“Henderson Watch is a sort of popular read in the Sydney Institute office.  When I am not ghost writing for Gerard or fixing up errors on our website, I always look out for it on Crikey.”  Viren Nathoo

“When it comes to media stalkers nobody beats Gerard Henderson.  Sometimes I come home at night wondering if bunnies will be boiling on my hotplates.  Thank goodness for Mark Latham’s Henderson Watch.”  Deborah Cameron

“I won four elections in a row when Gerard Henderson was bagging me.  Then he decided to support WorkChoices and not only did I lose government, I lost my seat.  I never thought much of Mark Latham until he started writing Henderson Watch.”  John Howard

“People don’t know the real Gerard, his warm and funny side — always cracking jokes and playing pranks around the office.  I wish that awful Mark Latham would go back to reading books to his children and leave us alone.” Anne Henderson

On the serious side of Henderson Watch, the errors and inconsistencies are endless.  So many, in fact, I wish I had Viren Nathoo researching and ghost writing for me.

The Dirty Digger

Gerard Henderson’s right-wing salon, The Sydney Institute, is riddled with conflicts of interest.  To attract sponsorship dollars and membership subscriptions, it needs to stay onside with the business establishment.  Some of its favourite luvvies (of the corporate variety) have been Philip Morris, James Hardie and the Adler group.  Without their support, Gerard would not be able to fund his expensive inner-city digs or keep his wife on the payroll.  In short, the only outfits he ever attacks are those that will never pay for sponsorship, most notably the ABC and the Melbourne Age.

Hendo loves to lecture his targets about accountability, but the institute itself refuses to make its financial details public.  We only know about Philip Morris, James Hardie and the Adlers because controversies surrounding these companies spilt over into the public arena and implicated the institute.  Otherwise, when it comes to financial disclosure, the Hendi are a secret society.

Henderson Watch was not surprised, therefore, to see Gerard (Ex-Guardian-on-the-Yarra, ex-Age-on-the-Thames) sucking up to the Murdoch empire in its moment of need.  After all, for many years, he has helped out at The Australian as the assistant editor of its Cut and Paste section.  So why not continue the mutual back-scratching in his Sydney Morning Herald column of July 26?  Let’s go to the cutting:

(Rupert Murdoch’s) contribution to journalism has been a positive one.  On the present evidence, the reaction to the News of the World scandal is over the top.

That’s right, Henderson thinks it’s “over the top” to condemn people who bribe the police and hack into the phones of murder victims.  So much for the rule of law at The Sydney Institute.

As for Murdoch’s “positive” contribution to journalism, this is a piece of amnesia Hendo shares with his associates at News Ltd.  They think their newspapers have no history, that today’s edition is the only one they have ever worked on.

In every country in which Murdoch has purchased media assets, he has taken the industry down-market, creating a race to the bottom for the most sensationalised stories.  At the News of the World he finally hit the bottom of the cesspit.

His true contribution to journalism is set out in his biography by William Shawcross.  An indicative example of Murdoch’s impact came with his purchase of the British Sun in 1969.  For many years the Sun and the Mirror had been trying to become more serious and erudite newspapers, to appeal to a “new, better-educated working class” readership.

Murdoch’s takeover reversed this process, creating a new era of tabloid sensationalism. As Shawcross records:

Murdoch needed no market research to tell him what the Sun should be: a daily version of the News of the World.  He considered the Mirror the prime example of the ‘gentrification of the press’ … (At his new tabloid) he mixed a brew of s-x, fun and sensationalism.

The British press has never recovered from this intervention.  In Australia, even the journalists’ union has described Murdoch (in Shawcross’s words), “as an autocratic and unprincipled proprietor who had debased standards of journalism … of demanding that his lackeys publish distorted accounts of the news when it suited him”.

Actually, this sounds like Henderson’s stewardship of The Sydney Institute.  No wonder he regards Rupert as a role model.

From the Burbs

Henderson Watch has noticed how “inner-city” has become a term of derision for the Hendi.  Gerard often applies it to his pet obsession, the ABC’s Deborah Cameron.  Here he is in Media Watch Dog No. 106:

The Green-Left-Daily presenter lives in the inner-city, has never worked outside of journalism and enjoys secure employment at the ABC per courtesy of the Australian taxpayer.

