Back in 1996 the Australian Press Council upheld a complaint against The Courier Mail under editor Chris Mitchell for printing a nutty story that historian Manning Clark was an agent of the Soviet Union who had been awarded the Order of Lenin for his services. The Press Council concluded:
The newspaper had too little evidence to assert that Prof Clark was awarded the Order of Lenin – rather there is much evidence to the contrary.
That being so, the Press Council finds that The Courier-Mail was not justified in publishing its key assertion and the conclusions which so strongly flowed from it. The newspaper should have taken further steps to check the accuracy of its reports.
While the Courier-Mail devoted much space to people challenging its assertions, the Press Council believes it should have retracted the allegations about which Prof Clark’s supporters complained.
Mitchell did not retract and became editor of the Australian in 2003.
So what do we see in today’s Australian?
A story repeating the claim that Clark had received the Order of Lenin. The only new evidence presented pretty conclusively shows that Clark did not get the Order of Lenin:
Soviet archives, some of which were published in The Courier-Mail, reveal that Clark was awarded a Lenin Jubilee Medal in 1970, in the company of various worldwide Soviet apparatchiks, for his work on behalf of a Soviet front, the Australia-USSR Friendship Society.
In other words, The Courier-Mail searched the Soviet archives which you would think would list all the recipients of their highest civilian honour, and did not find Clark’s name. Maybe journalists who work for the Australian could tell people that they are telemarketers or used car salesmen so that people will think more highly of them.
Update: Paul Norton:
What to make of the persistence of Kelly and Mitchell? Apart from stubbornness and stiff-necked pride, perhaps there is also an element of Australian anti-communism’s uneasy awareness of its own essential triviality in the great struggle against Soviet totalitarianism, and that its main contribution was not to contribute anything of substance to the aid of the plucky Sakharovs, Walesas, Havels & Co., but to provide aid and comfort for anti-communist anti-democrats closer to home, such as Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland, Suharto in Indonesia and occupied East Timor, the apartheid regime in South Africa, and anti-feminists, anti-unionists, anti-anti-racists and authoritarian obscurantists of all stripes throughout Australia. Perhaps the escalation of a Culture War adversary such as Clark into a “secret mamber of the communist world’s elite” was and is a kack-handed way for the Australian Right to stake a claim that its own role in the Cold War amounted to something more meaningful than throwing cream puffs at the Lubyanka prison.
The opinion pages at the Oz provide a convivial home for folks who believe all manner of wonderful things — climate change isn’t happening, the Iraq war was a great idea, etc. But, even in that company, Kelly’s particular credo still stands out. …
As in his original yarn, Kelly blurs the distinction between the Order of Lenin, an award of some significance, and the Lenin Jubilee Medal, a decoration given to Clark alongside thousands of other Moscow visitors. In Suspect History, Humphrey McQueen points out that Les Murray’s detailed “eyewitness” account becomes rather less impressive when we learn that he claimed to be unemployed at the time (he wasn’t) and couldn’t remember whether the encounter happened in daylight or at night. These slip-ups in an incident recalled years after the fact render Kelly’s triumphant declaration that “there is no gainsaying the fact that [Clark] wore [an Order of Lenin] seen by Fairbairn and Murray” about as troothy as those “9/11 was an inside job” websites.