The increasingly farcical Milne versus Mayne prizefight at last Thursday’s Walkley Award presentations has taken an even more bizarre but very entertaining twist. Yesterday the Poison Dwarf came out with a very funny piece titled Why I snapped on live TV . It blamed Mayne for having linked to an unnamed blog that had apparently retailed sleazy gossip about Milne:
But what snapped my brain at the Walkleys was Mayne’s decision a few months ago to put up a link on Crikey to a blog which accused me of being a sexual predator. It alleged, without foundation, that I stalked women in Parliament House and that, when I went to the ministerial wing, women tried to avoid me.
It also accused me of being a serial philanderer.
Today Crikey’s other muckraking political correspondent Christian Kerr ‘fessed up that it was actually he who had linked to the unnamed blogger! Milne mugged the wrong Crikey muckraker! A quick Google reveals that the unnamed blogger is none other than recent bankrupt and former ALP Right headkicker Andrew Landeryou (although it isn’t clear to me that Landeryou actually ever made most of the allegations Milne seems to be claiming). Nevertheless, one could be forgiven for wondering whether Landeryou might not be gleefully taking advantage of his bankrupt status and emulating one of Melbourne’s more bizarre media characters of the 80’s, former Toorak Times editor Jack Pacholli, described in the following blunt terms in a SMH obituary a couple of years ago:
Four years ago, a Melbourne judge told Jack Pacholli he was a liar, con man and convicted thief. But he was so much more. Pacholli ran a weekly newspaper in that city called the Toorak Times. He liked to think it was in the muck-raker tradition of Smith’s Weekly and Truth, but they were way above his division. Pacholli was really a bottom feeder who took Australia’s gutter press to new lows.
Fact and fairness were alien concepts to Pacholli and in his mad, scatter-gun, vitriolic columns he wrote what he liked, careless of the consequence, emboldened by bankruptcy that made him both financially untouchable and unrestrained by the law of libel. Anyone who complained was told to sue his dog, Oscar.
Unwittingly, Pacholli blazed a trail that left Australian journalism a legacy of bias, opinion and personalities preferred over the reporting of facts for many readers and many managements. …
Pacholli modestly claimed to have created Australia’s discount whitegoods industry while in Sydney, flogging fridges and vacuum cleaners off the backs of trucks. But selling fags was one thing, whitegoods another; while his businesses grew, his acumen did not: John Dennis Pacholli, retailer of Caringbah, was declared bankrupt in NSW on October 23, 1957. …
After his mining misadventure, Pacholli turned his hand to newspapers, starting the Toorak Times in 1972. Melbourne’s establishment families were running out of the money massed by their 19th-century forebears through gold and land speculation and their village, Toorak, was being invaded by new money. Pacholli unintentionally caught the the moment by putting on its masthead a butler serving the paper on a tray and the line “for the socially aware”.
The Toorak Times erupted onto the Melbourne scene when the city was enduring a rash of new newspapers driven by the arrival of the first local Sunday editions and new mores that had been flushed out by Truth newspaper’s revelations about police control of the illegal abortion industry, the growth of brothels (and their need to advertise their wares in the gutter press) and print’s last renaissance before the onslaught of the electronic media and (later) the internet. Pacholli offered gossip, advertising supplements disguised as news, sporting columns and over-the-top opinions unafraid to go where no libel lawyer had been.
Already a barking mad conservative, Pacholli was driven to distraction by the election of the Whitlam government. Over the years as editor he gathered an addled collection of raging columnists including People Against Communism’s Jennifer McCallum, Women Who Want to Be Women’s Babette Francis, a League of Rights-leaning Geoff McDonald and the RSL’s Bruce Ruxton. Another columnist, the Australian Civil Liberties Union’s John Bennett, was not so addled but his support for British Holocaust denier David Irving raised eyebrows.
But not all Pacholli’s columnists were lopsided. He variously used a member of the Myer family, Pamela Warrender, blithe man-about-Melbourne Peter Janson and television writer/performer John-Michael Howson (Adventure Island’s Clown). …
Litigants spent years and thousands of dollars trying to unravel who owned the Toorak Times. Pacholli owned up to editing it. He named his dog chairman of the board and told his pursuers to take it up with the mutt. Pacholli made every post a PR moment, once arriving at court to face a civil action in a polka-dot Rolls-Royce.
Such unmitigated gall made him an ideal story. Mainstream press regularly interviewed him for oddball features, the resultant articles mainly exercises in writing while nose pinching to avoid the whiff. Even the new-fangled 60 Minutes program thought him a worthy subject in its first year.
Pacholli’s newspaper unwittingly gave Australian journalism a new ethos. Until the Toorak Times, most newspaper opinion and column-writing in Australia erred on the side of balance but his misadventures with fairness taught mainstream media that lopsided reasoning could not only be gotten away with, but its proponents were provocative entertainment for readers who wanted to be annoyed.
Years later, celebrity journalism, the shenanigans of Princess Di, Pamela Anderson, Christopher Skase, Alan Bond and friends and reality television made the Toorak Times look somehow nearly truthful. But Pacholli’s moment in the sun passed long before his legacy became acceptable to large sections of the mainstream media. Maybe being discharged as a bankrupt in 1986 took the sting from the man but the con man would not be denied. …
I’m not suggesting that Landeryou is a conman or anything, but the parallels in terms of bankruptcy and defamation-daring muckraking are fairly obvious. There used to be a journalistic convention, only occasionally honoured in the breach, whereby the sexual peccadilloes of even prominent politicians (let alone journos themselves) were regarded as off limits. Laurie Oakes’ exposure of the Gareth Evans/Cheryl Kernot tryst pretty much put an end to that, followed by last year’s Brogden affair (in which Crikey played a prominent role if I remember rightly).
Changing defamation laws also play a role in this new more cavalier approach to muckraking. Until this year a media organisation had to prove “truth and public benefit” to successfully defend a story exposing a public person’s private life. Thus former Australian cricket captain Greg Chappell succeeded in obtaining a permanent injunction against the Nine Network’s A Current Affair some years ago, to restrain publication of a story about his alleged penchant for extra-marital dalliance. The judge ruled that the story was not capable of being supported by any defence then known to the law, even if all the allegations made were true. That is no longer the case since the new uniform national defamation laws came into force early this year. Now truth is all that need be proved. Nevertheless, although I certainly wouldn’t advocate reversion to the old defamation law, I also don’t think Australian journalism is any the better for its increasingly rapid descent into the depths of prurient British-style tabloid journalism.