We can’t let the appointment of David
Penberthy as the editor of Australia’s most aggressive tabloid pass
without calling for media insiders to send through their favourite Dave
raves. After all, the lad has given life a real shake in the great
tradition of tabloid editors like the man who hired him at The Daily Telegraph, Col Allan.

It didn’t take Penbo long to make an impact when he left his Canberra gig with The Advertiser in 2001 and became state political reporter for The Daily Telegraph. He opened his column on 4 July, 2001, as follows:

Bob Carr has gone into
self-imposed intellectual exile – and apparently it’s my fault. The man
who will be remembered as the environmental premier regarded last
week’s column labelling him the “philosopher king” as such woeful
garbage that you wouldn’t put it in a compost bin.

The piece
was written as a gently-barbed analysis of Mr Carr’s style following
his statements on coastal policy, urban design and architecture. It
said while many voters would applaud a premier with a broad agenda,
others wanted a service provider focused solely on schools, hospitals,
police and trains.

“A cynic might argue that NSW is being run
by a hybrid of Barry Jones and Howard Hughes,” it read in part. “Others
would be reassured that in Bob Carr we have a leader who can walk and
chew gum at the same time.”

Such contrasts were lost on Mr
Carr who, having endured a trying two weeks as premier with the
tensions over WorkCover, delivered a pithy impromptu review in a chance
encounter with me at the back of Parliament. The piece, he said, was
juvenile, lazy, undergraduate, gratuitously insulting and a betrayal of
readers who would have been better served by a professional analysis of
environmental policy and politics in NSW. Fair enough. Broadcaster Alan
Jones – a man of impeccable taste – saw it differently and read from
the piece on air on 2UE.

When Mr Carr announced on Thursday
that he was banning jet skis from Sydney Harbour, the Carr-as-Emperor
line took off, with the ABC’s James Valentine and Richard Glover even
using Bob Carr impersonators to make fun of the man. Letter writers
picked up on the theme; many accused the premier of exceeding his brief
on a range of issues but others still applauded him for his
initiatives.

Whatever the case, Bob Carr announced last Friday
that he would no longer voice an opinion on anything. He said David
Penberthy and “powerful tabloids” had decreed he couldn’t have
opinions. Yesterday, when quizzed about police corruption and hospital
safety, he referred the questions to the appropriate ministers.

When
asked about speed camera revenue he said, “I’m cautious about being
seen to have too many opinions as you know,” and ended the press
conference.

Penbo always had an eye for a good tabloid stunt. In March
2003, he took a cardboard cut-out of then Transport Minister Carl
Scully 200 metres from News Ltd’s Holt Street office to Sydney’s
Central Station to gauge punter reactions.

Scully didn’t fare
too well (excuse the pun) and Penberthy took the opportunity in a
double page spread to tee off. The article started personally (“The
pallid expression on his face usually is attributed to his
vegetarianism”), then accurately described the minister’s campaign
performance as “woeful” before reporting various abuse from commuters
(eg “Sh*ttyRail”, “can’t stand him” etc).

Other stunts pulled by
Penbo over the years included a three-page spread in 2003 declaring the
Villawood detention centre “five star”. The lad had never even been
there and earned himself this spray from Media Watch.

Penbo was into stunts all the way back in 1991 when he was co-editor of On Dit, the Adelaide Universtity student newspaper. In fact, at the time he earned the ire of a certain editor of The Advertiser, one Piers Akerman.

Then you have Penbo’s many celebrated drinking and partying efforts. We carried this item on 22 March, 2003:

The drunkest journalist at the budget must surely go to The Daily Telegraph’s
state political reporter David Pemberthy. Dave is a nice fellow and
quite a party animal so it comes as no surprise to hear that he had one
hour’s sleep when the alarm went off to make the four-hour bus trip
home from Canberra on Wednesday morning. Dave spotted what he thought
was a glass of coke next to his bed and went for the big scull only to
discover it was red wine. It was a projectile apparently.

Rather than being ticked off for bringing the paper into disrepute, then Tele
editor Campbell Reid emailed Penbo saying he was a legend. Maybe that
was why he was invited to Rupert’s Mexican love-in at Cancun last year
– a sure sign that he was slated for big things.

If you’ve got a Fave Dave Rave, email it through to [email protected].

Peter Fray

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