For a certain portion of the public, Anna Bligh’s victory in the Queensland election continues to pale beside the real story of this campaign — the infamous fake nude photos published by News Ltd’s Sunday tabloids a week before the poll.
Yesterday, after embarrassing details emerged regarding wild claims made to a freelance journalist by source of those photos — retired army “commando” Jack Johnson — News Ltd papers ran their own extensive mea-culpas.
Hanson, of course, has taken the right to complain seriously indeed, enlisting the services of Stuart Littlemore QC to prosecute her case.
But the backstory of how the apologies made their way into print is an interesting one. As the blog Mumbrella noted on Sunday morning, the Sunday Telegraph ran two apologies in subsequent editions — in the first, published online at midnight, the paper’s editorial makes no reference to the crucial detail that the photos published the week before were not of Hanson, seemingly hedging the paper’s bets on the authenticity of the photos.
Then, in a replacement editorial posted online at 7:35am on Sunday, and included in the paper’s third print edition, a full and unmitigated apology is included under editor Neil Breen’s byline, with reference to middleman paparazzi Jamie Fawcett’s role, as first revealed by Crikey last Thursday. The editorial comes close to blaming Fawcett for not informing the Tele of some of the more ridiculous claims made by Johnson, including that he also possessed photos of a “prominent Australian female”, now revealed to be an imagined Therese Rein, in her underwear.
So what transpired in the Sunday Telegraph newsroom between the first and second editorial drafts on Saturday night?
Crikey understands that it was only after the Tele got wind that a story including the new Therese Rein claims was to appear in rival Fairfax tabloid The Sun Herald, that Breen decided to upgrade their original keep-‘em-hanging editorial to something more fully-fledged and apologetic.
On Saturday afternoon, it is understood that Johnson, who had heard that the Sun-Herald would be publishing a piece relaying the intricate details of a wild rant he had delivered to UK freelancer Frank Thorne, contacted the Tele newsroom to give them the heads up.
The hours ticked by, then Sunday Telegraph journalist Jennifer Sexton called Thorne at around 8pm to check whether the tip-off about the pending Sun-Herald story was right.
Thorne today told Crikey that Sexton was totally aghast at the information that the Sun-Herald had dug up on Johnson, including his claims to have served as a “commando” in a civil war in an “Asian country” and his ravings over his dalliance with Hanson at the Pelican Bay resort, where the photos were alleged to have been taken.
Was the Tele about to be done over by its rival?
During the week, the Sun-Herald, had dispatched its reporter Matthew Benns to follow up on the Hanson photos story. Benns is close friends with veteran freelancer Frank Thorne, who Fawcett had previously shopped the Hanson story to on Thursday 12 March, before the Sunday Telegraph originally went to print.
Thorne sat down with Johnson to determine his bona-fides on Friday the 13th, and came away from the interview convinced that the seriously ill Johnson was making it up as he went along. The transcript and audio of that interview is set to appear on tonight’s edition of Media Watch, but Crikey rang Thorne, who was able to provide a pointer to some of the more ridiculous scenarios outlined by Johnson.
Thorne: How do you know this woman is Pauline Hanson?
Johnson: Because she told me.
He indicated that when they got to the hotel he asked her the full name of the woman in the photos and Johnson said “Pauline Hanson”.
Thorne said: “But I think if you check on the years involved she wasn’t married to anyone called Hanson for some years so she couldn’t have been Pauline Hanson at that motel so he lied about that.”
Ironically, the story that the Tele thought was looming failed to appear yesterday, emerging under a dual byline in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.
So why had the Tele left it to last minute to investigate Johnson’s bona-fides? It seems it only acted after Johnson suggested it was about to be done over.
It was Johnson’s claims to have other photographs of a woman he claimed was the wife of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that really settled the issue for Thorne. Johnson claimed that he “had her sitting in a nice negligee holding a glass of red”, but that he had destroyed those pictures. Thorne said that Johnson had claimed that he had met Therese Rein, “a touter he met through a recruiting company”, when she had been “recruiting ex-military for (private secutiry firm) Blackwater”.
Thorne said that the Tele’s reporter Sexton, told him that she was “trying to follow the story up all week” and “… I told Jennifer Sexton that and then I told her about the Therese Rein allegation and … she was breathless and horrified I could tell by her reaction on the phone she couldn’t believe how damaging this would be …”
“All I can believe is that she must have reported back to her bosses at the Sunday Telegraph and they changed and said he was a conman from that moment.”
It was only when Sunday Telegraph editor Breen became aware of the Rein twist. and the likelihood that it would appear in the Sun Herald that he rushed to print with the second, fully apologetic editorial.