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Feb 24, 2011

A step-by-step guide to manufacturing a story, c/o The Oz

This headline appears on page 9 of The Australian today: "Crikey forced to remove fake Abbott story". That was news to us. Let us explain what happened...


This headline appears on page 9 of The Australian today: “Crikey forced to remove fake Abbott story”.

We’ve criticised The Oz in the past for its obsession with itself and so we hesitated to write this — but for a lesson in how a story makes it into the front pages of the “The Heart of the Nation”, this one’s worth highlighting. Consider it a community service announcement of sorts.

The story, written by Caroline Overington, doesn’t appear to be online for some reason.

Instead, it’s presented in bold alongside coverage of the Christchurch quake:

Overington’s story stems from an email that was sent to our boss@crikey.com.au yesterday from Matthew Franklin — chief political correspondent for The Australian.

Franklin kicked off the email (subject line: bad taste) with the line NOT FOR PUBLICATION and we’ll honour that.

The gist?

He alerted us to a “post” on the “Poll Bludger blog site” that sought to make light of the New Zealand earthquakes as rescuers worked to free victims, he noted its offensive nature and asked how we could justify linking his name to it.

We had no idea what he was talking about.

Franklin had pasted the offending item in the email. It took a little while to work out that in fact Franklin’s name had appeared in a comment written by a reader under a blog post by Poll Bludger entitled Newspoll 50 – 50.

Franklin expressed astonishment that we should seek to make light of the earthquakes in our “post” and suggested that we should apologise.

The comment, # 502 of more than 1400 at the time (there are now 2285 comments on that post), was an attempt at satire aimed at —  we think — Tony Abbott, the notion of mateship, Pastor Danny Naliah, the coalition’s line on the flood levy and The Australian and/or Franklin. It was presented in the style of a breaking news article from The Australian about the New Zealand earthquakes, below the byline of Matthew Franklin.

One line, as quoted by The Australian today, read: “There’s no doubt that we over here have bigger hearts and pitch in more when the shit hits th… er, when things get tough.”

It was bad taste, and it wasn’t especially funny. We conceded that to Franklin and William Bowe took down the comment, which is in line with our code of conduct, and Poll Bludger’s substantial moderation policy.

We can only assume that Franklin is an avid fan of Poll Bludger and reads each and every of his hundreds, sometimes thousands, of comments. That or Franklin has an alert account set up to scan for mentions of his own name, but that, of course, would be mere speculation.

The reader’s prose was not, however, a Crikey story. Or a Crikey article. Or even a Crikey blog post.

It’s an important distinction as any publication knows, because to label it as such suggests a level of editorial commissioning that simply wasn’t there.

I replied to Franklin:

Hi Matthew,

Thanks for getting in touch — in future the best way to contact me is this email address. Boss is the generic contact email and doesn’t get  to me as quickly. Alternatively, my phone number is below.

Poll Bludger moderates his own comments, most of which (and there are 1400 of them on that post) go through automatically unless the filters pick up a word. We’ve found this at comment 502 and have deleted. We don’t defend it but nor do we claim ownership of it — as I’m sure you appreciate these things can slip through moderation but thanks again for bringing it to our attention and it has now been taken down.


Sophie Black



By the time of writing that email, I’d already received a message from The Australian‘s Caroline Overington on my mobile.

She rang the office again about half an hour later.

Overington explained that Matthew Franklin had alerted her to the comment and asked if I was aware of it. I confirmed that I was, that I had just emailed her colleague back to confirm that the comment had been taken down.

Overington politely thanked me, and explained that’s all she wanted to know —  if indeed we were going to take the comment down. I again confirmed that fact, and pointed out that it was one of 1400 comments. Overington did not ask me for a comment. Before saying goodbye, she mentioned the difficulty of moderating comments.

I did not hear back from Matthew Franklin.

And so, this morning, readers of The Australian found that the paper had devoted space on Page 9 to this:

We report. You decide.


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52 thoughts on “A step-by-step guide to manufacturing a story, c/o The Oz

  1. Rourke

    Wow. Just wow. If I say “The Australian stands by its record on blowing things out of all proportion, deliberately taking them out of context, and ascribing one person’s views to a whole organisation” do you think your retraction will make Page 11?

