It’s four years since The Sydney Morning Herald
fired Bernard Lagan for hacking into Fred Hilmer’s email account, and
it seems the paper still hasn’t recovered from the dispute.

Lagan, of course, is the author of the much-talked about Loner: Inside a Labor Tragedy, but the SMH was strangely silent about the Mark Latham revelations on Saturday. By way of contrast, Lagan produced this piece for Saturday’s Age, and Paul Kelly made frequent references to the book in his Inquirer cover story in The Weekend Australian, which was backed up by this discussion with Barrie Cassidy on Insiders on Sunday morning.

SMH
editor Robert Whitehead was presumably trying not to upset Fred Hilmer,
but the boycott on Saturday is probably better explained by the
criticisms of the SMH in the book. The Age produced a Walkley award winning profile of Latham early in 2004 which left the SMH floundering around for a point of difference in its own profile, which turned out to be gratuitous salaciousness.

Latham
was scathing about the eventual piece produced by Deborah Snow and
Damien Murphy, and Lagan’s book reveals quite a bit of detail about the
negotiations leading up to its publication and the fallout, including a
meeting between Whitehead and Latham’s then chief-of-staff Mike
Richards.

The whole episode has embarrassed the SMH and
this might explain why Deborah Snow resisted requests to attend the
launch of the book in Sydney last week, with the paper sending former Media Watch host David Marr instead.

Peter Fray

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