(Is that similar to Anne Henderson’s secure employment on her husband’s payroll? — Ed.)

Last Tuesday in his Sydney Morning Herald column, he continued this theme in a gushing, promotional piece for the Democratic Labor Party. In an extrapolation that would make Norman Henderson proud, Gerard fantasised about the DLP holding the balance of power in the Senate in 2014 (how can he forecast the Senate’s numbers three years from now, he doesn’t even understand the difference between ‘electors’ and ‘voters’ under the Electoral Act? — Ed.)

Henderson Watch is reminded of Arthur Calwell’s description of the DLP as “like the mule, without pride of ancestry or hope of posterity”.  It is, of course, neither Labor nor democratic. But that didn’t stop Hendo from recording how the new DLP Senator John Madigan (from Victoria) recently addressed the “Inaugural Jack Kane Dinner” in Sydney, a dour affair for burnt-out Catholics obsessed with the 1955 Split (i.e. Henderson-types). According to Gerard:

The audience was anything but inner-city latte types.  Madigan addressed the dinner with one of his children on each side of the podium.

There’s a handy guideline for society. If you ever see anyone speaking with their children on each side of them, you will know straight away where they live (and it’s not the inner-city).

But where do the Hendi live? Try North Sydney, a stone’s throw from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s not exactly Blacktown or Liverpool.  And where do the Hendi work?  Try Phillip Street, Sydney, some 400 metres from Sydney Harbour. Again, it’s a long way from Penrith and Campbelltown.

Maybe they dine out in the suburbs? Actually, after enduring a night at the institute, its guest speakers are whisked away to swanky CBD restaurants (with latte on the menu). Gosh, they might even bump into Green-Left-Daily presenters there.

Gerard says the new divide in Australian politics is between inner-city-types “who regard themselves as morally superior beings intent on saving the planet” and suburban and regional families.  But he has no association with any form of life west of Sussex Street.

The closest he came, I’m told, was driving along George Street one day, listening to morning radio.  He was, as ever, mesmerised by 2BL’s Deborah Cameron and before he knew it, he was in Annandale.  That really was a Deborah Cameron moment.

Too Tense for Words

Gerard needs to start following his own advice.  In his Sydney Morning Herald column on August 2 he opined:

An unpleasant tension currently exists in Australia — probably unmatched since the Great Depression in 1931 and the constitutional crisis in 1975 … There is an obligation on all involved in the public debate to moderate their language (and) to desist from exaggeration.

Maybe in Mount Street North Sydney and Phillip Street Sydney things are tense but out in the burbs, after nearly 20 years of strong economic growth, most people are relaxed and (financially) comfortable.  Unemployment is closer to 5% than 25% (as per the Great Depression) and the only crisis facing the Australian Constitution is Gerard’s interpretation of it (see below).

Hendo is spending too much time with the inner-city political class, working himself into a lather of tension (or maybe it’s just living and working with Anne 24/7 — Ed.).  This is not London or Somalia.  Whatever problems we have in Australia we deal with through our national ethos of apathy.  Gerard needs to moderate his language and desist from exaggeration.

The male Hendi has shown a striking lack of self-awareness.  In his recent burst of corresponditis with the UNSW Press (see Media Watch Dog for the latest Hendi-obsession and letter bag), he declared:

I have been a public commentator for decades and avoided exaggeration and hyperbole.

Can you bear it?  Another exaggeration.

Constitutional Crisis

Last Friday the Media Watch Dog mounted a curious constitutional argument.  Gerard Henderson joined Joh Bjelke-Petersen in failing to understand the doctrine of the separation of powers.  In his mind:

It is not true to assert that in Australia the legislature, executive and judiciary operate independently of each other.

Hendo believes that because ministers are also members of parliament, the executive branch of government has the House of Representatives and Senate in its pocket (has anyone told him the Gillard government does not have a majority in either house? — Ed.)

