As the saying goes, can you bear it? A man who regards himself as Australia’s leading authority on the Liberal Party, attacking anyone who threatens his imagined pre-eminence (such as former Liberal leaders Malcolm Fraser and John Hewson) does not even know the name of the current Liberal leader’s electorate.
This is the predicament in which Gerard Henderson now finds himself. In Friday’s Media Watch Dog (No.139) he wrote of “a fund-raising dinner for Tony Abbott’s re-election campaign in Mackellar”.
Abbott has been the member for Warringah since March 1994. As for Mackellar, it has been represented by Bronwyn Bishop for the past 18 years. Fancy Gerard, a perennial barracker and defender of the Catholic Church (priests, altar boys and all that) confusing an Abbott and a Bishop. Look out for his expulsion from the DLP for this crime against Rome.
It appears the expert-Henderson (for a Liberal expert he is) has a chronic problem with Liberal leaders. This was evident last year when his Sydney Institute website listed Barry O’Farrell as a member of the Legislative Council (from which, constitutionally, O’Farrell could not be premier of NSW). Right up to the day on which this howler was corrected (June 9), Hendo was insisting no error existed. He called it “simply untrue” and “a wilful distortion”, claiming O’Farrell “may have been listed as such, due to a staff error, some time ago, but this was corrected”. This is the state of delusion in which Gerard Henderson lives — blaming his staff and denying the undeniable.
There is one point, however, on which we can all agree. On Friday he declared: “I do all my own fact-checking.” He went on to say: “I have even volunteered to fact-check ABC documentaries free of charge. I guess I’m that kind of guy.” Indeed he is. But imagine the relief of ABC management that his offer was refused. Otherwise, the public broadcaster would be airing such political masterpieces as “The Tony Abbott Story: My Life Campaigning in the Wrong Seat of Mackellar” and “Doing the Impossible: How Barry O’Farrell MLC Governed NSW from the Wrong House”.
If Henderson had been allowed to branch out as a fact-checker for other ABC programs, he could have wrecked iconic shows such as Kath and Kim. In Friday’s MWD he wrote of “Australians who live in such suburbs as Fountain Gate”. There is, in fact, no Melbourne suburb called Fountain Gate — it’s a Westfield shopping centre (in the suburb of Narre Warren) made famous by the Kath and Kim characters. But that’s Henderson for you — stuffing up everything he touches, from the Liberal Party to Westfield Fountain Gate. Can you bear it?
Malcolm in the middle
Gerard “I do all my own fact-checking” Henderson owes Malcolm Fraser an apology. In his MWD of May 11, Hendo reproduced correspondence dismissing the long-standing rumour that “Robert Menzies had a torrid affair with Betty Fairfax”. Gosh. Towards the end of one of his (many) letters, however, Henderson raised the spectre of “the Fraser/Fairfax (s-xual) allegation”. This is not a typographical error — rather, it is a significant howler.
Imagine the surprise of Henderson’s readership: a relationship between Malcolm Fraser (born 1930) and Betty Fairfax (born 1907). Henderson offered no context or evidence for this freshly-minted rumour, a suggestion bound to offend the Fraser and Fairfax families. MWD is yet to correct the error and apologise for its thoughtlessness.
The problem is one of double standards. Henderson places great weight on accountability, for everyone bar himself. Two weeks ago he told The Australian that if someone is “talking about accountability, to start with you’ve got to be accountable for your own work”.
Yet accountability is the reason Gerard quit The Spectator Australia magazine last year. I wrote a column playfully highlighting some of his many errors and Hendo spat the dummy, claiming it was unfair for a fellow columnist to hold him to account. He has a habit of blaming his staff and refusing to accept responsibility for his howlers.
Henderson badly needs a fact-checker (other than himself). I’m willing to volunteer to fact-check his documents free of charge (I guess I’m that kind of guy). If, as seems likely, this offer is rejected, Henderson should recall his long-time ghost-writer and confidant, the highly capable Viren Nathoo, to the Sydney Institute. Ever since Viren left the office, the Hendo-Howlers have got worse.
