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Journalist Mark Di Stefano (Image: SBS)

You asked, we listened. Welcome to Crikey’s all-new Tips & Murmurs.

More Mark Di Stef-oh-no!

It’s the great law of a high profile figure in Australia’s tall-poppy filled media — when they fall, the response splits between their mates who can’t see what the big deal is, and those whose response simply thrums with schadenfreude.

So it was former BuzzFeed Australia scoop getter Mark Di Stefano, who last weekend resigned from his new role with the Financial Times after it was found that he had spied on a meeting in which several reporters for The Independent and the Evening Standard found out they were being furloughed and/or facing pay cuts.

We in the Crikey bunker couldn’t help but notice the flood of warm wishes that followed; Di Stefano’s tweeted announcement of his resignation was subject to the world’s nicest ratio. Many were former colleagues, which is one thing. And sure, it’s a helluva time to be looking for a job.

But obtaining potentially personal and sensitive information about people without identifying yourself and offering no right of reply is a fairly serious ethical breach.

And yet, you have Walkely-winning journalists Monica Attard and George Megalogenis, several writers of The Guardian, senior Nine editor Michael Koziol and many others tweeting the warmest support, with many implying it was some kind of injustice that he’d resigned.

Hey, Di Stefano’s clearly a popular guy. But one wonders whether we could have expected the same outpouring of support — rather than, say, crowing about ethics and the toxic media — if the exact same thing had befallen a News Corp flack.

Sharri’s law

Journalist Sharri Markson’s “bombshell” report of an apparent “dossier” laying out the case against China is a perfect example of how one story (in this case apparently based on a single source) can become part of the self-perpetuating cycle of conspiracy theory talking points between right-wing media and right-wing populists.

To recap: Markson — who has been toeing the “China lies” narrative put forward by parts of the US administration for a while — gets a leak (we’re not sure from whom, though a source tells Nine papers “they believed the research document was produced by a US author and was not an official Five Eyes collaboration”).

She writes an “explosive” five page report for the Tele about this document, apparently from this one source.

International stable mates Fox News jump on the story, and Markson is interviewed about it by popular, bow-tie-sporting, white-supremacist sympathiser Tucker Carlson.

All it takes now is for Donald Trump to quote this report — which fits with his unsubstantiated claims that the coronavirus originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology — and the circle shall be complete.

Gamekeeper turned, er, gamekeeper

This week brought the news that The Courier-Mail‘s federal political editor Renee Viellaris will be joining the Australian Federal Police as a strategic media adviser.

Tips & Murmurs would agree with Nine’s CBD column that the move would “raise some eyebrows at the company’s Holt Street HQ” — what with the AFP raiding the Canberra home of Walkley-winning Sunday Telegraph political editor Annika Smethurst and all that dodgy search warrant business which ended up in a High Court win for Smethurst.

Perhaps there will be a thaw in News-AFP relations. Maybe, maybe not: News Corp is known for its long corporate memory. Certainly, Viellaris seems a like perfect pick for Team Dutton. For what we can see, she’ll fit right in.

Even before Dutton took over the Immigration/Home Affairs portfolio, we suspect Viellaris’ work would have pleased him. There was the 2008 story on how taxpayers would be “forced to pay thousands of illegal immigrants the dole” under measures apparently then being considered by the Rudd government.

Except they weren’t, in case the Media Watch link didn’t tip you off.

In 2016, she wrote that Asylum seekers on Nauru were “blackmailing” doctors into sending them to Australia for abortions — a combination of words we assume most News Corp editors would smoke out of a light bulb if they could.

In 2017 she ran the “Club Manus” piece, sharing “exclusively obtained photos” of asylum seekers on Manus delivering an “embarrassing blow” to those advocating on their behalf by “frolicking” on a beach.

Oh sure, on the one hand many argue that Manus is an island prison full of suicide, mental health issues, police beatings and avoidable deaths from illness that has cost the Australian taxpayers billions.

On the other, if it’s so miserable, why does this Asylum seeker own a PAIR OF SUNGLASSES?

Dutton must have been particularly pleased with the piece leading up to the last election — Dutton’s seat was one of the most marginal in the country — making the argument that he can’t be a monster because he has a wife.

And even after the raids, Viellaris was echoing Dutton talking points, telling Sky there were “activist doctors” using medivac laws as a back door to get asylum seekers into Australia and that “once they get here … it’s very hard to send them back”.

Good luck with everything, Renee. Please don’t raid us.

Peter Fray

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