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Jun 8, 2011

Latham: Gerard Henderson suffers from chronic corresponditis

I worry about Gerard Henderson, really. He has a chronic case of corresponditis -- the inability, at the end of a protracted exchange of letters, to allow his correspondent to have the last word, writes former Labor leader Mark Latham.


I worry about Gerard Henderson, really. He has a chronic case of corresponditis — the inability, at the end of a protracted exchange of letters, to allow his correspondent to have the last word.  Whenever clinicians consider this affliction they go straight to the Sydney Institute’s Media Watch Dog website. It is a case study in fanaticism, always a worrying state-of-mind in public life.

It is said that the definition of a fanatic is someone who redoubles his efforts when all is lost. This captures the Henderson method.  Even when he is hopelessly wrong, he keeps churning out correspondence.  Write a letter raising the slightest hint of criticism and he will send you a post office-full of replies. Al Gore might have invented the internet but by sheer weight of emails, Gerard is close to busting it.

I first encountered Gerard and his wife, Anne, at the launch of Barry Cohen’s compendium of quotes Whitlam to Winston in 1997. At the peak of their form, Gough Whitlam and Tim Fischer gave witty speeches, complementing the amusing anecdotes in Cohen’s book.

The only sour note came from the rear of the room, as Anne Henderson heckled Whitlam, complaining to her husband, “Why do we have to stay and listen to this man?” Onlookers were left wondering why she attended at all, given that “this man” was listed on our invitations as the book-launcher. Perhaps she thought she deserved the last word, even at someone else’s function. Discreetly, Gerard led her away … back to the Institute where, in the finest traditions of Sydney-town nepotism, Anne was (and remains) the deputy director.

By now, I can feel a letter coming on. So I might as well make it a long one. Gerard is the everywhere man of Australian pedantry. His life’s work is to find faults in others, but herein lies the Henderson paradox. For someone who delights in pinpointing errors, he is notoriously sensitive to criticism. Stories of his volcanic over-reactions when confronted with his foibles are legend in Australian politics. The kitchen is too hot for Gerard but there he sits, day after day, compiling his latest letter-bag.

More than any person I know of, the adage applies: who will guard the guardians? What right does Henderson have to launch a campaign against the accuracy of Malcolm Fraser’s memoirs (as he did recently) when his own work is riddled with errors? Who gave him a roving commission to censor prominent Australians on major issues such as climate change? There is an underlying conceit to Henderson’s approach, a persistent attempt to elevate himself above others. He is what is known colloquially as a “know-all”.

He certainly knows how to make errors. For every mistake he identifies in the work of his political targets, he makes one himself — the mother of all hypocrisy. His standing in Australian public life is unique, as a clumsy pedant. This shortcoming runs deep, with scores of stuff-ups pinned to Henderson’s file. Let me list a small proportion of them.

Gerard has a particular problem with Australian political leaders. In The Sydney Morning Herald in June 2008 he declared that during the Iraq War in 2003, the leader of the Labor opposition was Kim Beazley — it was, of course, Simon Crean. His Sydney Institute website lists Barry O’Farrell as a Member of the Legislative Council, a chamber from which, constitutionally the NSW Premier could not lead his government. Last year Henderson described O’Farrell’s predecessor as “the sassy Christina Keneally”. Her real name is Kristina.

When a similar mistake was made in Fraser’s book, Henderson thundered, “This is not a typographical error. Rather it is a significant howler.” By this standard, Gerard is running a howler-thon. Self-awareness is not his strong suit.

This is the sad side of corresponditis. Having tried to carve a career from monitoring other people’s mistakes, Henderson is one of the Herald’s most error-prone columnists. A big statement, I know, but I have seen the sad side first-hand. In March 2006 he claimed that the entry in the Latham Diaries for January 9, 2002 was not genuine. As readers of my book will know, I did not make a diary entry for January 9, 2002.

