When Rupert Murdoch celebrated his 86th birthday on Saturday, it’s fair to say his mind was probably a long way from the Western Australian state election.

But if you believe this extraordinary rant published in The West Australian yesterday, Rupert should be personally reining in The Australian’s business gossip columnist Will Glasgow.

Glasgow is a former co-editor of The Australian Financial Review’s Rear Window column and was poached by The Australian last year to co-edit a rival gossip column with Christine Lacy, called Margin Call.

It’s amazing what competition does, because the result has been arguably the highest-quality business gossip slug-fest we’ve seen from our two national papers in their history.

This has been great for readers, but not for poor old Seven West Media, which has been copping it for months now from both Margin Call and Rear Window over various controversies ranging from Tim Worner’s affairs to the departure of Perth boss Chris Wharton, the $8 million alleged fraud by John Fitzgerald, the departure of independent director Sheila McGregor and expense irregularities in the Los Angeles office.

It’s hard to know what sent Kerry Stokes, Tim Worner and Bruce McWilliam over the edge, but The West Australian’s reporter Ben Harvey went the full monty yesterday with an attack on Rupert Murdoch that can only have been commissioned or approved from the very top.

Here are the key highlights:

Only a tiny fraction of voters would have read The Australian newspaper’s editorial on Friday in which the paper implored West Australians to vote for Colin Barnett’s Liberals …

Rupert Murdoch’s great vanity project, which for decades dominated the nation’s journalistic landscape, has lost the plot.

That the self-professed powerhouse of Australian journalism could endorse the Barnett government for a third term shows the people running the paper have no feel for WA.

That voters did the polar opposite of what The Australian suggested is yet more proof that the paper’s power is vastly overstated …

How arrogant for a newspaper which has long treated WA with disdain to tell its local readers they are completely wrong.

At a time when newspapers everywhere are struggling, maintaining relevance to the day-to-day lives of readers and would-be readers is more important than ever.

The Australian is failing spectacularly on that front.

Murdoch’s stubborn insistence that the loss-making paper continue rolling off the presses, draining cash from News Limited’s already depleted coffers every time it does, shows the magnate is as out of touch with business as his flagship product is with contemporary Australia.

The mind-numbing pre-occupation with internal party politics and backroom business dealings — on rude display each day through the likes of Will Glasgow’s incestuous ode to financial rumour-mongering — will guarantee The Australian’s cringeworthy descent into obscurity.

Nobody is listening, Rupert.

For years The Australian promoted itself as being the “heart of the nation”.

Another organ would be more appropriate.

There is no way Kerry Stokes would have published such a piece before Seven West Media had completed the purchase of The Sunday Times for an undisclosed sum from News Corp last November. But having acceded to Stokes controlling a seven-day Perth newspaper monopoly, poor old Murdoch now has a reduced ability to defend himself. That said, both The Australian’s Cut & Paste column and Margin Call hopped into Ben Harvey today.

Kerry Stokes had completed two other transactions with News Corp in the past few months, with neither bringing much joy to Seven West shareholders. News Corp bought Seven’s 33% stake in Sky News for an undisclosed sum in December and the two companies disbanded their failed video-on-demand joint venture Presto on January 31 this year. It was running a distant third behind Netflix and the Fairfax-Nine joint venture Stan and the whole Presto experiment cost Seven more than $20 million.

Perth can be a parochial town, but it is worth asking what could have prompted such a spray against Murdoch’s flagship paper? It might be that reporter Ben Harvey is great mates with Chris Wharton who exited as his direct boss last week in a curious press release that wasn’t released to the ASX.

The Australian’s WA election editorial wasn’t particularly remarkable; it made a reasonable case for returning Colin Barnett on the basis that he had a privatisation plan to tackle state debt and Mark McGowan’s Labor outfit had run a small target campaign and featured a frontbench predictably dominated by former union officials.

It’s a free country, Ben! Newspapers should be able to endorse whoever they like, preferably without getting a back-hander from a crosstown rival for not backing the winning side.

As for Harvey’s completely irrelevant but telling name check of Will Glasgow, well, here are links to the last 15 Margin Call columns that have included an item on the blokey Perth boys’ club that makes up Seven West Media:

If Christine Lacy has written some of these, she has every reason to be outraged by Ben Harvey’s assumption that Will Glasgow is doing all this good work alone. And as long as Tim Worner remains CEO of Seven West Media and there is no settlement with Amber Harrison, the Stokes camp should expect plenty more gossip items all the way through until this year’s AGM in October.

Peter Fray

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