It was a Weekend Australian story so big they ran an online taster on Friday: “Captain Chaos: Inside Rudd’s Office”. John Lyons was going to examine the “disarray”, “confusion” and “chaos” in the Prime Minister’s office. We were even offered a “compare and contrast” version of Lyons’s account of Bob Hawke’s office from 1988.

Sales of the Weekend Australian must surely have spiked dramatically in anticipation. We got a story across two pages in the front section, and two whole pages in the “Inquirer” section, stuck between several thousand words on Bill Wyman’s love of cricket (WTF?) and several articles extolling the virtues of the NT intervention. For our money, we learnt the following:

The Prime Minister is a micro-manager.

He made Angus Houston and Michael L’Estrange wait a few hours for a meeting.

He watches Estimates and calls meetings if he thinks things are going wrong.

His chief press secretary Lachlan Harris is a prize pr-ck who chews out everyone, including a laryngitis-stricken Tony Burke, and who has a problem with female journalists.

But Laurie Oakes doesn’t have any problem with any of them.

And, um… well, that was pretty much it, really. The stuff was repeated about three times to pad it out. Oh, and some Labor hands from the olden days, including a “Labor historian”, were called in to shake their heads and lament that it’s all a disaster.

There are, perhaps, illiterate deaf and blind amnesiacs on a tropical island somewhere who aren’t aware that Kevin Rudd is a workaholic micro-manager, but the rest of us have managed to work it out by now. A few more may not be aware that Lachlan Harris is an ars-hole, but word of that had got out, too. And the news that Laurie Oakes gets his phone calls returned probably isn’t going to astonish people either.

In short, however tarted up and sold as shock revelations by his editors, Lyons’s article was all sizzle and no sausage.

And this isn’t the first time Lyons’s rather shabby wares have been oversold. One of the lowlights of his television career was a Sunday feature in October 2000 on then-ABC boss Jonathan Shier, which promised “explosive revelations” about the controversial MD. The explosive revelations turn out to be a claim by John Howard — the fat, ugly actor, not the Prime Minister — that he’d heard someone in the ABC had objected to that oh-so-funny moment in The Games lauded by latte-sipping lefties all over the country, when he delivered an apology to the Stolen Generations. And that was it. Laurie Oakes looked positively embarrassed trying to grill Shier about it afterwards.

But Lyons was on a roll at the time. It was only a few months later that he conducted his Walkley-winning story on Nick Whitlam, which Nine luminaries Gerald Stone and Allan Hogan later condemned as a beat-up that had been unethically edited.

Former Bulletin readers — all six of them — may also recall that Lyons was one of the Packers’ go-to men for their long-running feud with Paul Keating. Lyons even boasted about the feud in his xenophobic and hilariously hypocritical rant – in a New Limited publication, no less — about Americans and other foreigners closing The Bulletin (and, worse, without even having the good grace to tell Ros Packer first).

You might’ve blamed this malice toward the Government on Lyons being pushed around by the PM’s security detail back in May. But he has been bagging the Government from the get-go, even marking the stolen generations apology with a lengthy encomium of the indigenous affairs genius of Mal Brough, including criticism of the permit system as “apartheid”.

There are serious, potentially era-defining issues about the way Kevin Rudd does business. But Lyons managed to miss them completely. He would be more credible if he wasn’t plainly determined to beat up the Government. And if he told us something we didn’t already know.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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