Former Acting Editor at The Age and current senior correspondent Simon Mann writes:

I noticed a bit more balance
yesterday on Mark Scott’s ABC appointment. But I would still take issue
with your reference to the ”episode”
regarding the 2004 Federal Election editorial in The Age.
Contrary to what you claim, the issue is ”clear-cut”. For the record,
here’s the truth: I was acting editor for several months in the lead-up
to incoming editor Andrew Jaspan’s arrival at The Age in late
2004, a period which took in the October poll.

At that time, under Fred
Hilmer’s tenure as CEO, Scott’s role was as a kind of editorial
director overseeing both The Age and Sydney Morning Herald
mastheads. He asked to be included in a discussion about the election
leader, which was his right, but did not give the impression that he
expected to impose any particular view or make the final call himself.
I assumed that I would be making the call, although I had made it clear
to Scott and to Age colleagues that I would be consulting closely with departing Age
Editor-in-Chief Michael Gawenda about the newspaper’s endorsement.

I
decided to hold an initial discussion with a group of senior editors,
including political editors and leader writers, as well as Scott and
Gawenda, generally to share views. A consensus quickly emerged that,
contrary to the Herald‘s position that it would not be endorsing either the incumbent or the challenger, Age
editors believed the newspaper had a responsibility to make a call on
which party was best suited to govern. We then debated the relative
merits of each party’s platform, track records and so forth. It is true
that some spoke strongly in support of Mark Latham’s agenda. But others
expressed reservations. The discussion was only ever going to be a
sharing of views; I wanted to be able to draw on that as part of my own
deliberation.

Following that meeting Gawenda and I had a long
discussion about our choice. It was not an easy one. There was much to
recommend Labor and the paper had been critical – and remains critical
– of the Howard Government over a number of issues. But like most
voters who enter the election booth, we had to give a tick to the
candidate who we believed – on balance – was the best choice. On
balance, the coalition’s economic performance got it across the line,
but we qualified our endorsement in the election editorial which also
characterised Latham as a ”work in progress”.

Later, Gawenda and I
went to Scott to inform him of our choice. He gave no hint that he was
ready to overturn our decision had it been the ”wrong” choice. You
suggest that the Age‘s credibility would, with hindsight, have
been damaged had it editorialised in favour of Latham. Maybe so, but
election endorsements should not be about trying to pick a winner. They
are about weighing up the parties, their strengths and their policies,
and deciding which of them will govern best. Nothing more, nothing less.

I’m
sure Mark Scott does not need me to defend his record at Fairfax (I am
not personally aware of any ”political” interference by him during my
four years as Deputy Editor and Acting Editor). But it is important
that the record be put straight on behalf of The Age , its journalists and its readers.

CRIKEY: Fair enough. We argued the issue was not “clear cut”
because some of those involved had raised lingering suspicious
about whether Scott had played a role outside the meeting in
influencing
the paper’s decision. Given so much was being made of Scott’s alleged
Liberal party sympathies we decided it was a question worth exploring.
But you can’t get a more emphatic account from the man who made the
decision and nobody has come up with anything that could refute this
version of events.