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Scoop! Crikeys Top 10 Leaks
Scoop! Crikey’s Top 10 Leaks Scoop! Crikey’s Top 10 Leaks Independent news, blogs and commentary on politics, media, business, the environment and life. Half the work in publishing an explosive leak is in recognising its significance. The day the infamous Llewellyn Affidavit landed in our inbox, unsigned and unmarked, it took most of the morning just to work out what it was. Tip offs are never quite as dramatic as meeting in a dark car park or under the overpass; more likely, a leak will land via an anonymous email, a nervous phone call or hot off the fax. But whatever you want to call them, tips and leaks excite the old-school journalist in all of us, because they’re stories in their rawest form. This is unfiltered information without any spin or expert opinion layered over the top. And it’s this kind of information that often requires the kind of investigative journalism we only seem to read about these days. There’s no media release to spell it out, or press conference to spoon feed the sound bites, just careful sifting for any small hint, clue or connection that can crack the story open. But it’s not all Watergate: sometimes a leak is as simple as taking the piss. A screengrab of a JMag advertisement on the ABC shop website that unwittingly gave away the Triple J hottest 100 winner landed in our lap 10 minutes before deadline. From there, it was just a matter of making the call to publish it. We did, and it became one of our biggest stories of the past year. Some of the leaks featured here are a little more highbrow, and required a lot more work on our part. Take, for example, the leaked progress report one year out from the Northern Territory Intervention, or Bernard Keane’s article on Australia influencing its neighbours on what the Pacific Islands’ carbon emissions target should be. Some leaks come from years of hard work cultivating contacts. Other leaks are like eavesdropping on a particularly bitchy conversation – say, the rather heated conversation between journalist Eric Ellis and the editor of The Monthly, Ben Naparstek, which began after the young ed spiked Ellis’ copy and was later published in Crikey by Margaret Simons, or the audio of Alan Jones issuing a series of expletives. And of course, the more off-limits information we publish, the more whistleblowers are likely to think of us first when considering their leaking options. You didn’t think we’d let the possibility to solicit for tips go by did you? So if you’ve got anything that you consider worth leaking, remember to email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re here to help. Sophie Black Editor, Crikey Scoop! Crikey’s Top 10 Leaks Independent news, blogs and commentary on politics, media, business, the environment and life. 1 Boned! The Llewellyn Affidavit story On the rare occasion that the fax starts up at Crikey you know it’s either a writ, or a tip off. Most photocopied documents and scribbled notes that come fresh off the fax don’t go anywhere, but every now and then, you get lucky. It was mid-morning in June 2006 when Crikey received a completely bland, anonymous email, with an affidavit as a Word attachment. Its contents were explosive: embarrassing leaks about Channel Nine’s head honchos, infighting, bullying, words you wouldn’t say in front of your mother. This story had everything. Crikey publisher Eric Beecher remembers the day the Llewellyn Affidavit landed well: “At first glance the importance of the document wasn’t obvious, but as soon as Crikey editor Mischa Ketchell and I started reading it in detail the dynamite nature of its content became obvious.” “Because it was fairly close to our midday deadline, we had to move quickly. We talked to our lawyers about the two key issues – contempt and defamation. Once we were clear there was no contempt problem, we sifted it for defamatory material – of which, in our view, there was very little – then the two of us wrote a summarising story together, and then we published.” “After that, within an hour, all hell broke loose - lawyers, media and readers engulfing us.” The back story: Less than a year earlier, Mark Llewellyn had been offered the job of heading up Nine’s news and current affairs department. But the relationship with the Nine Network quickly soured, ultimately ending in Llewellyn’s defection to Channel Seven. When Nine tried to pursue Llewellyn for breach of contract, he fought back, with an affidavit that unleashed a torrent of unsavoury claims against the Network and its executives. Although these claims were never tested in court – Nine dropped the case – we’d already learned some grubby details... from Llewellyn’s perspective. In the affidavit, Llewellyn claimed that