Media

The ABC and Corruption in High Places

Stories of corruption in high places have always been a good drawcard for readers of the news media and it is no surprise that many journalists have a strong appetite for such fare. And because such corruption is usually well covered up, a form of journalistic investigation has emerged to expose it, in which reporters adopt the same kind of forensic techniques as police detectives. Journalists who do this also persuade their employers to give them far more time to pursue their research than is usual in the daily news cycle.

The great American tradition of investigative journalism goes back to the early twentieth century when the radical ‘muckrakers’ Lincoln Steffens and Upton Sinclair exposed corrupt practices by corporations, government and political parties. In the 1970s, the investigations of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post forced the resignation of President Richard Nixon and, in the process, turned them into celebrities and authors of best-selling books. Many Australian journalists, too, have seen this approach to the job as their path to glory.

However, at the ABC today, these ideas and practices are now largely out of control. Editorial oversight of the stories investigative journalists pursue and the quality of the evidence they gather is conspicuous by its absence. As readers of All the President’s Men well know, the investigations by Woodward and Bernstein were closely monitored at every stage of their research and writing by the Post’s executive editor Ben Bradlee. At the ABC, there is no one with that degree of authority or expertise to control what journalists do.

The proof of this is the recent career of Louise Milligan, who calls herself an investigate journalist and who has made it her ambition to destroy the reputations and careers of no less than three prominent Australian men: the leading figure of the Catholic Church, Cardinal George Pell, the Attorney-General in the Morrison government, Christian Porter, and most recently, Prime Minister Scott Morrison himself.

However, as I show in detail at several stages of my book The Persecution of George Pell, Milligan’s own practice of journalism leaves a lot to be desired. In her pursuit of Cardinal Pell, she was clearly out of her depth in her attempt to apply investigative journalism techniques to accusations of child sexual abuse. Her work was riddled with errors, she invented some facts, and she covered up others that told against her version of events.

One example: Several of the characters she quoted making claims of child sexual abuse against Pell had criminal backgrounds and were clearly unreliable witnesses. However, to shore up the case in her book Cardinal, Milligan portrayed Pell’s principal accuser, Witness J, the choirboy who claims Pell sexually assaulted him in St Patrick’s Cathedral, as a cleanskin: “he hasn’t had trouble with the law … he is a pillar of his community”, she wrote. Yet at the committal hearings in the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court in March 2018, Pell’s lawyer Robert Richter made Witness J admit he had warrants outstanding from the Victorian Sheriff’s Office of no less than $10,000, which he was paying off at the time. Now, you don’t  accumulate debts like this from unpaid parking fines or speeding tickets. You need more than misdemeanors to rack up a tally this big. A real investigative journalist would have found out what offences Pell’s accuser had committed and not deceived her readers about the real trouble he had with the law.

One more example: One of Milligan’s principal sources, who claimed Pell’s alleged abuse of Witness J’s choirboy friend turned the latter into a heroin addict, was the father of that friend. Assuring readers the father was a reliable informant, Milligan described him as “an honorary probation officer”. However, this father was well-known in certain circles in Melbourne for other skills. In the 1990s, while the son was attending the posh St Kevin’s College in Toorak and singing in St Patrick’s Cathedral choir, the father, under the pseudonym of “Master Joe”, was a performer in the city at bondage and discipline sex clubs. He was also registered as proprietor of a sex toy shop in Pascoe Vale, and later had a business in regional Victoria with a woman providing bondage and sadomasochistic services. Rather than sex in the priests’ sacristy being the cause of the boy’s descent into heroin addiction, the most obvious candidate for his desire to blot out his world was his discovery of his father’s sordid occupation. Milligan mentions none of this in her book or her broadcasts. This omission is telling about both her skills and the quality of her journalism. If she did not know about Master Joe, her investigative skills are virtually non-existent since several other journalists in Melbourne at the time of Pell’s trial knew and could have told her. Or if she did find out about Master Joe but deliberately omitted him from her story, she is guilty of airbrushing the truth to avoid spoiling her case against Pell.

There are plenty of other similar examples detailed in my book.

