In terms of big political scoops, News Ltd’s Glenn Milne now finds
himself in the top ten from the past 20 years. His rivals, especially
scoop king Laurie Oakes, must be mightily annoyed, but it should be noted that The Bulletin’s Paul Daly had the substance of his story in March 2005 and has followed up with another strong effort today, which includes the following bold prediction from the Treasurer about the next election:

“He can’t win, I can. We can, but he can’t,” Costello
purportedly told confidants.

However, Milne had two things that Daly didn’t – Ian McLachlan going on
the record and Costello using the story to trigger a leadership
showdown. This is now being dubbed the greatest internal crisis the
Howard Government has faced and it is this “impact factor” which makes
Milne’s scoop so good.

Oakes can still claim some vital scoops over the Howard years but it’s
been a while since the last one, perhaps reflecting the broader decline
of Channel Nine and the uncertainty over Sunday’s
future. Shane Stone’s “mean and tricky” memo in 2001 remains Laurie’s
biggest as it
seriously put Costello back in his box and gave Howard an excuse to
start back-flipping on various policies such as petrol indexation. The
rumours persist that Howard sanctioned Oakes getting the Stone memo as a
way of reneging on his commitment and subsequently saving his place in

Cheryl and Gareth and the Andrew Wilkie whistle-blowing about Iraq were
two other major scoops that Oakes can claim, although these are now
getting a little dated and the Seven Network’s Mark Reilly showed him
up last year by breaking the story about Tony Abbott’s son who wasn’t.

When you land a big scoop, it is important to sell your story in the
rest of the media and Milne is certainly enjoying his moment in the
sun, putting in another strong performance on Lateline last night following on from The 7.30 Report
on Monday night. There have also been plenty of Sky News appearances
and some radio gigs, partly reflecting the time that weekly journalists
have to sell their stories.

Milne’s reputation as the tabloid low-life of the gallery – Mark
Latham’s buck’s night video, the column that precipitated the demise of
John Brogden and the recent appalling effort on Kim Beazley’s health
being three examples – has now partly been rehabilitated although he
does still suffer from the perception of being a mouthpiece for Peter
Costello. To counteract this, he really should have made some criticism
of the Treasurer on Lateline, rather than proffering the following:

The Costello camp clearly believes that the Prime Minister has now been put on
public notice; that there will be no grand exit – put it this way – there will
be no grand exit of his own choosing. If he chooses to stay on, there will be a
bloodbath. That’s what has happened today. That’s the key point. He’s now been
put on notice that the timing is out of his hands and the Costello camp, and
Peter Costello himself, are basically saying to him, “Look, if you choose to
stay on now, this is going to be an almighty mess”.

John Howard basically underestimated Peter Costello this
time round. He dudded him twice and you could tell by the way the Prime Minister
came out and tried to give his version of events in 1994 that he expected Peter
Costello to back down again and, hey presto, he didn’t.

Truth be known, there are shades of grey in this issue but Milne only
sees it in 100% pro-Costello terms. By way of contrast, the likes of
Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt are blinkered in their devotion to the
PM. Wouldn’t it be nice to have commentators who make calls based on
facts and merit, rather than pre-determined personal loyalties?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey