From David Penberthy's brilliant story in The Australian today.
After the election I wrote a personal letter to Howard congratulating him on his distinguished career, thanking him for the access he had kindly given me and our papers, and apologising for bidding him farewell in our election editorial.
“Thank you for your letter,” Howard replied soon after. “I appreciated your kind personal remarks. Needless to say, I was disappointed that your newspaper went over to the dark side after such a long and positive association. That, as they say, is the nature of things in a democracy. It was a huge privilege to have been at the helm for so long and I, too, enjoyed the association with the Telegraph.”
This picture of graciousness and even-handedness is a stark contrast to the conduct we are seeing from Rudd towards our company now. Unlike Howard — and unlike so many other Liberal and Labor leaders who have been the subject of editorials and coverage both good and bad — the Rudd campaign seems to be rooted more in his own psychology.
If you wanted a headline to describe the relationship between Murdoch and Rudd it would be this: Media figure stalked by crazed fan. His enthusiasm to ingratiate himself with our company was so extreme that we almost needed to obtain a restraining order. Rudd now believes the company is evil and that it misuses its power and picks winners.
My dealings with Rudd and his backers show that he was the one desperate to use that power, even to have it misused by seeking some kind of formal media endorsement as leader. And when it comes to picking winners, from all I saw of Rudd’s conduct with myself, other editors and our proprietor, he was the one who like a schoolboy before a football match imploring: “Pick me, pick me.”
This push for a royal commission is driven less by facts and more by the shared mental state of Rudd, and his new sidekick Malcolm Turnbull. It is, for them, a coping mechanism. It is psychologically more palatable for them to ascribe their demise not to their own imperiousness, policy failure or inability to consult and listen, but a sinister external conspiracy.
On the day my stint as editor ended in late 2008, there were drinks at the work pub to farewell me and honour my successor, Garry Linnell. I didn’t stick around long because I regarded the occasion as Linnell’s night, and had made a strange pact with myself four years prior that on the day of my departure I would go home and lie on the lawn.
I was lying on the lawn when the phone rang.
“Penbo, I just want you to know that I’m ringing you as a mate to make sure you’re all right,” Rudd said. “Now, what can you tell me about the new guy?”