One of Milligan’s most distasteful characteristics, which the ABC makes little attempt to control, is her obsession with publicly defending herself on Twitter. She makes many statements on the social media platform about her ABC reports without running them by any editor, or getting them legalled. She is free to say what she likes about her work for the corporation. This was on display in May when Christian Porter reached an agreement with the ABC’s legal advisers following his defamation suit against Milligan and the corporation for identifying him as the rapist of a schoolgirl when he was seventeen. There had been no credible evidence produced against Porter in this case. All that existed were written notes by a deceased woman who suffered bipolar disorder and consequent false memories, who provided no corroboration for her claims, and who, before she committed suicide, told police she wanted to withdraw the rape accusation. Under the agreement that emerged from the defamation case, the ABC paid Porter’s legal counsel $100,000 in costs and said:

On 26 February 2021, the ABC published an article by Louise Milligan. That article was about a letter to the Prime Minister containing allegations against a senior cabinet minister. Although he was not named, the article was about the Attorney-General Christian Porter. The ABC did not intend to suggest that Mr Porter had committed the criminal offences alleged … However, both parties accept that some readers misinterpreted the article as an accusation of guilt against Mr Porter. That reading, which was not intended by the ABC, is regretted.

However, as soon as this agreement was signed, Milligan tweeted that her story had been right all along:

“Christian Porter has discontinued his case. The ABC will pay him no damages. I stand by my journalism.”

Moreover, one of the conditions of their agreement was that parts of the ABC’s legal defence, which its legal advisers conceded contained “scandalous material”, were not to be publicised and were to be removed from the court files. Nonetheless, Milligan stated on Twitter that she still hoped these parts of the corporation’s document would be made public. Porter’s lawyer, Rebekah Giles, responded, saying the ABC had agreed to never release the information contained in the legal defence. Giles said:

It is astonishing that Ms Milligan and other employees of the ABC have now seen fit to publish statements inconsistent with the settlement that they themselves personally agreed to. Further, the suggestion by Ms Milligan that she wants the defence to be released when she has (apparently in good faith) agreed to it being removed from the court file.

The attempt by Four Corners and Milligan to undermine the reputation of Scott Morrison has even less connection with reality than the accusations against Porter. There was nothing new about the story Milligan chose to do this: no discovery by her of previously unknown documents or witnesses, no good or timely reason to revive it. The story has been floating around online newssheets, social media and anonymous internet commentary for more than eighteen months. It first appeared in the Guardian Australia in October 2019. The online site wrote that the PM’s wife Jenny had once employed a friend of hers at Kirribilli House to look after her children. At that time, the friend’s husband had been posting a series of Tweets supporting the mad conspiracy theories of the right-wing American QAnon movement. These theories claimed that Donald Trump’s presidency was under attack from a powerful “deep state” movement, which protected various satanic paedophile rings whose ultimate aim was to take over the world. In 2019, the FBI identified QAnon and groups based on similarly bizarre conspiracy theories as potential domestic terrorist threats. There were later allegations that QAnon followers were among the rioters on the Capitol in Washington in January 2021.

The Guardian article admitted that the employment of Jenny Morrison’s friend involved no political or advisory role, and there was no suggestion that her friend’s husband had influenced, or even spoken to, the Prime Minister about these views. However, other reporters were less scrupulous. Soon after the Guardian story appeared, David Hardaker, a former ABC journalist on Four Corners and 7.30 Report but then writing for the online news sheet Crikey, claimed this so-called connection with QAnon posed “a potential security threat” to Australia. Hardaker identified Jenny Morrison’s friend as Lynelle Stewart and named her husband Tim Stewart as the author of the tweets.

Hardaker could only offer one connection between QAnon and Morrison. Hardaker said Tim Stewart’s tweets depicted elaborate ceremonies where children were prepared for sacrifice by groups of Satan worshipers. Stewart referred to this as “Luciferian” or satanic “ritual abuse”. The connection with Morrison supposedly occurred on October 22 2018 when, in response to a recommendation by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Morrison made his public apology to victims. He said: “The crimes of ritual sexual abuse happened in schools, churches, youth groups, scout troops, orphanages, foster homes, sporting clubs, group homes, charities, and in family homes as well.” Hardaker claimed Morrison’s use of the word “ritual” revealed his acceptance of the QAnon theory. Hardaker wrote:

“Ritual sexual abuse”? This was not a phrase used by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse — yet it had made its way the PM’s historic address to the nation.

