Editor's Column

The Journalist as Victim

At the end of November, the 2020 Walkley Awards for journalism gave their highest accolades to two of the most derogatory products of the decade-long witch hunt against Cardinal George Pell. The ABC program Revelation by Sarah Ferguson and Tony Jones won the Walkley Documentary Award and Lucie Morris-Marr’s Fallen won the Walkley Book Award.

Yet in all the praise the Walkley judges heaped on both products—“broke new ground”, “the sheer quality of the writing”—none of them mentioned the embarrassing fact that, according to the High Court judgment that unanimously acquitted Pell, the award winners got their big story wrong. Nor was there any mention that the winners helped create a public envi­ronment that put an innocent man in jail.

Most tellingly, there was no recognition that the biggest dupes in the whole affair were the winners themselves. As Chapter Seven of my new book The Persecution of George Pell argues in detail, the reality was that, in order to trash Pell’s public reputation, Victoria Police and the law­yers for the complainants (the latter with a palpable vested interest in winning cases for their firms—“no win, no charge”) led journalists by the nose all the way.

One of the things that stood out through Pell’s great ordeal was his composure and dignity in the face of all this. But what would happen if a reporter had to face the baying mob herself? Well, as it happens, Lucie Morris-Marr copped some very mild criticism of her own and did not handle it very well. In fact, she fell to pieces.

In Fallen, Morris-Marr deploys much the same struc­tural approach as a previous winner of the Get Pell Stakes, Louise Milligan of the ABC. Morris-Marr recounts how she got her story, from her first assignment by Herald Sun news editor Chris Tinkler to interview victims of child sexual abuse, to what it was like to be a reporter sitting in the Melbourne courtroom when the jury for Pell’s second trial returned with its verdict of guilty.

For a reason she finds perplexing, the editorial staff at the Herald Sun do not give their newly-minted star reporter the proper respect she thinks she deserves for her “world exclusive” story that Victoria Police intend to charge Pell for offences against two choirboys in Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral. Morris-Marr’s own story then takes a surpris­ing turn. From being a reporter who tracks down vic­tims of ped­erasts, she turns into someone who is treated so badly at work that she suffers a nervous breakdown (or what­ever is the current equiv­alent terminology) and loses her job. Hence, she not only writes about victims but, in a twist to her story worthy of Agatha Chris­tie, she becomes a victim herself.

This all happened very quickly. Morris-Marr’s great “scoop” about the Sano Taskforce targeting Pell was published online on Friday night February 19, 2016, and as a front-page story on the Herald Sun newspaper on Saturday morning, February 20. On the Friday night the newspaper’s chief-of-staff, Paul Tatnell, invited her out for drinks to congratulate her for “the biggest story for the Herald Sun in ten years”. Chris Tin­kler joined them, saying: “Well done, amazing job.”

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However, the next day Morris-Marr was worried after she learned the paper intended to publish in its Sunday edition a story saying senior figures of the Catholic Church were still backing Pell. On the Monday morning Morris-Marr read to her dismay that the paper’s leading writer, Andrew Bolt, had written a critique of her claims in his weekly column, calling her work “a witch hunt” and a “smear”. The fearless female investigator suddenly devel­oped very thin skin:

What I read shocked me to the core. He [Bolt] said my report was worse than “vicious and shameful” and the leak to the paper “stinks”. “It smells like an attempt to destroy a man without giving him a chance to defend himself,” Bolt said … Why would my newspaper throw me under the bus like this? … I had spent ten months trying to get inside what was happening around this pow­erful Catholic and now News Corp seemed to be turning on me.

Although she says Bolt was entitled to express his opinion, Mor­ris-Marr also divulges that she tried to damage him by sending emails to the human resources department of News Corp head­quarters in Sydney, accusing Bolt of breaking several News Corp codes of conduct.