  2. Gareth Perkins

    I’d be very interested in what form the retraction will take. Maybe an online poll? They’re fond of them.

    Do you think the Australian was right in promoting freedom of speech in this country?


  3. Jeremy Sear

    Well, really. I expected better of Caroline Overington and The Australian.

  4. Barry 09

    Matthew Franklin likes to read Crikey , its his only way of getting the truth , as the OO is only a Liberal party fan club for the dumb punters. Maybe Crikey could get the OO to remove some of their blog comments ?????????????? I have noticed that NEW Stories on Crikey take about 3 days to turn up as a NEW Story on the rupert rags , except for Rupert’s boys that Phone Hack everbody in the UK or when Abbot opens his mouth ( insert Rascist dog whistle ) and nods for 38 seconds of silence.
    ” The Australian forced to remove fake story about Crikey’s fake story of Abbot “

  5. Holden Back

    I want to see the if the shoe’s on the other foot, too.

    Is News Ltd saying they are editorially responsible for every lunatic comment on the comments pages under their agents provocateurs? Or would that only be if a staff member of another media organisation was misleadingly represented or libelled?

    I won’t hold my breath waiting for an answer.

  6. Barry 09

    Whoops don’t mention “Matthew Franklin ” or the new OO filter kicks in and is waiting moderation ??? or was it the Rupert’s boys Phone hack everybody in the UK ?

  7. Ed

    This achieves nothing. Surely by now the vast majority of Oz readers are predisposed to detest Crikey, so this merely raises awareness of the Oz and results in pageviews, while reaffirming the righteous correctness of the Oz to its readers…

  8. Sam G

    Simply embarrassing for Overington.

  9. Chantal Lewis

    I hope her retraction includes a “x” at the end like her tweets.

  10. shitesherlock

    Crikey, you need to get on with making up that fake Abbott story. Pronto.

  11. Frank Campbell

    Pathetic that senior journos like Overington and Franklin concoct trash like this. Real question is- why? Slow news day? Intense dislike of little nagging Crikey? Obeying standing orders from Murdoch gorillas to discredit where possible?

    There’s plenty to criticise Crikey for…it’s ideological biases, inconsistent moderation, censoriousness, low-postcode middle class preoccupations, the fact that Crikey is just one online comment site among many, the limitations of having just a couple of regular writers etc etc …but we rarely see thoughtful critique of the media by the media, do we?

  12. rubiginosa

    It’s just scrutiny Crikey. It has nothing to do with being butthurt about criticism. And there it rests.

    #dickheads #Ausfailian

  13. kuke

    And yet the Assstralian still doesn’t publish comments it doesn’t agree with?

  14. Ruprecht

    What a lame, lame effort by Overington.

    Firstly, it is interesting that articles can be published in comments now … I’m sure that will be the view taken for all comments on News Ltd blogs.

    Also of note is the pathetic attempt to name n shame Bowe by mentioning him personally and describning him as a “long-time student”.

    The Australian is a joke.

  15. lindsayb

    So the Hun does endorse all of the comments it reports on the Bolt Blog. Interesting.

  16. Baby Cassius

    @Holden Back

    Who do you reckon would win in a Cage-Fight between Sophie Black and Caroline Overington?

    Overington has experience and maturity ( well, one would hope ) but Sophie has youth, energy, exuberance and a stack of single-mindedness, but she also knows how to eye-gouge, pull hair and can scratch the shit out of ya.

    If I was Caroline Overington, I would n’t bother turning up.

  17. Syd Walker

    The standard of honesty of The Australian under Chris Mitchell’s editorship is a wonderous topic, one that I trust shall be deemed relevant to the #Twitdef case if Mr Mitchell is unwise enough to proceed.

    But don’t be too self-contratulatory, Crikey. Your standard of honesty also leaves much to be desired.

    Many of us are still waiting – after nearly ten long years of war and repression rationalised on the basis of ‘The War on Terror / ‘Islamic extremism’ – for
    * ONE article in Crikey that gives fair treatment to the now-compelling and carefully documented case against the official version of events on 9-11.
    * One interview with Richard Gage of Architects & Engineers for 9-11 Truth.
    * One interview with academics who query the official 9-11 narrative such as Professors Ray Griffin, Graeme MacQueen, Key Dewdney, Richard Falk etc etc that asks them to explain their scepticism.
    * One article about the 9-11 truth movement that is more than a sneering ad hominem attack.