In 2009 Henderson wrote that Foreign Minister Stephen Smith’s meeting with the Chinese minister Zhou Yongkang was held in secret. It was not. In November 2009 he confused Nick Minchin for George Brandis, an embarrassment for someone who regards himself as Australia’s leading authority on the Liberal Party. In July 2010 he referred to a Per Capita board member Josh Burnside (it was, in fact, Josh Bornstein). Henderson also consistently confuses “electors” (people on the electoral roll) with “formal voters” (electors who cast a formal vote) — a damning ignorance of Australia’s electoral laws.

Recently, doubts have even emerged about the authenticity of his work. The Sydney Institute website reprints his Herald columns under the banner “Gerard Henderson’s Weekly Column”.  When I looked at the site on Tuesday morning, the entry for May 17, 2011, “Middle-class welfare tag insults the noble art of raising children”, was listed as having been written “by Viren” – that is, Viren Nathoo, who works for the institute. If Henderson’s Herald columns are being ghost-written by Nathoo then surely the paper’s readers should be advised accordingly.

Adding to the confusion, 11 so-called “Gerard Henderson” columns at the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011 are given the authorship “The Sydney Institute”, again suggesting the involvement of Nathoo. Either ghost-writing has been undertaken or, in the accreditation of the columns, another significant howler has been committed. Either way, Henderson’s credibility is diminished. If he cannot run his own organisation efficiently, how can he be trusted as a political and cultural commentator?

The other inconsistency in Henderson’s work is ideological. As a conservative he should respect freedom of expression in civil society. On June 2, on Sky News’ The Nation, however, he argued that Cate Blanchett, Tim Flannery and Tim Costello should not publicly support the introduction of a carbon tax because they use carbon-reliant aeroplanes. As an extension of this logic, it would be hypocritical for someone living comfortably on Sydney’s lower north shore, rubbing shoulders with Australia’s business and political elites in a corporate-subsidised job, to have spent the past 25 years advocating labour market deregulation and lower wages for Australia’s working poor. But that’s Gerard Henderson (aka Viren Nathoo) for you.

He took a similar stance concerning my involvement in last year’s federal election, writing on August 10 that “the former Labor MP for Werriwa is doing quite well (financially), per courtesy of the Australian taxpayer, and does not need to work for Channel 9’s 60 Minutes program during the election campaign”. This is a throwback to socialist economic control, when individuals do not have the right to determine their own employment and income levels.

Henderson and Nathoo know nothing of my household expenses and financial commitments. Their knowledge of my income is limited to publicly disclosed superannuation ($78,000 per annum). Yet in an astounding display of arrogance, they presume to tell me, my wife and our three dependent children that we are “doing well” and do not require other sources of income. In practice, Henderson is not against centralised income planning, as long as he is the central planner. His commitment to labour market deregulation is purely rhetorical.

I have consulted experts across the globe about this affliction. They say there is only one remedy for corresponditis. Henderson needs to write less. Brevity will deliver greater accuracy and less hypocrisy in his work. So Gerard, old chum, put away your stamps and envelopes, your letter-file is full.


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39 thoughts on “Latham: Gerard Henderson suffers from chronic corresponditis

  1. David Marnie

    About time that this man and his Institute is called to account

  2. JonoMatt

    I agree with the premise of this article but the most astounding thing written is that Mark Latham gets 78K a year for the rest of his life. Didn’t he advocate significant changes to the pollies super system, which the spooked Howard government largely adopted? Or is Latham on the old system?

  3. The Pav

    Dear Mark,

    Are you mad?

    Your life is ruined. You will be stalked by letters!

    I’m pretty sure that when they were defining the character Dr Sheldon Cooper’s obsessive behaviour they modeled it on Mr Henderson. You have to admire the thoroughness of the research of US TV sitcoms. They even got a striking likeness!

    Please note they only took the behaviour and mannerisms not the intellect or integrity as their model

  4. paddy

    Dear Crikey, after what has been a rather cold, wet and tiresome morning.
    You have just generated the first smile of the day. (hysterical laughter actually)
    The header is a gem and the mere suggestion of Mark Latham accusing Gerard Henderson of “corresponditis ” is ……. Priceless. 😀

  5. johnquiggin1@mac.com

    “ the inability, at the end of a protracted exchange of letters, to allow his correspondent to have the last word”

    I was, to my amazement, an exception to this rule. In our last interchange, reproduced by the Media Dog, Gerard let me have the last word. But, true to your larger point, his pedantic quibble was spoilt by a mis-spelling of my name.