Click here to order Keith Windschuttle’s
The Persecution of George Pell

However, her greatest worry came from a story in the Age that said Victoria Police, concerned its officers were being accused by the Catholic Church of leaking information to her, had referred her story to Victoria’s anti-corruption agency, the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC), for investiga­tion. She says this meant IBAC officers could raid her home to seize notebooks or tape recordings and could ques­tion her about her sources. “If I didn’t name my sources,” she writes, “there was a chance I could be jailed for contempt.” She asked her bosses at News Corp for security protection at her Melbourne home:

Becoming increasingly exhausted, I was worried about the possi­bility of a raid and thought it was reasonable that News Corp send a guard to my home each night. The editors weren’t keen at first … but they did eventually agree.

After some meetings the following week between Morris-Marr, Bolt and Herald Sun editors and lawyers, she started thinking there must be someone in senior management who was actively supporting Pell. “I wanted News Corp to investigate whether anyone was compromised … By this time I had barely slept for five days.” She says she suspected that Rupert Murdoch, who she describes as a “long-time Pell admirer, who had been awarded a papal knighthood by Pope John Paul II in 1998”, might have made “a quick call to his leading commentators Down Under”. To make matters worse, she says, News Corp then emailed her at home to say the security guards were unnec­essary and would be recalled, even though her bosses did not know whether IBAC planned a raid or not. “I felt terribly alone,” she says, and then shifts her mood from melodrama to paranoia:

Already depleted from producing the story, I struggled to sleep and started to further imagine the cars driving past my house had been sent by the Catholic Church or News Corp to assassinate me, or that IBAC had come to raid the house …

I had given my heart and soul in my search for the truth. I’d listened to the most horrific stories in Ballarat to try to help and understand those haunted victims without a voice; I’d worked with sensitive sources to uncover the news of the secret Pell police operation, and now I was lost at sea and had nothing firm to hold on to amid the mayhem. I was now paying a very personal price for my passion­ate defence of the story; I no longer knew who to trust at News Corp and I was mentally and physically exhausted. A sleeping tab­let hadn’t helped. An ambulance was called.

Morris-Marr’s quasi-tragic soliloquy of the reporter-as-victim doesn’t end there. She recovered from her bout of trauma and, although the Herald Sun did not want her back, she managed to persuade the left-wing Australian website New Daily to publish her further writings about Pell’s appeal in June 2019. She also per­suaded the international television network CNN to let her do some pieces to camera outside the Victorian Court of Appeal. But after what she calls “my brutal experience at the hands of News Corp”, she has a warning for anyone contemplating a career in journalism. She tells them that all reporters who work in danger­ous fields like hers are potential victims too. Here is her case:

It’s only now that the effects on journalists of reporting on trau­matic stories—mixed with extreme pressure and lack of sleep—are beginning to be fully recognised. Journalists, like judges, mag­istrates, police officers and paramedics, are not bullet proof. We are human with our own frailties. Maintaining self-care while under pressure is important. Secondary, or vicarious, trauma is a constant risk. For reporters, this is often only learnt the hard way.

There was a time when this combination of self-pity and nar­cis­sism would be laughed out of newspaper offices, and its pur­veyor told to go away and grow up. Today, however, a person like this can get a job reciting stories that destroy an impressive career and put a good man in jail, and then have the nerve to say: “Poor me, I lead such a hard life.” Today, the judges of media awards will sing her praises and give her prizes.

So any young journalist aspiring to get ahead in this game, especially those at the ABC or any of the former Fairfax titles, would be well advised to read Morris-Marr’s book for a first-hand account of how it can now be done.

9 thoughts on “The Journalist as Victim

  • Patrick McCauley says:

    The ‘Get Pell’ mob has some of the madness of the ‘Get Trumpers’ There is a gender aspect to both (IMO) of them being articulate men of substance dissenting from the dreadful orthodoxy of feminism – family men – a particular Bete Noir’s of feminism. If the patriarchy lived anywhere – it lived in the Catholic Church – in the Vatican … and Trump has been made the King of Misogyny by the mad US feminists. It seems any man who breaks the woke dreams of feminism is attributed a special level of public hatred and vitriol – such vitriol and injustice these two men have endured in the past five years – truly is ‘unprecedented’ in modern social history. Gender politics – it seems- will not be contradicted – collectivists have never worked out how to handle ‘dissent’ without violence – whereas in the west we have decided on free speech and ‘the contest of ideas’ … haven’t we ?

