Talkback radio’s silly season of fills and special programming may be rapidly approaching, but it seems Fairfax’s Neil Mitchell has left it to the last minute to launch his bid for hypocritical media quote of the year.
This morning on his top-rating 3AW program, Mitchell launched a feral attack on his broadsheet stablemate The Age, accusing journalists Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker of “agenda journalism” over the Thomas Kossmann affair.
According to Mitchell, The Age had run a campaign against the former Alfred Hospital trauma surgeon, claiming he was guilty even though there was not enough evidence to prove this. Kossmann, Crikey readers may recall, was the subject of a Victoria Police inquiry into his billing practices after a report by State Ombudsman George Brouwer claimed he had “harvested patients” in order to receive extra public cash.
Yesterday, Victoria Police dropped the allegations, prompting Mitchell’s confected outrage.
“It is agenda journalism and it is wrong,” Mitchell thundered.
But Mitchell, who is good personal friends with Kossmann, has been relentless in his own campaign, remarking last year that the trauma surgeon “had a bit of a rough deal”. The greying shock jock said Brouwer was “sort of delving into areas he doesn’t really understand” and “is a bit worried about the report to be frank”.
Of course, the pro-Kossmann campaign is only the tip of the iceberg. Let’s look at just some of the other salvos that have consumed Mitchell’s agenda-setting mind over the last few years:
1) Road safety. Mitchell has been relentless in his bid to rid the roads of chaos and carnage. Brumby government minister Tim Holding informed a parliamentary inquiry in May:
“My recollection is that Neil Mitchell was a great advocate for putting in place a display which actually showed what happened to a car that was involved in a high speed collision.”
According to Mitchell himself: “I have for years been trying through this program to harness to improve road safety, how to reduce the road toll. We get the ideas, I try to get them through.”
Other wars have been waged against speed cameras (get rid of them) and those annoying bicyclists. For his good work, Mitchell was appointed last month as an official Road Safety Ambassador by the Rudd Government.
2) The banks. Following Tuesday’s decision by Westpac to raise its rates by 0.45%, Mitchell went into overdrive, “launching a tirade” (his blog’s words, not ours) and encouraging listeners to “whack a bank”.
Mitchell told listeners yesterday: “your mission today, should you choose to accept it, is to make those bloody banks accountable.”
3) Street Drinking. “Booze, it’s really time to draw the line on this”, Mitchell said on 23 September, as part of an assault on street violence co-auspiced by the Herald Sun.
“I want to find answers on this, we can’t just fiddle around the edges. I’ve got some answers and I want yours too.”
Last month, Mitchell hosted, alongside police chief Simon Overland and Premier John Brumby, a “Rescue The Streets Forum” at Federation Square.
4) Robert Doyle for Lord Mayor. Last year, Mitchell effectively ran Doyle’s media campaign, launching the tilt on his radio show, as documented by Crikey.
Mitchell famously wrote in his Herald Sun column: “Any ideas for lord mayor? Eddie McGuire flirted with the idea but rejected it. What about former opposition leader Robert Doyle? He’s passionate about Melbourne and knows how to open doors.”
5) The ousting of Royal Children’s Hospital chairwoman Kerrie Cross in 2003. Cross’ husband happened to be an adviser to the then Victorian health minister Bronwyn Pike. Her husband, Andreas Zamurs, wrote a memo to then-premier Steve Bracks criticising RCH doctors and praising the board chaired by his wife. Mitchell went to town and Cross had to resign. Tony Beddison, Mitchell’s manager, then replaced Cross as chair of the board.
Liberal upper house member David Davis told State Parliament:
“I know some have taken a particularly active role…in the first instance I compliment Neil Mitchell on the stance he has taken on the Royal Children’s Hospital. I believe he has played a very important role. What he has done in this recent period is the best of the work of the media. He has been prepared to work with and develop an issue to get positive outcome for his community”
6) Steve Vizard. The rehabilitation of the disgraced funnyman in 2006 was prosecuted live on 3AW with the appearance of Vizard spin doctor Mike Smith who is mates with Mitchell from their time together at The Age.
Mitchell then gave Vizard a soft landing on the front page of the Herald Sun over the eventual return of his Order of Australia medal, painting the accused inside trader as full of remorse and ready for rehabilitation.
He followed up with an exclusive 3AW interview with Vizard, posing a series of soft questions over the saga.
7) Christine Nixon’s “junket from Qantas” in 2008. 3AW gossip reporter Dan Ziffer’s revelations that Christine Nixon had been present on the national carrier’s inaugural A380 flight to Los Angeles were followed up hard by Mitchell, on radio and via his Herald Sun pulpit. “When you are Chief Commissioner, commanding thousands and relying on public trust, appearances like that do matter.”
But the last word should really go to Mitchell himself. In 2007, celebrating 20 years behind the microphone, Mitchell told the Herald Sun that the “high points” of his marathon stint were “the things we’ve achieved.”
These included “building the new facility at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Tyler Fishlock, the Blue Ribbon Foundation, the flowers on the steps of Parliament House for the Bali bombing, going to Gallipoli for the 90th anniversary of the landing, setting up of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation.” Worthy agenda-setting campaigns all of them.