During the 30 plus years I have known her, I have not found Michelle Grattan to be a passionate person. Thorough, measured, controlled and accurate have been the hallmarks of her journalism. Partisan politics does not intrude into the thoughtful reflections of her opinion pieces and I would not have a clue as to how she has voted over the years.

Which is what makes her recent writings on the detention of David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay so remarkable. As you can see for yourself in this morning’s offering in The Age the Press Gallery veteran seems almost angry. Writing of “the government’s mishandling of the affair” she declares that “everything reported back from Guantanamo is also another reminder, both by implication and from what we know of the obvious faults of the US military commissions, that Hicks will get the roughest of justice when he comes to trial.”

What the impact of this verdict is on readers of The Age, I know not but its impact on the way other journalists report on Hicks will be considerable. Michelle Grattan is so well respected by her peers, and her entry into advocacy for a cause so rare, that others will be influenced to follow her line.

Gerard Henderson for one is well aware of that. In his Tuesday Sydney Morning Herald column Henderson remarked how last July the “normally reserved and considered journalist” had “abandoned her taciturn writing style and declared that ‘John Howard is obsessive about David Hicks’ and accused the Coalition of having ‘lost perspective’ on the issue. Grattan also gave credence to Mori’s assertion that ‘if Hicks was from a nice suburb in Sydney … or if he was a little cuter’ he would not have been detained. The implication was that the Howard Government is not interested in ordinary-looking blokes from South Australia’.”

Well, the signs are that on this issue Michelle will continue to abandon her taciturn style and there must be some within the Coalition who are becoming uneasy about the extent to which the David Hicks team are winning the publicity battle.

Peter Fray

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