Crikey editor Misha Ketchell writes:

Every now and then a story surfaces that ticks like a time bomb for News Limited editors. Today The Age published observations on Rupert Murdoch by former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett – Kennett dishes out advice to Murdoch – that should come with a note warning Murdoch editors: “handle with care”.

The US billionaire couldn’t be pleased by Michelle Grattan’s account on
Kennett’s broadside, strangely buried on page two of this morning’s Age:

JEFF Kennett has a tough message for Rupert Murdoch: if the
media magnate wants to advise John Howard when to quit, he should
practise what he preaches.

Mr Murdoch, 75, this week said Mr Howard, 66, was on top of his
form and it was “much better to go out that way” than be replaced
like Margaret Thatcher or lose an election.

Although he would like to see Mr Howard stay, he thought he was
“probably planning to go out at the top”.

The former premier said last night: “If this American wants to
give our Prime Minister advice, and wishes to be taken seriously,
why hasn’t he applied the same advice to himself?

“He’s a decade older than our prime minister, who continues to
enjoy the overwhelming support of his party and the public.

“And I can’t remember John Howard embracing a poison pill to
save himself and his organisation from competition,” Mr Kennett
added in a jibe at Mr Murdoch’s controversial business tactic to
ward off a takeover.

Mr Kennett’s reaction contrasted with that of Treasurer and
would-be prime minister Peter Costello, who on Wednesday praised Mr
Murdoch as “a great Australian”, whose views he always carefully
noted…

Mr Kennett told The Age Mr Murdoch would have known the
ramifications of what he had said. His comments would have been
deliberate and perhaps mischievous and were “clearly a statement of
hubris”.

“My advice to Mr Murdoch is to take your own advice, set the
example, move on while you are on top. Having preached the
standard, walk the talk.”

Kennett is no longer a serving politician but he still has a public profile and his comments are nothing if not gutsy. The
fear of retribution would have made him think twice, especially in a
week in which the Melbourne Herald Sun was demonstrating its
destructive power with a clinical demolition of football commentator
Rex Hunt over revelations he has been paying women for sex.

We rang Jeff this morning to find out what made his stick his neck out
and are waiting for a response. Maybe the sight of Costello’s shameless
genuflecting to Murdoch was just too much for him. If so he should be
applauded, because treating Citizen Murdoch as some sort of political Godfather
diminishes all Australian politicians – not to mention the fact it was
a slap in the face any Australian citizen still labouring under the
crazy misapprehension that they have some say on who runs the country.

The interesting question now will be how the Murdoch editors handle the
story. Attacks on Rupert from the usual suspects can be ignored
but Jeff Kennett isn’t a Murdoch-hater and he still has quite a bit of
clout in this country, as well as an especially enthusiastic public following
in Victoria.

His views are news, like them or not. They deserve to be reported.

Peter Fray

A lot can happen in 3 months.

3 months is a long time in 2020. Join us to make sense of it all.

Get you first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12. Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

12 weeks for $12