This one use of the word “ritual” was all he had to go on. But journalist Samantha Maiden wrote in news.com.au that others had followed this interpretation:

It follows widespread claims online that there was some significance to the Prime Minister referring to “ritual” sex abuse in a speech on institutional sex abuse. The use of the term “ritual” is often deployed by QAnon supporters in the context of their belief that the world has been overtaken by Satan-worshipping paedophiles.

In Louise Milligan’s story on Four Corners on June 14, which largely repeats the version of events given by Hardaker, she interviewed Michael Salter, a criminologist at the University of New South Wales, who also endorsed the claim that the term “ritual” was not in public usage when Morrison made his 2018 apology and that the term must come from QAnon’s Australian supporters.

However, any connection between Morrison’s speech and QAnon’s theories is absurd. Morrison did not need help from Tim Stewart or anyone else to use the term “ritual”. Contrary to the claims by Hardaker and Salter, the concept of ritual child abuse was part of the investigations of the Royal Commission. In its various volumes, the Commission used the term “ritual” several times in relation to child abuse activities. In the executive summary of its Final Report in 2017, it summarised:

In private sessions and case studies we heard about children experiencing sexual abuse in places of worship or related locations such as a confessional, a priest’s residence or a ritual bathhouse … We also heard that some children experienced sexual abuse that involved the use of religious rituals, symbols or language.

Two of the major witnesses at its hearings, Gordon Hill and Cathy Kezelman, both claimed to have been sexually abused as children during religious rituals. Some of the bizarre assaults Hill told the Commission he suffered at the hands of priests and nuns at St Joseph’s orphanage at Ballarat, were supposedly conducted in a satanically decorated “dungeon”. Kezelman claimed she had “recovered memories” of her childhood when she was subject to “satanic sexual rituals” by her father and other satanic abusers in a cave near Brisbane. Kezelman wrote a book, Innocence Revisited, recounting all this in lurid detail. Kezelman was taken seriously by the Royal Commission and it appointed her to write counselling guidelines for staff at sexual assault clinics. In other words, “ritual” was not a rare term in 2018 and no connection to QAnon follows from Morrison’s use of it.

It should be said that not everyone at the ABC accepted the “ritual” connection. After he saw a rough-cut draft of Milligan’s story, news director Gaven Morris was concerned enough to send it up to managing director David Anderson for appraisal. Anderson sent the draft back to Four Corners saying it needed “more work”. Before the story was broadcast, Paul Barry, the presenter of the ABC’s Media Watch program, was one of those who observed that the attempt to connect Morrison to QAnon through his use of the term “ritual” was barely credible. Barry told his viewers:

Now, as proof of influence over the PM, you may think that is not super strong. And while Milligan is no doubt aiming to firm up any evidence, some in ABC editorial management still regard it as thin.

However, the ABC’s news director and managing director both proved incapable of diverting Milligan from her objective. They saw very little of the “more work” they told her to do. She went ahead and in the story broadcast on June 14 treated the feeble claim about “ritual” as if it was somehow proof of Morrison’s guilt. Management had revealed itself powerless to stop her.

In the hands of some of the most celebrated people who call themselves investigative journalists today, fanciful rubbish of this kind is what now passes as evidence for media attacks on political targets. In other words, “corruption in high places” is a phrase that now applies as much to the corporations of today’s news media as to the worst of the institutions that the once great tradition of investigative journalism originally set out to expose.

Keith Windschuttle is Quadrant’s editor

28 comments
  • Ian MacKenzie

    Two quotes for consideration:
    “Morrison only has himself to blame for 4Corners hatchet job tonight. ABC came after him in 2019 election and he said “here’s your big fat budget untouched”. If you keep funding your enemy it’s no surprise they keep acting like your enemy.” @realmarklatham
    “No Australian , at a time we’re drowning in debt, should be helping a $1 billion a year vendetta machine.” Peter Credlin, Sky News.
    They are both right. Defund the ABC now.