    In a British context, I much prefer The Guardian to The Telegraph. In Australia, I prefer Crikey to The Australian. But don’t mistake preference for trust. That must be earned. None of you have earned it yet – Crikey included.

  18. Holden Back

    Oh, Baby Cassius you’re watching too much WWF.

  19. Bushfire Bill

    Allow me to defend my post…

    From the Crikey article.

    Franklin had pasted the offending item in the email. It took a little while to work out that in fact Franklin’s name had appeared in a comment written by a reader under a blog post by Poll Bludger entitled Newspoll 50 – 50.

    Franklin expressed astonishment that we should seek to make light of the earthquakes in our “post” and suggested that we should apologise.

    The comment, # 502 of more than 1400 at the time (there are now 2285 comments on that post), was an attempt at satire aimed at?—? we think?—?Tony Abbott, the notion of mateship, Pastor Danny Naliah, the coalition’s line on the flood levy and The Australian and/or Franklin. It was presented in the style of a breaking news article from The Australian about the New Zealand earthquakes, below the byline of Matthew Franklin.

    Which, I find slightly amusing, especially as they gave Overington the job of writing this up. Caroline “Much Ado” Overington, she of the…

    Alright. Enough with the 37 degrees already.


    Also, reports of garage doors being battered. Some poles are down. Palm trees have of course lost fronds.

    fame, on the day after Yasi, should be the last one to start calling kettles black.

    awww… read about it at Grog’s. He felt bad about taking Overington to task. That on line mea culpa was a bad call, in my opinion, but from a decent bloke.

    My satirical story was supposed to be a comment on the sickening back-patting that goes on in our media about how we’re somehow “special” in the way we respond to disasters, and how politicians turn this maudlin self-congratulation into even more maudlin schlock.

    It was supposed to be a comment on how even the most awful tragedies – the floods and the drownings – have been lately turned into political argey-bargey by the Coalition (with The Australian as their faithful sounding board), despite their protestations of humanity when delivering condolence motion speeches, a la Scott Morrison.

    There was even a section there about the odious “Doctor” Danny Nalliah, who is wont to spout eternal damnation and heavenly brimstone willy-nilly, attributing several recent tragedies to the Labor Party being in government.

    Lastly, there was a little dig at Abbott for his propensity to use the word “shit” when he wants to, shall we say, emphasize a point and prove how manly he is. Overington quoted this, I think, in her insert article. But it was her own paper, indeed pretty-well 100% of the media who have given the use of the word “shit” the Big Tick when it comes to tastefulness, inoffensiveness and proprietry – even when discussing the death of one of our soldiers – and as long as it is uttered by Abbott in “macho” mode.

    Imagine my disbelief when Abbott himself started out his earthquake speech with the observation that it was OK to help Kiwis, because “they’re not foreigners”. We can only assume that this was an incredibly cheap shot, to appease the 2GB crowd, or that he really believes that we should qualify our aid based on whether the victims of disasters are “foreign” or not? Would his first question to the Prime Minister that day have been “Why are we wasting foreign aid money?” if the Sumatran tsunami was repeated?

    Going by the example of the holier than thou Scott Morrison and how his noble, Christian, Xmax Island condolence speech turned into sniggering about “free Bridge Climb” rorts (on 2GB, of course) and a grubby, two-bit, money-based attack on the price of empathy in this country, Abbott could well be preparing the way for more nastiness with his “they’re not foreigners” quip.

    These people – the Coalition and their media enablers – want to have their cake and eat it too. They feel OK writing up every stupid piece of gossip or scuttlebutt into a game-changing scandal. They do exactly what many bloggers d, and I did the day before yesterdayo: get up in the morning and write complete bullshit. I did it as sarcasm and for free. They get paid for it and they’re deadly serious.

  20. Keith Binns

    The Australian lieing and misrepresenting a position. What a surprise!

