What on earth is happening to The West Australian? Under its
boyish editor Paul Armstrong, who reportedly still lives at home with
mum and dad, Perth’s monopoly newspaper may no longer be a dull grey
lady – but has it lost all credibility in the process?

Last night’s Media Watch expose of The West’s
front-page ‘investigation’ that Perth’s Princess Margaret Hospital had
been infiltrated by paedophiles was a devastating portrait of how an
important newspaper has abandoned journalism for showmanship. In
February, The West’s newly appointed investigations editor, Natalie O’Brien alleged:

“Dozens of sick children at Princess Margaret
Hospital may have fallen prey to a group of paedophiles who infiltrated
the Subiaco medical centre during the past two years and gained
unrestricted access to vulnerable young patients…”

allegations were denied by the health department, the minister and the
assistant commissioner of police and no charges were laid, but that
didn’t stop Armstrong and O’Brien from continuing to run their claims.
In fact it took five days and several more stories before O’Brien
conceded that allegations had not actually taken place at the Hospital.
She wrote:

“Three concerned families complained to police in
1995 about a man they suspected of sexually abusing their children at a
business frequented by families and staff at Princess Margaret

Whether or not the story had any real
basis, Armstrong was no doubt pleased with the reaction it stirred up
in Perth – according to Media Watch the story was instantly huge on radio and TV news bulletins, while scandalised parents rang talkback to vent their concern.

After all, it was Armstrong who, when told that former WA Premier Peter Dowding lamented that The West Australian was no longer a paper of record, told The Australian’s Mark Day a few weeks ago: “Great! Objective No 1 achieved!” And when Dowding said The West
no longer reported both sides but “runs with its own issues”, Armstrong
said: “Terrific.” “Isn’t that what papers are meant to do?” Ideas are
the name of the game,” he told Day. “Boredom is death.”

Read Media Watch’s full transcript here: Kids hospital scare in ‘The West’

Plus see Mark Day’s profile of Paul Armstrong in The Australian here: ‘Brash and cocky’ editor has the west even wilder

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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