Sunday, 30 June, 2002
Laurie Oakes has performed a strip-tease that appears designed to maximise the impact of the Cheryl-Gareth affair story for the Packer empire, as Hillary Bray reports.
The stories about Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans have been around ever since she joined the ALP and the downward trajectories of both their careers since then make them the Sid and Nancy of Australian politics. They’re finished and tarnished. Why run it now?
Laurie Oakes has said it because Kernot’s supposed tell-all autobiography is based on “a falsehood”. But is this all?
Oakes relishes his position as one of the doyens of the Gallery and the power it brings. He wields this power blatantly, too. Laurie Oakes does not come to doorstops. He stays away from virtually all press conferences, too. You go to Laurie Oakes.
He likes to be feted. There are two unwritten rules for all his interviewees on Sunday. They should do their interview in the studio with Oakes and bring him an exclusive, an announcement that will reassert his superiority over the pretenders on the other channels. New Ministers soon learn what the rules are.
Kernot’s defection was a bombshell and Oakes got the news the same time as everyone else. He seems to have been incensed from that moment on hence his “Demo-rat” comments at that first press conference as Cheryl defected.
The feeling are reciprocated by Kernot. If there is a media villain in her autobiography, it’s Oakes. So is this the reason Oakes decided to publish? Quite possibly his “falsehood” objections cover everything nicely.
And the timing. That’s interesting, too. Yes, the book’s just been launched and Kernot is or was on the road on the author trail. Yet, at the same time, the Prime Minister is overseas, the Opposition Leader is overseas and a good chunk of the Gallery’s top people is with them. Oakes has the floor to himself.
These why and when question are all matters for conjecture. We have firm facts as a base to look at how it was done and that’s the most fascinating issue of them all.
Oakes says he acted on the book’s release because of the “falsehood” but he has given no real reason for the way he acted. Why didn’t he report it straight out? Why the mystery? Why the slow striptease? Why the dance of the seven veils?
Let’s look at the chronology:
Tuesday. The Bulletin issues a press releases talking up the Oakes story.
Wednesday, early morning. The Bulletin arrives. Oakes plays the political prick tease. He engages in intercourse with his readers, but won’t go all the way:
“For a long time now, some members of the Fourth Estate have been aware of the biggest secret in Kernot’s life. If made public, it would cause a lot of people to view her defection from the Australian Democrats to the Labor Party in a different light. While it is one thing for journalists to stay away from such a matter, however, it is quite another for Kernot herself to pretend it does not exist when she pens what purports to be the true story of her ill-fated change of party allegiance. An honest book would have included it.”
Wednesday, late morning. The Gallery is in uproar. Oakes tells people he has proof.
Wednesday evening. The story leads the Channel Nine news. Oakes names names. Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans had a five year affair. He has “documentary evidence”, an e-mail, that proves so. To make matters worse, Gareth Evans mislead the House of Representatives on the matter.
Oakes then appears at the top of A Current Affair. He says he acted because the book is based on a “falsehood”, because he couldn’t believe the book. The Bulletin article may have been “naive”, but there was “no right way” to do the story.
Now, many things can be said about Oakes but not that he is naive. In the face of what can only be seen as a textbook cross-promotion effort by the Bulletin and its Packer sibling Nine, a story has been dragged out to maximise impact.
He is correct to say there was “no right way” to do the item. No matter how a story like this is presented, and no matter what the circumstances are, it will be criticised.
That, however, made this a classic case of publish and be damned. Oakes should not have dragged the story out.
His striptease looks very ugly indeed.