  21. klewso

    Was it on the “(official) Crikey website” or an appendage?
    Either way – in the interest of “the right stuff” – after doing this, has anyone access to what she did to Steve Lewis about “Utegate”, and the way he used her paper (much as most others do?)?
    That would be interesting – where’s that recorded?

  22. Cuppa

    It’s hard to work out which is worse nowadays: The Australian or Their ABC.

  23. David Sanderson

    It is the kind of smear that would have the Austronauts in an apopleptic rage if it was directed at them. Almost gaddafian in their attitude to the truth over at News HQ.

  24. quantize

    Obviously very busy reporting on the NEWS there over at Ltd News!, but all i can say is WOW..how can these people be not to be able to distinguish between articles and the comments made by 3rd parties..that absolutely beggars belief of supposedly educated adults.

    And it’s worth also noting, these are NOT the people who should be drawing attention to COMMENTS because even a cursory look at most of their blogs reveals genuinely revolting and offensive posts…most of which are never ever moderated.

  25. quantize

    and clearly, no smear is too low to fire at their competition.

    Nice people.

  26. Barry 09

    I think Crikey needs a “Pay Wall ” to stop free-loading Ltd News hacks from stealing stories from the site or DO have they PAID to read this fine paper ?

  27. David

    Is the australian sticking up for the kiwis and the earthquake victims, or defending their and 2gb/2ue’s sour bitter defeated candidate for The Lodge, the unhinged monk? Perhaps after the totally out of control, maniacal dummy spit by the Opposition Leader in Question Time today, the oz would be better occupied teaching their loser, the mechanics of a well delivered debate speech. Instead of the hysterics on display today. Then, adults may take something of what he says with a little more than a sigh of “there he goes making a dork of himself again ”
    It is totally laughable that the oz has the cheek to complain about other medias blogs, when their own is full of abusive, vindictive, hateful comments aimed at anything that is not pro Liberal.
    It is time News Ltd grew up and stopped doing grandad Murdochs bidding of still trying to put Abbott and his pathetic bunch of whining shambolic rabble of no hopers on the Treasury benches. They are where they are because of what they are.

  28. Barry 09

    Crikey would have at least 5-10 years of stories , if they trolled the comments on Bolt’s Bog – Blog .

  29. Barry 09

    david , missed QT today , is there any where to see it ?? i-view don’t have QT ?

  30. zut alors

    Gee, folks, let’s look at from The Australian’s point of view. They’ve got many columns to fill and there’s only a certain amount of stuff happening in the world ie: Christchurch tragedy, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, things kicking off again in Greece. You can appreciate how light on they are for newsworthy material…

  31. David

    “Bolt’s Bog – Blog” …nice one Barry worthy of a gong 🙂

  32. David

    Barry have sent a link to QT but all links are moderated so will take a while to get printed…

  33. klewso

    Who was that masked woman – “journalist(?)” – who did some comedy sketch with a “Bob Newhouse” or whatever his name was, in the “Wentworth Comedy Club”, it was in “nearly” all the papers…..?

  34. Clarke Cut

    [I think Crikey needs a “Pay Wall ” to stop free-loading Ltd News hacks from stealing stories from the site or DO have they PAID to read this fine paper ?]

    Interesting comment Barry 09…given the amount of trawling I do, I can swear on a stack of bibles, take the truth serum or even a lie-detector test, that I have seen the broad-sheets cough up so many stories that have come straight out of the Crikey Journo’s handbook…I kid you not.

  35. Barry 09

    Thanks David , will check back later. Do you think it will get on the Front pages of the OO ?

  36. Cuppa

    Barry 09 wrote:

    Crikey would have at least 5-10 years of stories , if they trolled the comments on Bolt’s Bog – Blog .

    Have you seen the Crikey blog, Pure Poison? It covers intellectual dishonesty (“pure poison”) which, naturally, includes a lot of stuff from News Ltd and Their ABC.


  37. David

    Barry I await the day the OO run a story on their front page that is critical of the unhinged one. Its not in their DNA.

  38. drmick

    Projection is a practice people with serious psychiatric conditions demonstrate at examination, amongst the signs and symptoms of a bigger psychiatric problem.

    Projection is performing or saying bizarre things openly and then, not only denying having said and done them, blaming someone else for having said it.

