When you work for a colourful global media identity such as Rupert Murdoch, there are always plenty of likely lads on the scene.
Two of them, News Limited executive chairman John Hartigan and the artful asbestos dodger Greg Baxter (see more here), were spreading their charms through the Victorian Supreme Court yesterday dumping a bucket on sacked Herald Sun editor Bruce Guthrie. I dropped by for the afternoon session to watch retired Herald & Weekly Times managing director Julian Clarke be put through his paces during more than two hours on the stand.
Clarke was one of the few true gentlemen in a senior role at the top of Murdoch’s tabloid newspaper empire and it was a little sad to watch him yesterday attempt to blacken Guthrie’s name while talking up that most lamentable tabloid trio of Harto, Andrew Bolt and Peter Blunden.
Clarke reckons that the first mistake Guthrie made as editor was to get into an argument with Andrew Bolt about a month after taking over. It finished with an unexplained rude gesture.
The issue related to this provocative and since amended column by Bolt ripping into Slater & Gordon on March 14, 2007, about cases the plaintiff law firm ran on a no-win, no-fee basis. Peter Gordon, who has since left the firm, fired back with a strong response a week later, all of which was neatly summarised by Lawyers Weekly.
The one thing that John Hartigan and Julian Clarke have agreed on in Guthrie’s favour so far was that he was hired to improve the opinion pages, which lacked intelligence. In other words, there were too many inflammatory Bolt rants and populist puff pieces.
While Guthrie has by no means admitted he made any sort of rude gesture at Bolt, the decision to run Gordon’s retort was a classic case of giving a victim a right of reply, yet Bolt it seems wanted to turn the saga into a tennis match with a reply to the reply. Save it for the blog, Bolter! Do your readers really care?
The gentlemanly Clarke, who plays tennis at snobby Royal South Yarra, thought it was poor form when a third party, possibly Terry McCrann, told him of the alleged rude gesture. He then approached Bolt who confirmed it, so the Guthrie copybook was blotted, especially given that Bolt’s contract was one of the few directly handled by Clarke rather than the editor.
Clarke also attempted to make much of an “infamous meeting” on September 10, 2007, when Guthrie allegedly rounded on advertising director Fiona Mellor and declared her premature distribution of some material on the proposed new Extra section made her “the most unprofessional person I have ever worked with”.
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In an afternoon of colourful descriptions, Clarke declared this to be an “explosion” that permanently damaged Guthrie’s relationship with Mellor and was “far beyond … anything I have known to have happened on the editorial floor”.
Cripes, gentlemanly Julian has clearly spent far too long locked away on mahogany row.
Murdoch tabloid editors the world over are notorious for their appalling behaviour. Surely he’s read the wonderful book Stick It Up Your Punter, detailing life under Kelvin MacKenzie on The Sun in the 1980s. The Wikipedia account of MacKenzie’s notorious reign is excellent.
And back in Australia, who can forget Col Allan pissing in the sink during news conference, describing Muslims as “towel heads” and his retort, “Nahh, no fat chicks”, when someone suggested a certain columnist be invited to join Christmas drinks in his office at The Daily Telegraph.
While Clarke could run the “that was Sydney, I was Melbourne” defence, surely he regarded some of Piers Akerman’s behaviour, when editor-in-chief of the Herald Sun in 1990-92, as more offensive than anything Guthrie served up.
As for defending Peter Blunden. Only yesterday a former Herald Sun hack was telling me about Blunden launching into an expletive-laden five-minute rave when my name was mentioned in passing during a meeting in an editorial office at Southgate less than two years ago. This was F and C bomb rave No.375, apparently.
And Guthrie certainly never went down for drink-driving while claiming asthma prevented him from blowing into the bag, as Blunden famously did in 2002.
It was certainly most interesting sitting three metres from Blunden watching him rip into Guthrie on the stand this morning, as Andrew Crook has explained elsewhere. Can’t wait for the rest after lunch.