after the death of Kerry Packer, he had become increasingly disillusioned with editorial interference at Nine. He was allegedly asked by John Alexander, chief executive of PBL, to dig up dirt on Channel Seven boss Kerry Stokes after Today Tonight ran a negative story about James Packer. Scoop! Crikey’s Top 10 Leaks Independent news, blogs and commentary on politics, media, business, the environment and life. And the dirt kept coming. After Eddie McGuire moved in as the new CEO, Llewellyn was told there was a “shit sandwich” he was “going to be asked to swallow”. Translation: a demotion and a $350,000 paycut. Mr McGuire said: “Look mate, I’ll think about it. Now let’s talk about you.” Mr Browne said: “This is not going to be a pleasant conversation but you’ve got to know that you’re a gun, a real talent.” Mr McGuire said: “Absolutely.” Mr Browne said: “We’ve got big plans for you at the Network and Eddie and I think you are one of the real talents at Nine. This is therefore a difficult chat, because there is a shit sandwich you’re going to be asked to swallow. We want to cut your pay to $400,000 and we want you to consider taking on one of two new positions.” I said: “That’s some shit sandwich.” Then there was the soon-to-be-infamous phrase. Llewellyn alleged that Nine CEO Eddie McGuire had suggested it was time to “bone” Jessica Rowe. By which he meant they’d need to sack her from The Today Show due to its shockingly awful ratings. Here’s that affidavit passage in all its glory. At 3.30pm on 31 May 2006 I was called to a meeting with Eddie McGuire and Mr Jeffrey Browne, Executive Director at Nine. After some initial conversation about general news and current affairs topics a conversation took place as follows: Mr McGuire said: “What are we going to do about Jessica? When should we bone her? I reckon it should be next week.” By Jessica, McGuire was referring to Jessica Rowe, the presenter of The Today Show program. Scoop! Crikey’s Top 10 Leaks Independent news, blogs and commentary on politics, media, business, the environment and life. The Llewellyn story didn’t really end happily for anyone. Jessica Rowe was eventually boned. Later, Eddie also left the building. The biggest survivor has been the entry of the verb “to bone” into the mainstream Australian lexicon. It’s now got its own Urban Dictionary entry. It spawned a Billy Birmingham CD of the same name. And a novel. Crikey even made a t-shirt out of it. The original story: “The affidavit Nine didn’t want you to see”, 26 June 2006. Scoop! Crikey’s Top 10 Leaks Independent news, blogs and commentary on politics, media, business, the environment and life. 2 Rupert’s Bermudan tax haven Although Crikey has covered its favourite media mogul Rupert Murdoch in a myriad of ways over the last decade, the leak that revealed the listing of an $8 billion family interest in News Corp on the Bermudan Stock Exchange was a cracking yarn, says Stephen Mayne. “The move dodged more than $50 million in Australian stamp duty. Even The Australian followed it up.” The prospectus lodged with the Bermuda Stock Exchange on October 22, 2004 – leaked to Crikey – showed the extent to which Murdoch was willing to go to avoid Australian taxes. The “float” of Karlholt, the holding company for the Murdoch family assets, was bizarre to say the least. There were only 10 shares on offer. And they were priced at $880 million each. Wrote Mayne at the time, “surely this makes shares in Karlholt the most expensive in the history of capitalism”. The shares, unsurprisingly, had never traded – and were unlikely to trade in the future, despite their listing on the Bermuda Stock Exchange. As The Guardian noted in a follow up of the story, it was part of Murdoch’s much wider tax avoidance strategies. In fact, the Bermudan tax deal was done a week before Murdoch’s News Corporation reincorporated in the US, “allowing the Murdoch family to avoid a painful tax slug that would have befallen them due to Australian tax laws”. The original story: “Exclusive: Rupert’s $50m Bermudan tax lurk”, by Stephen Mayne, 21 March 2005. The Guardian follow-up story: “Murdoch’s Bermuda move saves £500m in tax”. Scoop! Crikey’s Top 10 Leaks Independent news, blogs and commentary on politics, media, business, the environment and life. 3 Crikey reveals Triple J Hottest 100 Winner It was the leak that poured rain on Australia Day BBQs across the nation. And it was the first time in recent memory that Crikey has been called unAustralian (not to mention ‘wankers’, ‘tabloid’ and a lot worse). Some poor soul at the ABC Shop website inadvertently revealed the winner of the Triple J Hottest 100 competition, Mumford & Sons, in a spruik for the souvenir copy of JMag. Ten minutes before deadline, an anonymous tipster alerted Crikey to