First, a correction: SMH feature writer Deborah Snow did not refuse to attend the launch of Bernard Lagan’s book, Loner: Inside a Labor tragedy, as I wrote earlier this week. She wasn’t invited but still attended along with SMH colleagues David Marr and Peter Hartcher, who covered the event the next day.
Snow has certainly copped both barrels from Latham in the book, which reproduces a full list of controversial and sometimes personal questions she sent through while preparing her 10,000-word two-part Latham profile last year with fellow SMH reporter Damien Murphy.
As with many Latham claims, sometimes they are a little over-cooked. Print journalists know that you should be judged by what appears in your publication, not the questions you ask during extensive research. This is obviously different for television and radio journalists during live interviews, as AM host Tony Eastley discovered when interviewing Amanda Vanstone a few weeks back.
Some of the questions posed by Snow and Murphy certainly probed Latham’s private life and his character. But there was plenty of colour and movement from his past and even Latham’s Labor colleagues were expressing concerns at the time.
Latham also accuses Snow of spreading dirt about him at dinner parties, and the book mentions a meeting between Latham’s chief-of-staff and SMH editor Robert Whitehead, but doesn’t give the paper’s side of the story.
The question of whether The SMH underplayed the book to avoid highlighting these attacks is unclear. Sure, there was no Saturday read like the one Paul Kelly produced for The WeekendAustralian. It was originally contemplated that Snow might produce this Saturday feature, but she was diverted to produce this farewell profile of out-going defence chief General Peter Cosgrove.
There were plenty of mentions of the Lagan book elsewhere, including Alan Ramsey’s Saturday column, Peter Hartcher and David Marr the day after the launch and then Gerard Henderson again on 4 July. But the paper still hasn’t dealt with the specific allegations against it, and we’ve emailed Robert Whitehead to give him a chance to respond.