Australia’s two most aggressive business journalists, Channel Nine’s Michael Pascoe and Mark Westfield from The Australian and The 7.30 Report, got into a slanging match in 2002 that was conducted through the Crikey sealed sections. Check out how the battle unfolded.
Michael Pascoe’s churlish attack
Sealed section August 5
Did anyone watch Extraordinary Items on Business Sunday yesterday? What a churlish attack on the ABC it was by Michael Pascoe. Yeah, yeah, Crikey makes lots of churlish attacks but that is our role, Business Sunday is meant to be Australia’s pre-eminent business program on TV.
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Pascoe sledged the ratings of Aunty’s new morning business program and then attacked the evening television news and The 7.30 Report for using recycled newspaper business reporters such as Alan Kohler and Mark Westfield.
While the jury remains out on Westfield, Crikey reckons Kohler has been an excellent addition to the ABC TV news and we tune in most nights. The guy is a former editor of The Age and the Fin Review and a distinguished former Chanticleer columnist. If Aunty can snaffle him for an incisive nightly business report then who cares if he also has two columns a week in the Fin Review.
Pascoe did note that they use Terry McCrann on Business Sunday so they are guilty of the same crime. He appeared to have a little dig at McCrann by pointing out that he “saves all of his many scoops for Rupert”. If Business Sunday aren’t getting any scoops out of Tezza, why are they paying $30,000-$40,000 a year for his 90 second slot each Sunday?
Pascoe is sounding like a threatened monopolist who has dominated his slot for a long time and become contemptuous of any threats. After the recent grovelling apologies to Woolworths and Malcolm Turnbull, we were expecting Extraordinary Items to pull its head in for a while.
Three weeks later we gave Pascoe this bouquet for his tough interview with David Murray on August 25.
Michael Pascoe gives it to David Murray
Sealed Section August 26
We’ve had the odd dip at Business Sunday’s Michael Pascoe of late due to a couple of big corrections and some unnecessary slaps at the ABC’s new business show and The Australian’s Mark Westfield.
But we have to give the guy a bouquet for his interview with ComBank CEO David Murray yesterday. Murray has been greedy with his own options yet is now trying to make a virtue of his bank’s decision to abolish them after he’s $20 million in front. Pascoe also gave him a good slap for paying $10 billion for Colonial which was way over the top.
The banking cartel are still getting away with murder and it was good to see one of our leading business journalists really sticking it to one of the chief defenders and beneficiaries of the cartel.
Check out the full transcript of Pascoe’s excellent interview: here
This led to an exchange with an unnamed senior banking analyst who took issue with some of Pascoe’s David Murray interview:
Banking analyst on ComBank’s Colonial buy
Sealed section August 25
A senior banking analyst writes:
Packer employee Michael Pascoe had some of his facts wrong on CBA & Colonial in yesterday’s Business Sunday interview. He claimed that the return on investment for the Colonial acquisition was “about 1%, 2%”. He derived this by dividing the $216 million Funds Management division profit by the $9.6 billion acquisition price.
This is quite wrong. Colonial owned 3 major businesses – fund manager, life company and bank. CBA retains earnings from all 3 and synergies should be added – Pascoe included only 1. The Return on Investment (ROI) calculation should include synergies ($450m pre tax), life insurance earnings ($218m), fund management earnings ($216m) and estimated bank earnings from the State Bank of NSW (roughly $200m) less the pre existing CBA operations in life and funds management.
A more reasonable estimate is that in a very poor year for life and funds management, ROI was a little less than 10% – still not great, but Pascoe was quite wrong. It followed that he was needlessly aggressive and missed the opportunity to talk about more important issues with Murray.
CRIKEY: good points here, Pascoe did have some of his facts wrong. Crikey can get a little obsessed with the abuses and indulgences of the banking cartel such that that we’ll back anyone who lays into them.
In the same sealed section we carried this piece from one of Aunty’s business reporters:
Pascoe likes the ABC all of a sudden
Following on from our piece on Michael Pascoe yesterday, an ABC insider points out that he has performed an adroit backflip regarding the ABC’s weekday business show, hosted by former Nine stablemate Emma Alberici.
A few weeks back, Pascoe bagged the ABC’s new venture for not being watched – and yet this weekend Pascoe himself quoted from an interview conducted by Alberici with AMP’s CEO Paul Batchelor.
