Henderson Watch has been working day and night on its dossier on The Sydney Institute.  In the meantime, I cannot allow Gerard Henderson’s column in Tuesday’s Sydney Morning Herald to pass without comment.  The column dealt with two of his pet obsessions: David Hicks and Malcolm Fraser. It was a classic of the Gerard genre.

One of the problems with corresponditis is that it leads to chronic repetition. While this might pass muster in a series of letters (especially if Gerard is writing them) it is not a sound practice for writing newspaper columns. Newspapers by their nature are supposed to be fresh and well … newsworthy. It is unacceptable to write a column by cobbling together a collection of recycled material. This is an insult to the readership and indeed, the media house (in this case, Fairfax) which pays good money to its columnists.

Yet this is what Henderson did on Tuesday. His diatribe against Hicks and Fraser was a brazen rehash of material he had already published — some of it in other parts of the media, the rest in The Sydney Morning Herald itself. Let’s go to the clippings.

On Tuesday, Henderson’s chief charge against Hicks was that:

During his time in Guantanamo, Hicks’s family released many of his letters to the media. Some were quoted in the sympathetic documentary The President Versus David Hicks. In these letters, Hicks condemned ”Western-Jewish domination”, praised the Taliban, endorsed Islamist beheadings, boasted of his meeting with Osama bin Laden and related how he had fired live ammunition into the Indian side of the Kashmir Line of Control.

Sound familiar?  It should be for anyone who read Gerard’s SMH column on January 1, 2008, entitled “The Hicks Fan Club is in Denial”:

Some of this correspondence was released by Hicks’s family and was cited in the Hicks-friendly documentary The President Versus David Hicks … We know from Hicks’s own hand that he (i) joined the Taliban in Afghanistan, (ii) trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and personally met its leader, Osama bin Laden, on numerous occasions, (iii) attempted to kill (and maybe did kill) individuals on the Indian side of the Kashmir Line of Control, and (iv) advocated the overthrow of what he termed “Western-Jewish domination”.

For those who missed this particular edition of the SMH, for many years the following passage has been sitting on Gerard’s website at The Sydney Institute (from a speech he gave in June 2007):

We know from David Hicks’ own correspondence that he (i) joined the Taliban, (ii) praised Islamist beheadings for those who disagree with Mohammed, (iii) attempted to kill individuals on the Indian side of the Kashmir line-of-control when firing on targets from the Pakistan side of the line-of-control and (iv) advocated the overthrow of what he termed “Western Jewish domination”.

His Hicks dish in the Herald, therefore, has been reheated not once, but twice (surely a breach of the NSW Health and Food Safety Regulations — Ed.)*

Other sections of Tuesday’s column have been rehashed from Hendo’s archives. Remember his brief career as a columnist for the Spectator Australia?  On May 28, 2011, he wrote an article condemning Hicks and his book Guantanamo: My Journey. In particular, he cited critical reviews by two journalists, Leigh Sales and Sally Neighbour, as follows:

Sales, who wrote Detainee 002: The Case of David Hicks, has described Hicks’s book as a ‘flawed memoir’.  According to Neighbour, it is a ‘deceptive version of the truth’.

He used them again on Tuesday in the SMH:

Sales, who wrote the well received book on the Hicks case titled Detainee 002, challenged many of the claims in Guantanamo: My Journey and said, ”it is best read sceptically”.  Neighbour depicted the book as ”a disappointing and deceptive version of the truth”.

Henderson then turned his sights on Fraser’s memoirs (co-authored with Margaret Simons), telling the Herald’s readers that:

Fraser’s repetitive memoirs are absolutely littered with factual errors, and numerous key moments in his political life are omitted or glossed over. For example, Fraser claims he has won four elections, retained Gough Whitlam’s Medibank universal health insurance scheme and always supported immigration. All claims are inaccurate, perhaps due to Fraser’s acknowledgement that he has a ”notoriously fallible” memory. I wrote up a list of the errors in the Fraser/Simons book for the July 2010 The Sydney Institute Quarterly.

This is very familiar to readers of the Spectator Australia. In its May 21, 2011 edition, Henderson claimed that:

The Fraser/Simons book is littered with historical errors, omissions and inconsistencies. These were documented at length in my article in the July 2010 edition of The Sydney Institute Quarterly.

And the examples he cited? You guessed it … “four elections”, “retained Medibank” and “a bigger population”. Gerard also wrote of how:

The final page of the text contains a note in which Fraser acknowledges that his memory is ‘notoriously fallible’.

Henderson, of course, has a wonderful memory. He remembers everything he has ever written and frequently recycles it in the Herald.

Another example: on Tuesday he wrote of how:

(Hicks) received an enthusiastic standing ovation when he addressed the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May.  John Howard also spoke at this year’s festival, fulfilling the traditional role, at such occasions, of the token conservative.

Yes, that old line. It comes from the Henderson’s Media Watch Dog critique of the Sydney Writers’ Festival published on 27 May 2011:

There was the occasional token conservative speaker — John Howard.

Indeed, Gerard has used it so many times Howard no longer seems like a token.

The evidence suggests that much of Henderson’s column is a cut-and-paste job from his earlier writings. One would be surprised if the Herald’s management regards this as an acceptable standard for its columnists. Rather, it points to intellectual laziness and a cavalier approach to the SMH’s readership. The readers thought they were paying for original insights on the paper’s op-ed page, not Hendo’s reheated gruel. How long can it be before the Herald follows the lead of its fraternal paper, the Melbourne Age, and gets rid of this tired old repetitive pedant?

*not the actual ed’s notes — real ed.

Peter Fray

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