Sydney Morning Herald columnist Paul Sheehan has responded to
Crikey, hitting back over Miracle Water brouhaha – and launching an
attack against fellow Herald journalist Ben Hills, the man who
has been investigating Sheehan’s role in the rise and fall of the
“Unique Water” fad. Sheehan denies he threatened to sue Hills, or made
a workers compensation claim against the SMH . He writes of Hills: “It is extraordinary that a reporter would send his own story to Media Watch while his paper was in the process of checking the story after receiving legal advice that there were problems.”

Also extraordinarily, he says he’s never met Hills, a long-serving and
well-regarded investigative journalist. “There were also numerous
factual issues. You talk about ‘open combat’, but I don’t know Ben
Hills. I’d never spoken to him. I’ve never criticised him.’ Well, that
is until now. Read the correspondence between Sheehan and Crikey
below. (Sheehan initially responded to our email asking if he’d
considered filing a workers compensation claim):

No, the suggestion is absurd. At least you are checking the
rumour. I have not filed a workers compensation claim over anybody
doing anything and never considered doing so. Nor have I threatened to
sue anybody over anything, as reported in The Australian’s
Media section recently, a fabrication which, I understand, they first
picked up from Crikey. Several weeks ago, at work, I was directed by my
manager to cease screen-based work because of an eye problem. However,
I continued with a full load of non-screen work and resumed a full
range of duties as soon as I was given the all-clear last week. I was
obliged to sign various forms because of the company’s legal
obligations under potential workers compensation liability, but have
made no claims and simply returned to normal duties. This is a classic
case of someone putting two and two together and coming up with 83.
It’s been happening a lot lately.

Crikey replied thus:

Thanks for clearing up the compo claim suggestion Paul.
Trust the eye problem’s not a serious one. I guess the issue remains
one of the fallout from the ill-feeling and open combat between senior
journalists such as you and Ben Hills (outside the normal creative
tension that can be managed in a robust media office) over the Unique
Water episode. Are you happy with the way The Herald has managed the whole episode?
Regards,
Hugo Kelly

And Paul Sheean replied:

My eyes are fine and I am fully recovered and back at work.
I think the paper has handled this matter well considering it was
ambushed. The paper did not commission the Ben Hills story. It had no
idea he was working on one. It is extraordinary that a reporter would
send his own story to Media Watch while his paper was in the
process of checking the story after receiving legal advice that there
were problems. There were also numerous factual issues.

You talk about ‘open combat’, but I don’t know Ben Hills. I’d never
spoken to him. I’ve never criticised him. I’ve let the paper handle it.
What Media Watch carefully ignored in its report – and it is a fundamental omission – is that in January I had reopened the Unique
Water story with a column, puffed on page one, revealing that (Unique
Water vendor) Dr Russell Beckett had deserted everyone who had backed
him and gone off to Canada.

Beckett is a control freak, and in my extensive conversations with him
he had obviously been anxious to go to America to exploit his American
patent in a much bigger market. He was also extremely skittish about
any attention to his wife’s death. I wrote that these were the main
reasons for his going to the US and Canada.

The Herald puffed the story on page one because it was a great
story and the editors knew I had much more. We ran the second column
more or less on schedule, as we should have. It developed the story as
a drama. I don’t think anyone here has tried to suppress anything and I
don’t even know where the editing process has got to but I know we
intend to run the Hills piece, with no errors or innuendos. I am
comfortable with that.

CRIKEY: It’s unlikely that Sheehan’s version of events will end the matter. You can check out Sheehan’s stories and the Media Watch coverage here .

Peter Fray

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