  6. Delerious

    Maybe he will get Viren Nathoo to do all his letters, maybe he already does.

    Loved it. Quite surprised. No rude words.

  7. zut alors

    A great read. I can sense Gerard H inking his pen this very minute. Or could he do the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the nigh impossible ie: ignore it and not respond? Nah.

  8. Scott

    Pot. Meet kettle.

  9. Perry Gretton

    I bet you enjoyed writing that, Mark. I certainly enjoyed reading it.

  10. swampfire

    Gerard Henderson is as dumb as dippity-dog-poo.

  11. Mark Duffett

    Hmmm. Unedifying.

  12. Mark from Melbourne

    I think it is completely unwarranted to question Mr Henderson’s all knowingness and objectivity.

  13. Chris Bell

    I think I just observed a large explosion on the horizon from the direction of Sydney.

  14. Phen

    Some of the “howlers” listed above are pretty underwhelming i have to say. Misspelling a name, getting a date wrong – these are the sort of things that are bound to pop up from time-to-time when people are serial corresponders. Not that i have any particular affection for Mr Henderson.

  15. michael crook

    come back mark all is forgiven

  16. Jeff Richards

    I was always irritated by Henderson getting so much time on the ABC, when there were many other right wing commentators who should have had a chance to share their views. Thankfully Hendersons presence seems to have diminished since the electors got rid of Howard. I enjoyed Lathams brilliant dissection (by machete) of the ALP in ‘the Latham Diaries’ as I enjoyed this piece. I hope he does more portraits / dissections of right wing characters. From the other side of politics, they remind me of Trotskys brilliant ‘Portraits, Political and Personal’

  17. arty

    Takes one to know one.
    Points decision to Mark due to attempted humour.
    Why does Hendo always looks hen-pecked?

  18. david

    [zut alors
    Posted Wednesday, 8 June 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    A great read. I can sense Gerard H inking his pen this very minute. Or could he do the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the nigh impossible ie: ignore it and not respond? Nah.]

    Zut I will shout the wife and kids dinner at the swankiest restaurant they care to go to, if dear Gerard ignores this Latham baiting. Wonderful stuff.

  19. Jonathan Maddox

    Mr Onthemoon said all there was to be said about Gerard Henderson in this piece:


    oh my goodness was that 3 years ago?????? I’m getting old.

  20. matthew.davies

    This is like an Escher painting of never ending loops where one kettle is calling another pot black. I reckon Crikey have a big massive shi% stirring stick in their office and they gave Latham carte blanche for their own fun. Come on Gerard..seconds out …round two!

  21. mikeb

    Very entertaining Mark. Hypocrisy is a very unflattering trait and Henderson has it in spades – but worst of all – he doesn’t realise it.

    BTW Mark L – pots & kettles, glass houses……

  22. Simon Mansfield

    I have regularly sent Comrade Gerard emails suggesting he come out and tell us how much he is paid to write those weekly columns for Fairfax. And moreover, that he is not an analyst but rather a lobbyist. Sadly he has never responded. So I guess on the last point the charge stands.

  23. davidk

    That was great fun. To think of Mark trawling through all of Gerard’s drivel in order to highlight his mistakes, which I’m sure are legion, is too cruel to contemplate. I’ve wached Gerard for many years and very occasionally found him to say something I could agree with. But he never leaves it there. He’s always got to spoil it by finishing with a cheap partisan shot that demonstrates he didn’t really believe what he had just said, but rather said it in order to not appear partisan. That last word will out him every time.

  24. Andrew Pegler

    what a great read Mark. And yes while he can be quite interesting Hendo is a tiring pedeant.Meeting him with equal levels of petty point scoring is approved by the Bugle and it’s many organs.

  25. Mark Heydon

    Is “Viren Nathoo” a real person? Anagram of Another Vino – perhaps that is how the mistakes slip in.