  • Harry Lee

    The ABC, SBS, The Guardian, and 90% of the rest of the commercial media are enemies of Western Civ. Obvious.
    Now, who would volunteer to fund, organise and manage surveillance sweeps of denizens of these media organisations -from scribblers to editors, to talking heads, to producers, to executives. And also fund, organise and manage various media platforms to put all the truth, dirty as it is, on display. And do it all in ways to protect the identities of the patriots doing the unpleasant but necessary work of exposing the tawdry lives of these evil media people.

  • 48header

    The 24 hour ‘news’ cycle is a monster that has to be fed by the second and minute. Something (or nothing) is always ‘Breaking’. The point of difference for ABC could be that it reverts to a news broadcast but four times a day (breakfast, noon, evening, late) and offers a smaller amount of other significant programming. As Ensign Parker once said in McHales’ Navy ‘The News machine is broken. Oh well. No news is good news.’ I long for the return of ‘shutdown’ and ‘Good Night boys and girls.’ Dr Ivan Head

  • call it out

    Keith’s scrutiny of Louise Milligan stands alone. Her record is appalling, her ethics more than questionable.
    Keep this up, please.

  • pgang

    We all know that this is just another means for the socialist movement to undermine its apparent opponents. I say apparent, because there are in fact no politicians who are not socialists. Some just aren’t socialist enough.
    As for QAnon, they merely demonstrate that the American socialist media is running out of targets. The irony is that their conspiracy theories sound more credible than anything the media proclaims.

  • DG

    The fundamental problem with the ABC is its lack of professionalism at every level, I daresay, from recruitment to journalistic leadership, management and governance. If this was a bank, there’d be a Royal Commission! Hang on, haven’t we already had one…for banks? Yet the government fails to deploy one grain of political nous to curtail its spendthrift amateurish propagandism.

  • bearops

    The OSS psychological profile of Hitler described his use of the big lie:
    His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.
    They could have been describing the ABC.

  • Citizen Kane

    The ABC has completely lost perspective of what it is meant to be – a public broadcaster for all Australians. No longer does it form part of the fourth estate reporting from all perspectives outside the ring, instead it now sees itself as a political player in the ring against all governments and political parties not of its own Green Left political persuasion. Everything its news and current affairs division produces ( and increasingly right through to even childrens programs ) is agenda driven. There is simply nothing this public broadcaster airs that can be trusted to be impartial and in keeping with quality journalism. Which is more than just a shame – its a disgrace!

  • Stephen Due

    Headline on the ABC News website this morning, by Louise Milligan and two others:
    “QAnon follower Tim Stewart’s an old friend of Scott Morrison…..”
    Further down the page:
    “Should you eat lemon chicken….with chopsticks or a fork?”
    The idea that the Australian taxpayer (I’m assuming there’s one left somewhere) should fund the ABC is absurd. The ABC is not different from any other major media outlet here or overseas. If the Morrison government does nothing else it should start on privatising the ABC.

  • STD

    It’s not completely bad.
    The likes of Louise Milligan are Gods gift to the truth.
    From memory I think she was educated in Catholic school system and may well be a lapsed Catholic (disloyal)- so in relation to Cardinal George Pell’s betrayal ,Milligan is the modern day incarnate of Judas Iscariot.
    The High court decision of 7 – 0, should tell all of us that their ABC is corrupt to the core in regards to its charter and Louise Milligan is in fact a cretinous ideological (Marxist stooge) idiot-IDIOT.
    A Royal Commission would get to the bottom of all this – if the ABC is found to be fraudulently in breach of its Charter, the solution is to be simple ,withdraw the means enabling the fraud (agenda). Kill two birds with the one stone, by withdrawing funding the ABC will be free to follow the mandated Charter and in doing so the politicians will have exercised to the full extent of the law, their responsible ‘duty of care’, in regard to the Oath of the office.
    It is interesting that Malcolm Turnbull ( a la gay marriage)and Paul Fletcher both held the communications portfolio that allowed the political agendas of ‘gay marriage’, and First Nations reconciliation and the rest of the progressive left political agendas to flourish. I’m pretty sure that the current sitting member for Bradfield was and is progressively aligned politically with both Turnbull and Morrison.
    I remember attending a liberal party function at the Asquith leagues club, with Morrison in attendance with Fletcher. Both did not impress me at all. Fletcher to my mind was weak and ineffectual (a nice fence sitter, smiled and said all the right things( definitely not forthright- a corporate animal).
    As for Morrison, my recollection ,is of him talking over the top of me, my immediate thought at the time ,was that this guy just wants to exercise the reigns of power….I will give Morrison his due though…..he at least has presence.
    Maybe what needs to take place is the voting public placing their liberal candidates up against the sitting party members in order to rid the party of the progressive rot!
    Both Liberal and Labor are both pushing the same UN barrow.