  • James Franklin says:

    I must say I have a certain amount of sympathy for Morris-Marr in this particular incident (though not generally). What she’d reported in this case was the truth – that VicPol were investigating Pell. This is Melbourne, so anyone reporting the truth is entitled to some paranoia. People end up dead there a lot.

  • PT says:

    Morris-Marr is an idiot as well as paranoid. She’s worried about a police raid that may release information to “force her” to reveal her sources. And so she “demands” security guards! But what are these guards going to do if the police show up with a search warrant? Shoot it out with them? The evidence is inadmissible without a warrant so they’ll have one (although it’s hard to tell with the Vic Police these days, they’d likely make it look good). The whole idea of having private security to protect her from going to gaol for contempt of Court (the most she’d get for not naming her source) is risible.

  • Sydgal says:

    Thank you for this post, Keith. I have some sympathy for LMM as she had a serious illness last year.

    But there has been a bit of a theme with three of the key journalists – Milligan, Morris-Marr and Davey feeling like victims. In her latest book Witness and several news reports and zoom promotional events, Milligan talks about her traumatic experience at the Committal (although she seemed to have a cast of 1000s from the ABC to support her and it did seem as she had a problem with answering questions), and even Davey writes/tweets about how exhausting covering the trial was: “It also means I’ve become a source for other journalists because I live in Melbourne, was in the trial and have good notes and transcript access. But this has also been exhausting. Journos hand out my details to each other and I get contacted constantly for help. It’s exhausting”.

    But Davey and Morris-Marr appeared quite cheerful on 6 June 2019, the day of the Appeal with Davey and David Marr enjoying a dinner at Nandos with a tweet entitled: “Let me tell you. This won’t be my last visit to Nandos” – David Marr, and Lucie Morris-Marr gleefully replying: “This is epic!!! My cousin in nandos!’ followed by numerous emojis of a face with tears of joy and hands clapping.

  • James Franklin says:

    “Transcript access”? If Milligan can have it, why not Joe Public? “That the administration of justice must take place in open court is a ‘fundamental rule of the common law'”, except when it isn’t. There’s no reason why a redacted transcript of the trials shouldn’t be made public.

  • Tony Tea says:

    Marr’s woe-is-me reminds me of the time Kate O’Halloran verballed Garry Lyon on Twitter, got called on it, dug in, begrudgingly admitted she was wrong, then played the victim card. My theory is that people who stick the knives in then play the victim did not get laughed at enough as kids.

  • Peter C says:

    Peter C Thanks for this very informative article. Morris-Marr should be ashamed of herself for doing her best to very wrongfully attack and join the witch hunt of an innocent man, Cardinal Pell who was unanimously cleared by the High Court

  • Phillip says:

    As the current President of the ‘International Lobotomy Society’, may I share with you some half brain quotes from some of our dearest half wit members;
    “All Hair Salons must be in full lockdown, while I get my hair done”, Nancy Pelosi.
    “We have put together I think the most extensive and inclusive voter fraud organization in the history of American politics”, Joe Biden
    “My considered judgement that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not….so I’ll just count the fraudulent votes only.” Mike Pence
    “Where are we?”, our darlings at our ABC
    “What is a Walkley Award for?”, Walkley judges (our biggest fully paid up membership group)
    A pre-requisite for membership of the ‘International Lobotomy Society’, is obviously not to gain the full truth, the full picture or reality before making any judgement. With the rise in popularity of the looney left and the Peoples Socialist Republic of Victoria under our Road & Belt strapped Premier Dan, we now have an sweltering list of applications to join our Society !!

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    “I had given my heart and soul in my search for the truth. I’d listened to the most horrific stories”

    Sounds like something written by Titania McGrath. 🙂
    Journalists don’t just ‘listen’ to stories, by the way, they assess them against evidence. Stories of brutal nuns wracking young boys with torture instruments for the carnal pleasures of a gang of male priests – well, you’d have to have some doubts and do some checking, as has been done later by better journalists of a less flighty and tougher investigative ilk.

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