Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Caroline Overington Rings VTAY

About a week ago I wrote a post about L'Affaire Overington in which, entirely as ridicule, I said:

That was written after Overington scrawled a column saying Ecuyer planned to direct preferences away from Newhouse, who it seems she's been sharpening an axe for. Apparently the two of them [Newhouse and Ecuyer] went out for a few weeks, it didn't work out, and now she's back to boil his pets and derail his political career, er, run as an independent. Anyway, here's the money email.

"Too early! My girl, you've got four weeks!!
Please preference Malcolm. It would be such a good front page
story. Also, he'd be a loss to the parliament and George - forgive
me - would be no gain. ;)
— Email from Caroline Overington to Danielle Ecuyer"

How did she manage to type that with the Member for Wentworth's member in her mouth?

I thought it was pretty funny, because clearly I am a very funny man. All twelve of my readers agree with me. It would appear my attempts at humour have fallen flat in the offices of The Australian, hereafter referred to as the Government Gazette. Caroline Overington emailed us today asking to talk with us. She was cagey about what she wanted to discuss, insisting on a phone call. We agreed, reluctantly, because we wanted to find out what it was about. What could we have written on our tiny, barely-read blog to prompt a call out of the blue from a senior writer and columnist with The Australian? A two-time winner of the Walkley Award for investigative journalism (2004 and 2006) and recipient of the Sir Keith Murdoch Award for Excellence in Journalism, for a series of articles on the Iraq wheat sales scandal (excellent work, credit where it's due!).

Well, to summarise our conversation: She demanded we remove the statement. First it was because her kids might see it. I replied that we were nowhere near the top 5 pages on a google search. Then it was because she was a married woman and the statement implied she was having an affair with a government member, which just couldn't stand. I defy anyone to look at the context of the statement and come to a conclusion that I was even implying that an affair was going on between them. Of course, she made the statement, not I. Also I note that in her emails to George Newhouse she stated that she was separated. "Not married, me. Separated five months ago."

She repeatedly brought up the marriage thing. She threatened legal action. I replied that I thought we'd be safe for reasons of absurdity of the statement, satire, and comment, otherwise we wouldn't have stand up comics. She claimed such defences wouldn't extend to our 'political' blogs. I asked her whether she'd like to legitimise a non existent implication by dragging us to court. She wouldn't answer, or state that she was in fact going to take legal action. She then implied that Malcolm Turnbull wouldn't be able to let the non-existent implication stand, suggesting he might sue us. I didn't enquire as to whether she had consulted Mr Turnbull or if it was just another click of the ratchet in her attempt to heavy us. Prior to accepting Ms Overington's call google analytics revealed someone had gotten to the post in question via the keywords "Caroline Overington husband" That generated only two hits. In the end I refused to remove the text she requested.

1) There was no implication the two of them were in a sexual relationship. The context of the statement was of her extraordinary attempts (bending over backwards, if you will) to be of service to Mr Turnbull. I did not speculate as to any relationship between them nor did I imply there was one. That she continually brought this up mystifies me.

2) The statement is patently absurd to a reasonable person and was made in a satirical context. There is no way anyone could think I was implying Ms Overington had a sexual relationship with Mr Turnbull. If I said John Howard was 20 feet tall, farts mustard gas and eats Chinese immigrant babies would I be liable to be sued?

3) I believe in free speech. If this is an issue of Ms Overington defending her reputation, why doesn't she go after the people who claim she's biased in her columns? We are defending our right to make fun of her. Certainly, if we're going to start loading the torpedo tubes, we should mention email threats to ruin Mr Newhouse's reputation. Something about houses, glass and stones in there. Also why is Ms Overington allowed to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the electoral act and defend herself by claiming it's all a joke? Why don't we get similar consideration?

4) This is my latest bank statement.

Ms Overington can lawyer up and come get it if she wants. Perhaps she can split it with Mr Turnbull. I won't give up my $43 without a fight. Or my 71 cents.

It goes back to what I said about Australian media personalities constantly trying to insert themselves into their stories. If Ms Overington hadn't been engaged in doing just that she wouldn't be stuck trying to defend her hard earned reputation. It is simply beyond belief that a professional journalist would contact people like us and use legal threats (whose lawyers will she use, News Ltd's or her own?) to shut us up. Not only that but that she would allege that the law makes no exception for satire or comment in Australia. Watch out Crikey, you'll be out of business before long. I also find it odd that a journalist would be so ignorant of the Streisand effect. You know those thrillers where a guy's walking down the street and someone gives him something out of the blue and all of a sudden everyone's trying to kill him and he thinks he doesn't know anything but it turns out he does? I feel like I'm in one.