The ABC insider also dutifully points out that Pascoe dumped a bucketload on them for only rating 0.3% on the particular day he picked on, yet last week they rated a 1% – slowly clawing their way up!
(Not that they care about ratings at Aunty!)
Then, for the first time in this debate we heard from the man himself as Michael Pascoe leapt to his own defence in the August 27 sealed section:
Michael Pascoe responds
Sealed section August 27
I should know better than to pad out the Crikey content by getting involved with correspondence but, hey, two mentions in one session is more than Nine’s PR department does for us. So:
1. Re the ABC’s Business Breakfast: Your anonymous ABC correspondent just doesn’t get it, which probably isn’t altogether unusual. There’s no flip flop in my attitude to their morning program as I have not criticised its content – the criticism is of ABC management’s priorities.
It strikes me as ridiculous that the ABC is throwing $2 million-plus at a hugely unwatched early morning business show when its flagship programs, the 7 pm news and 7.30, are so under-resourced that they have to rely on part-timers from the fishwrappers to drop in as guest stars.
Imagine what a $2 million business and finance unit could do for those two programs – starting with breaking news instead of just doing a round-up of the days events. The ABC could even embarrass other broadcasters into putting more resources into their prime bulletins.
For the ABC, our “national broadcaster”, having to rely on part-timers for the business round on its main shows is just a joke – another indication that the management there still doesn’t really understand the capitalism concept.
As to the credit, we always try to give a credit for material we use as we rather hope others will do unto us etc.
2. Re the anon banking analyst and fan of the CBA’s Colonial purchase: Sometimes, as part of an interview, an interviewer can be a little outrageous in a claim in hope of provoking a reaction and more information. If you look at the transcript of the Murray interview, that may not have worked – but the CBA CEO also didn’t counter the essential return on capital allegation.
As for the figures from the “analyst”, I admit to ignoring the insurance and bit of State Banking contributions, but only because I also ignored the CBA’s existing funds management operations.
What remains bemusing for me is that the total of claimed synergy benefits exceed the profit from funds management and insurance – so those operations were such dogs that they wouldn’t be making a profit at all now if they weren’t merged? No, it doesn’t really add up very well, does it?
Another reason for taking a less-than-kind approach to the Colonial numbers is what one hears on a background basis from within the CBA. Basically, Peter Smedley’s name is worse there than anywhere, there have been considerable problems and the cultures aren’t meshing – I don’t know that they even have done very well in a banker/funds manager marriage.
A final word on analysts: Crikey isn’t the only source of competitions. BUsiness Sunday has been trying to give away a bottle of GIO Anniversary Port for a couple of years now without success. We just wanted one “independent expert” to write a report that wasn’t pretty much what the commissioning board wanted.
So we’ve extended the competition to any “analyst” who puts a “sell” signal on a stock his or her firm is doing business with. Surprise, surprise – no takers there either. Anonymous analysts don’t wash very far with me – but keep listening in case they tip you into a hot new telco.
Regards, Michael Pascoe
Then, after biding his time, Mark Westfield made a late entry into the fray with this sizzling spray:
Westfield lays into Michael Pascoe
Second sealed section August 30
The Australian’s business columnist and 7.30 Report business and economics editor Mark Westfield has really let fly at Channel Nine Michael Pascoe as the feud between the business commentators hots up. Like Las Vegas is for boxing, we’re more than happy to host these bouts:
Mark Westfield writes:
“I’ve been a little puzzled over Nine and Packer mouthpiece Michael Pascoe’s obsession with the ABC lately and his shrill attacks on me and Alan Kohler for working our newspaper jobs as well as the ABC.
Pascoe hasn’t the foggiest idea of the arrangements between our newspapers and the ABC but from my part, and from ABC and The Australian’s view, the situation works well. I presume Kohler, with whom I’ve never discussed the issue, has similar support from both the ABC and John Fairfax.
It is interesting that Pascoe has become particularly vocal of late, vigorously defending the husband of a former colleague against an alleged insider trading situation arising from the HIH royal commission (Crikey: for the benefit of m’learned friends, no regulator has raised any concern about this yet), and then lashing out in a pathetic attempt to defend his previous monopoly in having chief executives appear on his show.
His problem is that he is experiencing suddenly a bit of competition, from the ABC’s new Business Breakfast program, the 7.30 Report, and Kohler’s Inside Business program on Sunday. The CEOs previously lining up to give their side of the story exclusively to his show on Sunday morning are popping up on the ABC all of a sudden.
