The Devine Miss M is a provocateur par excellence. She stirs emotions, sets tongues wagging and pisses off people. Even Mark Latham — the man she bagged mercilessly as Labor leader — rates her as a must-read columnist.

“I scribble a few lines for the Fin Review, so naturally I keep an eye on the competition,” Latham wrote in Spectator Australia in 2010. “The test is when I find myself muttering: ‘I wish I had written that.’ I say this more about Miranda than any other writer in Australia.”

During nine years as a columnist at The Sydney Morning Herald, Devine attracted more reader feedback than all the paper’s other opinion writers combined. Then in August 2010 she jumped ship to News Limited.

It’s a move that should have seen her skyrocket up The Power Index. Her pay packet undoubtedly got a boost and so did her readership. Around 1.5 million people a week read her column, published in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Melbourne’s Herald Sun, according to Roy Morgan sectional readership data.

But there is a sting in the tail. Many Miranda watchers believe she’s lost an edge.

“Miranda had more influence at the Herald than she does at The Tele,” says a senior Fairfax reporter. “She was the contrarian here; over at The Tele she’s just one of the chorus line. Her influence has waned.”

Another former colleague agrees: “She’s lost among the similar voices at the Tele.”

But we’re not ready to write her off just yet.

Devine — who looks like Nigella Lawson on a low-fat diet — knows all the ingredients necessary to cook up a cracking column. In an increasingly complex world, her pieces are oases of straightforward good and evil, right and wrong, battlers and elitists.

“You are contesting ideas and you have to do it in a polarising way,” she told The Australian in 2007. “When you write a column, you can’t sit on the fence.”

She tackles topics that otherwise gung-ho male members of the conservateriat are too timid to touch. She defends stay-at-home mums, decries the death of the alpha male and attacks “toxic aggro feminism”. When former David Jones employee Kristy Fraser-Kirk launched a $37 million s-xual harassment suit in 2010, Devine lambasted her as a “litigious, gold-digging, high umbrage woman egged on by lawyers using feminism to advance a personal cause”.

In a controversial August 2011 piece she sparked outrage by linking Finance Minister Penny Wong’s decision to have a child with her lesbian partner to the London riots. Gay rights advocate Kerryn Phelps, a former president of the Australian Medical Association, tells The Power Index the article was “offensive on so many levels”.

Defending the innocence of childhood is another favourite obsession. The 2008 senate inquiry into the s-xualisation of children was established in no small part because of her tireless campaigning on the issue. And it was Devine’s Sydney Morning Herald column on Bill Henson’s photographs that kick-started a national debate on where to draw the line between art and p-rnography.

*Read the full profile at The Power Index

Peter Fray

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