A coterie of bluechip Melbourne media upper-crusters packed Melbourne lunch spot Bottega for the launch of Bruce Guthrie’s Man Bites Murdoch this morning, as you might expect for a man who has edited many major Melbourne mastheads during 40 years in journalism.
As the cameras rolled, and gnarled hacks hoed into their pre-noon beers, launchee Ray Martin took the podium to joke that the tome — which details Guthrie’s summary sacking at the hands of News Limited — was an “outrageous pack of lies”, prompting giggles from MTR’s Steve Price.
As ex-Age editor Andrew Jaspan, former Victorian Premier John Cain, Crikey publisher Eric Beecher and current Age football scribe Caroline Wilson (who penned her own News demolition on then-Herald Sun editor Piers Akerman for The Sunday Age in 1991) huddled to lend support to Louise Adler’s latest tell-all, Martin described the book as a “Rasputin meets Machiavelli” effort that nevertheless contained some sage insights into the evolution of the news business over the past 40 years.
Martin, famously involved last year in The Australian’s Think. Again. campaign (a job undertaken for free because he “loves newspapers”), claimed he was “never there” and that Guthrie foe Jeff Kennett had told him he would be in attendance “later”.
The former ABC cadet recalled his wonder at reading the manuscript “in nearly one sitting”, and was especially fond of the chapter in which Guthrie reveals that he was once on the verge of moving to Seven as the host of Real Life, which would later morph into Today Tonight. Unfortunately, then-Seven executive Gerald Stone, who promised that he and Guthrie would “remake the Australian current affairs landscape”, never called him back, with the gig going instead to Stan Grant.
The News contingent was thin on the ground, with Michael Bodey from The Australian appearing to be the only current Murdoch pay cheque recipient present. Interestingly, Gabrielle Trainor from spinners John Connolly & Partners, who does freelance work for Rupert, was also in attendance. And just-departed Herald Sun business editor Malcolm Schmidtke was on hand to comb over some Southbank war stories under Guthrie’s reign.
Guthrie spoke of some of the challenges facing News, repeating his call for cultural change at the organisation. While Rupert was “undoubtedly a great Australian”, he was now under siege given the News of the World phone-hacking scandal and the ructions over the Melbourne Storm. When the idea for the book was broached with Adler in late 2008, he originally planned a speculative tranche on the future of News, but when the unfair dismissal stoush heated up, it was a case of “Noah being bigger than the Flood”.
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Guthrie, who claims he is no longer bitter over the episode, said that he “was certainly off Rupert’s Christmas card list and now on his to-do list”.
Cain, seated next to Crikey at the rear of the restaurant, remarked that the launch was “one of the best he’d ever been to”, his perspective perhaps only slightly coloured by Man Bites Murdoch’s excoriation of Jeff Kennett’s assault on the Guthrie-edited Age during state Labor’s grim years in opposition.