As a book publicist, getting a text message from a journalist to call them isn’t the ideal start to Easter Sunday. Especially when you have a key interview lined up with that journalist for one of the biggest political books to be published this year.

This is how I was alerted to the news that Samantha Maiden had run a spoiler story about Lindsay Tanner’s new book Sideshow. Extracts, interviews and stories were all now in jeopardy because she had run a spoiler a week before the embargo date.

Playing the “I want the first interview and if I don’t get it I’m not doing it at all” game with the media is all part of the job and certainly the worst aspect of working on books like this. But there is always a level of trust between publicists and the media that when a publisher sends them a copy of a book, they will respect the embargo date and not run stories, opinion pieces or interviews on the book until the date you’ve set.

The date is usually when the book is in the shops or close to being in the shops. There has to be a balance between our commercial interest in selling a book and the media’s commercial need to report on its contents, but that gives them time to read the book first. This is a respected professional norm.

Samantha Maiden called me a few weeks ago and requested that I not send her a copy of Sideshow because she told me that she couldn’t be trusted to not break the embargo. She accused Lindsay Tanner of writing mean things about her friend Annabel Crabb in his book. I knew he hadn’t. While she was on the phone I flicked to the index and saw that there was one mention of Annabel Crabb. It was hardly negative.

Even though she has written this story, I very much doubt Samantha Maiden has read the book in its entirety if at all, because if she had, she would have read this in the introduction: “Given the sideshow syndrome, I know that most political journalists will quickly scan this book, looking for shock revelations about the inner workings of the Rudd government. They’ll search for attacks on my former colleagues, and they’ll look for diverting anecdotes from inside the cabinet room. I can save them the bother: they’ll find none of those things here … Personal attacks and salacious revelations seem to sell well; abstract discussions about the future of democracy don’t.”

By writing her story when and the way she did, Samantha Maiden has demonstrated exactly what Lindsay Tanner has written about in Sideshow.

She’s taken one aspect of the book, manipulated it, taken it out of context and reported it as news. Her story will only strengthen Tanner’s argument about precisely what is wrong with the Australian media’s reporting of politics.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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