Australia’s second-highest selling daily newspaper failed to cover a bombshell barrage of secret correspondence between its most-read journalist, LNP flack James Ashby and a cabal of operatives apparently hell-bent on knifing House of Representatives Speaker Peter Slipper.

The Daily Telegraph, an influential tabloid edited by powerful media executive Paul Whittaker, did not include any reference to the texts and emails — contained in Federal Court documents released yesterday — that appear to graphically illustrate how former Howard government minister Mal Brough and turncoats inside Slipper’s office conspired to bring down the speaker and the Gillard government.

News Limited national political correspondent Steve Lewis was a key player in the saga — when the original Slipper story broke on Saturday April 21, The Daily Telegraph and its sister tabloids splashed with s-xually suggestive text messages from Slipper to Ashby on its front page in a story under Lewis’ byline.

But today, the Sydney paper — and its Queensland counterpart The Courier Mail  (that covers many South East Queensland locales where the action took place) — went silent.

Yesterday’s treasure trove included (read selected highlights here and here) amazing revelations showing how a cancerous cell allegedly connived to depose Slipper, topple Julia Gillard and insert Brough into Slipper’s seat of Fisher.

Ashby assumed he held the future of Australia in his hands, at one point asking an associate whether he would “put a bullet in my head to save the nation?”.

And in an apparent flagrant misreading of the constitution, Ashby came up with a brainwave last year to insert Slipper in the speaker’s chair to allow him “to stay in parliament without having to have a seat”.

The court documents also reveal that another dissident staffer, Karen Doane, asked Brough to forward her resume to Clive Palmer and Queensland sports minister Steve Dickson as Lewis’ scoop date neared. Contact between Queensland energy minister Mark McArdle was documented; he apparently counselled Ashby not to proceed with the king hit on his former boss.

The unfolding drama is compelling in its detail and seems tailor made for the Tele‘s scandal-reared readership.

On March 8, local party official Valerie Bradford was contacted over email by Lewis for information on the 2010 election campaign. Bradford didn’t reply but instead forwarded the email to Ashby who then passed it on to Karen Doane. Doane replied to Ashby exclaiming: “Awesome — What a tangled web this all is!”.

On March 29, Lewis emailed Brough asking for diary extracts on certain dates, as well as information about Slipper’s travels to New Zealand. Lewis followed up 34 minutes later requesting more information on Slipper’s cab charge expenditures and his relationship with the Oaklimo hire car company.

Four days later Doane texted Ashby to tell him she had “the most lengthy convo” with Lewis, before adding that she wanted to “balance” her harassment charge with Ashby’s.

“As you said last night, both claims may strengthen the case,” she texted. “I might look for a lawyer if we don’t have contact soon.”

Asbhy replied that he would contact Brough, to which Doane said he had been in contact with her and confirmed he had forwarded her CV.

“He also said if I wasn’t successful to contact him again,” she wrote. “Great result.”

Between April 6 and 9, Ashby and Doane had a series of text exchanges with Lewis, including one from Ashby asking Lewis for his email address. Ashby sent back his personal email address, informing Lewis he had a daily printout of Slipper’s diary. After that Lewis responded asking for more diary extracts on a series of dates, which Ashby forwarded on to Doane asking:

“Would u be able to photograph with your iphone and message the following dates to me?  I’ll then email to Steve if u like otherwise if u wouldn’t mind sending them directly to him that would be great.”

On April 10, Doane kept Brough in the loop via email telling him that Ashby was going to have his deposition taken before Lewis went to press: “This ensures there are no legalities breached, which is very important for a solid case!” she wrote. “I think Steve Lewis would agree another day of waiting to ensure everything is as it should be is worth it.”

In an undated SMS exchange, Doane told Brough that things had gotten “scary” and that she had stopped answering her phone. She said she would tell Brough if she heard anything.

Brough: “Cheers. The media bloke has just agreed to meet Steve this morning. Everything will be fine. Regard Mal.”

Doane: “Great news!! Definitely relieved for all.  Just want this out 😉 Chrs Karen.”

On April 10 Slipper sent two texts to Ashby about Doane being off work on sick leave, which Ashby sent on to Lewis.

The News Limited-owned Australian and Fairfax publications The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age all covered the revelations in impressive detail today. To its credit, News’ Herald Sun managed to cover the yarn in a small brief on page 28.

Talented Herald Sun freshman editor Damon Johnston explained to Crikey this morning that “it was a big news day yesterday … everything is assessed on merit on the day that it breaks”.

The Tele‘s Whittaker did not respond to a request for comment this morning.

Peter Fray

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