    This “big new tax” mantra, is a perfect example of projection. The libs bring in the biggest new tax of all, (the GST), and hope no one will remember it when the government brings in a levy or a new idea.

    I wondered where Rabbit got it from, or who advised him and the libs to use it. Now we know. What a joke the Australian and their senior team are.Maybe they need help. Perhaps that is why they are always banging on about the paucity of mental health funding, when people still have to wait 4 years to get a hip replacement done.

    Listen closely next time to the “team” rant for the day and you will not have to cast your memory back to far to find that the glass house are throwing pre thrown rocks. Prozac Nation here we come

  39. Phil Kyson

    Crikey! You don’t often read about how a news media outlet like Crikey quickly grabs its ankles over a non-issue after receiving an email from the dark side. But, then to give your readers a blow by blow description in which order the ankles were clasped and the inedible was clenched is just too much to bear. If you’re that worried about News Ltd then maybe you shouldn’t be in the business. Why capitulate over a nothing? What’s going to happen when it’s an important issue? It was a great chance to get a free plug as well, not to get plugged. Grow some will you or at least get some, very disappointing indeed.

  40. Smithee

    “The Australian” and “Web” don’t go together very well. From the very top to the bottom they are both ignorant and resentful. “The Australian vs The Web” is a recurring theme. It’s a shame they don’t realise (yet) that they are becoming the iconic buffoons of old media.

  41. joe2

    Moderation at Newslimited is, of course, beyond reproach. Any opinion that is in anyway offensive to the company world view remaining unpublished ; with a very few exceptions, slipped through, to suggest some balance.

  42. A. N. Onymus

    Barry 09,

    Hope you read this in time to try ABC1 at 1:25 am tomorrow morning (Friday) — hopefully it is a repeat of today’s QT. (Sometimes the QT during the day is from House of Reps and the early morning one is from the Senate, but the program guide indicates this one is from the House of Representatives.)

  43. A. N. Onymus

    Barry 09,

    Forgot to say I’m using program guide in Queensland. Check your local paper for time in your location.

  44. zut alors

    Barry 09,

    The Senate isn’t sitting this week (they have Additional Estimates instead) so the advertised QT will be from the House of Reps.

  45. Socratease

    Send it all to Media Watch.

  46. SHV

    “…bore no resemblance to anything published by the paper…”

    Yes it did.

  47. Eponymous

    What if a guy called Matthew Franklin actually wrote the original and it is his genuine opinion?

    Pretty common name…

  48. Just Me

    Not only is this a truly pathetic dummy spit from Teh Oz, but is delivered to us via Caroline Overington.

    How much more blatantly hypocritical does it get?

    Are Spews UnLtd going to start applying the same ‘standard’ to all their publications, or even just Teh Oz?

    Bollocks they will.

    Totally support BushfireBill on this one.

  49. freecountry

    Bushfire Bill, the problem with drawing attention to the exploitation of tragedy, is that you risk partaking in the very same exploitation, albeit in the service of a different side. Then it goes back and forth with claim and counter-claim, all feeding on the same tragedy. The better approach is just to let people bring their own rope and give them a tug when they hang themselves, but if you miss the self-hanging, don’t be around when the body starts to stink. I’ve posted fictional dialogues in blogs on occasion (( eg blogs.crikey.com.au/thestump/2010/12/09/mark-arbib-the-faceless-inside-man/#comment-4591 )) but the difference is mine was funny, if I do say so myself.

  50. Oscar Jones

    Hey can you ask Franklin while he’s at it-whatever happened to his boss’s prediction that oil prices would plunge because of the invasion of Iraq so trumpeted by Murdoch’s US outlets and Rupert went onto Alan Jone’s show and said “the Iraq War is going swimingly” ?

    Never happened of course . The Austalian is a joke. Sad, it still has some fine journalists on it.

  51. michael

    What’s next for Caroline Overington? New York foreign correspondent, exposer of Wheat Board shenanigans, Walkley Award winner. Now reduced to pathetic put downs of News Ltd rival by representing a fake comment as a ‘Crikey article’. Is there a journalistic equivalent of ‘jumping the shark’? In the good old days, of course, a clapped out hack could move into public relations. Caroline could at least point to her great sense of ‘creativity’ when applying for a PR job.

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