Corresponditis and other afflictions
Readers of Henderson Watch will be familiar with Gerard’s acute case of corresponditis, the scarifying ailment that forces someone to write a post-office-full of turgid, obsessively self-serving letters. We had a reminder of the Henderson method in Friday’s MWD. In a long diatribe against Geoffrey Robertson, it was reported “that Geoffrey Robertson QC obtained a staggering 86% of on-air time” in an interview with Laura Jayes of Sky News regarding the Julian Assange case. Not 85% or 90%, but precisely 86%.
In his obsessiveness, Henderson has over-dosed on media consumption. His life is an endless series of taped current affairs shows and talking heads, with Gerard hunched over his replay button and calculator working out how much “on-air time” his (perceived) enemies received in their interviews.
Gerard “I do all my own fact-checking” Henderson loves a list of errors, so in honour of his abiding passion, let me update Crikey readers on the worst of the Hendo-Howlers:
- Not knowing which electorate the federal Liberal leader represents (see above).
- Not knowing which parliamentary chamber the NSW Liberal leader sits in (see above).
- Not knowing the suburbs of Melbourne, the city in which he grew up (see above).
- Positioning Malcolm Fraser, bizarrely enough, in a love triangle with Bob Menzies and Betty Fairfax (see above).
- Last Friday’s MWD was a vintage edition for Hendo-Howlers. In (another) long diatribe, this time against Chip Rolley, Henderson claimed “the theme of the 2010 Sydney Writers’ Festival was that Australia lacked good leadership. This was clearly directed at Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Coalition opposition leader Tony Abbott.” The 2010 SWF was actually held in May, a month before Gillard became Prime Minister. Not only doesn’t Henderson know the name of Abbott’s electorate, he doesn’t know when Gillard took over from Kevin Rudd.
- Earlier this year in The Sydney Morning Herald (February 14), Henderson (aged 66) wrote of “Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the Democratic Party’s primaries in 2009”. In fact, the US primaries (and Clinton’s defeat by Barack Obama) were in 2008.
- In his MWD of July 1, 2011 (No.101), Henderson confused the HR Nicholls Society with the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). This was a case of some who runs a talk-tank mixing up his think tanks.
- In The Sydney Morning Herald in November 2009, the expert-Henderson (for a Liberal expert he is) confused George Brandis with another Liberal Senator, Nick Minchin.
- In the SMH in June 2008, Henderson declared that during the Iraq War in 2003 the leader of the Labor opposition was Kim Beazley. It was, of course, Simon Crean (it is not just Liberals he has trouble with).
- On July 5 last year in The Sydney Morning Herald, Henderson claimed that “more than 85% of Australian electors voted for a party other than the Greens (at the 2010 federal election).” The figure was actually 75.4% — nearly 10% less than Henderson’s benchmark.
- Also in 2011, this time on the ABC Insiders program, Henderson declared: “How many of those Greens in Canberra were put there by Liberal Party preferences … I think Lee Rhiannon was in New South Wales.” This was another basic error in understanding Australia’s electoral system. In fact, when Rhiannon was elected, having achieved her quota for a Senate seat, the Coalition’s preferences remained undistributed.
- In March 2006 Henderson claimed that the entry in The Latham Diaries for January 9, 2002 was not genuine. As readers of my book will know, I did not make a diary entry for January 9, 2002.
- In MWD No.138 (May 25, 2012) Henderson claimed that I had access to “taxpayer-funded gold pass (travel) entitlements”. In fact, I have never had a gold pass, again demonstrating Henderson’s ignorance of the rules of our parliamentary system.
- On January 10, 2012 in his Sydney Morning Herald column, Henderson claimed I had lodged a complaint with the Australian Press Council about a breach of my privacy by The Sunday Telegraph. In its adjudication last month, the Press Council said that “Mr Latham’s complaint related to the privacy of his family, especially his young children, not himself”. The premise of Henderson’s column was false (and the two complaints I actually lodged with the Press Council were both upheld).
In June last year Henderson claimed to have “a good memory and a very good filing system and I always check my memory against the written record”. Really? The above list suggests otherwise. Self-awareness is a long-standing issue for Gerard.
There are many more howlers Henderson Watch could chronicle. To assist our readership and the broader cause of public accountability, the list will be updated in future editions of Crikey. It’s a stunning reflection on a unique character in our national life: Gerard Henderson, the error-prone pedant. Can you bear it?