the gaffe, complete with a screenshot. True to the muckraking spirit of Crikey founder Stephen Mayne, the man who in 2002 leaked the details about Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans’ affair (ahead of Laurie Oakes’ Bulletin story), we passed that information on to Crikey readers. The original article: “Oz day spoiler: ABC leaks Hottest 100 victor”, 22 January 2010. Scoop! Crikey’s Top 10 Leaks Independent news, blogs and commentary on politics, media, business, the environment and life. 4 Australia plays neighbourhood bully on climate change At the conclusion of the Pacific Islands Forum in 2009, and just a couple of months out from the all-important Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, PM Kevin Rudd presented Oceania’s apparently united front on climate change. Pacific leaders, he said, were calling for a global warming peak of two degrees and a reduction in global emissions by at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. This was consistent with the targets agreed by the G8 in July and, notably, the Australian Government’s position. But there was more to the story... Crikey got hold of a document that showed the smaller island states had wanted a much more ambitious target: a global emissions reduction of 85% from 1990 levels by 2050, and a commitment from developed countries of emission reductions of 45% from 1990 levels by 2020. At the end of the Small Island States Forum which precedes the Pacific Islands Forum, states including Cook Islands, Nauru, Niue, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Palau and Kiribati, all of whom face severe or existential threats from the impact of climate change, produced a draft communiqué recommending the much tougher targets. But, unusually, it was never released. Now we know why. Bernard Keane revealed that sources had confirmed that Kevin Rudd and NZ Prime Minister John Key were insistent that the PIF endorse the lower targets. With climate change policy an issue no politician can afford to ignore, the leaked document was an important illustration of the compromises that take place behind closed doors, far from the public’s view. The original story: “How we discouraged Pacific Islands from tough emissions stance”, by Bernard Keane, 21 September 2009. Scoop! Crikey’s Top 10 Leaks Independent news, blogs and commentary on politics, media, business, the environment and life. 5 Crikey and the downfall of the Democrats After publishing an endless stream of Australian Democrats gossip during the first two years of Crikey’s existence - mostly in Christian Kerr’s Hillary Bray column – Crikey was the obvious place for ex-leader Meg Lees’ supporters to go when they wanted to finish off Natasha Stott Despoja’s leadership of the Democrats. Lees was summoned to the Democrats’ national executive meeting in June 2002 to explain some comments she had made about Telstra and whether she would support Stott Despoja as leader. Lees didn’t turn up and instead sent her explosive letter which was first published on Crikey on June 24. It ended with the words: “I have held my thoughts to myself until now. I have consistently and openly supported the new Leader. However, you have now asked me for my opinion regarding our Leader’s abilities. I have worked too long and too hard for this party over many years to take any pleasure at all from telling you this.” “Basically I am fed up with the ongoing attacks on me, I deliberately avoided media and kept a low profile for 12 months - both inside and outside the party. I did not criticise or in any way openly disagree with anything the new Leader did unless attacked, but the undermining of me and several other Senators goes on and on and ultimately it is the Party that is going to suffer.” Stott Despoja resigned as leader later in the year when it was clear she’d lost the support of the party room. The Democrats, already weakened by internal conflict over the GST legislation and leadership battles, never recovered from the infighting that followed the leaked letter. Says Stephen Mayne: “Crikey’s contribution to this final chapter remains our biggest political scoop”. Retrospective in 2008: “How we killed the Democrats”, by Stephen Mayne, 4 July 2008. Scoop! Crikey’s Top 10 Leaks Independent news, blogs and commentary on politics, media, business, the environment and life. 6 The shambolic NT intervention, one year on In June 2007, the Howard Government announced its controversial plan to intervene in remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. The intervention, which promised sweeping changes to Indigenous welfare, was spurred by the Little Children are Sacred report which detailed the sexual abuse of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory. Crikey reported