The gold medal winner for hatchet jobs in the Australian media remains the cover of Fairfax’s Good Weekend. Sure, A Current Affair and TodayTonight fix up plenty of small-time con-artists and dodgy builders, but they get nowhere near Good Weekend’s record for seriously pounding high profile people.

With the biggest and best print audience in the country – 1.8 million
readers in NSW and Victoria each Saturday – the magazine has enormous reach
and chooses to exercise that power with authoritative and entertaining stitch-ups.

The magazine’s most successful editor, Fenella Souter, once gloated: “You haven’t been done until you’ve been done by Good Weekend.” She was presumably referring to “done” as in profiled, but many of its victims would regard it as being “done over”.

So just who has copped it in the neck over the years? How’s this
for a
list? Malcolm Turnbull, Richard Carleton, Alan Jones, Mike Willesee,
Hanson, Bob Katter, Lloyd Williams (sued), Rene Rivkin, Philip
Nitschke, News Ltd’s celebrity
chef Donna Hay, stockbroker Ian Story (committed suicide that day),
Troy Dann and celebrity profiler Antonella Gambotto, the last two being
good examples of people who disappeared from public view after being

All of this provides interesting background for the latest cover story
on media buying powerhouse Harold Mitchell. Jane Cadzow is one of GoodWeekend’s
toughest profilers, but would she be able to stitch up the man who
decides where about $700 million of advertising is spent each year?
Such is the Mitchell power, a negative profile could literally cost
Fairfax tens of millions in revenue, as it did when the Lowy family
took him on back in the late 1980s for supposedly not delivering enough
advertising to Network Ten.

Well, Cadzow and Good Weekend have passed the test because
Saturday’s interesting profile certainly wasn’t a hagiography, although
Mitchell has no reason to be calling in the lawyers. There were
some fascinating insights into his tough background and personality,
but he certainly didn’t get as easy a ride as Eddie McGuire in The Australian
Magazine. The two issues which Cadzow needed to broach in any credible
profile are Mitchell’s bullying tactics and his financial troubles in
the 1990s and both were as follows:

“There’s a saying in Melbourne: ‘Don’t cross the fat man,'”
says one industry observer, while another says Mitchell is “basically a
bully boy who has ruled by fear and intimidation all his life.”

His worst nightmare came true in the early 1990s, when
several big property investments went bad, wiping him out financially.
“I lost everything,” he says, but, rather than file for bankruptcy (“I
would never do that. That’s the easy way out”), he went back to working
seven days a week at the agency: “I settled every major debt. It took
me five years.”

It would be interesting to know which properties were involved, who the
creditors were and whether everyone was paid 100 cents in the dollar,
plus penalty interest, as Paul Keating insists he did with the
Commonwealth Bank over his piggery. Harold has such media buying power
that he could certainly confer an advertising benefit on a financial
client who happened to double up as a creditor. However, knowing how
generous a philanthropist Harold has become, he probably did fix up
every last dollar of penalty interest.

Peter Fray

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