Pell's Acquittal Ignites Media and Publishing Firestorm
By Andrew Hornery
April 11, 2020
All eyes will be on Cardinal George Pell's first exclusive interview fresh from Barwon prison with his most ardent of supporters, conservative commentator Andrew Bolt.
The holy man's sensational acquittal this week has had many implications across the Australian media and publishing worlds which have followed the Cardinal's extraordinary story over the past few years, but from a less favourable perspective than Bolt, whose interview will air next Tuesday.
|Cardinal George Pell arriving at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Sydney on Wednesday.|
Pell has consistently maintained his innocence and until Tuesday morning had been serving a six-year jail sentence after he was convicted in 2018 of abusing two choir boys in the 1990s while he was the archbishop of Melbourne.
When the High Court unanimously found that the case against Pell had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt, effectively overturning the initial jury conviction and Pell's failed subsequent appeal, in-house legal counsels across media and publishing houses were breaking into beads of sweat.
Some plaintiff lawyers are now counting down the days until Pell launches defamation action, which could ultimately implicate all of Australia's commercial and non-commercial media organisations, as well as several key book publishers.
|Sarah Ferguson preparing to interview convicted paedophile Bernard McGrath in prison for the Revelation series. |
Over at the ABC, lawyers and producers were busy removing the third instalment of journalist Sarah Ferguson's extraordinary series Revelation, which focused primarily on Pell's earlier conviction. The episode was aired before the High Court's decision had been made public.
An ABC spokesman said the third episode of Revelation would be back on iView "as soon as possible".
While the episode was expected to be off air for "only a matter of days", the ABC, which has publicly defended its reporting of the Pell case as being in the public interest after being accused of leading a "witch-hunt", initially hoped it would be back on the iView streaming platform – updated with the High Court's findings – by this weekend, however on Friday that was delayed to "early next week".
Exactly what changes will be made to the episode remain unclear, though things such as the show's narration which had referred to Pell as a "convicted sex offender", would have to be altered.
|Louise Milligan is the author of Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell.|
7.30 investigative journalist Louise Milligan won a prestigious Walkley Award for her 2017 book Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, published through Melbourne University Press.
It was a huge success, and the book was reprinted within two weeks of publication, in the process making Milligan something of a crusader for hundreds of abuse victims.
Milligan conceded this week's High Court verdict had taken a deep emotional toll, and the effects on the complainant "weighed heavily" on her mind.
As for the threat of legal action from Pell over her book, Milligan said she stood behind her work.
"I stand 100 per cent behind my book and the integrity of the journalism in it and the very brave people who told me their stories in it," she told PS.
Veteran journalist and author David Marr was equally defiant about his biography on Pell, titled The Prince, and published through Black Inc, which describes it as an "explosive bestseller".
"The story rolls on but the book still stands," Marr told PS, adding that a new edition "was on the way".
While it is unknown how or even if Cardinal Pell will pursue any legal action over the coverage of his case, in the court of public opinion his name is set to be heard for some time yet.
|Author David Marr.|
On Wednesday Pell landed in the centre of the ongoing feud between 2GB's star broadcasters Alan Jones and Ray Hadley, after Jones had Bolt on his program demanding his stablemate Hadley apologise to him.
Bolt told Jones: "I need Ray Hadley to apologise now, I was very hurt, he did a rant calling me creepy, accusing me of creepy behaviour for defending George Pell."
Later that morning Hadley went on air: "I never said the words attributed to me in relation to George Pell, no one asked me from that radio program this morning whether I said those words, that’s poorly researched rubbish. For the attack on me this morning on my own network, to say, I am disappointed? Yes I am. Am I surprised? No I am not."
Bolt later called Hadley a "coward" on his blog.
Indeed it was perhaps Pell himself who remained the most calm amid the media storm and war of words this week, issuing a statement on Tuesday saying: "I hold no ill will toward my accuser, I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel; there is certainly hurt and bitterness enough."
Estimated by The Australian Financial Review to be worth $90 million, Macpherson has been treated to some high praise for her range of WelleCo supplements. In return the model is seen posing in a silver sequinned Gucci bodysuit on the magazine's May cover.
Her green powder supplements appear to be doing the trick. The Body – just four years off turning 60 – looks unbelievable, with nary a wrinkle, sun spot or troublesome, middle-aged bulge to be seen.
Macpherson waxes lyrical to the magazine about her "cornerstone product", The Super Elixir, a green plant-based powder she downs spoonfuls of in various concoctions daily.
She reveals it was made by London nutritionist Dr Simone Laubscher "for me" and has gone on to become a multimillion-dollar global enterprise.
|Missing in action: Andrea Horwood. |
However, the one name which curiously does not appear anywhere in the story is that of Perth businesswoman Andrea Horwood, the co-founder and dethroned CEO of WelleCo who has been embroiled in a multimillion-dollar legal battle with Macpherson after she was unceremoniously ousted from the company she claims to have pioneered.
