Yesterday, The Australian ran a front-page story entitled “Macklin opts for luxury in Aurukun”, noting that the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin stayed on a $680 a night “luxury boat” rather than pull up stumps in a $90 a night guesthouse within the troubled township.

Macklin also, apparently, staged a BBQ on the boat for local dignitaries, bureaucrats and a few journalists.

I criticised the story in Crikey yesterday, noting that the “$680 a night luxury boat” was in fact a community-owned, not-for-profit venture which had been built by about three dozen jobless Aboriginal youth, as part of a very successful employment program.

It seems we might have hit a sore spot.

The Australian responds today on page 2 and in the Media section in two separate stories. In addition to defending the virtue of the Good Ship Australian, the articles are also aimed at ensuring that facts don’t get in the way of what seemed at the time to be a very good story.

Padraic Murphy reports: “The Australian‘s coverage of Ms Macklin’s visit in yesterday’s newspaper was attacked by the editor of the National Indigenous Times, Chris Graham who incorrectly stated the cruiser costs $680 a night instead of $680 for each person a night. Graham, writing for internet newsletter Crikey, accused The Australian of not checking its facts.”

I did not “incorrectly state” that the cruiser costs $680 a night at all. I correctly stated that “IF” the boat cost $680 a night, and Macklin took eight guests, that worked out to $85 a head, which is hardly a drain on the Australian taxpayer.

And where, might you ask, did I get it in my head that the Cruiser costs $680 a night? From The Australian. Twice. Once in the main body of the story and once in a caption, both of which claimed that the boat cost $680 for one night, NOT that the boat cost $680 PER PERSON per night.

Twenty-four hours after printing the story, The Australian finally checked its facts, and discovered that the Minister and her guests were actually charged $150 a night. Not able to simply acknowledge their error, we find out today that: “Those aboard the Pikkuw were charged $150 each but could not explain why they were charged less than the advertised rate of $680.”

I’ve worked in the media for almost 20 years, but never have I seen government officials attacked in the media for “not explaining why they were charged less than the advertised rate”. I can’t wait until the next Senate Estimates hearings, where it will surely emerge that Macklin got a cheap rate because she was using the MV Pikkuw to run guns and dope through the Gulf of Carpentaria.

And from there, The Australian‘s “reporting” simply descends into high farce, with such illuminating facts as: “Only two Indigenous people were present at the barbecue, one of whom grew up in Cairns and has spent much of her life in Melbourne.” Sorry, what’s your point?

And this one: “The Australian understands several other senior community members did not attend because of rumours that alcohol would be served.” Alcohol wasn’t served and never was going to be, so what’s your point?

There was this: “[Macklin] met the community’s women’s group and the council before being taken to the Pikkuw at 7.15pm, where she had dinner with about a dozen government bureaucrats, new Leichhardt MP Jim Turnour — who also stayed aboard the boat — and two journalists and a photographer from the Fairfax media group.”

The Australian has been reduced to running a beat-up to defend a beat-up of a non-story by attacking two competing journalists and a photographer from Fairfax for having a meal with a minister.

It all begs the question: why? What is the point of all this? Don’t the readers of Australia’s only national daily deserve better? Shouldn’t they be entitled to (a) read facts and (b) read corrections and clarifications when facts have been left out or distorted? And can any of this be actually regarded as journalism?

According to The Australian it can, because the article ends noting that “additional reporting” was provided by political correspondent Andrew Fraser and media columnist Amanda Meade. Three journalists and two stories to respond to a mere “internet newsletter”.