  • ChrisPer

    Shut it down.
    Fire them all.
    Recycle.

  • bill

    The ABC statement about the Christian Porter litigation referred to the “brave reporting” of Milligan & Co.
    Bravery in the face of what? What is it that they need to be afraid of?
    Complaints? Forget about it, the ABC has perfected the art of burying them.
    Fear of low ratings? Nope, doesn’t matter.
    Dismissal from their jobs? Nope again, job for life.
    Legal action? Not a problem, $800K to make a defamation suit go away is chump change.
    Defunding the ABC? No chance, all they have to do is wheel out a couple of Bananas in Pajamas and everyone goes misty-eyed about Our ABC.
    Being wrong? Not an issue, 7Nilligan has kept all her gongs for Cardinal.
    I imagine that Milligan, Neighbour etc. sleep quite peacefully at night.

  • Sydgal

    It’s hard to understand how L Milligan and some other ABC journalists did not seem to know about “Master Joe” considering he appeared on a widely-promoted ABC TV series in 2017 and production staff involved in that show were also involved in the ABC-commissioned 2020 Revelations Programs by S Ferguson and T Jones which apparently took several years to make.

  • Stephen Due

    On 21 May 2021 the Sky News Australia presenter Chris Kenny showed video footage of ABC journalists coaching women making allegations of sexual abuse, presumably for an ABC broadcast. The coaching included telling them what words to use, and how to speak with the right degree of outrage. The ABC is shown recording and re-recording each woman’s statement until the result was acceptable.
    The Sky News video is on YouTube. It has received over 1.3 million views in three weeks, along with nearly 9,000 comments. presumably all condemning the ABC (I have not read them all).
    My question for the Prime Minister: Why are you allowing this corrupt and blatantly partisan broadcaster to continue to operate with government support?

  • John Reid

    Milligan is passionate and determined. Not bad qualities in a journalist. What has been lacking is editorial oversight.

  • Citizen Kane

    John Reid; ‘Milligan is passionate and determined. Not bad qualities in a journalist.’ Except when those passions and determination are motivated by preconceived ideological agendas which is closed to the open minded enquiry for truth and driven by a desire to hang the subject of their disdain at any cost – then they are terrible qualities. Stephen Due, the footage you refer to above was the ABC producer and journalist coaching the supposed complainants in the Craig McLachlan saga. Another fine example of a ideologically driven (this time #me too feminism) ABC and Fairfax papers to hang, draw and quarter an individual motivated by hatred for what they are. In this instance simply being male and famous. Nothing short of reprehensible.

  • Lewis P Buckingham

    STD ‘From memory I think she was educated in Catholic school system.’
    Yes some poor nun probably tried hard to teach her.
    Well, this reporter never paid attention at Mass.
    If she had she would have noticed the priest or Bishop leave the Sanctuary last to end up at the back door or sacristy.
    Everyone else reached the sacristy or porch first.
    No time for Witness J to be attacked.
    Its that type of error that compounds her work.
    While her team is banging on they missed the big story.
    The origin and derivation of the Covid 19 virus.
    I am looking foreward to a systematic analysis of the likely virulence and infectivity of the virus.
    This will allow me to make preparations for the next foreseeable future in my work.
    The ABC has the resources to do this as a national carrier.
    ABC
    Don’t ask your TV Doctor.
    Find some real experts in virology and suggest a template for long term action.
    Otherwise some one like Sky will beat you to it.

