What kind of person spends most of his adult life researching other people’s errors and telling them to get a fact-checker, but then admits his own work is so hastily prepared he doesn’t have time for fact-checking? A Henderson kind of person, of course.

Due to the heroic efforts of Henderson Watch, the victims of Hendi-pedantry now know the truth of the matter: Gerard Henderson expects his work to be error-prone, given that his “Media Watch Dog is put together in great haste every Friday”. Are there two Gerard Hendersons or just one incredibly hypocritical Gerard Henderson?

This is an important question for the Sydney Institute board, headed by chairman Nicholas Johnson and deputy chairman Rob Ferguson. Are they happy with the shoddy scholarship of their executive director and his deputy wife: howler upon howler, week after week, on a website for which they (the board members) are ultimately responsible?

Does the board condone the contents and gutter-sniping style of MWD, with its commentary on “intellectual r-pe” (in relation to Dr Leslie Cannold — see MWD No.123) and the bombing of heavily populated Lygon Street, Melbourne (see MWD No.133)?  Surely a self-proclaimed “conservative think tank” should be more prudent and, well, conservative.

In its charter, the Sydney Institute claims to have “no agenda beyond supporting debate and discussion”. The evidence suggests, however, that MWD’s agenda is driven by Gerard Henderson getting even with old enemies, his (perceived) Liberal Party rivals (such as Malcolm Fraser and John Hewson) and media organisations that have snubbed him (such as The Age and the ABC).

Henderson has told Crikey “I doubt that Viren Nathoo even reads most of my written material”. Lucky Viren. It has been left to Henderson Watch to provide much-needed accountability for the Sydney Institute.  Nicholas Johnson and Rob Ferguson may not insist on professional standards of accuracy, but I do.

Let’s go to the (growing) list of Hendi-Howlers:

  • Crikey readers know of Gerard’s ignorance in naming Tony Abbott’s electorate of Warringah. Deputy director Anne Henderson has trouble in naming Abbott per se. At 8.51pm on June 11 she sent out an email promoting a Sydney Institute talk: “Subject: Campbell Newman’s message for Julia Gillard and Tony Abbot”. Enough said.
  • It is not just the names of Australian conservative leaders that trouble the Hendi. In attacking George Negus in MWD No.126 (February 24, 2012), Gerard wrote of how: “No one can lead a country. Not Bob Hawke. Not John Howard. Not John Keys.” The key to this howler: John Key has been the Prime Minister of New Zealand since 2008.
  • Even when they are correcting other people’s errors, the Hendi are adding to their own list. In MWD No.125 (February 17, 2012) Gerard Henderson attacked the ABC Four Corners profile on Kevin Rudd for its use of lightweight interviewees, including “the Labor MP for Bruce, Alan Griffiths (who was incorrectly described in the program as holding a Queensland seat)”. This howler turns on the fact the Labor MP’s real name is Alan Griffin, MHR for Bruce since 1996.
  • Another error of the naming kind: in The Sydney Morning Herald of May 18, 2010, Henderson opined that “the sassy Christina Keneally is popular”. The former NSW Premier is actually named Kristina Keneally.
  • What’s in a name? In MWD No.62 (July 16, 2010) Henderson referred to a Per Capita board member as Josh Burnside. It was, in fact, Josh Bornstein.
  • Names are not Gerard’s intellectual strength. Some might regard this as a problem for a self-appointed pedant. Not at Johnson’s and Ferguson’s Sydney Institute, apparently, where anything goes. How about dates? Are they any easier for Hendo (aged 66)?  Not in MWD No.130 (March 23, 2012). In attacking Rudd’s former press secretary Lachlan Harris, he positioned The Sunday Telegraph and the ABC’s Q&A (screening on Monday nights) as two days apart. This howler turns on the fact that Henderson had the wrong date for The Sunday Telegraph (it was March 2o, 2011, not March 19).
  • Also in MWD No.130, the hapless Hendo listed my celebrated run-in with a taxi-driver (in which I fought bravely in defence of taxpayer funds) as occurring in 2003. It was actually in 2001. This must have been another MWD prepared in great haste and with little sleep — the standard of scholarship one finds at Johnson’s and Ferguson’s Institute.
  • MWD No.125 (February 17, 2012) made the curious claim that “On 8 February 2012, Gerard Henderson’s weekly Sydney Morning Herald column was titled ‘Threat from enemy within makes anti-terrorism laws indispensible’.” MWD then reproduced corresponditis from Henderson citing “my column on 7 February 2012”. Within the space of a few sentences, he couldn’t even get his own date right. (The column was actually written on Tuesday February 7).
  • Feeling sorry for the hapless one? It gets worse, I’m afraid, with a howler inside a Hendi-howler. Gerard’s February 7 column incorrectly cited (Monash University academic) Andrew Zammit’s paper “Explaining Australia-Lebanon Jihadist Connections” as referring to 33 terrorism convictions. The paper actually referred to 33 prosecutions (as there were a number of acquittals).
  • Now a howler within a howler, inside a Hendi-howler.  MWD No.125 initially referred to Zammit’s letter (correcting the convictions/prosecutions error) as “published in the SMH on February 9, 2012″. Then Gerard, in corresponditis mode, referred to Zammit’s “letter in the SMH on February 8, 2012 — in response to my column the previous day.” Confused?  You may well be, but not half as confused as the muddle-headed Henderson.
  • Names and dates are problematic for Henderson. What about titles and job descriptions? Not much joy there. In MWD No.122 (January 27, 2012) Henderson incorrectly described Michael Brull as a “soon-to-be-doctor”. When this howler was brought to his attention, Gerard (I’m-a-correction-kind-of-guy) Henderson used a bizarre ‘time-tunnel’ defence: “I’m sure that, in time, those who qualify for the Doctor Juris degree will win the right to call themselves Doctor”, adding that “Parents should make Doctor the first name of each newborn child” (see MWD No.123). Funny, eh?
  • In his SMH column of April 17, 2012, Dr Henderson (for a Doctor he is) described Anne Delaney as an “ABC staffer” — a statement he subsequently had to correct (sans time-tunnel).
  • In another howler (of the job description kind), in MWD No.131 (March 30, 2012), Henderson described Malcolm Fraser, at the time of his election to the Australian Parliament in 1955 (having won the marginal seat of Wannon), as “an apparatchik”. Fraser was aged 25, having returned from his studies at Oxford in mid-1952. Back home, he worked for the next three-and-a-half years on his father’s farm. At no stage was he a political staffer. Landed gentry, yes. Apparatchik, certainly not. In his determination to attack his (perceived) enemies, Henderson has a habit of inventing claims and committing historical howlers. It’s all part of his Look-Mum-No-Fact-Checker website.
  • Another (perceived) enemy to suffer from this habit has been Lee Rhiannon, the Greens Senator. In MWD No.111 (September 9, 2011) Henderson said that Rhiannon left the Socialist Party of Australia in 1990. Right split, wrong decade (1980 would have been more accurate).
  • Names, dates, titles, splits: is there anything Henderson gets right? Let’s try meetings (lots of those in politics). Alas, in The Sydney Morning Herald of March 31, 2009, Henderson wrote that (then) foreign minister Stephen Smith’s meeting with the Chinese minister Zhou Yongkang was held in secret. It was not.
  • Finally, back to Tony Abbot(t) and another howler, this time from the expert-Gerard (for a Liberal expert he is). In MWD No.128 (March 9, 2012) Hendo claimed “In August 2010 Tony Abbott was the first Opposition Leader to force a first-term government into minority status.” Barrackers of the cradle-snatching Joseph Lyons (such as the hagiographic Anne Henderson) would have something to say about that (circa 1931 and Lyons’ defeat of the first-term Scullin government). Knowing how sensitive Princess Anne is to all matters Lyons (Michael Kroger and all that), it looks like the Media Watch Dog will be spending more time in the Hendi-doghouse.

