Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Journalist Claims Her Controversial 'Interference' In Prime Liberal Election Seat Contest "Just A Joke"

Caroline Overington Downgraded By Editor From Walkley Award Winning Senior Journalist To "Colour Writer"

It's the sort of story that a journalist like Caroline Overington should never have become caught up in, regardless of how she is now trying to explain away the controversy :

From The Australian :
An independent candidate for the marginal Sydney seat of Wentworth will make a formal complaint to the Australian Electoral Commission after accusing a reporter from The Australian of trying to influence the outcome of the election.

Danielle Ecuyer, who is standing against Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Labor's George Newhouse, last night told The Australian she thought an email communication had been "inappropriate".

Ms Ecuyer plans to make a formal complaint as early as today to the Electoral Commission alleging an inducement was offered - a front-page article - in return for making a decision on her preferences.

Writing in The Australian newspaper today, Caroline Overington says :

I'd been at Ms Ecuyer's house a week or so earlier. We'd joked about her failed relationship with Labor's candidate for Wentworth, George Newhouse. She was loving the publicity, and the fact it described her as glamorous.

I asked whether she'd direct her preferences away from George and she laughed, and said she wouldn't preference anyone who supported Tasmania's pulp mill.

The idea that she would instead give her preferences to Turnbull to spite George was also raised. It was so absurd, I kept the joke up in emails to her a few days later.

In the email, I give her a wink, to show her I am joking when I say she should give her preferences to Turnbull.

Now she says I was serious, which is too hilarious, and so obviously a pitch for more publicity from a woman who just loves attention.

The emails, which I'm happy to provide to anyone, are obviously happy, lighthearted banter.

Danielle Ecuyer is an independent candidate for a prime seat that may help to decide whether or not John Howard returns to power. Malcolm Turnbull has a close relationship with a number of key journalists and opinionists for The Australian.

Danielle Ecuyer is battling both the Labor and Liberal parties massive publicity machinery. Of course she's going to love any attention, or headlines, she can get. Overington knows this.

MediaWatch claims :
Ms Ecuyer tells us she never discussed who she would be preferencing with Caroline Overington.

Despite Overington's attempts to downplay the content of the e-mails, the key e-mail cited doesn't sound like a big joke, at least not in isolation. It sounds exactly like what Ecuyer is now claiming. Overington says she is "happy" to provide the e-mails to anyone, but doesn't quote from them in her column to back up her claims. Why? Here's the key e-mail that sparked the controversy :
"Please preference Malcolm (Turnbull). It would be such a good front-page story. Also, he'd be a loss to the parliament and George (Newhouse) - forgive me - would be no gain."
Not a laugh to be seen.

When MediaWatch asked Caroline Overington why she asked Danielle Ecuyer to "please prefence Malcolm", the journalist responded :
"I would say journalists use a range of different ways to get their stories."

"I would say I didn’t ask her to send her preferences to any candidate."
When asked what the words "please preference Malcolm" meant, she replied :
"It could be a way of getting a story from her."
Or a way of gettting Ecuyer to preference Malcolm Turnbull, who desperately needs preferences from independents like Ecuyer to win.

Despite all that, Overington should be more concerned with how her editor at The Australian describes her :
"Ms Overington is a colour writer."
Overington is not a "colour" writer. Here's how The Australian newspaper proudly describes her :
Caroline Overington is a senior writer and columnist with The Australian. She is a two-time winner of the Walkley Award for investigative jouralism (2004 and 2006) and last year received the Sir Keith Murdoch Award for Excellence in Journalism...
Overington also wrote an excellent, comprehensive and highly praised book on the AWB scandal. She has become caught up in this low-level scandal because she was pursuing a story, one that she believed would have made the front page of The Australian.

Faced with embarrassing headlines and growing controversy, The Australian's editor does not leap to Overington's defence, he writes her off as something much less than a serious investigative journalist.

Her editor's flippant dismissal of her talents, in the end, will probably be more damaging to Overington's reputation than the "joke" e-mails that started the controversy.

The Australian's senior editors were furious earlier in the year when bloggers referred to the newspaper as the 'Government Gazette'. Controversies like this don't help much to dispel that reputation of Rupert Murdoch's national newspaper working hard, in print and behind the scenes, to ensure the Coalition government wins the coming federal election.

Nor do front page stories like this one, from Dennis Shanahan, where he manages to bury the lead, at least three times, when he all but totally dismisses the devastating news that John Howard's government is going backwards, once again, in the latest Newspoll, less than two weeks out from election day.

Overington Slams Peter Garrett For Claiming He Was "Only Joking" When His "We'll Change It All" Quote Hit The Headlines