comprehensively on the issue at the time. Maningrida resident Hamish Townsend watched the intervention arrive in his community. Guy Rundle saw the exercise as being more about a projection of power than meaningful action. But it was the leaks Crikey uncovered about the NT intervention that best demonstrated the gap between rhetoric and reality. In June 2008, almost a year to the date of Howard’s announcement, Crikey was leaked a weekly progress report. Status: a long way to go. The leaked report, titled Northern Territory Emergency Response Situation Report as at 1500hrs Wed 14th May ‘08 painted an “incomplete rollout of the Northern Territory Intervention” according to Sophie Black. In fact, the government exercise was falling well below meeting its espoused goals: According to the document, only 63% of children in remote communities have received health checks, and only roughly one third of indigenous adults in remote areas are under income management. And despite Howard’s promise that all government funded computers would be audited for pornography, no computer audits had been carried out as yet. The report also gave Crikey an insight into the cost of the Intervention for the government. With over 800 public servants and government business managers working in 72 Aboriginal communities, a conservative estimate for annual wages would be around $90 million, and that was minus paid accommodation, travel allowance and quarterly airfares. Little wonder that Access Economics predicted at the time that the Northern Territory’s five-year economic growth would be higher than any jurisdiction in the country. The original story: “NT intervention leak: a year on, it’s a shambles”, by Sophie Black, 18 June 2008. Scoop! Crikey’s Top 10 Leaks Independent news, blogs and commentary on politics, media, business, the environment and life. 7 Literary stoush: The Monthly vs. Eric Ellis One of the great traditions at Crikey is reporting on the frequent, and fantastically bitchy, stoushes of the literary world. Who could forget Robert “Why does Gerard lie?” Manne vs. Gerard “If I’m a liar where’s the evidence?” Henderson? In many cases, the information about these conflicts is leaked to Crikey by people in the know, or the protagonists themselves. One such occasion was November last year, when Crikey got its hands on an email exchange between freelance writer Eric Ellis and the editor of The Monthly, Ben Naparstek. A feud had erupted between the two over an article commissioned by Naparstek, written by Ellis, and then spiked by Naparstek. The conversation provided an inside look at the occasionally difficult writer/editor relationship – and how articles are made (and unmade). We think Ellis’s increasingly angry and impatient emails speak for themselves, as does Naparstek’s lack of reply. Turns out, both parties leaked to Crikey, so they obviously each thought they held the upper hand in the argument. Here’s a small taste of the conversation (nearing the end of the email exchange): From: Eric Ellis To: Ben Naparstek Sent: Saturday, November 14, 2009 7:44 PM Subject: Re: Sri Lanka essay Ben…would you please respond to my questions…and these as well. During the week, in an email to me, you described the piece as ‘very good’ after reading it. Now it is not ‘up to the standard we require.’ You are reading the same piece. So which is it? Very good or sub-standard? And how do you intend to deal with the considerable expenses I have incurred on your behalf, that you approved, as I rather navigated – by association - The Monthly through the thicket of the Sri Lankan president’s office at perhaps its most senstive time in recent history? (I reserve legal rights in this matter). Thank you The original story: “Ben Naparstek in Monthly kill fee drama”, by Margaret Simons, 24 November 2009. The email conversation in full: “The Monthly and Eric Ellis – the Correspondence”. Scoop! Crikey’s Top 10 Leaks Independent news, blogs and commentary on politics, media, business, the environment and life. 8 Crikey joins the mile high club Three years ago, Crikey entered unchartered and generally quite strange territory. All courtesy of Qantas air hostess Lisa Robertson. Crikey was leaked the story that Robertson, who’d hit the headlines for her apparent amorous encounter in an airplane toilet with British actor Ralph Fiennes, was simultaneously employed by Qantas and a leading Sydney brothel. The story had everything. Air hostesses. Famous actors. And brothels. Oh, my! But wait, there’s more. In May 2007, Crikey was able to reveal that the Sydney brothel where Robertson worked, The Site, was offering a special package called “The Ralph”, with none other than Lisa Robertson in her Qantas uniform. We know that you can use your own imaginations about what this