That’s quite a list (with more to come). One wonders how Gerard would react to a policy proposal to formally monitor his (many) errors and force on him the standards he demands from others: that is, accountability and corrections?

In his SMH column of March 6, 2012, Gerard Henderson stridently condemned the recommendation of the Finkelstein inquiry to establish a News Media Council. Fancy that. He lamented how “Finkelstein wants the proposed News Media Council to oversee a huge number of online sites”. Really?

One such site, of course, would be the Sydney Institute’s Media Watch Dog — where Henderson earns his corporate-sponsored salary. This was a clear conflict of interest of which the SMH’s readers were not informed. Henderson used his column to protest against the way in which the News Media Council would “restrict free expression and increase government regulation”, without declaring that his flagship publication would be directly affected. Our man Gerard must have missed the parish sermon on ethics.

If the NMC is established, Henderson Watch will be its best customer: pointing out errors, demanding corrections, highlighting hypocrisy and exposing conflicts of interest at the Sydney Institute. We know, for instance, that Gerard and Anne Henderson have accepted vast amounts of money from Big Tobacco, the Adlers and James Hardie to fund their salaries and office perks. Have no doubt: the Hendi hospitality budget makes the Health Services Union look like a soup kitchen. The institute website brazenly displays an endless series of cocktail parties, lavish dinners and harbour cruises.

The full list of Sydney Institute donors, however, remains secret. These are the sponsors that dare not speak their name, the faceless men of Hendi politics. On the available evidence, the Sydney Institute is the least accountable and most error-prone body in Australian public life.

The above list of Hendi-Howlers brings our total to 43 (with more to come). Twenty-five of these howlers have been in this year’s MWD. Remember Gerard’s claim that there were just a few? Self-awareness is not his strength. When will someone finally step in and demand higher standards of scholarship at the Sydney Institute?

Over to you, Nicholas Johnson and Rob Ferguson.