Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt and Gerard Henderson are often accused of
being mouthpieces for the Howard government, but could they be taking
their directives straight from the horse’s mouth? Playwright David
Williamson has his suspicions.

Last week, Crikey reported that Williamson came under attack from all sides – well,
one side in particular – after his Sir Rupert Hamer address, republished in The Bulletin, in which
he lambasted “Cruise Ship Australia” and the Australians who
have an “obsessive focus on material acquisition,
encouraged by governments who worship economic growth and little else.”

Piers Akerman, Gerard Henderson and The Australian
quickly took exception to Williamson’s portrayal of so-called aspirational
Australians and the Herald Sun‘s Andrew Bolt also put in his two bobs. “All
the usual right wing heavies were wheeled out to pour scorn,” Williamson told Crikey.

So could the PM’s office be responsible for the outpouring of contempt? Williamson’s piece was published in The Bulletin on 12 October, writes
Frank Wilkie in The Sunshine Coast Daily (run in The Oz
today), but it wasn’t until after the PM’s office requested a copy on
15
October that the others weighed in.

Says Williamson:

I can’t of course prove anything, and I’m sure all the
columnists would deny being fed by anyone, but I have a friend who worked in the
PM’s department years back and he tells me this is exactly how they
operate. Grab articles, point out logical flaws and farm them out to sympathetic
journalists who might have missed them.

So it’s only a suspicion arising from
the fact that the person who asked for a full copy of my Rupert Hamer lecture
was very cagey about who he was and why he wanted it. (‘Just general interest’)
Finally his cover was blown when he gave the email address to which the article
was to be sent. It was the email address of the Prime Minister’s department.
So I’m prepared to believe they were just very interested in the article and
impressed by my writing style and arguments but somehow that doesn’t seem all
that likely.

Williamson says he can’t prove his theory but “I’m entitled to
have suspicions without being declared paranoid.” Crikey asked Akerman, Henderson and Bolt for their
reactions.

Akerman wrote:

If Crikey did its own research rather than retailing inaccurate smear and
innuendo for the bulk of its reportage on media figures it would have noted that
in the original article in The Sunshine Coast Daily Williamson claimed his
manager in Sydney had been contacted by
someone from the Prime Minister’s staff on October 15.

That was a Saturday.
Tell me when anyone from the PM’s department, or any other Canberra office for
that matter, would have bothered calling anybody on a Saturday, let alone some
attention-deprived playwright’s agent, for a copy of a rather ridiculous
speech?

It is also a fact that
the column in which I referred to Williamson’s slur on ordinary Australians and
his half-baked attack on the rural industry and his impassioned, if error-ridden
plea for the environment, was filed on Friday, October 14, the regular deadline
for this column. To allege some sort of nexus between the alleged call to
Williamson’s agent on a Saturday and the appearance of my column on the Sunday
is the most outrageous form of calumny and has no basis in
reality.

Have I had a discussion
with anyone from the PM’s department about Williamson? Yes. After Williamson’s
bizarre assertion was made this week I asked whether anyone did seek a copy of
his address when he claimed.

Apparently not, but
perhaps they are still asking around.

As a playwright,
Williamson has made a career out of manufacturing scenarios. Maybe he has done
so again. Finally, in its usual infantile manner, Crikey yesterday branded me a
bigot for remarks broadcast on the BBC World Service and implied that I sought
to be quoted.

Gratuitously wrong
again. Throughout my career I have always endeavoured to assist fellow
journalists with information or opinions when asked.

Crikey’s sneering
references do not reflect well on blogs’ lack of standards and ethical
guidelines. I expected more from Eric Beecher. I have been
disappointed.

I trust this response
to your question will not also be regarded as another “rent-a-quote,” as you
claimed was the case with the BBC interview, and run through Crikey’s
smear-applicator in an effort to further denigrate me before publication I
expect it to be run in its entirety or not at all.

An hour or so later, Akerman had a clarification to make:

Sources have told me that an officer from the PM’s department, at his volition,
did request a copy of Williamson’s original address for his own interest, but
left a PMC address. As of yesterday he had not received it. Why he was
interested in reading more of it when there was so much excerpted in The Bulletin
remains a mystery.

CRIKEY: Williamson says that the PM’s department requested
his article on Friday the 14th and not Saturday the 15th as reported in
The Sunshine Coast Daily. But it doesn’t alter the fact that the attacks were published after the PM’s department obtained a copy of the piece.