  • Harry Lee

    People say privatise the ABC. But who would buy it?
    What assets and capabilities does the ABC have that would be worth buying, with the expectation that they could be managed to create requisite revenue streams-
    -revenue streams that are not already created elsewhere in the mainstream media, 90% of whose output is already marxist-greenist.
    And what is the scale of demand for anti-marxist/anti-greenist information and concepts? Answer: Tiny.
    Fact is, Australia has become a Fully Dummy Country, marxist/greenist-inspired.
    Indeed, we now urgently require a new tax-payer funded media-platform that is constituted and managed to be be anti-marxist and anti-greenist.
    What’s another 1.2Bn annual dollars these days -when measured against all the anti-Westernist ways in which funds created by nett tax-payers are spent on “government” projects that are anti-free enterprise, anti-Europeanist, anti-family, “education” that is actually marxist-greenist propaganda, a criminal justice system that creates more violent criminality,
    The majority of Australians are now so corrupted, so dumbed-down, so reliant on the State, that the people would not personally volunteer to pay the extra cash that is required to fight marxism and greenism -so it’ll have to be paid for by way of enforced taxation. Chuckle.
    Oh! Wait a minute! The ALP and the Greens and a couple independent Senators would never pass the required legislation to enable tax-payer funding of information and concepts of anti-marxist, anti-greenist varieties.
    Spectators want Morrison -the Lib-Nats- to get the ABC to be non-marxist/non-greenist/pro-Western -but it is very, very obvious that our legal system, the Constitution on which the legal system stands, and the general/dominant culture of the Australian people are all against that move.
    Let’s try comprehending actual reality, dealing with the actual problems, fighting the actual war, instead of letting off ill-informed suggestions.

  • Searcher

    Keith Windschuttle is doing a great job. We need more like him.

    Defund the ABC.

  • wdr

    The ABC is just as fair and balanced as Pravda under Stalin. This is the case throughout its so-called news and public affairs broadcasts, but it is worse still on its online News, which is simply left-wing propaganda given carte blanche at the taxpayer’s expense, with planted stories invariably from a left-wing perspective, on a daily basis. Another of its targets is Israel, which it attacks on a regular basis. I look forward to seeing the ABC’s staff on a street corner in Ultimo, carrying tin cups, and asking passer-by for “Any spare change, please.”

  • Tony Thomas

    Has anyone else noticed that whenever the ABC refers to the High Court judgement in favour of Pell, the ABC never includes the word “Unanimous”. It even omitted “Unanimous” on 7pm TV News on the evening of the High Court judgement. I complained, the Complaints body agreed with me but said the omission was inadvertent.

  • STD

    Theres a good Australian word for that Tony.

  • nfw

    Their ALPBC is corrupt and we don’t need it anynore. This is not 1920. If our Coalition federal government had any cajones it would sell it off. If the liuvvies want it, let them buy it and see how long it lasts. That’s why they would never put their own money into it, they know it would never survive without governmnet assistance. But the face nappy-less PM is far too busy holidaying in disease ridden UK (it must be given how Boris the Madman keeps them all under house arrest and in a state of fear) than to do his job in Australia. He will be undertaking 40 days quarantine upon his return won’t he? Why? Well most new cases of a real killer, ie TB, are introduced into Australia by Indian, African and Middle East persons. (See Aust Govt stats) As that is basically a description of the UK, the 40 days for the Morisson happy snap group, the entire entourage and the RAAF personnel would be appropriate.

  • rod.stuart

    What was Morrison thinking when he appointed Isa Buttrose to a position of influence in the ABC?

  • Harry Lee

    To solve a problem, make sure you understand the actual problem.
    In this case, the ABC problem is not that the ABC people are a bit off-piste, lack professionalism, or are ignorant of history, or do not know what makes a social-economic system work fit for human flourishing.
    The following is the actual problem:
    The ABC and its people are malign and evil enemies of Western Civ-
    -and the ABC and its people are protected by the Australian Constitution and the legal and political systems pertaining -and by the extreme dumminess, indolence and parasitism that permeate Australian mainstream culture.
    Must define the problem properly, see.

  • Elizabeth Beare

    Milligan fulfills all of the requirements for what I call a nasty piece of work.
    Her work is also pretty nasty too.
    Well done Keith Windschuttle. Keep on her case.

  • loweprof

    From MacCarthyism to Milliganism.

  • loweprof

    Who would buy the ABC?
    China Global Television Network might be interested.

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