews by writers who actually claim to have read the book, and that seems hardly coincidental – especially when I now learn that one of Hall’s “critically acclaimed” masterpieces was negatively reviewed by Inside Sport, a fact of which I had been unaware. It certainly seems to add fuel to my suspicions of an ulterior motive.
  • Rose Fydler was not the original choice to review the book – as I’ve said, it was an Inside Sport staffer – but if she had been, there would have been no big deal. She was involved in only the most minor way with the background briefing of myself, and didn’t proofread the book at all (contrary to the report that kicked this whole business off). She merely read it as a finished product for extract purposes.

None of this means that I’m unable to cop a negative review. It may well be that Hall is right, all the other reviewers are wrong, and the Thorpe biography is not very interesting. You’d have to read it to agree or otherwise. But if anyone needs to get over themselves, it’s Matthew Hall. His version of the history of sports magazines in this country is utterly delusional. His magazine was an outright failure, pure and simple. And I’m still trying to work out what his personal attack on me has to do with this whole debate. It’s got me beat.

As to his review of my book, which Crikey has deemed fit to publish … what exactly is the point of comparing a book on Ian Thorpe to a biography of Greg Louganis? The world’s greatest-ever diver was an amphetamine addict, marijuana dealer and suicide aspirant at the age of 12, and bled copious amounts of HIV-infected blood into the diving pool after cracking his head on the board at the Seoul Olympics, even as he was desperately trying to conceal his homosexuality from the world at large. No doubt these facts made for a compelling biography – but what does that have to do with Ian Thorpe? What is Hall trying to insinuate?

It’s true that the portrayal of Thorpe in “Ian Thorpe – The Biography” is highly positive. Hall doesn’t seem to countenance the possibility that this is because very few people have anything bad to say about him, and many are embarrassingly profuse in their praise. It’s not a case of self-censorship to portray him as a remarkable person, contrary to Hall’s assumptions. In any case, I would defy anyone to read the book and agree with Hall’s assertion that “primarily, [Hunter] fails to take us inside Thorpe’s world, preferring instead to recite a roll call of swim meets and personal best times.” Readers may indeed agree with Hall that Thorpe’s world is not that interesting – but to describe the book as a roll call of swim meets and personal best times is arrant nonsense. Of course the book talks a lot about swimming, since Thorpe is one of the greatest swimmers ever – but it naturally deals with a great many other topics besides.

I wonder what sort of salacious details would satisfy Hall’s appetite? There’s nothing wrong with sloshing about in a cesspit of anecdotes from the flash trash world of English football, as Hall does in his Sunday tabloid column. It’s all journalism of a sort. But maybe the problem is that after you’ve been doing it for too long, you forget what sports writing is supposed to be about.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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