Headline: False Australian article leaves Gillard seeing red
The link: Gillard angry over Australian article
Friction between the Murdoch press and the Federal Government has escalated in the wake of an incorrect article about Prime Minister Julia Gillard published in yesterday’s Australian newspaper.
The article led to an embarrassing apology from the newspaper, which acknowledged that not only were allegations about Ms Gillard “untrue” but that no attempt had been made to contact her for comment before publication.
The article, written by journalist Glenn Milne – but later repudiated by the newspaper – claimed Ms Gillard had been unknowingly implicated in a “major union fraud” while she was working as a lawyer in Melbourne before she entered parliament.
Milne reported on allegations that concerned “the embezzlement of union funds – not disputed – and later the subject of a court conviction by a former boyfriend of Gillard, Bruce Wilson”.
At the time Mr Wilson was an official with the Australian Workers Union.
Milne alleged that “as a solicitor acting on instructions, she set up an association later used by her lover to defraud the AWU”.
“But she has strenuously denied ever knowing what the association’s bank accounts were used for,” Milne added.
Milne wrote that he had originally written the story in 2007 but was prevented on legal advice publishing another allegation.
“What the lawyers would not allow to be reported was the fact that Gillard shared a home in Fitzroy bought by Wilson using the embezzled funds. There is no suggestion that Gillard knew about the origin of the money,” Milne wrote.
Ms Gillard has strenuously denied the claims.
The article was published in The Australian yesterday, both in the newspaper and online, but by 9.30am the online version had disappeared to be replaced by an apology.
The apology read:
“THE AUSTRALIAN published today an opinion piece by Glenn Milne which includes assertions about the conduct of the Prime Minister.
“The Australian acknowledges these assertions are untrue. The Australian also acknowledges no attempt was made by anyone employed by, or associated with, The Australian to contact the Prime Minister in relation to this matter.
“The Australian unreservedly apologises to the Prime Minister and to its readers for the publication of these claims.”
ABC News Online understands Ms Gillard made angry early-morning phone calls to The Australian’s publisher, John Hartigan, and editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell after which the article was pulled.
It is understood Ms Gillard had phoned Mr Hartigan on Saturday after another Murdoch journalist, Andrew Bolt, had written on his blog of ”a tip on something that may force Gillard to resign”.
It began: ”On Monday, I’m tipping, a witness with a statutory declaration will come forward and implicate Julia Gillard directly in another scandal involving the misuse of union funds.”
No such witness has come forward.
It is believed Mr Hartigan has assured Ms Gillard that no News Limited journalist was planning to write any such story about her – but he apparently had not checked with The Australian.
Today, Bolt’s blog read cryptically: “No politics until further notice. Principles to weigh up. Faith to keep. Sorry.”
It was later updated to promise that “after discussions I now feel free to speak my mind. So I shall. In tomorrow’s column.”
Asked about Milne’s article, Ms Gillard described it as “a false report in breach of all known standards of journalism”.
“They’d made no approach to me to seek a comment or to check what was asserted,” she told a press conference.
“They clearly realised they had done the wrong thing and published a retraction as a result, so the only question here really is how is it that a false allegation about the Prime Minister is published in The Australian newspaper without anyone from The Australian contacting me or my office for a comment?
“This is a question of ethics and standards for The Australian.”
Editor of The Australian, Clive Mathieson, told ABC News Online that Ms Gillard’s “claim of inaccuracies” is being looked into.
“We are investigating the Prime Minister’s claim of inaccuracies in the story. As the correction points out, we regret that the PM was not given any chance to respond to the allegations.”
He said Milne “will remain a contributor to the paper”, adding that “the bulk of the allegations in the column have been a matter of public record for a long time”.
But Mr Hartigan this afternoon returned fire, saying Ms Gillard’s comments are “disappointing” and “pedantic”.
“The Australian withdrew the Glenn Milne opinion piece yesterday morning, acknowledged that some of the assertions in it were untrue and apologised to the Prime Minister,” he said.
“The apology and acknowledgements were also carried on all other News Limited websites.
“The Prime Minister’s further complaints today were pedantic. While The Australian acknowledged no attempt was made to contact the Prime Minister’s office, comment is rarely if ever sought in relation to opinion pieces. This is a widely understood and accepted practice in journalism.”