The Canberra press gallery is still yet to offer up anyone who has seriously examined The Latham Diaries and also dealt properly in their own outlets with specific claims made about their performance.

Cameron Stewart
and Christopher Pearson both laid into Iron Mark in The Weekend Australian with superficial pieces that gallery types would have enjoyed. You had to pick up News Ltd’s Sunday Times
in Perth yesterday to finally get some sensible mainstream analysis about the
press gallery’s collective failure. Amazingly, News Ltd Latham victims such
as Paul Kelly, Matt Price and Glenn Milne, are singled out for some
special attention from within.

Here are some of the highlights in a surprising column by the Perth-based Murdoch
political journalist Colleen Egan which is not available online:

The Canberra press gallery is sometimes described as an
exclusive club that’s as out of touch as the politicians it covers.
They’d hate to admit it, but the collective response to The Latham Diaries
will probably bolster that view. Mark Latham’s flawed but valuable
memoirs are almost as much a criticism of Australia’s media as they are
of the Labor Party. A healthy press is, after all, an essential player
in a true democracy.

Much of Latham’s sniping is probably a mixture of revenge and
bitterness about his failure to win government and the pastings he has
received by commentators. But that doesn’t mean his evaluation of the
media’s role in Australian politics should be dismissed outright.

While his diaries seem paranoid in parts, is he wrong to portray these
journalists as a bunch of mates who look after their own interests?
Unfortunately, the lack of introspection and transparency in the
coverage so far has done more to prove Latham right than wrong.

His “bucket of bile,” as it’s been called, is littered with specific
allegations of bias, unethical conduct and personal indiscretions about
many of the country’s most credible journalists. But almost to a
person, the Canberra gallery has declined to address the claims.
Politicians and others have been required to answer Latham’s charges,
but the journos seem to be above such treatment.

Take The Australian’s editor-at-large Paul Kelly, one of the
nation’s most decorated scribes. Kelly’s integrity was seriously
questioned when Latham accused him of changing his opinion on the Iraq
troops-out-by-Christmas policy simply to satisfy his boss (and mine),
Rupert Murdoch.

Many years ago, I worked under Kelly. I don’t believe he would argue
against something he truly believed and his published position on this
policy is consistent. But it surprises me that he has written reams of
copy on the Latham book, including the Iraq issue, but not addressed or
even acknowledged the personal slight.

Similarly, my fellow opinion writers at The Sunday Times, Glenn
Milne and Matt Price, have not used their columns to address Latham’s
criticisms of them and their colleagues. Their opponents at other
newspapers haven’t either. Perhaps they think it would be
self-indulgent and pointless to do so, but would the reader agree?

Laurie Oakes, the political guru of the Nine Network and The Bulletin,
was the target of several broadsides. In his column, he launched a
diatribe against the book, but did not respond to – or even note –
the accusations against him. Did the readers have a right to know that
Oakes’s caustic dismissal of the diaries’ validity (“narcissism and
nastiness” from a “weird and ugly mind”) may have been tinged, even
slightly by Latham’s nasty treatment of him?

With his tell-all diaries, Latham has turned the tables. The long-held
conventions of off-the-record and no-name anecdotes have gone out of
the window. He has told secrets (and possibly untruths) about gallery
stalwarts and they don’t seem to know how to respond. Despite its
imperfections, the Latham book is one of the few contemporary insider
critiques of a system that most Australians feel is disillusioning and
out of touch. Canberra journalists will tell you, quite rightly, that
the media plays a crucial role in this democracy. It’s a shame they’ve
shunned this opportunity to candidly examine that role.

CRIKEY: We couldn’t have put it any better. If anyone mentioned in The Latham Diaries
is worried about responding through their own outlet, you can always
follow the lead of Seven’s Mark Riley and send your response straight
to Crikey. Just email [email protected] and we’ll get your response
into more than 29,000 inboxes.

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Peter Fray
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