For a paper that has declared “the subject closed”, The Australian really can’t leave Robert Manne’s “Bad News” essay alone. The letters section of the paper on Monday had a degree of score settling — the lead letter, damning Manne, was from Peter Kelly, who somehow forgot to mention that he had been Chris Mitchell’s source for the spurious Manning Clark “Order of Lenin” story published in The Courier-Mail.

After one pro-Manne (or anti-Oz) letter for repressive tolerance, the page features a brief note from Manne. The editor’s note, appended to this four-line letter, is genuinely hilarious:

Editor’s reply: WE invested considerable time and resources to help you research a “vivid portrait of what happens when a newspaper goes rogue”, to borrow your publisher’s description. Now it appears that your “series of devastating case studies”, “deep analysis” and “vivid portrait” were not devastating, deep or vivid enough.

You seek the further indulgence of the “Murdoch empire” to make good on your publisher’s promises.

You declared publicly last month that you would not legitimise The Australian by allowing it to publish your work. You now appear to have changed your mind about this declaration of moral intent, just as you changed your mind about offering us the chance to publish an extract from your essay. I don’t need to point out that you have found yourself wedged in this moral trap before.

Any substantive corrections will appear on The Australian’s website.

Even this splenetic dictation is in error. Manne barred any serialisation of parts of the essay in The Oz, given the paper would be able to cut the material as it wished. To see that as a renunciation of the right of reply is obviously absurd.

Would they leave it there? They would not. Planet Janet, always late to the party, trotted out another version of number three of the six articles she can write (“the left suppresses free speech by criticising us”) and added another, utterly redundant restatement of the arguments against Manne. (She also, in ridiculing the notion of a media inquiry, quotes Alexander Downer — that would be the Alexander Downer whom Christopher Pearson was secretly writing speeches for — and then quoting from in his column in The Australian. Which Downer would then quote. Yeah, nothing to see here.)

There matters ended. Oh hang on, no they didn’t. Months earlier a debate had been organised between Manne and Paul Kelly for the Wheeler Centre. Kelly either bailed or was pulled from the debate by Mitchell three days earlier, without even the usual illness excuse, etc. When the organiser went ahead anyway, with Max Gillies reading from Kelly’s published pieces, Media Diary had to respond with coverage. Making this report on a debate where they could have defended themselves, but tried to kill, the fourth piece to appear in The Oz after the debate had closed. Truly the Gallipoli spirit is on display — in terms of strategic clear-thinking anyway. Coming up tomorrow — The Oz continues to not respond to the Manne essay.

Peter Fray

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