Have a listen to Michael Rowland’s story on The World Today this
afternoon when it appears online because Rupert Murdoch has made some
unguarded remarks to the ABC’s Washington correspondent suggesting it
would be a good time for John Howard to retire while “on top of his

Eleanor Hall immediately interviewed Murdoch biographer Neil Chenoweth
pursuing the question of whether the Sun King wants Peter Costello
installed sooner rather than later and whether this ties in with
proposed changes to Australia’s media ownership laws.

For mine, I reckon Rupert was just backing up his closest friend in
Australia, a certain Piers Akerman. The two still exchange birthday
presents and it wouldn’t surprise at all if Rupert was the primary Akerman
source for last Sunday’s column predicting an elegant departure
for the PM shortly before Christmas.

You see, Rupert was invited to the special John Howard tribute dinner
at the White House last night which further confirmed the impression
that this trip is a farewell lap of honour.

Given the closeness of Murdoch’s media machine to the Bush White House –
Fox News operative Tony Snow is Dubya’s new official spokesman –
this could well be the source of the leak.

Sure, John Howard keeps his counsel close in Australia, but to get the
sort of lavish treatment in Washington would have required
communication that there was unlikely to be another trip.

This information presumably prompted Rupert’s decision to attend the
lavish White House tribute dinner and then the cat was let out of the
bag when Rowland door-stopped him on the way in.

Asked if he expected Howard to stick around longer than George Bush,
Rupert said: “The Prime Minister could if he wanted to, but I doubt it.”

“I would like to see him stay on, he’s had 10 years … he’s on top of his form and it’s much better to go out that way.”

Rupert cited Margaret Thatcher as an example of someone who stayed too
long and said departing with an election loss was always the worst
possible outcome.

As expected, Rupert described the Australia-US relationship as “very,
very close – they have never been closer”. He also laid it on thick
during his speech, praising the PM for his “vision and courage”.

Gee, supporting the folly of the Rupert-backed invasion of Iraq sure does elicit plenty of praise these days.

Peter Fray

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