Elaine Stead and Joe Aston (Images: Supplied)

For the past two months The Australian Financial Review‘s Joe Aston has occupied a deeply uncomfortable role for a gossip columnist; he has become the story.

His media rivals have been gleefully reporting his defamation suit at the hands of one of his victims, venture capitalist Elaine Stead. This morning the judgement came down — Justice Michael Lee ruled in Stead’s favour, awarding $280,000 in aggravated damages.

The trial resulted from two pieces and a tweet in which Aston called Stead a “stupid cretin” and accused her of acting like a “pyromaniac” with other people’s money.

Stead and her lawyers claimed Aston’s work — which they also said was sexist and had no purpose except to humiliate Stead — has damaged Stead’s mental health and her career. Aston and the Fin relied on the honest opinion defence, which Lee found hadn’t been established.

Perhaps there were clues throughout the trial. Aston cited, as an example of the conduct that lead him to this honest opinion, “absurd” and “banal” posts on Stead private social media accounts. This in turn lead to a quite magnificently surreal exchange between Aston and Stead’s barrister Sue Chrysanthou regarding Aston’s own social media habits.

The court was shown his food photography, changing room selfies, hangover complaints, views on chocolate covered crackers (“a crime against food” in Aston’s view, which Lee asserted should be accepted as an agreed fact) and an entire exhibit (number 27, if such things interest you) dedicated to photographs Aston had taken of his own feet.

“You have rather a lot of photos of your feet … I’ll just show you,” Chrysanthou said, at one point asking “…You agree there’s a lot?”

“There do seem to be,” Aston admitted.

Today’s ruling will go some way to answering a few of the big questions surrounding this case — the decision will likely have huge implications for Aston in particular, and gossip columnists in general.

But one question we can’t answer is: “Jesus Christ, how has Joe Aston not been sued more?”

Whatever else may be said about him — and there is often as much to find disgusting as there is to find hilarious — Aston is an exquisite craftsman, using lovely prose to nasty ends. In case today’s decision tempers Aston’s characteristic acidic flourishes, here are a few examples:

  • Kevin Rudd:The Nambour narcissist … Is it any wonder that someone who cannot even proselytise his own achievements with the accuracy expected of an HSC exam paper thought that rolling out metronomic announceables was the same as running a country? Kevin is no intellectual; he’s barely a sophomore with a serious face.”
  • Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Brendan Pearson was “quietly taken out the back for a hearty breakfast of shotgun muzzle”.
  • Bronwyn Bishop: “In her flourishing senility, the Beehive is finding a red under every bed”.
  • Julie Bishop: “JBish, pioneer of fashion diplomacy, now beyond reproach, her popularity absolution for her vacuity.”
  • Peter FitzSimons is a “moneyed North Shore bloviator” and “a stupid person’s idea of a smart person”.
  • BlackRock chairman Larry Fink: “Perhaps if Larry was disposed to living BlackRock’s creed, rather than declaiming it emptily from his throne of blood diamonds, his message might sustain the kind of progress it envisions. That, plus he wouldn’t come off as such a douche cannon.”

Not that he never got it back. Harvey replied, less erudite but by no means less passionate, that Aston “should be hung [sic] or he should be stripped and flogged, the bastard. The Fin is supposed to be this wonderful paper with quality journalists and instead of that they have this gossip writer telling lies. He should be sacked tomorrow. He’s an absolute disgrace.”