For someone who poses as a political commentator (of the pedantic kind) it is clear that Henderson has not read the Australian Constitution, especially Section 61, dealing with the Executive Government:

The executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exerciseable by the Governor General as the Queen’s representative, and extends to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution, and of the laws of the Commonwealth.

Last time I looked, the Governor-General was not a member of parliament.  In their constitutional power, the legislature, executive and judiciary are separate, independent institutions.  In dictatorships (such as North Korea, Turkmenistan and The Sydney Institute) one arm of governance controls all three.  This is not the case in Canberra.

Gerard has always made up a lot of his material, but this is a bridge too far.  It is a sign perhaps that Henderson Watch is getting to him.  His constitutional confusion was an attempt to attack my column in the AFR last Thursday.  Come on, Gerard and Nancy, desperation is not the answer.  Just stick to the facts and Henderson Watch will happily hang up its binoculars.

The Norm Henderson Medal

When Norman Henderson defected from the ALP to the DLP, he drilled into young Gerard an abiding distrust of all things Labor.  Over the years, suspicion has incubated into paranoia.  How else can one explain the contradiction in last Friday’s Media Watch Dog?

In comparing Tony Abbott’s education and training qualifications to mine, Gerard declared:

Mark Latham has a BEc from the University of Sydney.

But then concluded:

(Latham) had no training outside of the Labor Party.

Is he really suggesting that the University of Sydney is part of the Labor Party?  Gerard has said some wacky things over the years, but none more bizarre than this.  And he reckons Doc Evatt was crackers (the 1955 Split and all that).

Return of the Hendi

Enraged by Anne Henderson contradicting him on the role of the South Australian Emergency Committee during the 1931 election, Gerard has struck (another) blow to this wife’s credibility.  Remember the great split in the Hendi coalition?  Anne argued the SA Emergency Committee was an electoral ploy, a subterfuge to siphon votes towards Joe Lyons and his United Australia Party (and therefore should be counted as part of his parliamentary majority).  Gerard, however, reckons this is rubbish.  Accordingly, a war of corresponditis has broken out in the Hendi household.

Henderson watchers have been enthralled to see who would have the last word.  As these letter-writing maniacs go blow for blow, which one of the indefatigable Hendi will sign off on the final missive of the greatest controversy at The Sydney Institute since Meredith Hellicar was their chairperson (is that why Gerard never writes about corporate responsibility and governance — Ed.)

For the sneaky stuff, Gerard is hard to beat.  In his Media Watch Dog of 29 July he planted an ingenious rouse, under the heading:

HISTORY CORNER

HAZEL CRAIG REMEMBERS JOE LYONS, JOHN CURTIN, BEN CHIFLEY, ROBERT MENZIES — AND MORE BESIDES

Hazel Craig lives at her home in Canberra.  In 1998 Gerard Henderson wrote a profile on Miss Craig for the Sydney Morning Herald. It was not published and is printed here for the first time.

Not many people publish material that fell onto the cutting room floor 13 years ago.  But that’s Gerard Henderson for you.  Whoever said “writing styles are an extension of one’s personality” had him in mind.  The Craig piece is a real snooze-athon, typical of the turgid Gerard-genre.

Nobody reading it could blame the Herald for junking it.  Those who got past the first couple of paragraphs, however, were rewarded with this gem:

She stayed on with John Curtin, the new Labor leader, until the end of the parliamentary session.  Soon after Hazel Craig was sent to the prime minister’s office.  Joe Lyons had led the conservative United Australia Party to victory in the December 1931 Federal election.

Anne Henderson maintains Lyons led ‘a coalition of forces’ — the UAP, Country Party and SAEC — to victory.  Gerard says it was just the UAP.  Now he has used Hazel Craig as a conduit for ramming it up Anne.

In the Hendi history wars, the husband has put his hapless wife in her place — even if it was with his own piece of ancient history.  No one is immune from his policy of pedantic payback.

Show Me The Money

Gerard knows how to put the boot in.  Not content with demolishing Anne’s argument, has also sullied her motives.  In Media Watch Dog No.102 he wrote that:

Anne Henderson’s motives in this seems pretty clear … She has a biography of Joe Lyons coming out in October and is looking for some pre-publication publicity.  Book-buyers tend to read The Australian.

