Crikey editor Misha Ketchell writes:

US journalist Janet Malcolm put her finger on what journalism is really about when she claimed in her book, The Journalist and the Murder,
that every journalist knows that what he does is “morally indefensible”
and that in his heart he’s a sort of “confidence trickster” who lulls
people into a false sense of security and then betrays them mercilessly.

The
artistry lies in the lulling, especially when the interviewee is a
seasoned media performer who knows his game, has his wits about him and
is on his guard. And there’s probably no-one better at building rapport
and extracting confidences than Andrew Denton, which is why his uneasy
exchange with Latham – which aired last Thursday on the ABC and was
repeated this week – probably says more about the former opposition
leader than it does about his interrogator.

Since their
unsuccessful encounter Denton and Latham have skipped straight into
what Malcolm would describe as the (inevitable) betrayal stage of the
relationship, during which both parties behave like spurned lovers.
Denton probably started it when he told ABC radio (reported in The Age
here) that Latham was emotionally fragile and “a maddie.” Yesterday
Latham returned fire in a radio interview on Triple J, reproduced in
this morning’s Spike column in the SMH:

When Latham’s much-fussed-over Enough Rope interview
was brought up, the former Opposition leader didn’t exactly pour praise
on Andrew Denton. “I know you’re mates of Andrew Denton and all that,
but he’s not much of a political interviewer. I had to do the Tony
Jones one [on ABC TV’s Lateline] to get a political professional as opposed to an amateur”. He added that Denton didn’t “cut the mustard”.

Perhaps
his response had something to do with Denton’s assessment of Latham, as
given on Triple M last week. “He is a very mixed-up man, very
contradictory in what he says and how he says it,” Denton explained.
Before the Enough Rope chat took place, we were told the show got the gig in the first place because Latham and Denton had a “good relationship.”

We put Latham’s latest claims to Denton who had this to say:

Mark is clearly attempting to attack all of Australia in
alphabetical order and he must have missed me the first time he went
through the D’s. People can judge the interview for themselves, just as
they will Tony’s. I thought both were compelling in different ways,
something the ABC should be proud of. It’s just another Mark Latham
contradiction, however, that he bewails the ‘insider’ culture of
Australian political reporting, but the only journalist he seems
comfortable talking to is a man who told a Sydney radio station last
week that he’d spent the last month visiting Mark’s house, helping him
pick up the kids and “watching him cook chicken cacciatore.” Sorry
Mark, this is yet another instance where you can’t have it both ways.

Looks like this one is going to end in tears. Then again, if you listen to Janet Malcolm, it almost always does.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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