PS has previously reported on how Horwood, who had considered Macpherson one of her closest friends, claimed she had been "betrayed".
In January 2019 Horwood told PS: "It's a gut-wrenching experience to have this done to me and the business I founded and created, which has become such a success."
Horwood, Macpherson and her other WelleCo business partners have been embroiled in the West Australian Supreme Court now for nearly 18 months, and while a mediation was understood to have taken place in recent months, the matter remains unresolved.
Horwood claims her WelleCo partners allegedly reneged on a deal to allow her to buy more of the company, only to end up being ousted completely.
Horwood gave Macpherson an initial 50 per cent share in the business in return for Macpherson using her celebrity status to promote the brand, though the pair had worked together since the late 1990s when Horwood featured the model on the cover of her magazine Australian Style for its "icons" issue.
Macpherson has mostly avoided commenting on the lawsuit, though when questioned directly by the AFR last October offered: "Business is a journey. Sometimes things fall together and sometimes they fall apart. Things evolve."
Darkness beneath the glitter
Sydney socialite dead at 46.
|Happier days: Jo Ferguson on the party circuit in 2009.|
It's the sort of grim headline that gets plenty of clicks online and usually elicits the sort of predictably tiresome comments faceless online trolls specialise in, you know the kind: "Slow news day?", "Yawn!", "Never heard of her" and even "Who cares?".
But the sudden death of former Sydney fashionista and red carpet fixture Jo Ferguson – reportedly from liver and kidney failure – is a far more tragic tale that highlights how superficial and cruel this town can be, albeit unintentionally, even for some of its brightest stars.
While there has been an emotional outpouring among Ferguson's many friends from the fashion and media worlds over the past 48 hours celebrating her exuberant good nature, there was also a much darker side to Ferguson which should also be recognised.
Indeed it was a major factor in the downward spiral the one-time fashion magazine editor's life took.
How does an international jet-set party girl go from a life of absolute luxury to badgering her friends for money, desperately selling off old designer handbags – and some things even more precious – just to survive?
|Jo Ferguson with her one-time best friend Kristy Hinze in 2010.|
She did all this while airing her grievances with the world on social media, unravelling in a never-ending stream of increasingly unsettling and raw posts, incongruously interspersed with glam shots of her old designer life.
All this while her once close girlfriends married billionaires and sailed the world in super yachts.
Many of them cut communication with Jo years ago, others tried to intervene but were eventually worn out.
Ferguson's final days were largely spent alone and battling ill health after moving back to her home town of Adelaide.
Ferguson's sad story shares many hallmarks of model and television personality Charlotte Dawson.
Dawson took her own life in 2014 after years of being trolled on social media, battling addictions, mental health struggles and never truly finding contentment in life.
Just like Ferguson, "Daws" was also a glittering fixture on Sydney's cocktail circuit, a self-made and beautiful woman feted in the social pages every weekend with a string of handsome men on her arm.
And yet she was dead at just 47, a life wasted.
More recently it was the loss of former bikini model Annalise Braakensiek which sent a chill through the red carpet brigade.
A bona fide bombshell, Braakensiek had carved a media career for herself but also possessed an astute business sense belying the "dumb blonde" image she played up to for the masses.
|Annalise Braakensiek in 2009.|
She was just 46 when she was found dead in her Potts Point flat in January 2019, her lonely demise a far cry from the glamorous, good-time girl image she posted on social media.
Two months after she died her mother Vera opened up in an interview on Sunday Night about the demons her daughter dealt with.
"It wasn’t true – she’d put a post on Instagram, [and] she’d ring me and say, ‘I can’t breathe. I’m so depressed.’"
Her mother said to escape the depression, Braakensiek began to flirt with drugs.
To which her wise mother would later reflect: "I didn’t really understand the environment there, I didn’t understand the partying and nonsense."
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Seven's stars lose some lustre
The axe was wielded around the Channel Seven studios with some of the network's biggest names taking a 20 per cent pay cut, but despite rumblings to the contrary, PS was assured by Seven News boss Craig McPherson that "everyone is united and doing what they can to get through this".
|Sunrise co-hosts Samantha Armytage and David Koch.|
McPherson is responsible for the likes of Sunrise stars David Koch and Samantha Armytage, two of the highest-paid faces on the network, and who have the most to lose in the wholesale slashing.
"I spoke to all my presenters personally and everyone was very understanding of the situation and handled it with great grace and class," McPherson told PS.
Seven was already in dire financial straits before the COVID-19 crisis emerged.
McPherson denied persistent rumours Armytage's extended absence had anything other than to do with her ongoing respiratory issues, although the rumour mill within Seven's own Martin Place studios would suggest otherwise.
Armytage, who will be absent for another three weeks, has been kept busy taking "entertainment columnists" to task on social media in recent times over various stories she has taken umbrage over.
Sadly her silence was deafening when PS approached her on the matter this week.