Remember the explosive affidavit that alleged former Nine boss Eddie McGuire had talked of “boning” presenter Jessica Rowe? According to Rowe’s new memoir, McGuire responded to the leak by first calling her husband, not her, to apologise.

Rowe’s new book, released today, describes an evening phone call from a panicked McGuire, who told her he’d tried to “ring Peter to apologise” but hadn’t gotten through.

“As a husband he would be furious … “, Rowe, now a host on Studio 10, recalls McGuire saying. It was the first she’d heard of the affidavit, and she asked McGuire what he wanted to apologise about. “I didn’t say I was going to bone you,” he told her. She asked McGuire why he wanted to apologise to her husband, Nine journalist Peter Overton, if he hadn’t said it. McGuire told her he’d issued a statement to the papers in support of her, and would have a chat to her after her show the following day, according to the book. She hung up bewildered. Overton got home a few minutes later and told her McGuire had left him a message he had yet to check.

Later that night, a journalist told Rowe that Crikey had published the affidavit by former news and current affairs director at Nine Mark Llewellyn that day (June 26, 2006). When Rowe and Overton tried to access it, it had already been removed at Nine’s insistence as the publisher sought an injunction. It would later be published in every major newspaper in the country (and republished on Crikey), after Nine abandoned attempts to have the injunction imposed.

Crikey asked McGuire this morning whether Rowe’s account — that he had responded to the leak by apologising to her husband instead of her — was accurate, but didn’t hear back before deadline.

McGuire has long maintained he never used the word “boned”, though Llewellyn has stood by his affidavit, writing in Crikey in 2011: “Not only do I remember Eddie McGuire saying what he said, I remember how he looked as he said it. Including his smirk as he used the ‘bone’ word.”

Rowe appears of the opinion McGuire did speak of her in a derogatory manner. On Studio 10 earlier, the panel discussed whether McGuire’s description of Victorian Sports Minister John Eren as a “soccer-loving, Turkish-born Mussie” was racist (McGuire says it’s a term of endearment). Rowe dismissed a suggestion society was too quick to judge people as racist, taking aim at her former boss:

“To me, Eddie McGuire has form, and I can talk very much from personal experience. The way he has allegedly used language against me in the past and the way he has used language to describe Adam Goodes [is] highly, highly inappropriate and then to try and explain it away as ‘oh that was a brain snap or a brain freeze’ — no, that is not on.”

After the publication of the affidavit, McGuire released a statement saying Rowe had his full support and “remains a co-host of the [Today] show”. Rowe took maternity leave in December that year and was dropped from the Today show in May the following year, while still on leave.

Rowe’s memoir, Is This My Beautiful Life?, is a highly personal one, but it does illuminate the pressures on women in the blokey television industry. Early on in her career, Rowe reveals, she asked to read the top story in the Channel Ten 5pm news bulletin from time to time. She’d noticed when she started that she never got the top story and never got to do any live interviews, with those roles going to Channel Ten veteran Ron Wilson. After a few years, she approached her boss, named only as “JC”, and asked to read the top story from time to time. She was told no, “because Ron’s a man and you’re a woman”. The next day, she went to HR with news of this encounter, but was dissuaded and told it was only her boss being “his prickly self”. She responded by pointing out that across all the commercial stations, women weren’t given the lead news story, and she said it was time that changed. By the end of that week, she writes, she and the other female presenters across Ten were “permitted” to read the lead news story from time to time.

The memoir also reveals the gruelling toll the public scrutiny took on Rowe. From when she joined Today in 2006, Rowe was subjected to persistent media speculation on her performance. Even Channel Nine, her employer, was happy to partake, with A Current Affair running a segment on how Rowe was “the most annoying person in television”. She describes the publication of the affidavit as her “rock bottom”, saying that after that the pendulum had “started to shift the other way”. “Instead of focusing on me, it was now more about the management style at Nine,” she writes. During this period, many of the industry’s leading figures also contacted Rowe to offer their support. Still, she says when she took to the Today show to announce her pregnancy later that year, her co-hosts looked shocked. “I think they thought I was going to announce my resignation.”

Peter Fray

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