Pascoe is having his turf stomped all over. He can’t get a scoop any more and it is starting to show in the lack of coverage he’s getting in the Monday newspapers.
The other interesting factor in Pascoe’s anger of late is the fact that his position is uncertain. His job is being offered around. I was offered the job a few months ago before I opted for the 7.30 Report. Frankly, a far better option. Nine no longer wants him so he’s lashing out at his rivals. Pathetic stuff really. Grow up Michael. You’re on the skids.
And finally, as Pascoe prepared this week’s Business Sunday program, he found time to shoot this couternpunch off to us which we opened on Saturday morning.
Vintage Westfield – inaccurate, unintelligent and defamatory
By Michael Pascoe
Ah, vintage Westfield – hopelessly inaccurate, not very bright and with a bit of carelessly malicious defamation thrown in for good measure.
These are the qualities that so embarrass The Australian from time to time. Mark is indeed fortunate that Rupert has taken a shine to him – but he’s always appreciated a journalist who didn’t have to be told what to write.
For the gratification of Crikey’s sole subscriber and in the remote hope that a little sense might penetrate poor Westfield’s hubris before he does himself more damage, let’s just knock off a few of the more obvious points and skip some of the more petty efforts.
To start with, I rather doubt I have an obsession with the ABC and its use of part-timers on its flag-ship programs. We made a point – just the once – in an Extraordinary Items piece about ABC priorities and I subsequently defended it in Crikey’s columns after it was misunderstood by some anonymous correspondent.
I certainly intend no attack on the fine Alan Kohler or even Westfield for having a second job. (It’s not relevant to the argument, but I have nothing but respect for Mr Kohler. He is an experienced, thoughtful and well-respected journalist. Verily, he would be an asset to any publisher or broadcaster.)
And I can see the ABC and The Australian must think Westfield’s multi-tasking works well, cross promotion and all that, or presumably they wouldn’t do it.
But it’s not any fear of competition or loss of monopoly that motivates my criticism of the ABC’s priorities. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the suggestion remains that if the ABC allocated its Business Breakfast millions to business and finance reporting for the flag ship shows, it could very seriously embarrass its commercial competitors and make Business Sunday’s life much more difficult indeed.
You see, next to no-one watches Business Breakfast but plenty see the news/7.30 Report hour. With an extra couple of million, those programs could afford to hire full-time employees for key news positions and thus have no doubts about where their primary loyalties might reside. They could make Mr Kohler an offer he couldn’t refuse. Or Westfield.
But, hey, it’s only a suggestion. Business Sunday, Channel Nine et al are better off with the present system.
Then there’s the really bizarre and just plain wrong stuff that Westfield burbled on about. I presume the befuddled Mark had legal reasons for coyly not naming the “husband of a former colleague” he’s made allegations about – I’ve heard third-hand Westfield might have copped a writ there – but I’ve actually never said anything about that particular issue one way or the other. I know no more about it than I skim in the Royal Commission transcripts.
You see, sometimes we really don’t have the space or time to look at everything, particularly in so rich a field as HIH. The Australian no doubt feels the same way – I didn’t notice any coverage in my edition of that paper of the Royal Commission testimony that suggested Rodney Adler was Westfield’s source for HIH stories. I have noted though how Mark has written relatively kindly of young Adler, just as he does of Nick Whitlam.
Oh well, each to his own.
But Westfield saved his best concoction till last. Heavens knows strange things happen in television, but his claim to Channel 9 being so keen to have him caused plenty of laughter round here. Is that what he told the ABC?
Nine Network Finance Editor (still)
Westfield swings back
Sealed section Sep 2
Mark Westfield writes:
“Michael Pascoe’s long-winded efforts to defend his behaviour is rendered all the more ridiculous by his professed indignation at claiming to have been defamed. The biter bit.
With his latest tedious assertions and accusations he’s opened a Pandora’s box. It would be interesting, for instance, to learn of his employer’s attitude to his media training on the side for people who are to appear on his program, and the campaign he waged against the Australian Financial Review a few years back after Greg Hywood refused (after being pestered for some time) Pascoe’s kind offer to write a regular column for the paper.
The in-house Bully not good enough for you Michael?
