In my new book, Scorcher: The dirty politics of climate change, I chronicle a range of criticisms of The Australian’s climate change coverage.
It now seems worthwhile to document here the events as they occurred before and after publication. Putting these events on the public record will help readers understand the motives for the continuing attacks on me and Robert Manne in The Australian, attacks that reached a crescendo in an editorial published on Monday entitled ‘Reality Bites Psychotic Left’.
The hysterical tone suggests that The Australian’s senior editors have been severely shaken by criticisms of the paper’s climate change coverage.
Around two weeks before the publication date of Scorcher, the publisher Black Inc sent the page proofs to Patrick Lawnham, the editor of the Inquirer section of The Weekend Australian, to see if the paper would be interested in bidding for extract rights.
A few days later, on 4th April, I received a phone call from Chris Mitchell, Editor-in-Chief of The Australian. In a cordial conversation he suggested that my comments in Scorcher on the role of The Australian in the climate change debate were unduly harsh. In a letter dated the next day he argued that his paper’s coverage had not been ‘anti-green’ but instead emphasised a ‘practical approach’ to the issue. He enclosed a package of materials, collated by various staff…
The purpose of Mitchell’s approach was to persuade me to change my views, as if they were based on an inadequate study of The Australian’s reporting and comment on the issue, itself an odd perception.
The next day, 11th April, Lawnham formally wrote to Morry Schwartz, owner of Black Inc Books, claiming that Scorcher “greatly misrepresents” the newspaper’s coverage of climate change. He claimed to have been shocked by the book.
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The letter went on to say that The Australian wanted an ‘addendum’ to be inserted in printed copies of the book, and an insertion in any new printings, “stating that The Australian rejects the book’s representation of its coverage of greenhouse and other environmental issues, and of its staff’s motives and intent”.
Such a demand is virtually unheard of in the world of publishing and could not be taken seriously. It was all the more breathtaking for the fact that the demand was made by a powerful national newspaper against a small publisher.
In an email to Black Inc’s publicist, Anna Lensky, on the same day, Lawnham gave more reasons for the decision to reject extracts. Claiming Scorcher was “too unbalanced”, he wrote:
It’s not so much the attacks on The Australian, which are grossly misrepresentative, it’s more the book’s central message that the Prime Minister is a deliberate enemy of humanity that is the problem. Hitler … Stalin … Howard.
This saga has both alarming and comical aspects. Perhaps the most interesting lesson is the difficulty that a newspaper that takes its reputation seriously can get itself into when it campaigns fiercely on the basis of an ideological position.
On Crikey deadline, The Weekend Australian’s editor Nick Cater responded to our request for a comment:
Even though Clive Hamilton admitted in conversation with the newspaper that he’d got a lot wrong in his book Scorcher and even though it’s very clear that he got the facts wrong, he refused to correct it before publication.
We were very clear with him that we weren’t demanding or asking that he change it, we were merely furnishing him with the facts in the hope that he might.
We were very specific that we weren’t demanding that of him…
When the issue of litigation, and whether we would litigate, was discussed, we were very clear that we would not take that route as a newspaper… it’s always open for any individuals who may or may not consider they were misrepresented or defamed in Mr Hamilton’s book to take action but I have no knowledge as to whether they plan to do that…
We will be quite happy to provide the full correspondence to Crikey in due course if you choose to publish it…
This episode only went to highlight the fact that Clive Hamilton has become irrelevant to the debate…