The Australian’s editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, plumbed new depths of hypocrisy and pettiness on Saturday.

His obsession with Robert Manne and all things supposedly “left” produced yet another splash off the back of a Kevin Rudd interview marking 100 days in office.

David Burchell followed it up today with this rave on The Australian’s opinion page.

Publications sometimes have obsessions that just go too far. Crikey had one in our early days with Natasha Stott Despoja. The West Australian’s editor Paul Armstrong just can’t let go of long-time Brian Burke opponent Jim McGinty, the WA Attorney General and Health Minister. As McGinty told Radio National’s Media Report last week: “When you get 13% of all editorials in the first half of last year viciously personally directed against one person, who frankly doesn’t warrant that amount of coverage, you start to think there’s something bitter, personal and unprofessional going on.”

The same applies to Robert Manne. He is not the root of all evil, deserving this constant battering in The Australian.

The Monthly is out today and Gideon Haigh notes Chris Mitchell’s “legendary ability for enmity” in his fascinating cover story on the demise of The Bulletin.

For someone so combative, it is extraordinary that Mitchell can simultaneously be so subservient to his boss, Rupert Murdoch. Take Saturday’s editorial which opened as follows:

THE Weekend Australian rarely sees eye to eye with editorial writers at The Sydney Morning Herald, who too often view the world through the froth of inner-city cappucino. So it was pleasing last year when the Fairfax journal called for the removal of restrictions to press freedom and signed on to the industry’s Right to Know campaign. It is disturbing, therefore, to learn that Fairfax executives have launched a witch-hunt to track down a brave whistleblower on their staff. In December last year, The Australian published pictures taken in The Sydney Morning Herald‘s newsroom where a series of murals, recently installed, featured News Corporation chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch. It was, we think , a fine tribute to one of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs…

And on it went.

The only problem with editorialising about whistle-blowers and press freedom is the company’s approach to Bruce Dover, the insider whose book, Rupert’s adventures in China: how Murdoch lost a fortune and found a wife, exposed the Sun King’s appalling grovelling to the Chinese dictators.

While the vast Murdoch empire is yet to even mention Dover or his book, at least we’ve got the likes of Slate editor at large Jack Shafer whose hard-hitting review has already had more than 39,000 page views. Shafer has also picked up on the International Herald Tribune’s coverage of our tale last week about the Eric Ellis review which was dropped by Murdoch’s already cowering editors at The Far Eastern Economic Review.

If Mitchell wants to lecture anyone about free speech and whistleblowers, he should first run a review of Dover’s book, not editorialise about this “most successful entrepreneur” who pays his wage.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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