“BHP and Rio Tinto want to destroy the government. They want to get rid of Rudd,” said David Marr, a man not short of an opinion.

Stellar Marr. (No, that’s not her name.) Last night at the Wheeler Centre, interviewed by Robert Manne, the journalist David Marr put in a stellar performance as he talked about his already much-discussed Quarterly Essay on Kevin Rudd. As we waited for the session to begin — a long room, jam-packed: 300 folk? — my friend asked, Are you going to read it? No! I said, I don’t care to read any more on that subject. Me neither, she replied.

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Psychoanalysis: Manne, introducing Marr, said that his book, Dark Victory (co-author Marian Wilkinson) was the definitive account of the children overboard affair. And that Power Trip, the essay on Rudd, was the best account about the PM Manne had read anywhere … except for what he thought was “the weakest bit,” Marr’s psychoanalysis of the PM (and his angry heart). Marr gave a “circuitous” answer pointing out that his life of Patrick White had resisted the “Freudian biography” which was then the vogue. (1991 was also when I first saw Marr, spruiking that book. He was armed with a red shirt and a set of priceless anecdotes.)

Marr has been thoroughly critiqued by other pundits on his psychoanalysing, (e.g. in Crikey) but what Marr presents on stage is supremely even-handed: he is confident but nuanced, sharp but judicious, clever but qualified. He never seems to rush to a conclusion, rather, pondering a moment before answering. He doesn’t look like a man who is trying to win an argument. He may be right, he may be wrong, but he is at the least accurate in reporting and considered in opinion. He also keeps what’s off the record, off the record. And, quite likely, he has sent not a few people into a frenzy of envy, because what journo would not wish to have reported, as Marr did in the instant-classic opening line of his book:

“Those Chinese f-ckers are trying to rat-f-ck us,” declared Kevin Rudd.

Peter Fray

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