Alan Kohler sticks his toe in the water
Alan Kohler is a less fiery character than Westfield or Pascoe and his opening contribution reflects that:
Alan Kohler writes:
I’m enjoying the Westfield/Pascoe correspondence and I’m happy to remain a spectator, except for this: the reason I work for both the ABC and Fairfax is that when Kerry O’Brien approached me in 1995 to join him on the national 7.30 Report.
I agreed only on the condition that I could continue with my first love – writing. I wasn’t sure if it would work out but, thanks to hard work and understanding employers, it has. Writing remains my first and most important outlet and I would never want to give it up, but I am enjoying television and feel very lucky to able to do both.
Regards, Alan Kohler
AFR columnist and ABC business commentator”
The last word from Michael Pascoe
Sealed section Sep 3
Yet more true-to-form Westfield – there’s obviously no end of it, but that’s probably the way when you don’t let facts get in the way of a story. As usual, he makes no simple acknowledgement of being wrong, offers no apology, but he does seem to be losing momentum as he’s scratching out in left field now.
For the sake of the record (and the gratification of the non-anonymous readers who’ve contacted me):
1. There’s no surprise in Mark’s inability to recognise defamation when he writes it – News Ltd’s lawyers must have reached that conclusion long ago;
2. As far as I know, I’ve never trained anyone who’s appeared on the programs I work on. I most certainly have declined to do training of people when I’ve thought they could subsequently be interview subjects for us. That obviously rules out most media training. While keeping that condition, I have done a handful of sessions over the years (and it’s probably a couple of years since I’ve done one) when there’s been another factor involved – doing a friend a favour. Should any of those people subsequently come within Business Sunday’s orbit, I of course would not do the interview them. And Business Sunday does know that.
The point of the original criticism – when this was just business, before Westfield decided to make it personal – is that second jobs are by definition secondary – they don’t get the best shot. I rather quaintly thought the ABC’s flag ship programs shouldn’t settle for that.
3. Re the Fin Review, poor Mark’s stretching a fair way back now, getting desperate methinks. And let’s include Crikey’s anonymous correspondent here too, although I suspect that person is only pretending to have seen the Business Sunday item – wouldn’t be the same anon ABC type, would it?
Anyway, while Greg Hywood might or might not remember it differently, I don’t recall him being rude while rejecting the suggestion of a column sometime in the mid-90s. In nearly 30 years of journalism, it wasn’t the first and I hope not the last time I’ve had an idea knocked back. No, I didn’t take it personally. The Bulletin subsequently did want it and “The Rub” ran for a couple of years until Max Walsh gave it the flick. Again, nothing personal, it’s just business.
By now the sole subscriber must be wondering, “who cares?’. Exactly. But it’s the campaign I allegedly conducted against the AFR that intrigues me. I suppose I should be flattered your correspondents seem to think Business Sunday is all my own work, but I have a bunch of colleagues who think very differently. Our Extraordinary Items section has long had occasional fun with others’ mistakes – sometimes it’s been a bit of a business Media Watch. The AFR has had a few mentions there over the years. I’d be surprised if Mr Hywood saw that as a “campaign”. If so, it would have been a case of shooting the messenger. In any event, I certainly wouldn’t trust anonymous correspondents’ versions of such things.
It seems from all this that journalists aren’t meant to criticise other journalism on their round, or at least not under their own name. Oh, we can spend our lives criticising everyone else, but our own kind are somehow supposed to be off limits. No, it’s not healthy.
And why do I think your anonymous correspondent didn’t see the show, or is even thicker than I suspect? We very purposefully included Terry McCrann in the item. As we said, we know Terry’s first loyalties belong to Murdoch – he keeps his many scoops for his newspapers. By the nature of our gig, that’s fine. Personally, I think that if he was headlining the 7.30 Report’s coverage of business and finance, it wouldn’t be.
Is that all? Can I go now ? It’s getting rather tedious and I’ve a couple of secondary jobs I have to knock over…..
Nine Network Finance Editor (when not writing too much for Crikey)
Noel Whittaker defends Pascoe
Prominent author and financial adviser Noel Whittaker writes:
“Back in 1993 I had the great pleasure of doing a road show around Australia with Michael Pascoe, David Koch, Ross Greenwood, Robert Gottliebsen and Jan Somers.
I was most impressed then by Michael’s intellect, his grasp of finance, and the way he played so well as part of the team. He was an absolute pleasure to work with. I’ve done a couple of gigs with him since and nothing has changed.