The first and last private conversation that I had with Rupert Murdoch was after the 1999 News Corp AGM in Adelaide when the Sun King claimed that “all” John Fairfax directors were Kerry Packer stooges.
While this was an exaggerated claim, James Packer’s description of incoming Fairfax chairman Ron Walker last year as “an inspired choice” would have reaffirmed Murdoch’s view.
However, rather than going hostile, last week’s $380 million raid on Fairfax was accompanied by some extraordinarily friendly News Corp rhetoric directed at Walker, whom Rupert will meet when he visits Australia next month.
Someone clearly forgot to tell the editors of The Australian that the charm offensive is on because Saturday’s paper included two utterly gratuitous and unflattering pictures of Alan Oakley and Andrew Jaspan, Fairfax’s two leading Australian editors.
Oakley explained what happened by email:
It’s a mystery to me why they’d bother. They snapped me while I was putting out the garbage with my eight-year-old daughter at 6.30am. Good to see The Oz dedicating their (obviously overblown) resources to such cutting-edge photojournalism. Of course we won’t be responding – it’s just stupid.
News Ltd and Fairfax editors squabbling is nothing new. There was the famous 1998 incident of John Lyons getting absolutely smashed with a cabal of News Ltd plotters – including Lachlan Murdoch, Col Allan, Piers Akerman, John Hartigan and Mark Day – on the day he was in the process of being fired as editor of The SMH.
Similarly, the Herald Sun talked up the drink-drive problems that then Age editor Mike Smith suffered in 1992. But when the boot was on the other foot, Herald Sun editor-in-chief Peter Blunden went ballistic when The Age produced a straightforward account of his conviction after failing to blow into the bag in 2003.
Another memorable incident came when The Age’s editor Bruce Guthrie reported that his Sydney Morning Herald counterpart John Alexander had spent a weekend on Kerry Packer’s boat, the Arctic P, in March 1997. Alexander was forced out by then Fairfax CEO Bob Muscat 14 months later and has been working for the Packers ever since.
If Rupert did finish up with control of The Age and The SMH by flogging the Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph to PBL Media, it would be amusing to see how The Australian’s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell got along with Jaspan and Oakley at their first News Ltd editors conference.