Journalist Mark Aarons writes:

All the envious innuendo from “long-term observer of Melburnian journalism”, “prominent Melbourne man of letters”, “close observer” and “senior Monthly contributor” about the supposed role of Robert Manne in the departure of Sally Warhaft as editor of The Monthly do not add up to the supposed ‘solid’ consensus claimed by Crikey editor, Jonathan Green.

While Green obliquely notes their obvious lack courage to publicly declare their “convictions” he seems unwilling to draw the logical journalistic conclusion: unanimous anonymity among one’s sources is usually suggestive of a much more complex situation.

While not agreeing with many of Guy Rundle’s conclusions he is much closer to the mark. As I told Caroline Overington several times for her “Mills and Boon” piece (Rundle’s description) in The Australian the issue at the core of this debate has little to do with personalities (Manne versus Warhaft) and everything to do with very different conceptions between all the other board members (on the one hand) and Warhaft (on the other) of what The Monthly should be. I know this, among other reasons, because Warhaft told me so when last we met in November 2008.

Claims by cowardly sources that Manne was somehow motivated to exercise himself against Warhaft because of his “diminishing influence” are risible. I would bet that such sources have not been published as widely, or at such length, as Manne has been in the past six months (apart from his regular essays in The Monthly these, from memory, include several OpEd articles in The Australian, a major essay in The Australian Literary Review and the editorship of a significant book).

Similarly, claims that The Monthly’s publisher, Morry Schwartz, is “besotted” with Manne are juvenile. Anyone who knows Morry reasonably well understands that he possesses considerable intellect and is famously independent of mind and spirit. He certainly is not afraid of robust debate with anyone, including Manne.

Contrary to the gushing unanimity of Green’s anonymous sources it has to be stated that there were significant shortcomings in Sally Warhaft’s editorship of The Monthly. I am the first to acknowledge her many achievements and the considerable development that she underwent during her period of stewardship. This does not excuse her at times unprofessional behaviour towards authors with whom she had disagreements, including me.

Finally, I should note that prior to her rift with me Sally repeatedly confided to me her appreciation of Robert Manne’s support for her and the enormous intellectual and writing contribution he made to The Monthly. If my own experience with her is any guide then I suspect that what has occurred between Warhaft and Manne has much more to do with her own insecurities and inability to deal maturely with disagreements than it has to do with Manne (or Schwartz, for that matter) not liking “when a smart young woman answers them back”.

It would be refreshing if Crikey could deal with such issues that inevitably arise in all media organizations with more subtlety and less like some sort of morality play, especially when its sources are hidden behind pretentious titles.

And author Alex Miller writes:

Robert Manne is a personal friend and a man I greatly admire; not only for his fine intelligence but also for his kindness and his courage to speak the truth.

The anonymous commentator who claims Robert’s recent cancer has, among other things, diminished his creative energies and has contributed, in some way, to the end of Sally Warhaft’s tenure as editor of The Monthly , is not only cruel but is mistaken. While Rob was suffering the debilitating affects of radiotherapy he was writing his brilliant review of the controversial French novel, The Kindly Ones, which appeared in the March 4 issue of The Australian Literary Review.

The truth is that Robert Manne has never been more productive than when he was suffering from cancer and the side effects of his treatment. Robert Manne is not a diminished force in this community, but is a man in his prime, a man, in fact, of rare character in this world. His enemies — and any honest man or woman has enemies — will not like this, but the voice of Robert Manne is precious to all of us and will go on being heard at full strength for many years yet.

For a man of his great accomplishment and immense intellectual force to be so unaffected by ego is a combination that is found only among the very best of people. The anonymous voices who criticise Robert are principally voices of envy and fear — one hears it in the miserable things they have to say. Let the anonymous writer, for example, who attempts to use Robert’s cancer against him here have the decency to make him or herself known.

Why are we asked to account credible the voices of “the nameless chorus” and not believe the voices of Morry Schwartz and Chris Feik, both honourable men?

Peter Fray

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