The old Hard Rock cafe might seem like a weird spot for a book launch, but it seemed fitting for the bludgeoning News Limited journos received this morning at the launch of Christine Nixon’s Fair Cop at the “Bourke Room” at Melbourne’s Windsor Hotel.

With the Prime Minister looking on, Melbourne University Press publisher Louise Adler took the opportunity to hit back at News following the organisation’s extraordinary attacks on her charge over the last week, sensationally revealing an amusing conversation around the Herald Sun‘s newsdesk last Friday (more on that later).

As you might have heard, Nixon goes News in the book for a string of hard hitting front page splashes during the bushfire Royal Commission, declaring their coverage “fattist” among other critiques.

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This morning Joan Kirner, Barry Jones, Alan Kohler, Mary Delahunty, Allan Fels, Glyn Davis and Fair Cop co-author Jo Chandler (with partner Greg Baum) and a substantial number of Black Saturday victims were all on hand to share in the scones.

The Australian‘s Victorian editor Chip Le Grand reached out literally to Nixon to shake hands, albeit with his left hand thanks to a broken arm. The only other News journo there as far as we could make out was Hun crime doyen Paddy Murphy, although retired Herald and Weekly Times chair and good mate Janet Calvert-Jones sent her apologies (as Bruce Guthrie revealed last year, Calvert-Jones was such a loyal buddy that she felt the need to tell her CEO of her displeasure at Guthrie’s ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ front page dining out on Nixon’s free trip to LA on Qantas).

Although Stephen Drill filed this report at 11.58, with no mention of any of Adler’s criticism.

Adler, Gillard, Nixon and Chandler all spoke in glowing terms of the former police chief, telling a powerful story of a trip from the rough streets of Sydney to the regal surrounds of Treasury Place.

Up first, a fired-up Adler reckoned that during her brokering of the deal, the last time she had got that close to a police person was when she was charged by horses in nearby Collins Street during an anti-Vietnam protest.

Gillard was warm when speaking of Nixon’s career but appeared to equivocate when noting that the former top cop would “reflect on Black Saturday for the rest of her life.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

She was “not here today to adjudicate on that controversy…readers will be able to judge for themselves. I’m here because Christine Nixon is a high achieving Australian whose long journey of public service deserves our attention and our regard.”

But if Gillard pulled her punches, Adler went impressively to war against News, revealing that a Herald Sun journo had left her a long voicemail on her mobile phone during the paper’s news conference on Friday.

During the sh-t storm over the past week, which has seen The Australian and The Hun launch one of their famed attacks over the apparent treatment meted out to them by Nixon, Adler “was reminded of the depressingly low standard which purports to be journalism in some quarters … but also the fact that Christine Nixon’s enemies have been pursuing her since she took on the role of Police Commissioner.”

“She has been a target of a coalition of hardcore recidivist police resistant to change, opposition politicians adept at the dog whistle and a tabloid media both stoking and profiting from resentment and ignorance,” said Adler.

She can’t have been referring to the Herald Sun here though, because as Bruce Guthrie pointed out in The Sunday Age, the paper had been a firm supporter of Nixon until the tide abruptly turned during his unfair dismissal trial last year.

Later, Adler went on:

“It’s been extraordinary to have some insight this past week into her world and what it’s like to be rendered public enemy number one by the tabloid media.”

“Some call this jihad journalism. Over the last week News Limited mastheads have shared the load. The tabloids have focused on meals and gender bias and body image while the broadsheet has taken a more snootier tone with The Australian proclaiming that Christine Nixon is unfit to be a company director.”

But here’s where it gets interesting:

…I’ve had my own insight into the tactics of tabloid journalism late last week. By Friday morning at news conference tabloid editors had obviously decided the attack on Christine Nixon was running out of puff. So what new angle could be concocted?

Attacking her publisher might get the story back on track … so the Australian Publishing Association and the Australian Council were interrogated about advances and print runs. I declined to give the beat up any oxygen … the University of Melbourne was then asked to answer questions. But inadvertently as the story was being finalised, one journalist’s mobile phone, which clearly had my number on redial that day, was carelessly left on.

So I received a lengthy voicemail message. And I was privileged to listen to a recording of a conversation around the newsdesk at the Herald Sun. With the journalist advocating, quote, ‘putting MUP higher up in the story’, unquote.

I was strangely privy to the crafting of a beat up. I felt slightly like Hugh Grant ever so briefly. So I gained some small insight into how evilly and insouciantly truth is manufactured and reputations are taken apart.

Amazing stuff. And the resulting story filed by Stephen Drill. Well, it was there on page 4 for everyone to read.

See how power works in this country.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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