Anne wants to be taken seriously as an historian.  Yet her own husband thinks she’s a mercenary, the sort of person who makes outlandish claims just to attract “pre-publication publicity”, hoping to boost book sales.  Look for the Media Watch Dog to be spending a lengthy period in the doghouse.

Hendi Humour

In covering the Hendi history wars, the last edition of Henderson Watch produced examples of the corresponditis now under way.  Even Gerard noticed this, writing on July 29:

I note that Mr Latham is now imitating MWD’s style in his contributions to the “look-mum-no-fact-checker” Crikey newsletter.

Gosh.  Here I was thinking I could write a bit, sometimes in good cheer.  Now it turns out I’m just imitating the Hendi gag-fest.

Truly, I wish I had the great man’s sense of humour.  Look at the way he sends up Crikey: “look-mum-no-fact-checker” and all that.  Who said the Hendersons don’t do comedy well?

Photo Finish

Why do the Hendersons make so many mistakes?  Attention to detail is an obvious problem.  As a rule of thumb, their most pedantic obsessions are inversely correlated with the intensity of their research efforts.  So eager are they to launch attacks on their favourite targets, they do not bother to check the facts.

This was clear, for instance, in the correspondence between Gerard Henderson and Margaret Simons published in Crikey on February 25 this year.  Hendo wanted to grill Margaret (co-author of the Fraser memoirs) about a copy of a note Malcolm Fraser made on the morning of the dismissal of the Whitlam government, concerning a telephone call from Sir John Kerr to Fraser.  On  February 23, Gerard posed four loaded questions to Margaret:

1. Did you see the note?

2. Assuming that you did see this note, why are there no direct quotes from it in your book?

3. Did Mr Fraser decline to allow you to quote from this note?

4. If so, what would be the reason for refusing permission to quote form (sic) a note which is close to four decades old?

In response, she politely pointed out that the note was reproduced in the photographic plates in the book.  With egg on his face, even Brigadier Gerard had to concede, “I had not checked the illustrations when I sent my note to you earlier today.”  Hendo not only needs a fact-checker, he needs a check-checker.

I offer another example, this time from my own archives.  In the April 2005 edition of The Sydney Institute Quarterly, Gerard Henderson (ex-Guardian-on-the-Yarra, ex-Age-on-the-Thames) opined:

(The publisher) Michael Duffy scored a coup in getting Mark Latham to launch Run,Johnny, Run in Parliament House on 7 December 2004.  The (then) Opposition leader described (its author) Mungo MacCallum as a “very, very funny man” … This was Mark Latham’s last public appearance before retiring as Labor leader.  Enough said.

Not enough, actually.  The following week, as opposition leader, I visited Perth and Kalgoorlie, with a series of media interviews and community consultation meetings — all very public appearances, all well documented on the public record.

Perhaps hubris is the greatest Henderson shortcoming.  After all, on June 10, 2011, he declared, “I have a good memory and a very good filing system and I always check my memory against the written record.”  The mounting number of Hendi-howlers indicates otherwise.

The Dismissal

Let’s keep the historical theme going.  For classic Hendo, go to the Crikey archives for June 8, 2005.  Here he retells the story of how he was sacked as a columnist for The Age.  It’s a real tear-jerker.  Gerard was obviously tired and emotional from the experience, hence his confusion about the greatest dismissal since Gough met Kerr (see above).  At one point Henderson admitted:

I have no particular knowledge why I was dropped by The Age.

But then he launched into a long-winded conspiracy theory on how he was dudded by the Left — the genesis of his jihad against the so-called Guardian-on-the-Yarra.  The news of his sacking, he tells us, was relayed to him on the night of Thursday April 28, 2005, when he was visiting Houston, Texas.  One can picture Hendo, distraught in his hotel room, muttering to himself “Houston, we have a problem.”

***

Until next time, when Henderson Watch will open up its files and chronicle The Sydney Institute’s many conflicts of interest.

Peter Fray

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