The editor of The Australian, Chris Mitchell, has acknowledged that Caroline Overington was wrong to send the latest exchange of e-mails that have come to light, in which she suggests she might make a pass at Labor candidate for Wentworth, George Newhouse. But will Mitchell talk to her, or discipline her? No. Nor does he think the ultimate boss, Rupert Murdoch, was right to suggest that disciplinary action is in order.
“I don’t think Rupert knew all the background,” he told Crikey this morning.
“Yuck” seems to be the only possible response to the latest revelations about the e-mails exchanged between Caroline Overington and candidates for the seat of Wentworth. Following Media Watch’s revelations of Overington’s “girl chats” with independent candidate Danielle Ecuyer, today Fairfax newspapers report on what is, in some ways, an even more disturbing exchange.
Overington was “Flirting” — worse constructions are possible — with Labor candidate George Newhouse, at the same time as slagging him off to his ex-lover, Ecuyer. According to Damien Murphy’s story, one e-mail read “Let’s chat today, shall we? I could come out to Bondi, since I live there. And now you are single, I might even make a pass at you.”
Newhouse responded asking why she would do that, given that she was married, and that in a previous article she had described him as short, dark and Jewish. She replied that she was now separated, and that she might like short, dark and Jewish. This is urky enough, and terribly inappropriate for a professional exchange. But imagine if Overington was male, and Newhouse female. We would, I think, be readier to use words like harassment.
Chris Mitchell says: “I don’t think men would do that these days. They are too aware of the implications.”
So does that make it right for Overington?
“No, I wouldn’t sent e-mails like that and I am sure Caroline regrets it, but you know her well enough to know that is what she is like.”
He still describes the exchanges as “no more than colourful”, and will not be disciplining Overington.
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What does he mean about “what she is like?” Certainly Overington is a big personality, or as some of her colleagues say a “look at me” personality. According to Mitchell she would have “made similar suggestions to half the people in the office”.
Overington has dismissed the previous exchange with Ecuyer as a joke. This morning Overington did not return calls asking for comment. But surely it is well beyond a joke.
Meanwhile Mitchell is keen to emphasise the politics behind the Wentworth story – Ecuyer’s bids for publicity, the complicated matter of exactly the nature of her personal and political relationship with Newhouse, and the fact that The Australian has led the way on the pulp mill story, and is no friend of Malcolm Turnbull.
All of which is true and fair enough. It is also true that Overington is one of the most outstanding reporters in the country, winning a Walkley last year for her work on the wheat board story.
It gives me no pleasure to say this, but there is no excuse for her behaviour. It is so obviously out of line, and unethical, that it is barely necessary to point it out. Yuck, yuck, yuck.
The Australian, and Overington, would look better if they admitted the problem and made amends, rather than trying to pretend it is all a matter of the world — and Media Watch in particular — being against them.
Rupert gets the point. His Australian troops don’t seem to. I don’t think Mitchell is doing Overington any favours. Admit error, and she could go on to prove just how good she is all over again. Try to deny the problem, and it could just wreck her credibility – if that hasn’t already happened.