After 25 polarising years as a fearsome tabloid editor for Rupert Murdoch, Col Allan has “retired” from the New York Post at the age of 62 — and then immediately taken out US citizenship.
Does this mean a future Labor immigration minister could deport Col back to America if he visits Australia and gets into a pub brawl? Here’s hoping.
There’s so much to say about Col Allan — he’s admired (not loved) and loathed in equal measure — so let’s try and sift through the forest of recent commentary, which has included pieces in The Guardian, Mumbrella, Fairfax, The New York Times and The New York Daily News, just to name a few.
Was he the best tabloid editor of the modern era? Certainly not, if you are measuring his performance by standard yardsticks such as circulation and profit. Indeed, after 15 years in charge of the loss-making New York Post, he’s potentially the first editor in history who has been indulged with cash losses of more than $1 billion.
This New York Daily News piece in March also neatly captures how much Col Allan has in common with Donald Trump and his dinosaur attitudes to the internet. You’ve gotta laugh at this:
“A source notes that Allan exploded when a colleague suggested installing audience tracking software on his office computer in order to monitor interest in articles appearing on the Post’s website.
“‘I will not have a machine dictate what stories I put in the paper,’ the prehistoric print man is said to have roared.”
Rather than being allowed to trash the Post’s digital strategy and push an embarrassing pro-Trump campaign through the US election season, at one level it appears that young James Murdoch and his closest childhood friend, Post publisher Jesse Angelo, have managed to execute a strategic retirement.
Few dictators are ever happy to relinquish the reins of power — just look at Rupert Murdoch himself, powering ahead at 85 with no signs of retirement.
Just like with his great mate John Hartigan, the now “retired” former News Corp Australia executive chairman, Col has been given lavish treatment by the boys’ club that still rules the editorial roost in Australia. Look no further than The Australian’s Media section, which ran these two headlines on Col today: “A genius in prosecuting craft of journalism” and “It’s stop press for the editor of his generation, Col Allan”.
The first piece was written by Jake Mitchell, son of Chris Mitchell, the just-departed editor-in-chief of The Australian.
The second by old mate Mark Day, Col’s original editor on the Daily Mirror back when he first joined News Corp in 1974, at the urging of fellow mate John Hartigan, who recommended Col after meeting him when covering a court case in Cobar, of all places.
The four accompanying trademark Col splashes displayed in The Australian today highlight his crude, blokey and often sexually oriented tabloid focus; “Osama Bin Wankin” was one of them — ho, ho, ho.
News Corp operates a bit like the Mafia or a bikie gang, albeit usually staying within the law. It has such a well-earned reputation for dealing brutally with its enemies that most people are too scared to speak out. Col effectively spent 25 years as a Murdoch family editorial enforcer, something that comes out quite clearly in this superb Helen Dalley profile for Nine’s Sunday program in 2000, six months after Crikey was launched.
News Corp’s intimidating culture is what made “Pissing in the sink” — the profile of Col Allan published on Crikey two hours before our Valentine’s Day launch party in 2000 — so unusual.
A former insider was openly, and at length, blowing the whistle on Col Allan’s often equally disgraceful and hilarious editorial decisions and personal behaviour.
The profile — along with this subsequent March 2000 Crikey sealed section, which explained the pissing in the sink practice in greater detail — led to Col’s remarkable admission to Dalley (see seven minutes into this video) about why he did it. Yuck.
There are few other professions where you could survive such an embarrassing revelation, but in Rupert Murdoch’s world, it warranted a promotion. Amazingly, News Corp happily tolerated another 15 years of this while torching close to $1 billion on the New York Post.
And what return — commercial, political and otherwise — did they get on that investment? Not much. Col even lost Murdoch the mayoralty for the first time in decades when News Corp enemy Bill de Blasio won the New York City elections last year.
Even worse, a woman called Hillary Clinton — another enemy in the blokey Murdoch world — is looking likely to be the next US president.
So how will Col be remembered? It should be for a combination of his appalling personal behaviour and frequently memorable editorial excesses as he over-reached as a Murdoch family power player.
The hundreds of funny but often distasteful stories really should be captured for posterity in a book — a bit like the magnificent Stick it up your Punter about Kelvin MacKenzie, the editor of The Sun in London from 1981 until 1994.
Col’s 25 years of continuous big city daily tabloid editing commenced just after MacKenzie left News Corp, but MacKenzie remains the undisputed number one tabloid editor because of his record of circulation growth and huge profits in the world’s toughest competitive newspaper market.
In terms of power and profit, it was really Fox News boss Roger Ailes who succeeded MacKenzie as Rupert’s biggest and best enforcer, moneymaker and propagandist.
Col Allan was increasingly just a boozy dinosaur churning through the cash generated by Fox News and aligning with the equally outrageous and tyrannical Donald Trump.
So what will Col do next?
If the Murdochs are still sponsoring Col, he could repeat his 2013 effort when he was effectively the offshore assassin sent Down Under to finish off Labor and impose Tony Abbott on the nation. And didn’t that go well.
Rupert has long hated Malcolm Turnbull, but there would be a civil war inside News Corp if he chooses to effectively back Bill Shorten and the unions in the lead-up to the likely July 2 double dissolution election.
Col is well connected to the NSW right with people like Paul Keating and Bob Carr, so he certainly could perform that role if asked.
A more likely role would be if he popped up on the Trump payroll. How else can you explain the New York Post’s appalling editorial in favour of Trump coinciding with his “retirement” announcement?
This would also explain why Col took out US citizenship on Friday, as The Australian revealed this morning. After all, Trump couldn’t exactly employ a foreigner to help him bag Muslims and Mexicans and become his media Svengali.
But would such a move be endorsed by Rupert and his kids? They would probably be split, with the kids less supportive.
Rupert has long practised the art of installing loyalists inside presidential and prime ministerial offices. If Andy Coulson could go from phone hacking to David Cameron’s office, why can’t Col Allan join Team Trump? Watch this space.
*Stephen Mayne spent 18 months working for Col Allan in Sydney at The Daily Telegraph in the late 1990s as business editor and chief of staff.