  26. Stephen Parker

    Thank you Jonathan Maddox – much as I enjoyed Latham’s article, the FDOTM trip down memory lane was even better…

  27. tinydog

    Can the Crikey eds pls get Latham to write this column weekly? There’d be enough material.

  28. Phillip crouch

    Two curious things on the Sydney Institute’s website. Firstly all the mug shots on the “Staff” page are black and white (even the Deputy Director, Mrs Henderson). There is just one in full glorious technicolour – guess who!

    Secondly the mysterious Mr Viren Nathoo is is listed as an “Office Assistant”. Now in my (mercifully past) day, the “office assistant” was the junior junior who bought the coffee, put stamps on the envelopes, and knew how to put paper in the photocopier. Now it seems the office assistant actually writes the boss’s articles! In fact there are no less than six office assistants, just one executive assistant, a deputy director, and the technicolour man himself.

  29. Kevin Herbert

    Hear bloody hear..never a truer artcile written.

    I wrote to The Spectator Australian office last week to complain about The Clumsy Pedant’s (TCP) inclusion as a regular columnist. While I don’t read TCP anymore wherever he appears, he replaced a perfectly good columnist in Rory Sutherland, a leading UK advertising executive.

    If they don’t replace TPC, I’m subscribing to the UK Speccie.

  30. Neil Summers

    The next million years are going to be wonderful as DOG (Dear Old Gerard) nitpicks his way through Mark’s article. DOG is the SMH columnist who keeps on giving, and giving, and giving the same diatribe on the dreadful leftist collective called the ABC. He is almost as predictable as Paul Sheehan.

  31. Niall Clugston

    The way to get Brigadier Gerard really stirred up is to suggest he’s illogical.

  32. Peter Cox

    I don’t know which I enjoyed more – reading ML’s contribution or the wonderful comments the fans of GH have added. Hilarious, a laugh in almost every line.

    I remember a time back in the early 90’s when, against the habits of his previous commentary lifetime, the esteemed Gerard started to write columns that made sense to me. I was suitably astounded. That “Period of the Flowering of Unbiassed Commentary” did extend for a while but sadly was eventually overcome by a relapse to atavism.

    Which continues to this day, as if the golden period of understanding & fellow-feeling had never occurred. Maybe I imagined it.

    I look forward to reading more comments on Mark Latham’s plea to Gerard.

  33. prolfe

    Very enjoyable. Great to see Henderson’s pomposity deflated! I agree with others Mark should write more often, preferably weekly.

  34. walker james

    Mark I am generally ambivalent about ex pollies super but your Uber Hypocrisy in rallying against parliamentary super scheme in 2003 and tucking into a life time payout less than 12 months later takes the cake.
    In the late 90s both you and Lindsay were touted as the hope and future of the Labor Party, interesting that although you rose right to the top in the Leadership stakes your legacy is lousy.

  35. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Latham on Henderson? Once a year would be plenty thanks. Latham on something else? Try alternate years. He was great on Channel 9 because I never watched it.

  36. Kevin Herbert

    Further to my earlier post, The Spectator Australia have decided to drop Henderson from its inside back page column. See the below email from The Speccies Oz Editor, Tom Switzer. I’d reckon my complaint about Henderson’s appointment was not the only one.

    From: Tom Switzer [mailto:tom.switzer@spectator.co.uk]
    Sent: Friday, 10 June 2011 1:05 PM
    To: Kevin Herbert
    Subject: fyi Gerard Henderson is no longer a columnist

    Dear Kevin:

    Thanks very much for your email and concerns. The changes have been made in London, and I have approved them, at least as a trial run.

    As of this week, the Gerard Henderson column will no longer appear on the back page, and the normal UK copy will resume.

    The truth is we are very keen to expand the Australian content, but until we get more advertising, it is difficult to expand Australian section in the early section.

    Thanks again for your email and hope you keep reading. I agree the UK content is top quality, which is very difficult to emulate.

    Best regards, Tom

  37. Phil L

    Mr Latham might not have had the temperament to be Prime Minister, but he sure as shit deserves to be picked up as a regular for crikey……more please !

  38. Venise Alstergren

    MARK LATHAM: The Labor Party needs you. Reconsider your choices, please. And, keep writing.

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