With Gough Whitlam’s legacy now being reconsidered and
debated, one thing the Australian media are not prepared to discuss is
the role of Rupert Murdoch in his dismissal, writes Rodney E. Lever.
WITH THE SAD PASSING of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam this
week, it is interesting to recall how his illustrious record has been
besmirched and distorted over the years – even in recent years – and how
certain elements involved in his dismissal have been removed from view —
and placed down the memory hole.
Last year, for instance, I saw the two episodes of the ABC’s documentary about the Whitlam era, called Whitlam: the Power and the Passion.
Having been closely involved at that time, I was amazed at
Australia’s national broadcaster’s either incompetence or deliberate
burying of the truth.
The ABC reeled out all the false allegations thrown at the Whitlam
Government by Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers at the time, with no evidence
whatsoever to back them up. It simply repeated ugly and untrue stories
from The Australian — stories that have been since been shown to be contrived, exaggerated and false.
Did they mention that John Howard was one of the busy bee Liberals who secretly brought Khemlani to
Australia and took him to a Canberra hotel with his two suitcases of
records of supposed dealings with the Whitlam Government. After long
days and nights sifting through the papers, Howard and his colleagues
found nothing – absolutely nothing – which could be held detrimentally
against Whitlam and his government?
No. There was no mention of that. Nor have I seen any mention of this
in the welter of articles about Whitlam and his dismissal this week.
This is just one part of the concerted misinformation campaign
carried out by the Murdoch press at the behest of a furious, jilted,
Rupert Murdoch in 1975.
In 1975, Rupert Murdoch came back from England, where he had just purchased The News of the World. He came expressly to destroy a government which, three years earlier, he had helped to elect.
Murdoch had hated Menzies. He also hated McMahon, who was in the pocket of the Packers.
He campaigned for Whitlam in 1972, with all the emerging power of his newspapers and expected rewards in return.
From Whitlam, he got nothing back, not even condescension, for
Whitlam certainly had at least the same level of personal ego as Rupert
Murdoch — perhaps even more.
Miffed by Whitlam’s failure to reward him for his support in the
election and Whitlam’s failure to accept the Murdoch view on how to run
the country, Rupert began his ugly, ruthless campaign to bring Whitlam
down. It was the most savage attack on an elected government in the
history of this country — with the possible exception of the attacks on
Julia Gillard and Labor’s reforms in the last term of Parliament.
Joan Evatt recalls this vicious propaganda campaign:
In the early stages of the campaign, there had been criticisms
from highly regarded journalists about their copy being so altered that
their stories bore no resemblance to articles that had been filed.
Placement was pushed back, headlines were deemed by them as scurrilous
and not reflective of the content, and so the outraged allegations of
not just media bias, but direct editorial interference, precipitated a strike of journalists.
Denis Cryle in a 2008 book outlined journalists’ complaints:
…the deliberate and careless slanting of headlines, seemingly
blatant imbalance in news presentation, political censorship and, more
occasionally, distortion of copy from senior specialist journalists, the
political management of news and features, the stifling of dissident
and even palatably impartial opinion in the papers’ columns…
In the Murdoch Papers,
Dr Martin Hirst detailed some firsthand accounts of the overt
anti-Whitlam pro-Liberal bias of the Murdoch press, including by former
Murdoch employee Alan Yates:
Alan Yates was a third-year cadet on the Daily Mirror and recalls
the dismissal ‘shocked the entire newsroom’. Yates was on the AJA House
Committee and says that while Murdoch was not necessarily in the
newsroom, ‘his editors and his chiefs of staff were certainly involved
in day-to-day selection of editorial content’. Alan Yates has said that
he felt powerless as a ‘junior reporter’, but remembered his copy being
altered to favour the Liberal Party’s viewpoint:
‘When questioning the chiefs of staff and chief sub-editor about
this I was clearly told that that was the editorial line, the editorial
people had thought that it was a stronger angle. Therefore I was left
not too many options to go.’
Murdoch’s journalists rebelled at the vicious campaign and many resigned from the company in disgust
Alas, I was not among them. I was the senior executive of News Corp
in Queensland and the lone breadwinner for my family and the father of
six children, all at a critical stage of their education. I felt unable
to walk away from my job so easily as some of the other journalists. But
the events of those days brought me to consider resignation at a more
The mainstream media, by ignoring this sad episode, are touching up
historical events to make them more palatable to certain current actors —
specifically Rupert Murdoch. By doing so, they tarnish the Whitlam
legacy and mislead the Australian people.
In effect, the mainstream media are sending Rupert Murdoch’s – and
its own – role in the premature downfall of Gough Whitlam down
Australia's growing memory hole, thereby doing the Australian people a
You can follow Rodney on Twitter @RodneyELever. You can also purchase the original John Graham cartoon at the top of the piece from the IA store.
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