Misha Ketchell writes:


Former Age editor and
prominent spin doctor Mike Smith has been spruiking for Steve Vizard
for about ten years. But he’s probably never worked as hard as he has
over the past couple of days, with his salmon-like twisting, turning
and flicking his tail against a strong current of public outrage.

Since
Monday, when the deal between Vizard and ASIC was announced, Smith –
who also spun for disgraced Coles CEO Brian Quinn and fugitive Mexican
banker Carlos Cabal – has been working the phones. One of his key
points to journalists is that Vizard made a loss on the insider trading
deals – a little like a thief who robbed your house saying he shouldn’t
be charged because he got a pretty shabby price for the goods at the
local cash’n’carry.

So how does Smith defend his line that
Vizard’s crime isn’t so bad because he made a loss? “Whenever I’ve got
calls it was one of the first questions asked. How much did he make?”
Smith told Crikey. But does he dispute the claims by Peter Faris that
Vizard got a very soft deal compared with Sydney insider trader Rene
Rivkin? “I’m bemused by these comparisons,” says Smith. “ASIC is the
only authority that knows the full circumstances of the case.”

Smith
also denies suggestions he advised Vizard to leave the country this
week and says Vizard would love to be here and “say a lot.” There’s
more of the story to come when Vizard fronts court later this month,
says Smith, ever the spinner. “I think some people think he got off
lightly,” says Smith. “I don’t think it’s getting off lightly to be
investigated, have your home raided while your children are there, and
to face these serious charges. In court he’ll get a chance to fully
explain his actions. I think he will.”

Smith incidentally has
been getting some heat for not being entirely upfront about his own
rather complicated relationship with Vizard. Vizard is part of a small
advisory board for Smith’s two-man PR firm, Inside PR. And Age corporate sleuth David “Ziggy” Elias reports today
that a bloke called Shaun Levin, with very close links to Vizard, owns
48 of 120 shares in the company. Smith’s line that Vizard has “no
commercial interest in the company” is possibly true but also
potentially misleading.

Smith is also remembered be many journos as the Age editor
who landed in hot water over drink-driving. After one of the boss’s
brushes with the traffic police staff put up a poster in the newsroom
that read: “If you drink and drive you’re a bloody editor.”

Peter Fray

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