might involve. For those who can’t, keep reading: Crikey understands that clients can order “The Ralph” for the princely sum of $750, and it doesn’t involve a sick bag. Instead, the customer is treated to a fantasy role-play that involves Roberston dressing up in her Qantas air hostess uniform and engaging in small talk with the client before leading him to the toilet where they can re-enact the intimate (and cramped) moment that Ralph Fiennes and Lisa shared, a moment that Lisa then duly shared with 60 Minutes, The Mail on Sunday UK and The Daily Telegraph. The original story: “Mile-high stewardess knew what she was doing”, by Sophie Black, 14 March 2007. Follow-up story: “The Ralph: For $750, you can fly high with Lisa Robertson”, by Sophie Black, 28 May 2007. Scoop! Crikey’s Top 10 Leaks Independent news, blogs and commentary on politics, media, business, the environment and life. 9 The Alan Jones blooper tapes Leaks come in many forms, but there’s little Crikey relishes more than an audio file. The earliest and one of the most memorable was an edited sequence of Alan Jones outtakes. Stephen Mayne recalls: The foul-mouthed Alan Jones blooper tape came through in January 2002, not long after Southern Cross Broadcasting had bought 2UE. After legal threats we pulled it, but then republished again when mediation with Southern Cross over the Steve Price defamation action failed. Once the likes of Triple J and RRR also ran it, the legal threats disappeared. The audio was later transcribed in full glory in Jonestown; Chris Masters’ unauthorised biography of the radio broadcaster’s life. In the audio, Jones appears pretty effin peeved at the need to do 60 second commercials. Perhaps the kickbacks just weren’t good enough. After all, the “cash for comments” scandal showed that not every commercial inspired the F word in Mr Jones, as long as the price was right. Three years later, another 2UE tape was leaked to Crikey, this time of a poor newsreader vomiting on air. We heard rumours of its existence, begged the Crikey audience to get it to us, and someone kindly obliged. The frankly revolting audio can be found here. The original article (with audio): “Exciting new Alan Jones column”, 20 January 2002. Transcription of the audio can be found here. Scoop! Crikey’s Top 10 Leaks Independent news, blogs and commentary on politics, media, business, the environment and life. 10 The Andrew Jaspan tapes Speaking of audio, another great Crikey leaked tape (or, we should say, sound file) exposed the inner-workings of one of Australia’s leading mastheads, The Age. 2008 was not a good year for Andrew Jaspan, then editor of The Age. In April,Crikey’s media writer Margaret Simons reported that 235 journalists at a stop work meeting had voted unanimously for a motion that accused Jaspan of “degrading their ability to produce independent journalism”. They produced a damning list of stories where they believed the paper’s independence had been thwarted by Jaspan and The Age’s partnerships. The journalists were concerned, for example, that the paper’s sponsorship of Earth Hour had influenced the number and tone of stories published about the event. There was also concern voiced over the decision by Jaspan and his deputy, Paul Ramadge, to attend Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2020 Summit not as observers, but participants, a move that was seen as a threat to their editorial independence. It didn’t end there. Crikey also obtained tapes from inside the meeting. Jaspan can be heard defending his decision to publish a lengthy clarification of an Age staffer’s story about falling attendance numbers at the Grand Prix. Jaspan downplays the follow-up piece but journalists in the room are audibly displeased - not surprising given the clear conflict of interest at play; the Grand Prix Corporation is chaired by Ron Walker, who was also Chair of the Fairfax Board at the time. This was a story about the risks associated with a newspaper’s sponsorships and vested interests bleeding into the editorial section of the paper. It also demonstrated just how much journalists are willing to fight to defend the credibility of their work. Andrew Jaspan was unceremoniously replaced as editor of The Age on August 27 that year, one day after 550 Fairfax workers were sacked in Australia and New Zealand. However, Crikey editor Jonathan Green mused that this had less to do with journalists’ complaints and more to do with Jaspan’s “long history of resisting the cost-cutting culture now dominant at Fairfax”. The original story: “Andrew Jaspan: 235 Age journalists can’t be wrong”, by Margaret Simons, 11 April 2008. Follow-up story: Andrew Jaspan’s fortnight from hell, by Jane Nethercote. Scoop! Crikey’s Top 10 Leaks
"Scoop! Crikeys Top 10 Leaks"