It’s easy to laugh at Nine’s back to the future strategy (watch out for Bandstand),
but bringing back Tony Ritchie to the newsroom is no bad thing. Ritchie
is an extremely good operator with the right combination of
professional integrity and kill-the-other-guy ruthlessness. Back in my
days at the Packer Pleasure Palace (83-92) he was a fantastic exec
They were the days when Nine had a proper news
service, when incisiveness and irreverence were encouraged. It all went
pear shaped around the second half of 1990 when the Big Bloke bought
the network back and the wilful dumbing down began with a vengeance.
Unfortunately, it was at around this time that Ritchie moved out of the
news room and into the Today show cottage. This was also in the
months leading up to the first Gulf War. As the then US correspondent,
I went from filing stories (requested by Ritchie) that set out to look
at the real reasons why America was preparing for war, to filing pap
pieces (requested by Ritchie’s replacements) about the firepower of the
Apache helicopter and the M1 Abrams Tank.
I went from being a news correspondent to a contributor to Boys Own Annual.
By that point, Nine just wanted to gush over the war toys and had no
interest in scrutinising why the toys were being assembled. After
filing a piece from Washington in which I had pointed out some of the
inconsistencies in Bush’s anti-Saddam rhetoric, I got a very stern
phone call from Willoughby (it wasn’t Ritchie) telling me that I was to
stop filing anything that was in any way questioning the US presence in
Not long after this, Ritchie got a call one morning while he was putting the Today
show to air. He’d just run a story in which psychologists were talking
about the impact television pictures of the war might be having on
kids. It was a reasonable story for the Today show to run under
the circumstances. Ritchie’s caller didn’t think so. “What was that
crap about?” the very powerful voice boomed down the phone. That was
pretty much the extent of the conversation. There was no directive not
to run stories like that again. There didn’t need to be. The tone of
the voice and, more importantly, the identity of the person behind the
voice, were enough for Ritchie to get the message.
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