Yesterday, Oz journalist Caroline Overington dismissed her emails about Danielle Ecuyer’s preferences as simply involving a “couple of girls joking.”

It’s salutary, then, to compare the Australian’s editorial line on that other famous political prankster, Peter Garrett:

Most people are aware of the old English proverb that many a true word is spoken in jest… For eco-extremists, the ends nearly always justify the means. It is therefore easy to accept the substance of Mr Garrett’s joke that, for him, Labor doesn’t really mean it.

The “just-a-gag” defence employed by journalists doesn’t, it would seem, get much of a hearing when it comes to Labor politicians.

Today we have some fresh examples of Overington’s humour in her exchanges with Labor’ candidate, George Newhouse. First, she offers to make a pass at him. Then she sends the following:

Overington, 11.35am: Either you say yes to a photograph smiling and happy and out campaigning, or we stake you out and get you looking like a cat caught in a trap, in your PJs. Your choice…

Overington, 12.51pm: OK, we are sending a bloke out at 1pm. We do not have all day, George.

Overington, 2.48pm: We’re out the front of your house, and your office, just so you know.

One anticipates that the jocularity will culminate in the unfortunate Mr Newhouse’s discovery of a horse’s head in his bed.

Another comparison, this time hypothetical, comes to mind. Imagine that, while waiting at an airport, Peter Garrett threatens Steve Price (“We’re sending a bloke out”) and then offers to sleep with him (“I used to be a rock star, you know!”)

When Garrett later says he’s joking, will The Australian agree not to run the story? Yet the journalistic hypocrisy here doesn’t compare with the pot-kettle convention being hosted higher up in New Corp.

Consider a certain newspaper proprietor’s reaction to the Overington affair:

The chairman of News Corp, Rupert Murdoch, although unaware of the incident involving Overington and Ms Ecuyer, said yesterday disciplinary action would be taken against any reporter who privately tried to influence candidates in the name of one of the company’s publications. But he said the company could not restrict individuals’ private actions.

That’s fine and dandy – except that, not so very long ago, that same Mr Murdoch made headlines around the world telling journalists that Kevin Rudd would make a super Prime Minister. And, only last week, both Rudd and Peter Costello popped into the News Limited offices for what the newspapers referred to as “discussions“.

The senior executives with whom they talked were clearly trying to influence candidates – why else would they meet with them? Are we to really assume that they were acting in a private capacity? Was Murdoch simply speaking as an ordinary individual rather than a media tycoon when he endorsed Kevin Rudd?

Of course not. But Murdoch probably intended his latest comments to reinforce a division of labour. Simply, what’s good for the ganders in News management isn’t necessarily good for journalistic gooses – even such perfect specimens as Caroline Overington.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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